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The Paw Report, Episode 912 – All about Rabbits

The Paw Report, Episode 912 – All about Rabbits


[music playing]
Kelly: Rabbits come in all sizes and colors and can make great pets in the right circumstances. But before adopting a pet rabbit veterinarians,
say do your research. On this episode of the PAW report, we’re joined
by Dr. Krista Keller, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching
Hospital in Urbana to discuss all things rabbits and what you should know before bringing a
new furry friend into your home. Stay with us. [music playing]
Katelyn: Fetchers Pet Supply on the north side of the Charleston square. Serving the EIU community since 1991. Fetchers welcomes all pets on a leash. Is open seven days a week and offers made
in the USA food. Pets supplies for dogs, cats, reptiles, and
fish. Fetchers Pets Supply in Charleston. Rameen:
The Paw Report on WEIU is supported by Rural King, America’s farm and home store, livestock
feed, farm equipment, pet supplies and more. You can find your store and more information
regarding Rural King at ruralking.com. Rob: Dave’s Decorating Center is a proud supporter
of the Paw Report on WEIU. Dave’s Decorating Center features the Mohawk
Smartstrand Silk Forever Clean carpet. Dave’s Decorating Center, authorized Mohawk
color center in Charleston. Kelly: Thanks for joining us for this episode
of the PAW report. I am your host, Kelly Goodwin, and we are
joined today to talk all about rabbits with Dr. Krista Keller from the University of Illinois. I think this is probably a first for me. We’ve had lots of animals on this set here,
but I think it’s a first that we’ve actually brought in a big rabbit and you’re here all
to talk about Raisin our friend that’s with us today and care and concern and nutrition
and all that good stuff for rabbits. So thank you so much for joining us for this
episode. We want to know all about you. So tell us about yourself and your stay at
the University of Illinois to this point. Krista: So I’m an assistant professor at University
of Illinois. I’ve been there for about two years. First and foremost, I’m a veterinarian and
a lot of people know what that means. After undergrad, I decided to take another
four-year adventure in my education to become a veterinarian. And then I’m also a veterinary specialist. And so what that means is after that four
additional years, I went for another four years of specialty training and then took
a big long test to say that I was a specialist in zoological medicine. And, so I am one of less than 250 veterinarians
in the world who have that kind of accolades of being a specialist in zoological medicine. Kelly: Wow. But you have a special place in your heart
for rabbits. Krista: Who wouldn’t? Kelly: Who wouldn’t? And you know when you meet Raisin, who’s on
our set today, who wouldn’t? He’s almost like a little dog actually. He is warming up to the studio right now. We’ll talk more about Raisin, but rabbits,
in general, your specialty? Krista: Yeah. So within zoological medicine, a lot of people
say, well, why don’t you work at a zoo? And I do work with traditional zoo animals,
lions and tigers and bears. Oh my. But really what I love are zoologic companion
animals. So those weird and wacky species, those nontraditional
types of pets. And so rabbits are probably one of the more
common of the non-traditional species. And a lot of my clients come in and have a
rabbit as a part of their family. And I really enjoy that. I really love working with animals that have
a family attached to it, a human family attached to it and working within that human-animal
bond. And, so I see a lot, a lot of rabbits as clinical
patients that have human families. And both the rabbits and the families need
some help. Kelly: Let’s talk just a second about Raisin
because when you brought him in he was in a pretty large carrier and you said he’s a
large bunny. What kind of bunny is he? How big is he? How old is he? Krista: Yeah, Raisins about middle age. I think he’s five or six. I don’t remember right now, but he is a mini
lop, so if you look at him, kind of his ears are very down and there’s a couple of breeds
of lop eared rabbits or downy eared rabbits. He is owned by one of my trainees, and he’s
actually one of our blood donor rabbits at the U of I as well. Kelly: What does that mean? What does he do? Krista: If there is another rabbit in need
of some red blood cells for whatever reason, maybe they got some trauma and lost a lot
of blood. We call in Raisin more specifically we call
Raisins mom, and we say is Raisin available today for a blood donation? And he comes in, we sedate him, and we take
blood in the same way that as humans we can give a blood donation, so we enter a vein
and take some blood, and then we’re able to give that blood to the rabbit that’s in need. So he saved several rabbits, lives with his
blood. Kelly: You said he’s a lop eared rabbit. There’s a lot of different species of rabbits
I’m assuming. I mean we don’t have to name them all, but
I’m sure that you can say how many species and maybe some of the more popular species
out there. Krista: There’s a lot of breeds. I don’t know the exact number, so I’m, I’m
sorry that I’m a bad rabbit specialist right now. There’s a lot of different breeds. Online, you can check out all the different
breeds they come. I mean some of them are very large. We’re talking 15, 16, 17 pound rabbits. And then down to the smallest rabbits at adult
size would be between one and two pounds sort of thing. So just like we have a big difference between
the Chihuahua and some of our really… Kelly: Great Dane. Krista: Great Dane, exactly we have a big
difference between a lot of our rabbit breeds. Some of the most popular breeds that we see
are some of the smallest. So our lops, we see quite a few lops. Lion head rabbits are these really cute rabbits
that are kind of a new breed. They’re pretty spunky, and they look almost
like they have a mane, like a lion. We have Netherland dwarfs, which are part
of our very smallest breed. They have very smooshed face, almost like
a pug and very short, tiny upbeat ears. So we see a good blend, and then we also just
see a lot of mixed breed rabbits. Some clients come in, and they say, what breed
is my rabbit? And I’m like, I see a little bit of Netherlands
dwarf, maybe a tiny bit of lion head. But really it’s just the mixture, the mixed
bag rabbit. Kelly: You said people bring rabbits in. So that’s kind of launches us into our discussion
about people really need to do their research and maybe their homework before they decide
bringing a rabbit into their home. And there’s a lot of things that we’re going
to discuss today from nutrition to exercise to veterinary care. But let’s start with that. Do your homework first. It’s important. Krista: I will say you should do your homework
before inviting any new species into your home, whether that’s something super traditional
like a dog or a cat or something less traditional like a rabbit or even less, less, less traditional,
like a species of snake. All of these species have very different needs,
whether that’s a nutritional need or how they need to live. Some of them have heating and lighting needs
and so it can get pretty overwhelming for some species. The rabbit does have some very unique differences,
especially compared to dogs and cats sort of thing. But in general, they are easy keepers. Once you know what you need to do with them. Kelly: What about let’s start with enclosures. Raisin here is in a little travel case. He’s making his way out. But at home, I mean you do need something
to transport them, but let’s talk about at home first. Things you should look at. Krista: I’d say one of the biggest mistakes
people make is that they don’t give their rabbit enough space. Raisin if he comes out and shows us, it’s
actually quite a big rabbit and the minimum space that we want him to have is that he
should be able to hop two or three times within his cage. And if you think about, if you put that into
a human perspective, if you had a bedroom that you could only take two or three steps,
that would actually be quite a small bedroom, right? You probably couldn’t even fit a bed in there. Krista: And so when people give that recommendation,
that’s a bare, bare minimum. If a rabbit is kept in that size cage, they
should really have a play time in a larger room or a larger area where they can be supervised. Raisin has his own bedroom. Kelly: Aw, he’s special. Krista: Yes, he’s the little spoiled. But that’s really ideal if you can provide
something like that. Or even if they can have a room to the house
for a couple of hours a day while supervising them like that. Because they do need exercise and movement
and capability to explore their environment, and play with toys and do all that. And you can’t do that in a really tiny enclosure. Kelly: Can you keep them outside? I mean obviously elements aside, I get that,
but is that something where you can have an enclosure outside or some sort of, I don’t
want to say a cage, but I think enclosure is that doable as well? Krista: Yeah. A lot of people will keep their rabbits outside. The House Rabbit Society and myself don’t
recommend housing rabbits outdoors all the time. I think rabbits should go outside to have
sunlight for the same reason that we should go outside to have sunlight, it’s enriching
and it’s vitamin D, and they can munch on the grass and the dandy lions, as long as
you don’t have pesticides sort of thing. But when they are outside, they’re at risk
for lots of issues. If you have foxes or raccoons in your neighborhood,
obviously that can end in tragedy. Rabbits are at risk for getting ticks and
fleas and mites of which they would catch if they were outside. Kelly: Like dogs and cats. Krista: It’s just like dogs and cats. And then, of course, the extremes of heat. So rabbits do not do very well in extreme
heat. So last week we actually saw a couple of rabbits
that were coming in for heat exhaustion. Really, really scary emergency presentations. They do a little bit better in the cold, but
even when we have the polar vortex coming in through Illinois, that’s far too cold for
a lot of our rabbits. So both the American House Rabbit Society
as well as us at the U of I, us rabbit veterinarians at the U of I, do not recommend outdoor living
100% of the time. Kelly: Speaking of living, how long do rabbits
live? I would assume. And we’ve had turtle experts on also from
the University of Illinois, and they’ve told us if you’re going to make a commitment to
a turtle, be ready. They live, they’re long-livers. What about rabbits? I’m assuming that it’s different breeds live
different time spans? Krista: They do similar to dogs, we have a
breed dependent life span. So our giant, giant, giant breeds. And even if you think that Raisin is giant,
he’s not, he’s just a medium to large breed. We have these giant breed rabbits. They may only live six to eight years, but
those are really the rarity in the pet trade, usually, we see smaller breed rabbits that
will easily live a decade. And, so I like to get my rabbits that I treat
into the double digits. The oldest rabbit that I’ve met was also one
of the smaller breeds of rabbits. So he was about maybe a pound and a half,
and he was fourteen and a half years of age. Fourteen and a half years young, let’s say
that. Kelly: That’s right. That’s right. Krista: He was still going strong at fourteen
and a half. Kelly: Diet probably plays a role in that. When you opened up Raisin’s little enclosure
there. Straw or hay came out and I guess I didn’t
realize that’s what they like to eat. Krista: The majority of a rabbit’s diet, 70%
or more should be made up of a grass hay like timothy hay or oat hay or meadow hay. And this is because their teeth are phenomenally
different than anything that you’ve ever thought about. Totally different than our teeth. Totally different than dog and cat teeth,
both their front teeth that we can see their incisors, as well as their back teeth that
are deep in their mouth, grow throughout their life. And this is because they’ve evolved to be
able to kind of grind down these really fibrous hays. And imagine if we did that with our teeth,
if we were grinding our teeth down, we would have no teeth in just a couple of years sort
of thing. And so they have this capacity to eat the
hay because they have these ever-growing teeth that they have. So hay most important part of the diet, 70%
of the diet, the next component would be pellets. There’s lots of rabbit specific pellets that
are out there. We always recommend a uniform pellet that
means nothing that has seed and dried fruit and grain in it that can really predisposed
to some dental disease. It also is really high in sugars and fats,
which especially if you pair that with a rabbit, not having enough space to exercise we see
a lot of overweight rabbits. And then we also recommend a daily salad for
rabbit. And so salad should be some dark leafy greens,
some lettuces, maybe a small baby carrot or another vegetable sort of thing. And that can really be a very exciting part
of their day for them to have their fresh salad. They usually enjoy that very much. Kelly: You mentioned their teeth and their
hiders of problems and a lot of times problems in lie in their teeth and in their dental
care. Tell us about maybe some of the clients that
you’ve seen, problems that they can encounter and if they don’t get regular veterinary care,
that can be a rather expensive problem to treat. Krista: Yes, so because their teeth are ever
growing throughout their life, there needs to be two things that are perfect in order
to prevent dental disease. The first one is diet. They really need roughage. I mean, think about how rough that hay is. They really need roughage to grind down their
teeth, but they also need good confirmation of their teeth. And so when we start getting into some of
those pug-faced breeds you can imagine their face is shortened, but they still have the
same number of teeth. And so sometimes those teeth don’t line up
correctly. And so in either of those situations, we can
get overgrowth of teeth that can be very painful. It can either grow down into the jaw or behind
the eye, or they can grow into the mouth and cause pinching or scratches or like wounds
in the oral cavity. And any of us who have ever had oral pain
knows that’s no good. Kelly: Yeah, it’s awful. Krista: It’s really awful. And so imagine this poor little rabbit having
all of this oral pain and lots of times maybe they’ll stop eating their hay. So I hear a lot of clients say, well, my rabbit
used to like hay but doesn’t like hay anymore. Kelly: Red flag. Krista: And yeah, that’s a red flag. Definitely. What that rabbit is trying to say is it hurts
for me to do that grinding motion because my teeth don’t feel good. And so instead I’m just going to eat the salad
and the pellet that don’t require that grinding motion anymore. If they have more severe pains, sometimes
they’ll paw at their mouth, like they’re telling you it hurts here sort of thing. Or they may salivate a lot and have just a
lot of saliva kind of on them. So these are all red flags. But yeah, teeth can overgrow for a lot of
reasons and the veterinarian can play an important role, not only in diagnosing dental disease. So if you see something wrong with your rabbit,
whether it’s mild, like they’re hiding and maybe not coming out for their treat, you
know, something very nonspecific to more specific, like they’re pawing at their face saying,
Hey, it hurts here. Definitely go see a veterinarian to help you
decide, is this dental disease, is there something else going on? But veterinarians can also play a really important
role in prevention of dental disease where just last week I met a family who had just
gotten a rabbit, and they didn’t know that they were supposed to feed hay to the same
amount that is recommended. So this rabbit was eating just a little sprinkling
of hay every day and luckily it was a young rabbit. It had just happened for a couple of weeks
and I said, whoa, whoa, whoa, no such thing as a sprinkling of hay. It’s just always have some hay. This is the quantity that they should have
and they should always have that free choice hay. And so veterinarians can play a role in ensuring
that there’s prevention of clinical dental disease as well. Kelly: Speaking of prevention, how often should
a pet owners bring their rabbit to the vet? Is it similar to a cat or dog that you have
the yearly checkups or what do you recommend? Krista: Yeah, definitely once a year is pretty
standard. As I said, there’s lots of things that our
veterinarian can do to make sure all of the diet, the enclosure, all of that is right. We can also hear and feel and see things that
our pet owners can’t with their eyes and ears. And so listening to the heart for a murmur
can help us diagnose, Oh we think that there’s cardiac disease or heart disease early and
then get the animal on medication. So that way we have as much quality and quantity
of life as possible sort of thing. Diagnosing dental disease. Even talking about some things like, Hey you
rabbits overweight and that predisposes them to certain diseases. Why don’t we talk about dietary modification,
getting some more exercise, kind of doing all that. And so it doesn’t always have to be about
ruling out these big awful diseases like heart disease or kidney disease. It can be about some pretty mundane things. And most of my conversations with clients
are about mundane things. It’s about, I wish your rabbit weighed less
and I think your rabbit wishes that they weighed less as well. And I bet you if we did do that, that they’d
be more active. Also, sometimes we can diagnose that there’s
some arthritis in the knees or in the elbows. And the clients say, Oh, we’re slowing down
a little bit. I think we’re getting older. And I say, I have a reason for them to slow
down. You know, they are getting older, but it’s
just because of arthritis. It’s not because they’re systemically ill. Why don’t we put them on a medication to make
them feel better. And actually that fourteen and a half year
old rabbit I told you about earlier, came in to see me at 13 years of age with a primary
complaint of slowing down. I diagnosed that he had a lot of arthritis. I put him on a medication to treat that and
he started jumping back up onto the couch every day. And they were like he’s a baby bunny again. I’m not sure if you’re happy about him being
on the couch, but you’re welcome. So there are lots of things that a veterinarian
can do in a more preventative health status. Kelly: Let’s talk about a couple of other
topics. Grooming. Do you have to do anything or do they do it
on their own? And what about cuddling? How much socialization does a bunny need from
their pet owners? Krista: Sure, so in terms of grooming, there
are some breeds that have major grooming responsibilities. We have a couple of long-haired breeds. Also that lion head breed that’s more and
more common with the mane needs to be brushed at least every couple of days. Without brushing, they can get a lot of matting
that happens. But for the most part, a rabbit like Raisin
really doesn’t need much grooming. They do a lot of grooming on their own. They go through seasonal shed patterns, similar
to our dogs where you need to vacuum a lot more a couple of times a year because they’re
shedding out, but they do a lot of it on their own. We don’t recommend true bathing in a bathtub
unless a rabbit needs it because they got really dirty. But just giving them the opportunity to do
all of the self-grooming is usually all that they need. Where they do need a little help and sometimes
help from a veterinarian is with the toenails. You know their nails can get a little long,
especially if they’re on something soft like carpet all the time, and they’re not kind
of wearing down those nails. So some of my clients feel comfortable doing
that at home. Some of my clients come in and see me. Either way us veterinarians and veterinary
technicians feel comfortable helping out with that. So grooming needs are usually quite low except
if you have one of those special needs breeds. Yes with some brushing. Krista: In terms of cuddling, it’s going to
be individual as well as breed specific. There are some breeds that are far more independent,
let’s say, and sassy. Kelly: Like cats. Krista: Yes, the lion head breed is one that
is quite sassy and independent. I’m pretty sure they think that the house
is theirs and the humans are their servants and that’s similar to cats. Kelly: I act like that at home too. Krista: As we all should. Netherland dwarfs are another breed that seemed
to be a bit more in general, more independent. A lot of our lops are more laid back. Not all of them, but a lot of them are more
laid back. And some of them do truly cuddle, but a lot
of them will just enjoy more sitting with you. Maybe sitting on your lap and being pet. Sitting next to you and munching on some food
while you watch TV or something like that sort of thing. Kelly: How do you bring them into your home? If your home already has another animal, say
another rabbit, a cat, a dog, even a reptile or a bird or something like that. What is the best way to introduce them to
that environment? Krista: Introducing two rabbits together. Rabbits actually have the capability of bonding,
and they can have a very, very strong bond. So strong of a bond that in some rabbits,
if they are very bonded with another rabbit and I’m seeing one rabbit for being sick,
I’ll ask the client to bring in the other rabbit for support and companionship. Not always do we want those two rabbits to
be hospitalized together because there are some reasons that that can complicate things,
but many times we as veterinarians, we both want to support that bond as well as we want
the friend to really help the rabbit that is having some disease process. And then some rabbits hate each other. Trying to figure out how your two rabbits
will come together is really important. So I have many clients who’ve been really
successful with this, but you typically have to go quite slow. You shouldn’t force two rabbits into the same
enclosure. That’s like forcing two college students to
be roommates when they have never met each other and come from different parts of the
planet sort of thing. So a slow and steady introduction. Lots of times we’ll introduce them where they
can’t touch each other, but they can smell each other maybe through some cage bars or
something first. We can put them in two separate enclosures,
but then they each have time in an area that they’ll share. That way they can get used to each other’s
smells. And then always we want to introduce rabbits
into a shared environment the first time that they have kind of a nose to nose. And then try to do some destruction. So if you have two rabbits coming together
for the first time, give them a big salad. So that way they’re enjoying a salad together
and their first experience together is a great experience sort of thing. And some rabbits will quickly bond to others. Some rabbits really want a rabbit companion
maybe they didn’t have a human companion most of their life. They speak rabbit, they probably need another
rabbit to bond with. Whereas some rabbits have never lived with
a rabbit for five, six, seven years. They probably speak human better than they
speak rabbit. And so trying to force them into a rabbit
companionship may not ever work. So it’s going to be really dependent upon
the individual. Kelly: What about dogs and cats? Similar. I mean you don’t want to just put them right
in front of a dog, let them kind of acclimate themselves to each other. Krista: Typically, with rabbits and dogs and
cats, we’re more concerned about the health and safety of the rabbit because we are talking
predator-prey. A lot of cats in our homes are very well-fed
and want nothing to do with a big old crazy rabbit name Raisin. But there are some cats who are a lot more
frisky and who will go, and they may think that they’re playing, but they may be batting,
and they may actually injure the rabbit. Same thing with dogs. Dogs may just be playing. It may be a young golden retriever or a lab
puppy who’s like, Oh a new friend. But if they start mouthing on the rabbit they
can do a lot of damage. And so typically we recommend exercising a
big degree of caution and if there is a free-range cat or free-range dog in the house, free-range
in the house. Sorry, that sounded a little strange. That we make sure that the rabbit is only
out and around them during very closely supervised periods. And if the rabbit is having time outside and
is free-range in the house, then maybe the cat or dog should be put away until you can
really trust that interaction. Kelly: Lastly, we’ve got about a minute if
anybody out there is watching this episode, thinking about a rabbit, has a rabbit, has
some concerns, they can always contact you at the University of Illinois and all of your
resources, correct? Krista: Yes, definitely. Kelly: Websites too out there. Krista: Yup, we have some pet columns at the
U of I that can help with making decisions about having a rabbit, some of the husbandry
concerns, some of the dental health concerns sort of thing. And I would definitely recommend even before
getting a rabbit finding if you U of I isn’t the closest place to get veterinary care,
finding a veterinarian who feels comfortable seeing your rabbit annually as well as seeing
your rabbit, if there ever is an emergency to make sure you have that support system. Kelly: Great information, Dr. Krista Keller,
thank you. From the University of Illinois for joining
us for this episode of the PAW reports all about rabbits. And Raisin, thank you for being such a good
ambassador today. Gnawing on his hay and ready to probably get
out of here and go back home. Krista: Probably. Kelly: And thank you for joining us for this
episode of the PAW report. Until next time, I’m your host, Kelly Goodwin. Rob: Dave’s Decorating Center is a proud supporter
of the Paw Report on WEIU. Dave’s Decorating Center features the Mohawk
Smartstrand Silk Forever Clean carpet. Dave’s Decorating Center, authorized Mohawk
color center in Charleston. Rameen:
The Paw Report on WEIU is supported by Rural King, America’s farm and home store, livestock
feed, farm equipment, pet supplies and more. You can find your store and more information
regarding Rural King at ruralking.com. Katelyn: Fetchers Pet Supply on the north
side of the Charleston square. Serving the EIU community since 1991. Fetchers welcomes all pets on a leash. Is open seven days a week and offers made
in the USA food. Pets supplies for dogs, cats, reptiles, and
fish. Fetchers Pets Supply in Charleston. Rameen: Additional support for The Paw Report
on WEIU, is brought to you by viewers like you. Thank you. [music playing]

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