Owning a Rabbit

General Information


Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents. There are many breeds and colors of rabbits, such as the English Angora, Chinchilla, Dutch, Flemish Giant, Himalayan, Netherlands Dwarf, Rex, Polish, Satin, and Mini Lop. If properly handled and socialized, they make a curious, sociable, pleasant, docile, quiet and gentle pet. Rabbits rarely bite, but they can scratch with their sharp claws and powerful hind legs if improperly handled. They don’t have to be walked and because they like to urinate and defecate in the same spot, usually learn to use a litter box quite easily. Their average life span is 5-8 years old (small breeds can reach 10-14 years old) and they reach breeding age at 6 months of age. Males are called bucks, females are called does and offspring are known as kittens. Rabbits are known for their breeding abilities; pregnancy lasts about 30 days and the average size litter is 4-10 bunnies. Early spaying and neutering (5-6 months of age) is recommended to decrease both medical and behavioral problems.

“Males are called bucks, females are called does and offspring are known as kittens.”

Proper handling of rabbits is important. Rabbits have a lightweight skeleton compared to most other animals. Their powerful back legs allow them to kick with a surprisingly large amount of strength. If held improperly, a swift kick can easily cause a rabbit to dislocate or break its back, resulting in severe chronic disabilities or even euthanasia for the now paralyzed rabbit. When carrying your pet, always support its entire body and hind end. NEVER pick up your rabbit by its ears. Have your veterinarian show you the proper way to restrain and carry your rabbit.


Interesting rabbit facts

  • Rabbits have large ears, which give them an excellent sense of hearing. The ears also serve as a way for the rabbit to regulate its body temperature. The ears contain large veins, which are often used for drawing blood for diagnostic testing.
  • Rabbits have a digestive tract that is adapted for digesting the large amount of fiber that is required in their diets.
  • Rabbits are hindgut fermenters, meaning that they require microbes (special bacteria and flagellate organisms) to ferment the high-fiber foods they ingest before the nutrients can be absorbed in the lower intestines and used by the body.
  • Rabbit pass large amounts of dry round fecal pellets daily. They also pass a special feces called “cecotropes” at night or in the early hours of the morning. These cecotropes contain nutrients produced by bacterial fermentation (specifically certain proteins and Vitamins B & K), and the rabbit eats the cecotropes to absorb these nutrients.
  • Compared to other pets, the skeleton of a rabbit is very light in relation to the rest of its body. This means that their bones fracture (break) more easily; carrying a rabbit improperly or dropping it can predispose it to bone fractures.
  • Rabbits have two pairs of upper incisor teeth (the second pair is hidden behind the first), which is why they are not rodents; they are correctly known as lagomorphs.
  • Like rodents, rabbit’s teeth grow throughout the pet’s life and may need periodic trimming by your veterinarian if problems arise. Providing your rabbit with blocks of wood to chew often prevents overgrown incisors, a common condition in pet rabbits.
  • Rabbits rarely make noise, but occasionally will make a growl or warning grunt. Rarely, if frightened or hurt and rabbit will make high pitched scream. Rabbits will thump their back feet as a warning signal.


Selecting your pet rabbit

Rabbits are often purchased at pet stores or through breeders. Ideally, select a young bunny. It should be curious and inquisitive. The rabbit should not be thin or emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. Also, check for the presence of parasites such as fleas and ear mites (ear mites cause the production of a crusty, thick, flaky accumulation in the ears, and often cause tenderness of the ears). The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. If possible, examine the rabbit’s mouth for broken or overgrown incisors (front teeth), discolored gums (they should be light pink), and any obvious sores. Inquire as to whether the rabbit has been spayed or neutered; most have not been at the time of purchase. Finally, inquire as to any guarantee of health the seller is offering.


The First Veterinary Visit

Your rabbit should be examined by a veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase (this examination is often required by the seller or any guarantee becomes void). Make sure the veterinarian has experience in treating rabbits. The veterinarian will examine the rabbit, record its weight, and discuss housing, proper diet, and appropriate toys for the rabbit. At this time, a fecal sample should also be examined for parasites. Rabbits require at least annual physical examinations and fecal tests to check for parasites.



rabbits-owning-2Rabbits do not require vaccinations unless housed outdoors where consideration for rabies vaccination should be discussed with your veterinarian.

As a final note, rabbits generally make good family pets, but should never be left unsupervised with small children.

Rick Axelson, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.
posted in:  Uncategorized

Your New Year’s Resolution Should Involve Your Pets

               Weight loss is our number one New Year’s resolution every year and this               year is no exception

More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults are considered to be overweight or obese. An estimated 58% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese.

We and our pet(s) can avoid: Osteoarthritis, Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Heart and Respiratory Disease, Knee Injuries, Kidney Disease, Many Forms of Cancer, Decreased Life Expectancy…the list goes on for both humans and pets

fat_catWe, as Americans, have become too busy with…life. We put ourselves at the back burner every time. The kids come first. The community. Your spouse. Whatever else you can come up with. You
take a back seat every time. Your pet(s) do too for the most part. You always wanted that dog, that cat, etc. But if you don’t have good habits then your dog doesn’t either.

One problem that we see here at Harmony Animal Hospital is that most pet owners just don’t see their pet as overweight or obese. They see a loving animal that they love…to death…with treats, table scraps and whatever else they beg for.

We just want them to be happy, is our excuse. Well, we are killing our pets slowly but those joints, hearts, …can’t handle the weight forever.




Weight loss is tough for anyone – two- or four-legged! However, losing weight and getting in shape can add not only years to your dog’s life, and yourself,  it can also make those extra years more enjoyable. Helping your cuddly canine to shed a few pounds may be easier than you think. It simply requires a commitment to weight loss and fitness, attention to details and the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team.

Why should my dog lose weight?weight_reduction_in_dogs_-_general-1_2009

“As few as five pounds above the ideal body weight can put your dog at risk for developing some serious medical conditions.”

As few as five pounds above the ideal body weight can put your dog at risk for developing some serious medical conditions. Unfortunately, when a dog is overweight or obese it no longer is a question of “if” your dog will develop a condition secondary to the excess weight but “how soon and how serious!” Some of the common disorders associated with excess weight include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis (arthritis)
  • Increased frequency of joint injuries
  • High blood pressure
  • Some forms of cancer – especially intra-abdominal cancers

Overweight and obese dogs usually have shorter lives than their fitter, normal weight counterparts. Heavy dogs tend to physically interact less with their families and are less energetic and playful. Because they tend to lie around more, it is easier to overlook early signs of illness, since we may attribute their lethargy to their “normal laziness.” We are just now learning how serious and threatening a few extra pounds can be for both humans and our critter companions.

How should I begin a weight loss program for my dog?

“Fewer calories in plus more calories out equals weight loss.”

Theoretically, weight loss seems simple enough: fewer calories in plus more calories out equals weight loss. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. You should never put your dog on a diet without the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team. There may be an underlying medical condition that is causing or contributing to your dog’s excess weight. Some common diseases associated with weight gain include hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease). These diseases, along with others, should be eliminated as possible causes or contributors to your dog’s weight problem prior to beginning a diet. Too many dogs start on a diet and fail to lose weight simply because the diet wasn’t the problem – a disease was. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and recommend blood tests to ensure that there are no obstacles to weight loss for your pet.

How much should I feed my dog to promote weight loss?

In order to answer this question, your veterinarian will need to calculate your dog’s ideal weight based on its breed and size. Based on your dog’s degree of excess weight, your veterinarian may recommend a target weight higher than the ideal weight to start. After the dog loses this weight, a re-evaluation will be made to determine whether further weight loss is needed. A safe weight loss for most dogs is 3-5% body weight loss per month.

There are formulas and charts that can be used to calculate exactly how many calories your dog requires to maintain its body weight, and how many calories it needs to achieve its ideal body weight. A basic formula for weight loss in dogs is:

  • [70 x (ideal weight in kg)] ¾ or [70 x (ideal weight in kg)] to the ¾ power


  • RER in kcal/day = 30(body weight in kilograms) + 70

To save you making the calculations, the following chart provides calorie requirements based on weight ranges, as follows:

Ideal weight (lbs) Calories to feed (kcal) at 100% RER per day Ideal weight (lbs) Calories to feed (kcal) at 100% RER per day
10 210 55 820
15 270 60 890
20 340 65 950
25 410 70 1020
30 480 75 1090
35 550 80 1160
40 615 85 1230
45 680 90 1300
50 750 100 1430

Note: This is a general guideline only and is not meant as a substitute from your veterinarian’s specific recommendations.

weight_reduction_in_dogs_-_general-2_2009For most dogs, feeding the RER calories should result in weight loss. In cases that fail to respond, the total number of calories will need to be reduced further. For many dogs, the best way to feed will be by feeding a specific diet food in several meals per day. It is vital that you know how many calories are in the food that your dog is eating, and that you count the calories or measure the food when entering into a weight reduction program. Feeding too much will result in no weight loss and feeding too little can potentially result in serious health consequences associated with malnutrition..

“If you are using a reducing diet obtained from your veterinarian, the calorie content of the food will be on the label.”

If you are using a reducing diet obtained from your veterinarian, the calorie content of the food will be on the label, and a member of your veterinary team will help you determine the appropriate amount to feed. If you choose to use an alternate source of food, and this information is not available you will need to contact the manufacturer to get this information.

How quickly should I introduce the new reducing diet to my dog?

“To minimize digestive upsets, mix the old and new diets together in gradually increasing proportions.”

When you are introducing a new diet to your dog, you should allow about a week to make the transition. To minimize digestive upsets, mix the old and new diets together in gradually increasing proportions. Start by feeding one-quarter of the new diet mixed with three-quarters of the old diet for one to two days, then increase to half and half for another two days, then three-quarters new food and one-quarter old food for a final two to three days before completely switching to the new diet.

To enhance the palatability of the diet food, try warming the food, adding a flavoring such as ketchup or  oregano, a small amount of salmon juice or low-fat soup broth, or an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

How can I get my dog to lose more weight through exercise?weight_reduction_in_dogs_-_general-3_2009

“Increase the intensity and length of your daily walk.”

The first thing you can do to help your dog lose weight is to increase the intensity and length of your daily walk. Few dogs will naturally walk at a pace that generates the elevated heart rates needed for sustained aerobic activity and weight loss. Based on observations of people walking with their dogs, the average pace is 20 to 25 minutes per mile, which is actually a stroll. They make frequent pauses (on average every one to two minutes) to allow their dog to smell an interesting object or mark territory. Walking for weight loss is very different than walking for pleasure. You should aim for a daily brisk 30-minute walk. With this sort of walking, you should break into a slight sweat within a few minutes. For details on developing a healthy walking program for your dog, see our handout “Walking Your Dog for Weight Loss“.

Some additional simple tips for getting your dog to exercise more are:

  • Move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs, changing its location frequently so that the dog always has to walk to get to its food bowl. Fat dogs are smart dogs and if the food bowl moves upstairs, they’ll start relocating upstairs, too.
  • Use toys, balls, laser pointers, squeaky toys, or sticks to encourage games of chase or fetch. Try to play with your dog for at least ten to fifteen minutes twice a day. There are toys that move randomly and make noises that may also be interesting to your dog. For many dogs, variety is important, and what is exciting or interesting today may be boring tomorrow.

How often should I have my dog’s progress checked?

“Each dog is an individual and may require adjustments in the recommended diet or routine.”

After you’ve put your dog on a weight loss program, it’s critical that you determine if it’s working for your dog. Each dog is an individual and may require adjustments in the recommended diet or routine before finding the correct approach. In general, your dog should be weighed at least every month until the ideal weight is achieved. If there is no significant weight loss in one month, (3-5% of the staring body weight), then the program will need to be modified. Sometimes, making only a slight change can deliver significant improvements.

When my dog is hungry, she pesters me until I feed her. Do you have any suggestions? It is often easier to give in to the dog that wakes you at four in the morning to be fed or the dog that stares at you during dinner or television time until you relent. These dogs have trained us well and know exactly which buttons to press when it comes to getting their way. Here are some tips for handling your pleading pup:

  • Do not use a self-feeder. While this seems obvious, auto-feeders are nothing more than unlimited candy machines to a fat dog.
  • Pet your dog or play with it when it begs for food. Many dogs substitute food for affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces mealtime.
  • Go for a walk with your dog when it begs. The distraction and interaction may be just enough to make it forget its desire for food.
  • Feed small meals frequently – especially give a last feeding for those dogs that like to wake you up in the wee hours begging for more goodies – divide the total volume or calories into four to six smaller meals – whatever you do, don’t feed extra food
  • When the bowl is empty and your dog is pleading, add a few kibbles to the bowl. A few means only a few – not a handful.
  • If more than one person may feed the dog, you should measure out the total daily food into a separate container such as a covered food storage container. Then, everybody knows how much the dog has been fed, and how much is left for the day. If you enjoy giving treats to your dog, feed her several kibbles from the container rather than giving her high calorie dog biscuits.
  • Give a couple of pieces of vegetables such as baby carrots, frozen sliced carrots, broccoli, green beans, celery or asparagus. Most dogs love crunchy treats so make it a healthy – and low-calorie – choice.
  • Offer fresh water instead of food. If your dog is eyeing the empty food bowl, a drink of cold, fresh water may satisfy the craving.

We have more than one dog in the house, and only one is overweight. What should I do?

“The ideal solution for multi-dog households is to feed the dogs separately.”

The ideal solution for multi-dog households is to feed the dogs separately. Feed the overweight dog its diet in one room while feeding the other dog its food elsewhere. After a prescribed time, generally fifteen to thirty minutes, remove any uneaten food.

Do not leave food out while you’re away from home. You can’t control who eats what when you’re not around.

How long will my dog need to be on a diet?

Most dogs will achieve their ideal weight within six to eight months. If the process is taking longer than this, something needs to be changed. A healthy weight loss is between one to five pounds per month based on your dog’s size and current condition. Some dogs may need to go slower while others may shed the pounds more quickly.

For most dogs, the secret to weight loss is a dedicated, committed and concerned family. Dogs don’t understand that their excess weight is killing them. It’s up to us as good stewards to protect them from harm and not inadvertently contribute to their premature death or development of debilitating diseases. Together – veterinary healthcare team, you and your family – we can help your dog achieve a healthy body weight and condition safely and successfully.

Everything that you just read can apply to you as well. So here’s your modivation. Your beloved pet. Now go out for a walk with your fur kid , take in some fresh air and lose a few together!

The family that lives a healthy lifestyle together lives longer and happier lives together



posted in:  Dog & Cat Care

Preparing Your Pet for a Hurricane

While other residents are buying batteries and calculating escape routes, pet owners are most concerned with their precious charges. One of the most common concerns at this time of year is what will happen to my pet if a hurricane strikes.
If your home is in a vulnerable area, it may become necessary to leave during the threat of a major hurricane.  In this situation, the welfare of a pet becomes a real problem.  While it may be possible and ideal to take your pet with you to the safe home of a family member or friend, some residents may not have this option.
If it becomes necessary to evacuate your home you may need to spend some time in a Red Cross Shelter.  Unfortunately, due to health reasons Red Cross Shelters will not accept pets.  Some people have chosen to stay in an unsafe home with their pets rather than go to shelters without them.
There is no need to risk your life to save your pet.  There is a network of specially designated Red Cross Pet Hurricane Shelters.
We were instrumental in working with the Red Cross even before Hurricane Andrew to set up this network of pet shelters.  Harmony Animal Hospital is designated as one of the safe havens, as are many other veterinary hospitals in Palm Beach County.  To receive a complete list either come in or call the Red Cross at 561-833-7711.
It is always important to plan ahead and even make advance reservations if necessary.  You may have to bring your pet into the Pet Hurricane Shelter eight or more hours in advance of the hurricane.  The shelter personnel will secure all of their charges and then make their own plans to be sure their homes and families are safe.  Most shelters will not be able to accommodate you or your pet at the last minute so make your plans early.
Be sure your pet is up to date on all vaccinations and have proof available. Pet Hurricane Shelters will not accept unvaccinated animals.  Be sure your pet is wearing a collar with identification.  Bring any medications that your pet needs to take on a routine basis. It is also a good idea to bring your pet’s food and enough bottled water to last your pet for at least three days.  If the power goes out water may not be available.
Since the Pet Hurricane Shelters will fill up their facility over their usual capacity in order to accommodate as many pets as possible, it is a good idea to have a roomy crate available so the shelter can house your pet.  They may have more pets needing care than there are kennels or runs available.
The choice of using a Pet Hurricane Shelter should always be the last choice.  There are many more pets than there are spaces in shelters.  Use one of the shelters if no other choice is available. If you are able to keep your pet in a safe home, it is often advisable to have pet tranquilizers available.  Contact your veterinarian well in advance of the problem to discuss this possibility.  Hurricanes are tremendously frightening to animals and they may be difficult to control and calm.


Horses and livestock, of course, cannot be brought to Pet Hurricane Shelters. They should be boarded in barns that are strong enough to withstand the full storm surge. Sometimes it is better to leave them in a fenced pasture.  Be sure your horses and other livestock are wearing identification so they can be reunited with you if they get loose and wander or become injured during the storm.  Of course, secure all objects that may become deadly missiles during the storm.
When the storm is over be careful about letting your pets outside. There are many hazards to pets (and people) after a severe storm including broken glass, downed power lines, and dangerous debris.  Your pet may become confused by the change to his normal environment and wander off and become lost. All pets should always wear identification in the form of a collar and tag, and a permanent identification microchip.  We advise that you have your pets implanted with a microchip now, instead of waiting until a threat is imminent. Microchip implantation is a safe, and painless procedure that does not require anesthesia and only requires a few minutes. This tiny device is injected under the skin and becomes a permanent means of identifying your pet.  After Hurricane Andrew a huge undertaking was reuniting lost pets with their owners.  In all too many cases, that never occurred and new homes had to be found for the storm orphans.
In addition, after the storm you will need to be sure that your pet does not consume any contaminated food or water since garbage pickup may be nonexistent for a while.
The chance of an injury occurring is a possibility, as we saw when we worked in the makeshift clinics treating often severely hurt pets in Dade County after Hurricane Andrew.  It may not be easy to get to a veterinarian after the storm has passed due to roads being blocked and phone lines down.
One of my strongest recommendations is to be ready for this possibility.  Sign up for our Pet CPR/First Aid class that we teach every three or four months.  In that one-evening class you will learn how to deal with many types of emergency injuries such as bleeding, broken bones, electrocution and suffocation.  You will also be taught CPR on a realistic dog CPR mannequin.  Give us a call for the date of the next class.
For further information on how you and your four-legged loved ones can weather a hurricane:


  1. Go to floridadisaster.org and create your own Family Disaster Plan. It will tell you how much food and water you and your family will need, what your evacuation route is in your area. It gives you a Pet Disaster Supply List. It gives you a First Aid Kit list etc.
  2. Go to petvets.com or www.humanesociety.org/prepare for more pet related info
  3. Please call your veterinarian
  4. Call the American Red Cross at 561-833-7711.
  5. Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control will accept pre-registered pets from people living in mandatory evacuation zones who are going to a Red Cross Shelter. Space is limited. Pet owners are responsible for crates, pet medications, food, toys, etc. Pet are to arrive no earlier than 24 hours prior to landfall, and owners are required to pick up their pet within 48 hours after landfall. AC & C accepts the following types of pets: dogs, cats, pet birds, and small pocket pets. All animals are required to have all current vaccinations, tags and bands. No aggressive animals accepted. For pre-registration call 561-233-1266
  6. If you lose you pet, start your search quickly. Call the animal control office in your municipality, Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control, your veterinarian and animal rescue leagues. Animal Shelters to look for you lost pet(s):
    • Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, 3200 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach, 561-656-3663
    • Tri-County Humane Society, 21287 Boca Rio Road, Boca Raton, 561-482-8110
    • Boynton Beach Animal Control, 415 NE 4th Street, Boynton Beach, 561-375-6210
    • You can also check The Palm Beach Post (561-820-4343) or the Sun Sentinel (561-736-9700) or other local papers in “Lost & Found” listings.
  7. Hotels: If you choose to go to a hotel/motel, call and make reservations. The following hotels/motels located west of I-95 accept pets:
  8. Fairfield Inn & Suites, Jupiter 561-748-5252
  9. La Quinta Inn in Jupiter 561-575-7201
  10. PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens 561-627-2000
  11. Double Tree Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens 561-622-2260
  12. Homewood Studio’s by Hilton in Palm Beach Gardens 561-622-7799
  13. Comfort Inn in West Palm Beach 561-689-6100
  14. Homestead Village Guest Studios in Boca Raton 561-994-2599
  15. Residence Inn by Marriott in Boca Raton 561-994-3222
  16. http://www.floridapets.net , tripswithpets.com , www.bringfido.com, www.dogfriendly.com, www.pet-friendly-hotels.net, www.petswelcome.com, & www.fidofriendly.com are great websites for owners when traveling.
posted in:  Seasonal