More News from the Litterbox

It’s been so long since I’ve written, I’ve really gotten out of the habit! I’ll have to break my update up into different posts. This one will be about Thomas’ health.

He’s still having bladder problems. We were in and out of the vet’s all last month because of sludge. Like before, the problem never got too bad — always plenty of normal urine, never any signs of pain. He started peeing outside the box at one point, I think because of stress. A urine test indicated no infection but lots of calcium. He’s on a pellets-free diet now, and still yesterday there was a tiny bit of sludge.

Eventually, we might have to learn how to do subQs at home, and how to express a sludgey bladder. For now, we’re trying to encourage him to drink lots of water and get lots of exercise. Also we track what he eats, and we’re going to start looking for correlations between sludge and any particular veg.

For encouraging water, he’s got his bowl and bottle, he eats plenty of hay (because rabbits that eat lots of hay typically drink more water than those that don’t), and sometimes we spike his water with a tiny bit of apple juice. We’re also looking for a cat fountain, because we’ve heard some rabbits like those.

For exercise, someone on Etherbun suggested agility training. I like it! I’ve started looking into clicker training.

Continuing Story of Bladder Sludge

So I skipped class and went to the vet’s later that day (Fri 7 Dec). The vet examined Thomas and decided against diagnostics (e.g. X-ray) because he didn’t think it was likely the bladder was full of sludge (his reasons being the bladder was very small, and the rabbit showed no pain at having it poked and prodded). He hopes this condition can be managed through diet, mainly by limiting pellets. Since before Tom came to us, he’d been eating 1/4 cup of pellets per day. Tom weighs less than 2kgs/4lbs (between 1.65-1.75kg — he’s gained weight since we first weighed him in April, and we’re not sure what his healthy weight is). I’ve always felt this was too many pellets for such a small rabbit, so I’m pleased.

Of course, there’s no exact portion-size to rabbit-size ratio that will suit every single bunny. Given variations in genetic makeup and lifestyle, there has to be some flexibility when applying dietary guidelines. That’s why people generally talk in ranges, or in approximations. The House Rabbit Society and MediRabbit both say 1/4-1/2 cup for 6lb rabbits. Dana Krempels (from H.A.R.E.) says 1/8 cup for 5lb rabbits. The Toronto Humane Society says 1/4 cup for a 6lb rabbit. My vet’s website says 1/8 cup per 2kg of body weight. And my favourite recommendation — because it’s so simple, easy to remember, and scaleable to your rabbit’s size — is 1:1, i.e. tablespoons of pellets to kilograms of rabbit healthy body weight.

So, for the past 10 days, Tom’s had no pellets at all. Woah, yep, that’s right: the vet said cold turkey. Given all the warnings I’ve read re. the importance of gradual dietary changes, I expressed some concern with this plan, but he said not to worry, so I didn’t. I bumped up his veg 100% (up to 2 packed cups, rather than 1; that’s about 80g of veg daily), while also including about 10g of solid veg, to replace the lost calories from the pellets (I gave either carrot or fennel; he’s not familiar with any other solid veg, yet — previously these had been treats only, maybe 2 or 3g bites every few days). I also kept spiking his water with apple juice (some days 1:7 other days 1:8 i.e. juice:water). We limited but did not eliminate veg high in calcium or oxalates, such as:

  • Spinach, Dandelion, Parsley, Chard/Beet tops, Basil, Dill, Crucifers, e.g. arugula, broccoli, choy, collards, kale, mustards, radish, turnip, rapini, cress
  • [Edit: 25 Dec 2012 — The above list is not necessarily true… I’ve encountered disagreement in my sources!]

(There are many sources online I’ve consulted about the mineral contents of fresh veg; here’s one recently recommended to me: Guinea Lynx Nutrition Charts.)

The outcome from all this? No sludge! Ample normal urine! Zero signs of discomfort or ill-health! Hoorah!

Now we begin re-introducing pellets. I’m going to take 6 days, slowly working up to 2Tbsp (that’s 1/8 cup). Today he had 1tsp. You should have seen him when he heard the sound of pellets scooped into a bowl, ha ha. He usually throws some binkies when we’re getting his meals ready but this was unparalleled, a real madbun.

At the end of the day, we’re still in wait-and-see mode. This could be a problem that rears its head periodically. We may always have to ensure he’s getting enough exercise, enough water, not too much dietary calcium. The older he gets, the more sluggish his system will become; this could eventually require real close supervision, including regular subQs to help flush the bladder (in which case, I will pressure my vet to teach me and supply me to do them at home). Or, it could become even more serious, requiring a stay with the vet and more intensive bladder flushing.

Or maybe it will never happen again!?!? Here’s to hoping.

Clauss, Marcus. “Clinical Technique: Feeding Hay to Rabbits and Rodents.” Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 21:1 (2012): 80-86. Web. 16 Dec 2012. <link>

Some Sludge

Yesterday morning, I noticed a white blotch on top of a pile of wet litter in the rabbit’s box. On further investigation, I realized it must be bladder sludge. It was almost as thick as toothpaste. There wasn’t a lot of it, and there was plenty of normal urine too, but I was concerned.

I saw more sludge later that night (although more fluid, less paste-like). This morning there’s a good amount of normal urine in there, and no sludge. /relief But I’ve come to realize this is not a one-off,* and if there’s more sludge in there I think we should get it out, so I’ve made an appointment with the vet for this afternoon.

(I might also mention that in all other visible respects — drinking, eating, pooping, mood, activity levels, appearance — Thomas is a-ok.)

Here’s what I’ve been doing: When I found the sludge, I wrote to EtherBun, where someone directed me to this web page: “Bladder Sludge in Rabbits” (HRN). Then I looked at these web pages: “Normal Urine and ‘Sludge’ in Rabbits” (MediRabbit), and “Bladder Stones and Bladder Sludge in Rabbits” (HRS). Since then I’ve been trying to encourage water drinking (I replaced all his hay sources and his water, super-soaked his greens, and gave him a bowl of juice-water — 1:9 pure apple juice:water), and exercise (I got out the tunnel he likes to play in, and threw some toys around the room; and I’ve just generally been trying to give him attention — I let him out at five this morning, so he could run around for his peak hours, etc).

* I’ve seen white blotches on the litter before, dry and hard, and I knew it was calcium in his urine, but I didn’t think of sludge because it was without substance — I mean, the litter (Carefresh) was dyed and stiffened, but there was nothing caked on or anything, nothing solid (as is depicted in the MediRabbit page mentioned above). So, I thought the calcium was coming out as a bit of grit clouding otherwise normal urine. Something like that is not necessarily a bad sign; it’s the normal way for a rabbit to get rid of extra calcium. However, when the urine becomes thick (sludge), or stones develop (calculi), or anything that could obstruct or inflame the urinary passages happens, this is a problem. And I realize now, the colour on his litter is too white, too concentrated, to be from just a bit of grit clouding the urine.

Okay, so I love this rabbit, he’s a good fella and deep down I’m happy to care for him. But why do bunnies have such bad timing? I’m about to start exams and really have other things to do than go the vet’s (like, for example, go to classes). With our last bun, it was always a long weekend or something ridiculous like New Year’s Eve. Yo!

Update on the Cyst

So, it took longer than two weeks, but the cyst did go away. (Last on “The Cyst,” Chance’s vet said to give it two weeks before he cuts it out. Chance’s owners, the rescue agency, decided to give it longer than that … and good thing!) I had started to worry it would never go away, because while it shrank quickly at first, it stuck around at the same reduced size for a long time. But during last month’s physical (about five weeks after we first found the cyst), I couldn’t find it at all. Good stuff.

So it’s a Cyst

Today I brought Chance to the vet’s. This was my first time with this vet, and I’m pleased to say that everything went smoothly — even the streetcars at rush hour. After a physical exam, the vet drew some fluid from the lump, which told him it was a cyst. He advised that we give it two weeks. If it’s still there in two weeks, he’ll cut it out. If it’s gone, good! If it grows bigger in the meantime, out it comes. My preferred outcome is obvious but, either way, this is not the worst diagnosis. And Chance comported himself very well at the vet’s. While travelling (and while seated), I kept a hand in the carrier, and it seemed to calm him (as it did with my last rabbit). On the way home, he even laid down for most of the trip while I petted him. This evening he’s been a little reclusive, though, poor fella.

Second Rabbit, Second Lump

Much time has passed, and there’s so much I’ve wanted to write about, but I’m back in school and busy-busy-busy. They say that “no news is good news,” and sadly they’re right in this case, because I’m writing to say that I found a lump on Chance’s belly last night.

I can’t imagine it’s been there long: I pet him closely every day, and would have noticed it. We weighed him just last week, which means picking him up and, therefore, touching his belly. We gave him a thorough physical three weeks ago and, in retrospect, I may have possibly felt something then but, if so, it was tiny.

Now it’s rather large, though slightly smaller than a walnut. It’s hard, round, and distinct. It seems to be under the skin, and it moves around when I touch it (not in a great way — always staying in the general vicinity, but I mean it’s not stuck fast to a certain spot). There’s no broken skin, no fur loss, no sensitivity (Chance isn’t keen on focused handling, but he doesn’t especially pull away when I touch the lump).

Cyst? Tumour? Abscess? He’s had no injuries or surgery in the area that I know of, and he’s such a young guy, I wasn’t expecting this.

Poor Chance. I emailed the folks at Rabbit Rescue immediately upon finding it, and they’ve arranged a vet appointment for tomorrow evening. Hopefully nothing happens between now and then — because, aside from the lump, you’d have no clue Chance was ill.

Fingers crossed for sebaceous cyst! I had heard these were rather uncommon in rabbits, but Rabbit Rescue tells me they’ve experienced them before.

(About the title of this post: I’m trying to stay calm through all this, but the déjà-vu is a little distressing, for the last time I was writing about finding lumps on rabbits, it was the beginning of the end for my beloved Frances. The similarities end there, but still, I can’t help but be reminded. Poor buns.)

The Variable Cost of Rabbit Supplies

Sometimes I feel like a chump when people are shocked by how much money I spend on the rabbit. When it’s a non-rabbit person, I brush it off: they just don’t understand. But when it’s a rabbit person, I start to squirm.

There was a poster making the Facebook rounds a few weeks ago, quoting the ASPCA as saying rabbits are the most expensive pet to keep at $730 a year. Although many people shared a similar reaction (shock), half believed $730 to be shockingly low, while the other half believed the opposite.

I’m in the latter camp. Awhile ago, I made a calculator for people to figure their rabbit costs (the default prices are just examples, and can be replaced with your own figures). Based on the actual prices I pay, my annual costs (including a physical exam from the vet and urine testing), are $1,400 — almost twice as much as the ASPCA’s $730. That assumes a healthy, young, indoors rabbit (because older rabbits may need blood testing and more frequent vet visits; and an outdoors rabbit needs feces testing for parasites).

So, where are people cutting their costs?

I think it’s largely a rural/urban issue. If you can buy your hay and pellets at the local feed store in bulk, grow your own greens, and your vet isn’t passing along the cost of a city-priced rent/mortgage to you, surely you can save-save-save! (But, here’s a question: do the folks who live in these situations count the cost of gas and car insurance in with their bunny costs? Eh?)

Well, there’s not much I can do about those things. I don’t have a car to pick up hay direct from the farm; and even if I did (or if I wanted to use an AutoShare car), I have no place to store the stuff. My junior one bedroom flat is stuffed to the brim as it is. I have no land to grow anything, and I don’t think a window box would save me much in the long run (if anything).

But there’s also the question of litter. This is something I could do something about. I use Carefresh, but I could use something less expensive, like wood stove pellets, newspaper, or aspen shavings.

Call me finicky, but I don’t want to sacrifice absorption. I’ve seen what a litter box of wood stove pellets looks like: wet. And I can imagine a box of newspaper or aspen shavings is no different. If this doesn’t bother you, more power to you: but it just doesn’t work for me.

So, my plan is to try mixing. Carefresh with aspen shavings is the first experiment. Annoyingly (or amusingly), the bag of aspen shavings I got at one of my local pet supply stores works out to very minimal savings in comparison to Carefresh. But, whatever: maybe I can find a cheaper bag elsewhere — I decide to try it out anyway.

The results? A wet litter box. Always the bottom of the box is wet now, so in addition to scooping I have to get out the paper towel and spot clean. (Leaving urine in the box is neither healthy for humans nor for buns, because of the ammonia.) I’m not impressed.

Next I’ll try mixing with Boxo and, after that, mixing with wood stove pellets. To be honest, my expectations aren’t high.

So, are bunnies expensive? When you get down to the nitty-gritty, you can see it varies widely.

The question is, when we’re talking advocacy and promotion, who do we cater to? Is it best to assume low costs for the sake of maximising appeal, yet risking a nasty surprise for city folk and possible returned/abandoned bunnies as a result? Or is it better to assume high costs so that any surprise down the road will be a happy one, yet risking the possibility that some people will be turned off by the high sticker price (even though it may not apply to them), with the result of fewer adoptions.

Personally, I’d rather opt for fewer adoptions and fewer returns, but I may feel differently if I worked in a shelter or ran a rescue operation. As with all things rabbit, it would be nice to see some numbers…