What is "Wellness Care" for a Rabbit?

Rabbit Wellness Care

In 2019, most people know what “good preventative care” looks like for pet dogs.  At least once a year you take them in for an exam, update some vaccines, talk about heartworm prevention, run a blood profile, check a fecal sample for parasites, etc.  We have come to know how much of a difference it can make for our pet dogs and cats to have good preventative medicine and to catch disease processes early with regular screening.  

But what about rabbits? In the veterinary world, an“exotic” species is any pet that lives in your house other than a dog or a cat.  Rabbits have become the most popular “exotic” species of all.  People have owned rabbits for a very long time, but our relationship with them has changed in the last few decades.  More and more of our bunny friends are found roaming free (or mostly free) in our main living areas, instead of being kept in outside coops.

Since All Creatures Animal Clinic is one of the few veterinary hospitals that sees rabbits in our area, we see a HUGE number of them.  We see rabbits just about every day, and often 4-5 in a single day. Our rabbit owners are extremely dedicated to their pets.  We perform advanced diagnostics, dentistry and surgery on them routinely when they become ill.  But, sometimes even our most diligent clients are not quite sure what “routine” care should look like for their healthy rabbits.  

Preventative care for rabbits (and other exotic pets) is extremely important.  Most of the “exotic” species we keep are prey species or minimally communicative (I’m looking at you, snakes). Because of this, they don’t like to tell us when they are sick- until they are really sick.  Regular preventative care and excellent diets and environments are the key to keeping our exotic pets happy and healthy. 

So, what do we recommend for routine care for a healthy rabbit? 

  • Annual exam- no substitute for having a trained professional take an up-close look.

  • Annual blood panel- a quick, low-stress sample can give us a wealth of information about what is going on inside your rabbits’ body.

  • Annual fecal examination- has your buddy picked up any parasites during the year? 

  • Annual dental x-ray.  Dental disease is very common in rabbits and we don’t usually catch it until it is quite advanced.  By taking a single, quick picture once per year, we can pick up on disease at much earlier stages and make a big difference with small corrections. This is a minimally stressful procedure that is easy to do during your annual visit without any sedation. 

What do we recommend for routine care for other exotics? Well, it depends on the species and the individual pet, but most species will benefit from the following:

  • Annual physical exam.

  • Annual fecal exam for parasites.

  • Annual blood panel. 

Every species and every pet is a little bit different.  There are no one-size-fits-all plans. We have to tailor our approach to every pet and to the whole family’s needs.  But, these pets are important members of our family.  By practicing robust preventative medicine, we can give our exotic friends the best care possible. 

In The News: Heart Disease and Dog Food

What’s the News? 

Recently, the FDA has come out with some initial information about a possible link between a kind of heart disease in dogs (dilated cardiomyopathy) and certain diets.  

FDA Investigates Potential Link Between Certain Diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Over the last year, concerns have been raised by cardiologists about an increase in the incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy, particularly in breeds that are not typically predisposed to the condition.  This has led to some analysis over the last year. The FDA’s report names the brands of dog food that are most often reported in the cases of dilated cardiomyopathy they studied. These diets may be linked with the condition, but there is no good comparative data at this point. There is speculation that the issue with these diets may be that they are”grain-free” or have high amounts of peas, lentils or potatoes. 

How to Respond to the News? 

The “grain-free” trend in dog food has been growing steadily over the last several years.  However, this trend is not based on any real evidence of benefits to dogs’ health. A small percentage of dogs do have true food allergies, but grains are not even the most common allergies in dogs. 

It is important to remember that this information is very preliminary, and that the chances of your dog developing dilated cardiomyopathy, even if they are on one of the implicated diets, is very low. However, since there is no real evidence that these diets are especially helpful to most dogs, we urge some caution.  Switching to a regular, trusted dog food brand that does not boast a “grain-free,” or pea, lentil or potato main ingredient MAY be a rational move. However, switching diets can be a big deal for a pet. Remember to switch over gradually during a 5-7 day period. Also, if your dog has food sensitivities, food allergies or special medical needs, the risks of switching diets may outweigh the risks of staying with the diet that has been working.  

The best thing to do if you are concerned, is to come in for a dietary consult with All Creatures Animal Clinic.  We can provide expert guidance on how your dogs’ diet can affect their long-term health. This is a subject that we are passionate about and have researched thoroughly.

What Should I Feed My Dog? 

For most dogs, a high-quality, regular dog food works great.  Here is a link to our general care information on feeding healthy pets, including a list of brands we trust: 

All Creatures Animal Clinic Recommendations: Dog Diets

All Creatures Animal Clinic Recommendations: Cat Diets

There is also a whole world of veterinary prescription diets that provide a number of health benefits for our pets. Prescription diets are life-changing for pets with conditions like kidney disease, food allergies and arthritis.  However, many of these diets are also incredibly good at treating common and preventable conditions as well now.  

We have had excellent success with weight control (Hill’s Metabolic) and dental tartar prevention (Hill’s T/D) and allergy control (Hill’s Derm Defense).  Many dogs could benefit from a high quality prescription diet; this is an area where your veterinarian is your best resource for information. 

Many people wish to feed their pets raw or home-cooked diets.  There are safe and healthy ways to do this, but we have seen a lot of problems with these diets over the years.  Problems include diarrhea from contaminated raw food, improper calcium: phosphorus ratios and micro-nutrient deficiencies.  We have worked with many clients to create healthy home-cooked diets, but this must be done with caution.  

There are thousands of brands of food, so choosing a diet can be overwhelming, especially with the constant influx of warnings, recalls and articles that are out there.  We are happy to help you navigate this noise and pick out an excellent diet for your pet.  

Dogs and Allergies

Why is my dog so itchy???

Many things cause itchy skin in dogs, but the MOST COMMON REASON BY FAR is ALLERGIES!

Canine allergies are incredibly common. In September and October (peak allergy season), about half of the patients we see are itchy dogs. Allergies in dogs cause skin irritation and itch (licking, scratching, chewing). Once the skin is inflamed, they go on to develop secondary infections (skin rashes, ear infections, hair loss). This can cause significant pain and irritation to dogs and to their sleepless owners!

Three major types of allergies in dogs:

1. Environmental allergies (Atopy, Atopic Dermatitis)

Tree, grass, and plant pollen, animal dander, mites, dust, molds... these small particles waft through the air and settle onto the grass and ground. Dogs come into contact with these allergens and develop an irritating allergic reaction on their feet, bellies and then across their whole bodies (and especially their ears).

2. Food allergies

Food allergies look almost identical to environmental allergies (itchy skin, ear infections, belly rashes, etc). However, there is a very different cause. Food allergy is caused by an adverse reaction to something in a dog’s diet, typically a protein. Beef and dairy are the most common food allergies, but a dog can be allergic to ANY food ingredient. Food allergies are much less common than environmental allergies.

3. Flea allergies

When a dog gets fleas, it is always irritating to both the dog and the owner. However, when a dog as an ALLERGY to its fleas, a single flea bite can cause a huge amount of itching and irritation across the whole body.

How can we tell the difference?

It is often very difficult to be sure which kind of allergy your pet has. This is because the signs of these different allergies overlap considerably. Here are some of the clues we look for.


Environmental allergies often have a seasonal component. They can peak any time in the spring-fall, but August-October is the prime season. However, some dogs experience environmental allergies year-round.

-Diet trials:

To determine if a pet has a food allergy, they should be given a full diet trial. This means feeding a highly specialized home-cooked diet or a prescription hypoallergenic diet for 2-4 months and doing a food challenge at the completion of the trial.

-Flea clues:

Flea allergies often presents with the most intense itching on the rump. Additionally, evidence of flea infestation is usually (but not always) present at the same time.

What can we do to help these dogs?

-Treat the infections:

When dogs develop skin infections or ear infections (overgrowth of their own yeast and bacteria), they need treatment. Ear cytologies and skin cytologies are needed to tell what is growing on the skin and in the ears and to monitor progress. Ear infections are typically treated with 2-8 week course of an appropriate topical medication in the ears. Skin infections are typically treated with a 2-8 week course of antibiotics, anti-fungals and medicated shampoos as appropriate. We can also administer anti-inflammatories, fatty acids and antihistamines to calm down the underlying skin allergy. Specialty diets for environmental allergies can also help greatly.

-Fully addressing the underlying allergy:

Unfortunately, allergies are something we manage, not something we can get rid of completely (in most cases). Many dogs suffer from frequent, recurrent skin and ear infections. This can be very frustrating for dogs, owners and veterinarians alike. For dogs with allergies that are harder to manage, taking more intensive steps to control the underlying allergy is very important. Mild cases can be managed with steroids or steroid-sparing anti-inflammatories, antihistamines and fatty acids. More advanced cases often involve immuno-therapy treatments (a life-long series of injections to desensitize your dog to its main allergens). Advanced food allergy cases involve strict, life-long adherence to a highly specialized home-cooked diet or a veterinary prescription hypoallergenic diet.

Managing canine allergies can be really frustrating, as problems often come back again and again. It takes patience, follow-through and dedication. However, with proper management, we can make a big difference in our itchy dogs' comfort.  

Choosing A Pet Reptile

Reptiles are among the most beautiful and fascinating creatures on the planet. There are over 10,000 species of reptiles, from the minuscule dwarf chameleon to the massive Nile crocodile. Among these 10,000, however, only a handful are truly suitable for life as a pet. If you are considering getting a reptile for the first time, it is vital to research the animal’s needs thoroughly prior to purchasing one of these demanding pets.


Size: Consider both the adult size of your chosen pet and the required habitat space. For instance, green iguanas average 5-6 feet from snout to tail, and require an enclosure that is at least 9’x9’ (or their own room!). Sulcata tortoises can top 100lbs and require both indoor and outdoor enclosures. Many snake species can reach over 10 feet in length and are powerful enough to kill other animals in the home or their human owners.

Lifespan: Compared to other species, reptiles are very long-lived if cared for properly. It may seem like a longer lifespan would be a good thing, however some turtle and tortoise species can live upwards of 50 years. It is important to consider if you will be able to care for a pet for several decades.

Feeding requirements: Most reptile species require insects, worms, or other whole prey diets (i.e. mice and rats) as part of their diet. Consider if you are comfortable housing not only your pet, but also its food! Crickets and worms are generally fed live, however mice and rats can be bought pre-killed and frozen. There are a few vegetarian species, however these tend to be among the most difficult to care for. Most reptiles also require both vitamin and calcium supplements to fully meet their nutritional needs.

Temperature and lighting requirements: Reptiles are often from desert or tropical regions. They like it hot. This means rigging up a series of lights and heaters to ensure that your reptile stays warm and happy. Many species require a UVB light as well that must be changed every 6 months.

Cost: The cost of purchasing a reptile is just the beginning. Most of the cost comes with the care. Many species require large aquariums, light fixtures, and under tank heating. Some, such as chameleons, require misters to maintain adequate humidity. Aquatic turtle species require a filtration system. Make sure you budget for these items accordingly before making your purchase.


Suggested reptiles for new owners:

LEOPARD GECKO: The leopard gecko’s small size (8-9 inches) and moderate lifespan (6-10 years) make this species an ideal starter. They are comfortable in a 20 gallon aquarium. They thrive on a cricket-based diet.

LEOPARD GECKO: The leopard gecko’s small size (8-9 inches) and moderate lifespan (6-10 years) make this species an ideal starter. They are comfortable in a 20 gallon aquarium. They thrive on a cricket-based diet.

BEARDED DRAGON: This species is slightly larger than the leopard gecko (15-20 inches) with a similar lifespan (7-10 years). Bearded dragons require a large aquarium (50-100 gallons) and require UVB light. They eat both vegetables and insects and require calcium and vitamin supplements.

BEARDED DRAGON: This species is slightly larger than the leopard gecko (15-20 inches) with a similar lifespan (7-10 years). Bearded dragons require a large aquarium (50-100 gallons) and require UVB light. They eat both vegetables and insects and require calcium and vitamin supplements.

CORN SNAKE: These small snakes grow to roughly 5 feet in length and live an average of 10 years in captivity (up to 20 years). A 20-40 gallon aquarium with a secure top is sufficient for housing. Mice are the staple of a corn snake’s diet. They require supplemental heat, but no special lighting.

CORN SNAKE: These small snakes grow to roughly 5 feet in length and live an average of 10 years in captivity (up to 20 years). A 20-40 gallon aquarium with a secure top is sufficient for housing. Mice are the staple of a corn snake’s diet. They require supplemental heat, but no special lighting.

Other acceptable starters include: Collared lizards, blue-tongued skinks, ball pythons, and king snakes. When purchasing a reptile, always ensure that the reptiles has been CAPTIVE BRED and not wild caught.

The following pets are NOT recommended for the novice reptile keeper:

Chameleons: All chameleon species have difficult temperature and humidity requirements. They frequently die within the first year of ownership due to inadequate care.

Green iguanas: Large and long-lived, these are the most commonly surrendered lizards to reptile rescues.

Large snakes: Boa constrictors and Burmese pythons are generally well-tempered, however their size and potential for owner injury makes them a poor choice for novices.

Turtles and tortoises: All species are long-lived (30 years or longer) and require fastidious care. Many die young due to improper care. While many turtles and tortoises adapt well to life as a pet, they are a poor choice for beginners or children.


Be sure to check out our website allcreaturesvet.net for detailed care sheets on several of our most popular pet species.

So Your Child Wants to be a Vet

A young Dr. Alexander auscults a Manatee while young Dr. Zechar restrains the creature.

A young Dr. Alexander auscults a Manatee while young Dr. Zechar restrains the creature.

Almost every week, friends and clients tell me that their child wants to be a vet. Though many kids will move on to other aspirations, a surprising number will stick to it. When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a “professional mountain climber," but I know many veterinarians who knew that this is what they wanted to do since they were young. (I still haven’t figured out how I was planning to support myself by climbing mountains).

For kids who are interested, there are lots of ways to prepare, starting at a young age. Reading books on animals can help to build knowledge and interest; I loved “Quick as a Cricket”. I also love the TV show “Life of Mammals,” which is full of awesome footage and well-researched facts. Taking kids to visit a veterinary clinic can be a great experience, and many vets are happy to oblige. Michigan State University hosts an event called Vet-A-Visit that is worth checking out. Above all, exposing children to animals is probably the best way to support their interest. This can be accomplished by giving them specific responsibilities with family pets, involving them in 4-H or taking them to zoos, sanctuaries and interactive farms.

Starting in high school, kids who want to be veterinarians should begin to consider what it takes academically and experience-wise to get into vet school. Ways to get animal experience are to volunteer at kennels, shelters and other animal operations or to work as a veterinary assistant. Not only does it booster the application later on, but it also allows teenagers to get a better picture of the profession and decide if it is right for them. 

In fact, most schools require several hundred hours of experience shadowing a vet or working at a vet hospital before an applicant will even be considered. Strong grades in math and science provide a good foundation and help ensure acceptance into a four-year college.

In college, some of the most popular undergraduate majors are biology, zoology and animal science (though I do know one vet who was an art history major). The reason is that there are a large number of prerequisites for veterinary school that vary from college to college, and these majors are most likely to fulfill a good amount of the requirements. So it’s also a good idea to start looking at the lists of those requirements during the first year of undergrad when choosing classes. 

Getting into vet school is very difficult these days because of the popularity and limited number of schools. The average GPA of undergraduate students admitted to veterinary school changes from year to year, but it’s safe to assume that aiming for 3.5 or higher is ideal.

When considering a career in veterinary medicine, it is also important to know what training is involved. Most veterinarians complete a four-year undergraduate education prior to entering veterinary school. Veterinary school itself is also generally a four-year program. 

After vet school, you are able to practice medicine, though several doctors go on to a yearlong internship to prepare for residencies or gain extra experience. Those who wish to specialize in a specific field of medicine (dermatology, oncology, zoo medicine, etc.) often go on to another three years of residency. 

There are some downsides to being a vet that need to be considered. In addition to performing euthanasia, there can be a lot of anxiety over making the right medical decisions and helping pet owners decide what’s right for their families. The cost of school is also a huge burden. Though being a veterinarian offers decent pay and job availability, most new veterinarians graduate with $100,000-$250,000 of debt. And lastly, you have to be comfortable with poop… I deal with a lot of poop.

In the end, it’s a great profession. The job allows us to connect with a community, keep intellectually stimulated, try exciting new things and play with lots of puppies (I don’t think I’ll every get sick of the puppies). Even if your child decides they want to do something else, learning to apply themselves to their studies and get experience working with animals will serve them well in whatever path they take.

2015 Creature Feature

lyssa puppy.jpg

The Annual "Creature Feature" fundraiser for the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum was a hit with a record 800 museum guests. The staff of All Creatures Animal Clinic, including Dr. Lyssa Alexander, prepared a fun-filled area for the children in attendance, with areas to check slides for parasites under microscope, bandage a wounded Teddy Bear, and listen to the Heart and Lungs of a large stuffed animal. We'll see you again next year!