Rabbits...the facts!

Rabbits are now the third most popular pet to own in this country. However they can live 7-10 years depending on the breed and therefore they are a big commitment and require a lot of time, attention and love. They are not ideal as a children’s pet due to them being naturally shy and having a fragile skeleton so that fractures can easily occur if they struggle when picked up.

Rabbits are very social and intelligent animals that need company and stimulation. Toys and hay can be provided to keep them busy and allowing them to gnaw will help with their teeth. They like company from other rabbits or from humans. The best pair bond is a neutered male and a neutered female, although it still possible for two of the same sex to live together if neutered but there may be the odd squabble. If you are going to have a same sex pair this works best if they are introduced to each other at a young age or are from the same litter.

Feeding

Many of the common health problems we see in rabbits can be caused by incorrect diet as they are particularly prone to dental disease. The best commercial food available is a pelleted food such as Excel or Supreme rather than a cereal mix as they tend to just pick out and eat their favourite bits.  Many owners commonly feed their rabbit too much concentrate (pellets/mix). This is not recommended as it is not the most important part of the diet and can result in an overweight rabbit.Rabbits are herbivores and in the wild they eat solely grass/leafy greens. These should  be fed to the pet rabbit and also hay which helps to prevent overgrown teeth.

Housing

Keeping a rabbit in a hutch can lead to serious problems and cause boredom/stress. It is important that they are able to display natural behaviour, being active and having space to be outdoors in a run or in the garden. It is possible to keep them in a hutch, but they should only be kept in it overnight and not in harsh weather conditions such as wind, rain and extremes in temperature. (Rabbits really cannot tolerate being too hot!). Some owners choose to keep their rabbit indoors and although this is a good way of providing human company it is still advised that they have access to outdoors on a daily basis and that the house is “bunnyproofed” as they love to chew –whether its furniture, cables or books! Be aware that rabbits are very inquisitive and will be likely to explore any place that hasn’t been marked as out of bounds!

Vaccinations

Vaccinating your rabbit is very important and we highly recommend it. There are two major diseases which affect rabbits; myxomatosis and VHD (Viral haemorrhagic disease).

Myxomatosis is very common in wild rabbits. It is transmitted by fleas and mosquitos and can be fatal. Typical symptoms include swollen eyes, snuffles and pus coming from the eyes and nose. A vaccine is available which can be carried out from 6 weeks of age. It is recommended that you vaccinate against myxomatosis every 12 months,  If a rabbit is vaccinated it is still possible to contract the disease but it means the symptoms will be less severe and there is a chance of recovery.

VHD is a deadly disease which causes sudden death and there are no clinical signs apart from the rabbit being unwell. It is a common disease in wild rabbits so it is important if your rabbit comes into contact, or if there is a chance it will come into contact, with wild rabbits that you vaccinate your pet. VHD vaccination is given every 12 months and can be done from 5-10 weeks of age.

There is now a new vaccine available which combats both diseases and only needs to be given annually. Please ask the practice for more details.

Flystrike

Flystrike is another common yet potentially fatal condition seen in the rabbit. It occurs when flies lay their eggs on a rabbit and then these hatch into maggots (this can take as little as 12 hours!). If your rabbit is overweight, old, unwell, has wounds or a sticky bottom, then they are more likely to attract flies.

We advise that you check your rabbit’s bottom every day, particularly in the warmer months, to check for fly eggs. If you do see any, or maggots, then please contact the surgery immediately for advice as the sooner treatment is given, the greater the chance of survival.

There are ways of preventing the maggots from hatching. A product is available called “Rearguard” which will stop the eggs hatching and developing into maggots. It will however not act as a deterrent so it is also advised that good hygiene is followed- regularly changing the bedding and removing any soiled bedding and using disinfectant products.

Neutering

We highly recommend getting your rabbit neutered particularly if it is female. Female rabbits can appear aggressive and spaying is usually the cure for this. Females are at high risk of developing uterine cancer if they are not spayed.  Females can be spayed at approximately 6 months of age whilst males can be neutered at a much younger age (approx 14-15 weeks).

Please talk to us if you have any questions regarding the pros and cons of neutering your rabbit.

If there you have questions about your rabbit, we have nurse appointments available where the nurse can check your rabbit over and give you advice on general health. Alternatively if you wish to see a vet this can also be arranged. Please contact the surgery for further details