Rabbits.

 Rabbits make loving pets, but remember they are social animals so are happier kept with a cagemate.

We’ve put together some advice about caring for your rabbits.

Housing

Your rabbit’s house should be safe and secure and provide enough room for them to run and jump about, as well as stand upright on their back legs. A traditional hutch often does not give rabbits enough room to express their natural behaviour so consider this when buying a house. Wherever possible, they should have access to a run, ideally around 8×6’.

Rabbits may be kept indoors or outdoors, but bear in mind they like chewing and digging and should be allowed space to do this. Rabbits can be easily litter trained, making them clean indoor pets. Allow them access to shaded areas to keep cool as they cannot sweat. Temperatures of around 15-21C in the shade will suit rabbits.

In the house, use straw and hay, shavings or shredded paper. Avoid dusty straw/hay and sawdust as it can irritate their eyes. It’s really important to keep their environment clean and dry, so regular bedding changes are important. Rabbits will enjoy playing with toys, which provide some stimulation.

Vaccination

There are 2 diseases we vaccinate rabbits against. Vaccinations are annually and can be started from 5 weeks old. It is also best to avoid contact with any wild rabbits to minimise the risk of infection.

Myxomatosis is a highly infectious, often fatal disease transmitted by fleas or direct contact. It causes swelling around the eyes, blindness, fever and lethargy. Treatment is only supportive and survival is rare in non-vaccinated rabbits.

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD/VHD) is a highly contagious, nearly always fatal disease transmitted by direct contact or contamination. It presents as liver and kidney failure, fever, breathing difficulties and convulsions.

There are 2 vaccines available; one covers against myxomatosis & RHD1, one against RHD2.  Since these 2 vaccines cannot be given together and are both annually, we suggest seeing you every 6 months to allow for regular health checks.

Nutrition

Nutrition is very important to keep your rabbit healthy, especially their teeth and gut.

Rabbits should mainly eat hay and this should form about 70% of their diet. This is approximately a ball of hay the size of your rabbit per day. It helps to keep them busy and their teeth worn down.  This can be supplemented with pellet feed –  up to 25g per kilogram your rabbit weighs, per day. Pellet food should be replaced daily and green leafy foods can be fed in moderation.

Avoid mixed cereal feeds as rabbits are very good at picking out the tastier bits and leaving the rest! This can lead to an unbalanced diet and sugary foods as this can upset their gut.

Also avoid sudden changes to their diet as this can cause upset. If you need to change their diet, try to do so  gradually over a period of several weeks.

Water should be available at all times, in a bowl or bottle, and replaced daily.

Parasites

Rabbits can pick up a variety of parasites.  The most significant is E. caniculi, which infects the nervous system causing a head tilt and odd behaviour. It can be life threatening and is transmitted via urine and contaminated feed, so ensure good hygiene.

Worms can cause weight loss, weakened immune system and diarrhoea, so you should worm your rabbit 4 times a year to prevent them. Rabbits are prone to roundworm and tapeworm, both of which may be transmitted to humans (especially children). So again good hygiene is essential.

Rabbits can also be troubled with fleas, lice and mites, which live on the body, so keep an eye out for any of these. Preventative treatments are available as a spot-on.

Flystrike is a potentially fatal disease where flies lay eggs that hatch into maggots and feed off the rabbit. You should carefully monitor your rabbit especially in warm weather and there are preventative treatments available. Any signs of maggots near your rabbit’s bottom is a veterinary emergency and you should call us straight away.

Neutering

Male & female rabbits should be separated by 3 months old.  Neutering is recommended as it prevents pregnancy in mixed groups, minimises aggression (especially males) and prevents commonly seen ovarian cysts in females.

Males can be neutered as soon as their testicles descend at around 10 weeks old. Females are usually done around 5 months old due to their size, but if you have a mixed pair, plan to do them both around 4 months old.

After neutering, they are prone to obesity so be careful not to overfeed and try to increase exercise levels by playing with your rabbit.

Dental Care

Rabbits have incisors at the front that you can see, and cheek teeth at back. Their teeth continue to grow so should be worn down when they eat to avoid problems.  Since it is difficult to see the cheek teeth, your rabbit should be brought in for an annual tooth check, and may require a dental if they are not wearing down properly.

Signs such as dribbling, wet chin, weight loss, dirty bottom, weepy eyes or being off their food can all be signs of dental problems.

You may find more information about rabbit care by following the links below