Preventative care for rabbits is very important as disease can easily occur when rabbits are kept in inappropriate conditions. These are our recommendations to keep your rabbit healthy.
The first word of advice is that if you suspect your rabbit may be unwell, this often means they are severely unwell and may deteriorate very quickly. Rabbits are a prey species and will hide signs of illness. This means that in the wild, a predator doesn’t see them as an easy target. For our pet rabbits it makes it harder for us to spot illness. If your rabbit seems quiet or has a reduced appetite do not wait for tomorrow to see if they improve because tomorrow may be too late. If your rabbit stops eating or passing faeces this is an emergency and your rabbit needs to be seen as soon as possible.
It is essential to handle your rabbit from a young age and on a regular basis. This means your rabbit will not be terrified when handled. Please do not hold your rabbit on their back since this is a very stress inducing position for a prey animal. When lifting your rabbit always support your rabbit’s hind limbs by placing a hand under the bottom while having your other hand under the chest area. If your rabbit kicks out without your supporting hand being there, a spinal fracture can occur very easily.
We advise vaccination against two main diseases. One is Myxomatosis and the other is Viral Haemorrhagic disease (VHD). Even indoor rabbits can contract these diseases as flies can transmit Myxomatosis, and VHD can be walked in on feet or spread through hay and straw.
Myxomatosis causes swelling and skin ulcers on the face and genitals, before eventually leading to death. There are two strains of Viral Haemorrhagic disease, VHD1 and VHD2. Both of these strains can cause sudden death in rabbits. Many cases of VHD are not reported as the rabbit is found dead in the hutch through unknown causes. There have been outbreaks of both Myxomatosis and VHD reported in recent years in the North of England.
We can protect against these fatal diseases by a vaccination course of two injections, given two weeks apart. Please contact the clinic for further details.
Diet & water
Fresh water should be available at all times. This can be from a bottle or from a heavy water bowl that cannot be easily tipped over.
Rabbits have teeth that grow continuously throughout their life and a high fibre diet is essential to wear down their teeth and to help them avoid digestive illnesses that sometimes can become life threatening. The most important part of this diet is hay or fresh grass. Rabbits need to eat an amount of hay per day which is visually the same size as the rabbit’s body. Dried rabbit foods are a much less important part of the diet. If you feed a ‘muesli’ diet then your rabbit will often pick out the bits they like to eat and leave bits that are good for them. This is why we recommend feeding a ‘pelleted complete’ diet in which every nugget is the same. Feeding too many pellets causes your rabbit not to eat enough hay or grass and results in reduced wear of the teeth. Limiting the amount of pellets fed will also help you to avoid obesity in your pet. The food manufacturers often advise feeding a much larger amount than is necessary. Think of these pellets as a treat or as ‘vitamin pills’ rather than a main part of the diet. For example, for a small rabbit, an egg cup full of nuggets is usually sufficient. Speak to our staff for further advice.
Rabbits that do not have access to fresh grass on a daily basis will benefit from a large handful of fresh vegetables each day. These can include broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots and herbs. Please avoid fruit which contains too much sugar. Also avoid light green salad items such as cucumber, lettuce and celery as they contain too much cellulose and can overwhelm your rabbit’s digestive tract. Sugar and too much cellulose can cause dysbiosis which is a bacterial imbalance in the intestines and can contribute to causing gastric stasis which is a life-threatening disease when your rabbit stops eating and passing faeces.
Please ensure that your rabbit’s hay is fresh and your rabbit eats it well. Avoid hay which has a musty smell to it. Be knowledgeable about where your rabbit’s hay comes from as diseases such as Viral Haemorrhagic disease (VHD) can be spread through hay. A local farm may not be the best source for your hay.
Indoor vs outdoor conditions
The ideal situation would be for your rabbit to have access to a run in the garden. Be aware that rabbits dig and may dig their way out of the run, so ensure your rabbit has a microchip and that your garden is secure. Don’t leave your rabbit unsupervised unless your run is particularly secure since predators such as foxes may find their way to your rabbit.
If your rabbit is an indoor rabbit they will still have an urge to dig. This natural habit can be catered for by providing a digging box, by taking a large bucket or cardboard box and filling it with shredded newspaper, wood shaving and straw.
An indoor rabbit may chews electrical cables so consider buying cable protector cases to protect your bunny from electric shocks.
Indoor rabbits can be litter trained and a litter tray in a hutch makes it easier to clean out. Your rabbit can be encouraged to use a litter tray by placing bedding that has been urinated on, in the tray.
Rabbits are usually happier in ‘bonded’ pairs. By bonded this means that they have either grown up together or are carefully and gradually introduced as older rabbits. Never suddenly introduce rabbits as life threatening injuries can occur through vicious fights. If you are trying to bond a pair it can take time and please do further reading on the Rabbit Welfare Fund site before attempting this.
Historically rabbits were commonly kept with guinea pigs as a companion. However, research has shown that many of these guinea pigs are bullied by the larger rabbit and many guinea pig injuries have been reported. Also, rabbit and guinea pig diets are different. Therefore, this is no longer recommended.
Neutering is a general word for surgical removal of the reproductive organs of both male and female animals. If a male and female rabbit are together they can produce around 6-8 litters per year, with an average of 6 baby rabbits in a litter. Both sexes become sexually mature at around 6 months of age. When both male and female rabbits become sexually mature they can become very territorial, leading to aggression both between the rabbits and with people. Female rabbits if left unneutered will commonly develop cancer of the ovaries in later years. For these reasons, we recommend neutering from around 5 months of age.
Rabbits can be infested with fleas, especially if they are kept with other pets such as cats and dogs. Please talk to us about flea control in rabbits.
We do not recommend routine worming in rabbits. There are some situations where worming treatment is appropriate treatment, but our vets will advise you when this is necessary.
Insurance for your pet rabbit is available. If they do become unwell then they often require pet hospital treatment with fluid and feeding support in addition to the treatment of the disease. This treatment can mount up. Specialist treatment for your bunny is sometimes the best option, and the costs can be easier to manage when insurance is in place. We are happy to give you advice on the different types of policies available. Please be aware that most insurances do not cover dental disease in rabbits, this is a common disease.
Dental disease, abscesses, arthritis, digestive disease ( gastric stasis and dysbiosis), tumours and bladder crystals (urolithiasis) are illnesses that we commonly see in the pet rabbit. Please book in for regular health examinations. These illnesses are often detected at routine appointments such as vaccination.
For further good advice go to the rabbit welfare fund: https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk