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Caring for your Rabbit

Advice on caring for your rabbit

  • Diet
  • Housing
  • Handling
  • Dental Disease
  • Fly Strike
  • Spaying/Neutering
  • Other Problems
  • Vaccinations
  • Worming
  • Anaesthesia

Diet

Hay and grass are the MOST IMPORTANT PART of your rabbit’s diet and MUST be provided at all times.

The fibre in it keeps the digestive tract working normally and chewing it helps to prevent the teeth form becoming too long. Handfuls of fresh long grass can be given if the rabbit doesn’t graze in the garden but DO NOT feed lawn mower cuttings.

Fresh Foods are the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT PART of a rabbit’s diet and should be given daily. In the summer let your bunny graze as much as possible. If you have not fed greens before, introduce your bunny to hay first so that the digestive system gets used to the higher level of fibre. This will reduce the risk of diarrhoea. Introduce greens gradually, adding a new variety every few days – if one causes diarrhoea then eliminate it from the diet. Feed at least three leafy green foods daily, about ONE tightly packed cup per Kg of rabbit. Try carrot tops, dandelion leaves and flowers, kale, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, pea pods and sprouts.

Rabbit Mix is the least important part. These are high in calories, low in volume and fibre, and do not need much chewing. They can cause obesity, which is now a serious problem amongst the rabbit population, liver, dental and kidney disease, and soft faeces. Ideally, they should not be fed at all and kept only as spare. Offer only small amounts for limited periods of time so your bunny still has plenty of space to eat hay and greens, and do not keep topping up the bowl or he will only eat his favourite bits! The fibre pellets are preferable to the mixes for this reason.

Water must be available at all times, changed daily, and kept defrosted in winter and should be offered in a bowl and bottle. BRANCHES of apple or other fruit trees are also useful for rabbits to gnaw on. You can tell if your rabbit has a suitable diet by the droppings which should resemble dark, plump raisins.

Housing

Hutches must give the bunny plenty of space to move around, be well ventilated and sheltered from rain and direct sunlight (heat stress can be rapidly fatal). Exercise is vital. Either in a run ideally attached to the hutch or in the house – but any wires, which the rabbit might chew, need to be rabbit-proofed with plastic tubing. ‘House bunnies’ are becoming very popular. They are easy to litter train (do not use clay litter as it can block the gut if the rabbit eats it). They still need their own home cage where they feel secure. This should be left open at all times.

Handling

Always support the hind quarters to prevent serious back injuries. It is best to grasp the scruff or under the chest and place your other hand under the back legs. Practice near the floor so if your bunny jumps he does not have far to fall.

Dental Disease

Dental Disease is what we most often see at the surgery. The most common complaint is that the rabbit is not eating, but eye infections and abscesses are also found. Incisors (front teeth) can be trimmed or removed if they become overgrown, but the molars (back teeth) often cannot be treated successfully. Rabbit teeth are continually growing and proper diet i.e. hay/grass is VITAL to keep them worn down. Many rabbits eventually have to be put to sleep because of tooth problems.

Fly Strike

Fly strike is an unpleasant and distressing condition that usually occurs during the summer months. Fly strike can sometimes be successfully treated, but more often than not this condition is fatal, therefore prevention is better than cure! However once your rabbit has fly strike immediate veterinary attention is essential.

In the hot weather, flies may lay eggs around the rabbits’ rear ends, these eggs then hatch into maggots, which feed on the rabbit. Dental disease and/or obesity can prevent the rabbit from grooming or eating its droppings effectively and so can lead to soiling which attracts the flies. Urinary incontinence and diarrhoea can also directly lead to fly strike. The maggots feed on the rabbit by burrowing into the skin and effectively eat the rabbits alive.

Effective hutch hygiene is the best defence and only a few simple steps can be carried out to prevent this awful condition.

  1. Examine your rabbit twice daily for fly eggs that appear like miniature grains of rice clumped together. You should examine your rabbit, before it is put outside and again before it is put to bed, and look for evidence of the fur being wet or matted with faeces. These are the types of conditions that flies like to lay their eggs. A rabbit with diarrhoea is much more at risk, so a diet that contains high amounts of fibre, such as good quality hay or grass, supplemented with a high quality pellet food and small amounts of leafy greens is
    Any wet fur should be thoroughly dried and any fur that is matted with faeces must be gently removed by washing the rabbit’s back end. If there is any evidence of fly eggs or maggots then the rabbit MUST be taken to a vet immediately.
  2. Change soiled bedding every day. Plenty of good quality absorbent bedding should be used in your rabbit’s toilet area.
  3. Clean and disinfect the cage regularly. All bedding material must be removed and disposed of once a week and the hutch disinfected and all thoroughly rinsed with a suitable disinfectant. All bowls and water bowls should also be thoroughly cleaned once a eek.
  4. Apply Rearguard every 2 months to prevent fly strike. Rearguard can be applied at home, or a nurse can apply the product for you in a nurses clinic. Please ask for more information.

Spaying/Neutering

FEMALES can be spayed from 4 months of age. Female rabbits are very prone to developing tumours of the uterus which can be fatal – spaying eliminates this risk, as well as reducing the risk of mammary cancer, uterine infections, and false pregnancies. It also reduces the aggression which can be associated with being ‘in season’ (which is nearly all the time), and which may get worse if a tumour develops.

MALES can be castrated from 4 months old (once the testicles have descended) and this can decrease aggression and spraying of urine. Rabbits are social animals and best kept in pairs. The ideal situation to avoid fighting is a speyed female with a castrated male. Rabbits and guinea pigs should not be housed together due to their different dietary requirements – and they can bully one another.

Neutering can result in weight gain so this should be monitored closely.

Other Problems

Other health problems found in rabbits include respiratory infections, abscesses, hair balls, urinary disease, skin disease, and digestive problems. If your bunny seems off colour, you notice something unusual, or he stops eating, then contact the surgery.

Vaccinations

Myxomatosis a common disease in wild and pet rabbits which is spread by biting insects. Vaccination is recommended (ideally in May or June) or occasionally twice a year for rabbits at high risk. This can be done from 6 weeks of age. Flea treatments are available for rabbits and are applied on the back of the neck, just the same way as for cats and dogs. VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic disease) is a relatively new disease that was first reported in Britain in 1992. It is highly contagious and can be spread by contact with infected rabbits, or indirectly by infected foodstuffs or people who have been handling infected animals. The virus is rapidly fatal. There is also a second virus alongside RHD1 called RHD2. We vaccinate against this potentially fatal disease with an injection given 2 weeks after the Myxi/VHD vaccine.

Worming

Rabbits can suffer from intestinal worms and a nasty parasite, E. Cuniculi, but a simple worming paste can be used twice a year to prevent infestation.

Anaesthesia

Please note that if your rabbit is coming in for an anaesthetic then it should NOT be starved overnight (unlike a dog or cat).

If you are worried about your bunny in any way, or would like more information, then please contact the surgery on 01923 223321, or the clinic on 01923 681261.

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