Giving your rabbit the best start
You may be used to vaccinating your dogs and cats, but have you ever considered that your rabbits need vaccinations too? There are 2 fatal rabbit diseases - Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) - that we can protect our rabbits from, both of which are found in the wild rabbit population in the UK and can be transmitted to our pets. We recommend a vaccination scheme involving 2 injections given at least 2 weeks apart, the first against Myxomatosis and VHD-1 and the second against VHD-2 - a new strain that has emerged as a potent threat to rabbits over the last few years in the UK. Give us a call to book in!
Both vaccines are also included in our Pet Health Club.
Rabbits have a specialised digestive system so getting their diet right is fundamental to their overall health and longevity. Long fibre should make up the majority of their diet. It is vital for normal gut and dental health and is found in hay and grass. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lifetime, and need to be ground down by the long fibre to prevent painful dental problems.
We also recommend that rabbits receive regular portions of fresh vegetables. They may also be fed commercial dry diets, but this should only make up a small proportion of their overall food intake (around 5%). We recommend complete pelleted food as these tend to contain more fibre, and also this prevents selective feeding. A diet mainly made up of commercial mixtures tends to result in weight gain and dental problems.
If you have groups of rabbits of differing genders, you must consider neutering them to prevent any unwanted litters. Neutering also provides other health benefits. Older female bunnies are predisposed to uterine cancer if un-spayed, so neutering is very worthwhile. Castrating males will prevent testicular problems and can also help to prevent fighting (although nothing is ever 100% guaranteed!)
Rabbits are social animals, and are best kept in pairs or groups. Of course, it’s important to carefully select your pairings as, if they take a dislike to one another, they may fight! It is also important to regularly handle your rabbits yourselves to get them used to people, so that they don't find this so stressful. Rabbits can make very affectionate pets!
In warm weather, it is important to be aware of the risk of fly strike in rabbits. This condition is severe and frequently fatal. Flies are attracted to dirty areas on the rabbit, such as around their back end if there is any faecal or urine soiling. The flies lay their eggs in these areas and as the larvae hatch, they feed on the rabbit, rapidly causing damage.
When flies are around, it is vital to check your rabbits twice daily, including around their back ends, to spot the first signs and to seek immediate veterinary attention if you have any concerns. Of course, it is much better to prevent fly strike in the first place. Regular cleaning of the enclosures is important, as is ensuring your rabbits are healthy and not overweight, so that they can keep themselves clean. There are also products available that can prevent fly strike, which can be discussed with one of our vets.
When thinking about rabbit hutches, the bigger the better! Many commercially available hutches are actually too small. Rabbits should be able to stand up with their ears erect, and also stretch out fully in the hutch as a minimum. Exercise is important to keep them happy and healthy, so access to a large run or paddock in the garden is ideal to allow them to express their natural behaviour and also enjoy the long fibre found in grass. There needs to be a sheltered area within the run so that they can hide and, of course, the enclosure should be predator-proof. Regular cleaning is important, with the toilet spot being changed daily and the area should be well ventilated to prevent respiratory problems.
These days, many rabbits are actually being kept indoors. It is important to ensure that the areas of the house the rabbit has access to are 'rabbit proofed' to ensure they come to no harm. It is a good idea for a suitably sized hutch to be available for them to be in when unsupervised. Many house rabbits are also able to be litter trained, so they make fantastic house pets!
Bishops Veterinary Centre
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