Rabbits deserve a special mention because their requirements are different to those of dogs and cats. Most dog and cat owners have a reasonable amount of knowledge about their species whereas rabbit welfare is less understood.
The Annual Health Check is important for all rabbits. Rabbits are a 'prey species' and therefore hide the signs of illness as part of their survival strategy. This visit to the vet for their health check is a good time to discuss any concerns you may have about your rabbit and how to look after it.
Your rabbit will receive a thorough check over, including teeth (front and back), weighed (obesity is a common problem) and given vaccinations as appropriate.
Many of you will have seen a wild rabbit with myxomatosis. They have large swellings around the eyes, ears and anus. These make it difficult for the rabbit to eat, see and hear so they don't run away when approached. It is a painful death and it can take about 12 days for the affected rabbit to die.
Intensive care and modern medical treatment means that now some rabbits will survive, but many still die from this virus.
Myxomatosis is transmitted by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes, so it is important to protect both indoor and outdoor rabbits.
Any rabbit over 6 weeks of age can catch this virus. It can be transmitted on clothes and footwear, but also by birds and insects, so even house rabbits can be at risk. There is no effective treatment here and most of the rabbits that catch this disease will die very rapidly, sometimes within a few hours.
Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks of age with a combined vaccination against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. This will protect your bunny for the next 12 months. An annual vaccination is needed to protect your rabbit throughout its life.
Additionally using a routine flea control on your bunny and insect control in your house (which must be safe for rabbits) will also help prevent the spread of myxomatosis by killing the insects themselves.
Diet is one of the most important parts of looking after your rabbit. A rabbit is designed to eat grass and other plants. The fibre and roughage in these plants keeps the intestinal tract working properly, their teeth in good shape and helps prevent boredom!
Hay is the most important part of your rabbit's diet and should be provided at all times in unlimited amounts. It provides indigestible fibre, energy and other nutrients essential to your rabbit's health.
Feeding hay is of tremendous benefit to your rabbit's teeth. Teeth grow through out a rabbit's life and overgrown molars and incisors can become a life-threatening problem if the animal doesn't have enough abrasive food to chew on. In addition, the extra time chewing reduces boredom and the 'full' feeling may stop the rabbit from chewing anything else!
Good quality hay should be sweet smelling and not dusty. Offering it in a hay-rack will keep it clean and minimize waste.
Fresh food should be offered daily. If your rabbit has never had greens before, it is best to establish it on hay first. Sudden introduction of greens without this can trigger potentially serious diarrhoea. When starting to feed greens, introduce them slowly. If you find a food that results in a softer stool the same day it is fed, eliminate it from the diet and try again in about 3 months' time. Feed a minimum of 3 leafy green foods daily, washing all leaves thoroughly to remove pesticides before feeding.
A minimum of fresh leafy foods to be given is about one tightly packed tea cup per 2kg/4lb body weight. Examples of good leafy foods are carrot tops, dandelion greens and flowers, kale, beet tops, chickweed, clover, cabbage, broccoli (plus leaves) pea pod, sprouts, basil, raspberry leaves, bok choy.
Rabbit pellets and mix are not necessary as part of your rabbits diet. They are high in calories, low in volume and require little chewing which is the complete opposite from the diet that a rabbit is designed to eat. Feeding just pellets or mix to a domestic rabbit can lead to obesity, liver disease, diarrhoea, dental disease and kidney disease. Additionally, rabbit mix does not provide a balanced diet as the majority of rabbits are selective feeders and will only eat parts of the mix. If fed at all, pellets and mix should only make up a very small proportion your rabbit's daily food intake, e.g. one table spoon daily. Never refill the bowl until everything has been eaten and then only when the next meal is due.
Water should be available at all times and changed daily. Rabbits that eat a lot of greens will not drink as much as those on pellets and mix.
Treats such as carrot, broccoli, apple cores and strawberries can be given in small amounts. Avoid bananas and grapes as they can be addictive.
DO NOT give your rabbit salty or sugary snacks.
Company is very important for a rabbit. They are incredibly social animals and naturally live in colonies.
Neutering your rabbit means that you can keep two or more rabbits together without them having lots of babies, and will dramatically reduce fighting.
Some male rabbits can become territorial and aggressive at puberty. They may even bite, spray strong offensive urine and fight with others. Castration can be carried out any time after 4 months of age. Once a male rabbit has been castrated, he can remain fertile for up to 4 weeks after the operation.
A leading cause of death in female rabbits is uterine cancer. This cancer is malignant and will probably have spread by the time it is discovered. Up to 80% of un-neutered female rabbits will develop uterine cancer by five years of age!
Getting your female rabbit neutered, usually at 5 - 6 months of age will prevent uterine cancer. It will also prevent pyometra, a uterine infection, and false pregnancies. False pregnancies occur from 4 – 6 months of age onwards. This can make female rabbits both territorial and aggressive. Some rabbits suffering from this will scratch and bite their owners and also other bunnies.
"Fantastic vets! I have always come here with my rabbits. Recently took my two rabbits in for spays - excellent communication so that I didn't need to worry about them following their operations. Today I had a poorly bunny and the vet was so kind and helpful. All the staff are always so friendly. Thoroughly recommend."