Rabbits are becoming an increasingly popular pet in the UK. They can provide good companionship and form a strong bond with their owners. It is a common misconception though, that they do not require much care.
Pet rabbits in the UK can be vaccinated against myxomatosis and haemorrhagic viral disease (HVD). Myxomatosis is a common disease in wild rabbits that can spread via insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. It is a fatal disease. HVD is a highly lethal disease caused by a virus. The virus is shed in urine, faeces, saliva etc. Both these vaccines are given once a year as one combined injection. Rabbits must be over 5 weeks of age.
We recommend you treat your rabbit with Panacur Rabbit Paste, 2 to 4 times a year. Rabbits need to be dosed once daily for nine consecutive days each time. It is important to treat your rabbit at times of stress e.g. when newly bought, mating and when mixing with other rabbits for the first time.
Panacur protects against intestinal worms and E.Cuniculi. E.Cuniculi is a parasite that lives within the body’s cells. It can cause paralysis of the back legs, a head tilt, urinary incontinence, cataracts, collapse and death. It is shed in the urine and spreads when urine contaminates food and water bowls.
E.Cuniculi can be passed onto humans who don’t have a very effective immune system.
Cat and dog fleas can infest the rabbit. Rabbits can also be infested by mites and lice. We recommend Advantage Spot-on for flea control. Treatment for other parasite conditions is normally less straight forward and is best dealt with by consulting a vet directly.
Flies are attracted to wet or soiled fur or skin sores. Rabbits that do not clean their back end (obese rabbits) or have diarrhoea (poor diet) attract flies, especially during the warmer weather. Flies lay eggs on the fur. These eggs then hatch into maggots. Maggots eat away into the flesh of the rabbit. This is a painful and often fatal condition. Ensuring that pets are kept in clean, dry housing and checking they don’t have diarrhoea will reduce the risk of flystrike. Rearguard is a product that can be applied every 8 to 10weeks to your rabbit’s fur. Rearguard does not repel flies but it does prevent maggots from developing and damaging your pet.
DIETS AND HEALTH
Your rabbit’s health is very strongly influenced by the food you feed. An incorrect diet can be a trigger factor for tooth problems, weight gain and diarrhoea.
Rabbit teeth grow at 2mm per day. Their teeth require a constant supply of calcium and need to be ground down. We commonly see pet rabbits with teeth problems. These problems are frequently on going and often lead to a shortened life span.
Grass is the best diet for rabbits. It is a good source of fibre (which will help wear teeth down), protein and fat. Rabbits should be allowed to graze as much as possible. It may be more difficult to provide good quality grass during the winter or for those rabbits that live in flats. In these cases, hay can be offered instead or in addition to grass.
Like grass, hay provides an important source of fibre which helps to wear teeth down and keep the rabbit’s digestive system working well. However, not all types of hay are good for rabbits. For example, alfalfa hay is high in calcium and could cause urine problems in some rabbits. Meadow hay is generally more suitable for pet rabbits. Generally hay sold in bales is better quality than that which is ready-bagged. Be sure to store hay carefully to prevent it becoming damp and mouldy – do not store it in plastic bags.
Pellets contain a type of fibre that is not as beneficial as grass or hay to a rabbit’s digestive system. Also, rabbits spend less time chewing pellets which means that their teeth do not wear down as much. Approximately 25g per kilogram per day of concentrate food should be fed. Overfeeding with pellets can quickly lead to obesity and other health problems.
A wide range of vegetables e.g. parsley, celery, broccoli, spring greens, kale, herbs can also be fed in small amounts. It is important that they only supplement grass and hay which should make up the majority of a rabbit’s diet.
Fruits are high in sugar and should not be given on a daily basis. Small pieces of fruit, carrots and root vegetables are suitable as ‘treats’ when you want to spoil your rabbit. They can also be useful aids to train your rabbit. Chocolate drops, bread and biscuits should be avoided.
It is very important to provide plenty of water. Rabbits tend to eat less if they do not receive enough drinking water.
Remember not to change your rabbit’s diet suddenly. Do it gradually over a period of two weeks so that your rabbit’s digestive system has time to adjust.
Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits cannot cope with not eating for a few days. If you notice that your rabbit is going off its food then please bring him or her to the surgery as soon as possible.
Rabbits are social creatures that enjoy another rabbit’s company. Neutered rabbits of the opposite sex bond well. Although it is possible to keep same sex pairs, males may need to be castrated to prevent fighting.
Ideally rabbits should be housed in a large, outdoor, well fenced area or mesh pen. It is very important to provide a shelter area. This kind of permanent structure allows your rabbit to establish a territory and feel secure. It is important for rabbits to exercise and be outdoors even through the winter months. They need natural daylight to provide the amount of vitamin D they need. Vitamin D is very important to the body’s working and lack of it causes rickets disease. Portable mesh runs are useful as they protect the rabbit whilst allowing you to move it around the lawn – allowing the rabbit to keep the grass down.
In recent years, people have enjoyed having their pet rabbit indoors. House rabbits can be trained to use a litter tray.
Both male and female rabbits can be neutered at 5 months of age. The male rabbit needs to be kept separate from the female for four weeks after his operation as he is still able to make her pregnant during this time. Middle aged female rabbits are at high risk of developing cancer of the uterus and breast tissue. Therefore, it is advisable to have female rabbits spayed.