Rabbits can make very good pets, as they are both friendly and intelligent. However they do have some important husbandry needs to keep them happy and healthy. Their average life span is 6-10 years, with a record age of 15 being reported.
Vaccinating pet rabbits
Your rabbit should be vaccinated routinely against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) and Myxomatosis. Both these viral diseases can be rapidly fatal in an unvaccinated rabbit and there are no cures once infected. The only protection you can give your rabbit is by vaccination.
VHD is spread by direct contact between rabbits (both wild and domesticated) but also via indirect contact such as from people, clothing, on shoes, other objects, fleas and other parasites.
Myxomatosis is spread mainly by fleas or other biting insects and is transmitted in this way from wild to pet rabbits but can sometimes also spread via direct contact with other infected individuals.
A combined Myxomatosis and VHD vaccination can be given from as early as 6 weeks of age. Boosters are given every 12 months and cover both diseases. At the time of vaccination the vet will give your rabbit a thorough health check as well.
Just like cats and dogs, rabbits need preventative healthcare to keep them fit and well.
Each tooth in a rabbit is constantly growing. The usual rate is about 2mm per week but this can be increased when there is dental disease present. To prevent overgrowth there must be a constant wearing down of the teeth by chewing. For the wear to be even, and prevent sharp spikes and spurs developing on the teeth, it is important that the teeth are perfectly aligned.
Even if your rabbit’s teeth start off perfectly aligned problems can occur later in life. It is common for a pet rabbit’s diet to be deficient in which case the jaw bones become soft and the teeth can move slightly out of position. This means that the wear becomes uneven and spurs appear.
Types of dental disease
Overgrown and misshapen incisors (front teeth). If your rabbit allows handling you will be able to see its front teeth. If these are misaligned they will soon grow too long and prevent the rabbit from picking up food, drinking and grooming properly. They may grow into the nearby soft tissues causing infections. They are also prone to getting caught and broken causing painful damage. Affected teeth may also be discoloured and ridged.
If the cheek teeth don’t wear evenly sharp spurs and spikes can occur. On the lower teeth these can cause ulceration on the tongue and from the upper teeth they can cause ulceration in the cheeks. This makes it extremely painful for the rabbit to eat. Your rabbit will often be wet around the mouth and you may have noticed it losing weight.
When the bone becomes soft the roots of the teeth can also move. This can lead to painful abscess formation and in some cases to blockage of the tear ducts which in turn can lead to sticky eyes.
Signs of overgrown rabbit teeth
Salibation or dribbling
Abscesses developing around the face and jaw
Eye infections and matted droppings around the tail base
If you think your rabbit has any of these signs please contact us a soon as possible, as rabbits can go deteriorate very rapidly especially if they stop eating.
What causes misalignment of rabbit teeth?
In some rabbits, a malocclusion (misalignment) of the incisor (front) teeth is congenital i.e. present from birth and these rabbits will need treatment and possibly tooth removal.
Malocclusion can develop in older rabbits and is thought to be primarily diet related. A correct diet is essential to your rabbit's and problems can occur particularly if your pet is not eating enough fibre in the form of hay, grass and vegetables, to wear down the teeth at a sufficient rate.
Problems can also arise if your rabbit refuses to eat the pelleted part of a dry feed diet since these pellets contain calcium and phosphorus essential for good bone and tooth growth. Rabbits need regular teeth checks and these can be carried out at the time of vaccination.
Diarrhoea in Rabbits
Diarrhoea is a common problem in pet rabbits. It can be a very serious condition as dehydration can develop rapidly so veterinary advice should be sought immediately. Some gastrointestinal infections that result in diarrhoea can be fatal in less than 24 hours. It is normal for rabbits to produce softer droppings at night, which they then eat. This is an important part of the rabbit’s diet.
Diet is Important
A high fibre diet (hay or grass) has a protective effect against diarrhoea.
Rabbit with 'dirty bottom’
Occasionally obese rabbits, older rabbits with back problems and rabbits with dental disease become matted with droppings around the tail base. If a rabbit is very overweight, or if it has a painful mouth or back, he or she may be unable to reach round to clean these droppings away putting them at risk of fly strike.
In the summer, diarrhoea or matted soft droppings may attract flies which lay their eggs around the tail base and these hatch out into maggots which begin to eat your rabbit alive (fly strike).
Preventing fly strike
You should check your rabbit twice daily in the summer and always make sure the bedding is clean and dry. We also supply a product that you can apply to your rabbit at the beginning of summer which helps to prevent this horrid condition.
E.Cuniculi in Rabbits
E.cuniculi is a tiny parasite, which has to live inside a host cell in order to survive. E.cuniculi primarily infects rabbits and is a significant cause of disease. It is also important to rabbit owners as just occasionally it can infect humans, especially if they are immuno-compromised.
Is it common?
A recent survey demonstrated that 52% of pet rabbits sample were currently or had recently been infected – so yes it is common.
How is it transmitted?
Once a rabbit has the disease it passes infectious spores in its urine. Transmission to another rabbit occurs by eating these spores in urine contaminated food and water. Unborn kits may also be infected across the placenta during pregnancy. The disease results in damage occurring primarily in the liver, kidney, brain and spinal cord. Whilst 52% of pet rabbits become infected, only 6% of pet rabbits ever show signs of disease, a percentage of these rabbits do not survive.
How can I tell if my rabbit has E.cuniculi?
If the kits are infected during pregnancy, spores are able to cross into the lens of the eye. Later on in the rabbit's life the spores multiply and erupt causing cataracts and lens rupture resulting in inflammation within the eye (uveitis). This is a serious condition and is painful to the rabbit. Clinical signs in adult rabbits include:
Neurological disease - head tilt, unsteadiness, weakness of the hind legs, neck spasm and urinary incontinence
For the moment diagnosis is limited to a blood test, which just confirms exposure rather than proves current infection.
Treatment & Prognosis
Treatment and Prognosis
Treatment is with Fenbendazole (anti-parasiticide) daily for 28 days.
Response to therapy is dependent on duration and severity of infection at the time of diagnosis and starting treatment.
The organism can survive in the environment (e.g. house / hutch) for 1 month. However the parasite is sensitive to routine disinfectants.
Insuring Your Pet Rabbit
If your rabbit is unwell the last thing you want to worry about is how to pay for treatment. We recommend that you consider pet insurance for all of your pets.
Neutering of both male and female rabbits is recommended unless you wish to breed from them.. Rabbits become sexually mature between 4 months (in smaller breeds) and 6 to 9 months (in larger breeds). It is recommended that young rabbits are separated into single sex groups at 4months of age.
When to castrate male rabbits
Breeding is prevented by castration of male rabbits at about four months of age (once the testicles have descended).
When to spay female rabbits
Female rabbits should be spayed at around four months old.
Benefits of neutering rabbits
Intact males are more prone to developing behavioural problems including fighting, biting and urine spraying. The urine may also become strong smelling.
Having your female rabbit spayed at between four months and two years old dramatically decreases the chance of her developing uterine tumours later on in life. In some breeds the incidence of this cancer in unspayed female rabbits over five years of age, is over 80%.
Side effects of neutering
Neutered rabbits are more prone to obesity as they grow older, so care must be taken not to allow overeating.
Feeding Your Rabbit
The most important part of a rabbit's diet is good quality hay together with fresh grass. This is what they eat naturally, so it should make up the bulk of the diet and be offered all the time. A small quantity of pellets (nuggets, rather than muesli type mix), and fresh greens can also be added to their diet.
A guide to feeding your rabbit is:
Good quality hay. Your rabbits should get at least their own body size amount of good quality hay each day. As a rule, either fresh hay or growing grass (not grass clippings) should always be available.
Fresh greens. An adult-sized handful of suitable fresh greens should be fed morning and evening.
Pellets or nuggets. A good general rule is to feed a maximum of 25 grams of pellets each day for each kilogram that your rabbit weighs.
Feeding your rabbit hay and grass
Hay and grass provide essential fibre that keeps the teeth and digestive system in good health and nibbling throughout the day will keep your rabbit occupied and prevent boredom. Good quality meadow hay should be sweet smelling and not dusty. Dried grass products that retain the green colour and are highly palatable are also now available.
Dry food problems in rabbits
Overfeeding dry foods to adult rabbits is a common cause of diseases such as obesity, heart and liver problems, chronic diarrhoea, dental and kidney disease. A large number of rabbits will only eat certain components of mixed muesli type feeds, risking an insufficient uptake of protein, calcium and phosphorous. This is why high quality dry pellets, where all nutrients are present in each individual pellet is the preferred option. Water should be available 24hrs a day and water bottles or bowls should be cleaned daily to prevent the build-up of bacteria and contamination.
Feeding rabbits fresh food
You can feed your rabbit limited amounts of fresh vegetables, fruit and greens daily. Wild plants are also greatly enjoyed. If your rabbit is not used to getting fresh food though, it's best to begin by feeding green leafy vegetables, adding a new type of vegetable every two-three days. If the addition of any item leads to diarrhoea within 24-48hrs it should be withdrawn. Fresh foods should not make up more than 15% of the rabbit's diet. Items to try are Chinese cabbage, watercress, kale, parsley, spinach, radishes, celery, bramble, raspberry leaves, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, groundsel and clover.
Feeding treats to rabbits
Do not feed your rabbit chocolate, biscuits or other sugary treats like honey sticks, bread, or fatty, salty foods like potato crisps. Be careful with feeding treats generally as they can lead to obesity and digestive upsets. Treats your rabbit may like include strawberries, pineapple chunks, apples, pears, melon slices, banana slices, raspberries, peaches and dried fruits.
However, fruits are high in sugar and should only be fed very occasionally as they can lead to dental problems. For good tooth wear you may provide your rabbit with twigs or tree branches and he or she will enjoy gnawing and stripping the bark.
A general rule is that you can offer branches from any tree that we eat the fruit from such as apple, pear or plum but do make sure that the tree has not been sprayed with chemicals.
Choose the biggest hutch that you can.
Place it in a shady area of the garden away from draughts, wind and driving rain.
Cover the front of the hutch with a blanket/piece of carpet overnight in cold weather.
The hutch should allow your rabbit to stand up fully on their back legs and perform at least three consecutive hops.
The hutch should be divided into an enclosed sleeping area and a larger area for daytime use.
Provide a thick layer of straw for bedding in the sleeping area.
Provide access to a large grassed run.
Remove wet and soiled bedding daily.
Rabbits are social animals and are best kept in pairs or small groups. To avoid them breeding or fighting both sexes should be neutered.
Rabbits can be kept indoors and make good house pets
They love to chew and can cause considerable damage so all electrical wires should be kept out of reach.
House rabbits can be trained to use a litter tray – paper based cat litter is best.
When to contact us
Please phone us if you are at all worried about your rabbit, as rabbit’s can go downhill very quickly once they start to show health problems. Signs to look out for are:
Loss of appetite
Runny faeces and/or urine soaking into the back legs