Rabbits make wonderful pets and have some highly species-specific health and husbandry requirements. 

Our vets and nurses have devised ways of handling and managing them to reduce stress levels of what is a highly instinctive prey-species.  We advise owners on the best care for rabbits from health interventions to every day husbandry.

Rabbits regularly live to a ripe old age of eight and some as long as 12 or 13 years, so understanding the length of commitment from the outset is important when taking on a rabbit, as is being prepared with all the necessary information and equipment.

Vaccinations

Even rabbits who might spend limited time outside of their enclosure risk contracting the infectious diseases myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) strains 1 and 2, and this is due to modes of transmission.  Spread by vectors such as fleas, by fomites, for example on shoes, and even by the wind, sadly these diseases usually prove fatal.  Outward symptoms of VHD sometimes only develop in the late stages of the disease and it’s not uncommon that a rabbit dies without warning.
Fortunately we can protect our rabbits by vaccination.  Kits (baby rabbits) and older rabbits starting vaccinations, will require two visits for injections four weeks apart (kits are vaccinated from 6 weeks of age).  Annual boosters are required thereafter to keep them safe.

Parasite Control

Rabbits can contract pin worms which reside in the caecum and large intestine, and more rarely, stomach worms too.  Rabbits should be treated for worms 2-4 times a year and we can provide the best products to achieve this. Signs of a worm burden in rabbits include:
  • Weight loss
  • Irritation of the skin towards the rear end
  • Poor/dull coat condition
Flystrike is a medical emergency and occurs when blowflies (usually green bottle and blue bottle flies) lay their eggs in the fur of a rabbit.  If allowed to develop, the eggs become maggots that feast on a rabbit’s skin.  It is extremely painful and often fatal.  Usually attracted by urine and faeces in the coat, flies target rabbits that have dirty rear ends. Those with reduced flexibility for cleaning themselves (the elderly or obese) as well as those whose faeces is loose (commonly due to poor diet) are more likely to contract flystrike. Owners can help prevent flystrike by keeping their rabbit a healthy weight, keeping enclosures clean, ensuring an appropriate diet and cleaning a rabbit’s dirty rear end daily.  Daily home health-exams, especially in the warmer months, and the product ‘Rearguard’ are both key factors in the fight to prevent flystrike.  

For all that your rabbit needs in preventative health care and at a discounted rate, see our Pet Health Club page for more information.

Neutering

For rabbits to live fulfilled and happy lives they must live with others of their own species.  Paired rabbits of the opposite sex must be neutered to prevent unwanted litters and rabbits of the same sex living together are far less likely to fight once neutered.
The benefits extend to their health as well.  Removing a female rabbit’s uterus eliminates the risk of uterine cancer which affects up to 80% of unneutered female rabbits over the age of 5.
Rabbits can be neutered from 16 weeks of age, our team will discuss the benefits of neutering for the individual rabbit and owners can rest assured that they are in good hands with our skilled surgeons and qualified veterinary nurses.

Husbandry

When keeping rabbits as pets, we should aim to create as ‘natural’ a life as possible to satisfy their strong instincts.  So living with other another rabbit is vital to help prevent depression.  Unneutered pairs of the same sex will commonly fight, injuring one another, yet often live happily together once neutered.  For the best chance of bonded rabbits, introduce a pair of neutered rabbits of the opposite sex, and do so gradually.  Please ask our friendly team for more advice, we will be happy to assist.
Rabbits have highly specific needs when it comes to diet.  Naturally they graze on roughage such as grass and this must be mimicked in the domestic environment for the health of their gut and teeth.  80% of the diet should be grass or good quality hay (for example timothy, grass hay or oat hay) which will keep their gut moving and their ever-growing teeth at a manageable length.  As a guide a rabbit’s diet should contain:
  • At least their own body size in hay or growing grass each day
  • A handful of fresh greens morning and evening
  • A tablespoon of commercial pellets per day (avoid muesli diets where they tend to pick the tasty, unhealthy bits and leave the rest!)
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘a hutch is not enough’ and this refers to the small, inside-only enclosures that some rabbits were traditionally kept in.  Rabbits must be able to burrow, run, jump, ‘bink’ and rear onto their hind legs and their enclosure should enable them to do so. As a guide, a good rabbit enclosure will:
  • Be a minimum of 6ft x 2ft x 2ft with attached outdoor space of 8ft x 6ft x 3ft
  • Be safe and secure. Wire of at least a 16g thickness is recommended
  • Be out of full sunshine to prevent overheating
  • Be enriched with appropriate bedding for burrowing, toys, platforms, tunnels and other fun things to keep a rabbit occupied

Geriatric care

With the right care a rabbit can live a long and comfortable life, yet in old age they can suffer age-related diseases just as other pets do.  Osteoarthritis, dental problems and sight issues are common, and it’s in a rabbit’s nature to be highly stoical about pain and discomfort.  So vigilance is key, as is regular vet health checks so that conditions can be diagnosed and treated early.
Some signs that an elderly rabbit might benefit from a health check include:
  • A change to eating or drinking habits
  • Loss of body condition
  • Reduced playing
  • Lethargy
Annual health checks provide the perfect opportunity for a vet-lead ‘MOT’, and free geriatric nurse clinics provide nutritional, husbandry and environmental advice to help an elderly rabbit get the most from life.
To book an appointment for kit or rabbit, please click here