VETERINARY ADVICE FOR YOUR NEW RABBIT
Your rabbit should be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. Both diseases are fatal if contracted by unvaccinated rabbits. One vaccination every 12 months gives much needed immunity.
Myxomatosis is usually spread via insect ‘vectors’ e.g. fleas and mosquitoes that have previously bitten an infected rabbit. Direct contact with infected rabbits also spreads the disease. All pet rabbits – indoors or outdoors – are at risk.
Viral Haemmorhagic Disease is spread by direct contact with infected rabbits, or indirectly through their urine or faeces. The virus can survive for months in the environment and is easy to bring home to your pets. Examples of this would be contamination from hay that has been near wild rabbits, birds bringing the virus to your garden on their feet/in droppings or people bringing the virus home on hands/clothing/feet after walks in the park.
The correct diet for your rabbit is essential. Rabbits need to feed on high fibre, low energy roughage to ensure correct gut motility and even wear of teeth. Serious health problems such as obesity, fly-strike and dental disease are common consequences of the wrong diet. A healthy diet consists mainly of hay and grass, plus small quantities of a good quality rabbit food such a Burgess Supa Rabbit. The pellet food is strongly recommended rather than the ‘muesli style’ rabbit mix as it prevents selective feeding. To supplement the hay, grass and pellets feed dark leafy greens. Never change your rabbit’s diet suddenly - switch foods over a 1-2 week period.
lf your rabbit stops eating for more than 24 hours, or changes his favourite foods, bring him in to see vet, even if he appears otherwise okay. There could be a serious health problem developing.
Obviously rabbits must also have access to fresh water at all times. If using a water bottle check that the bottle is working properly every day – a common dangerous situation for pet rabbits is the spout becoming blocked and therefore an absence of water flow. For further nutritional information and product information visit www.burgesspetcare.co.uk/pet-care/rabbit.html.
We recommend having all pet rabbits neutered - male and female. Neutered rabbits are happier, healthier, much easier to litter train, and can live with another bunny without fighting or breeding. It is also important to have female rabbits spayed to prevent uterine cancer.
If you have two rabbits of the same sex living together, have them neutered at the same time and keep them together. If you have a male and a female, you need to be a bit more careful as male rabbits remain fertile for up to 4 weeks after castration and may need to be housed separately for a week or two while the doe recovers from the surgery. If separating a bonded pair for this recovery period then it is essential the rabbits can still see and smell each other during this time.
Castration in your male bunny is a relatively minor operation which can be performed as soon as the testicles descend (10-12 weeks). Castration will require a general anaesthethic and the rabbit will need to stay at the surgery for the day.
Spaying your doe is just as important. Most females become territorial and aggressive from sexual maturity onwards (4-6 months). They have repeated false pregnancies, and may growl at, scratch and bite their owners as well as attacking other rabbits. Keeping two females together - even if they are sisters - can make things worse. Spaying reduces and often eliminates these behavioural problems. Spayed females are likely to live longer then their unspayed sisters. The Rabbit Welfare Fund quotes that up to 80% of unspayed female rabbits develop uterine cancer by 5 years of age. Spaying is a bigger operation than castration but most does only need to stay in the vet surgery for the day. Surgery is usually performed around 4 months old but can also be done later in life.
• The length of the hutch should enable the rabbit to hop three times in that direction.
• There needs to be an attached exercise/run area for the rabbit to run and jump as they wish.
• Provide a dark ‘hidey’ hole for the rabbit to feel safe.
• The hutch should be at least 6ft x 2ft x 2ft.
• The hutch should be tall enough for the rabbit to be able to stand on their back feet.
• Rabbits should live in neutered bonded pairs.
• Provide safety from predators.
We have used the "runaround" modular system for our Bearsted Bunnies in the Community experimental project, which we have found to be well constructed, robust and very effective.
An easy to administer wormer is available from us for your pet rabbits. It is not essential to worm your rabbit unless they are grazing in areas frequented by wild rabbits or regularly come into contact with other pet rabbits e.g rabbit shows or have stayed in bunny hotels when you are away. Some owners do find ‘sticky bottom sydrome’ i.e. mucky, soiled rear ends that attract flies, improves after using the worming treatment.
It is now easy to insure your rabbit to give you peace of mind about unexpected vet bills. We recommend Petplan. www.petplan.co.uk. Please ask us for an application form. If your bunnies are under 1 year of age we can provide 4 weeks free Petplan Insurance to get you started!
Rabbits are experts in concealing their illnesses. This is typical of a creature at the bottom of the food chain: in the wild a rabbit showing weakness and signs of illness becomes an easy target for a predator. Swift veterinary treatment is vital if your rabbit is to have a good chance of surviving a serious illness. Unfortunately delaying 24 hours to see what happens can prove fatal. These are examples of danger signs your rabbit may show that indicate you need to contact us immediately:
• flystrike (maggot infestation)
• has stopped eating or shown a decrease in appetite
• has difficulty breathing, perhaps lips being blueish in colour
• has severe diarrhoea (watery faeces)
• is bleeding from wounds
• may have a broken back or limb e.g. following a fall
• limp, floppy, cold or showing any evidence of pain
For further advice Bearsted Veterinary Surgery recommend joining the Rabbit Welfare Association www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk