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Rabbit Health Care

Caring for your rabbit, some helpful info

Nutrition

Many of the health problems seen in pet rabbits are caused by feeding the wrong diet. It is essential that rabbits have a fibrous diet that needs a lot of chewing. Their teeth grow constantly and it is only by grinding this fibrous food that their teeth stay at the correct level.

The bulk of the food should consist of grass or hay.

It can be supplemented by small amounts of concentrate food (e.g. Science Selective) but ‘muesli-type’ foods should be avoided as they encourage selective feeding which can lead to deficiencies in the diet. Obesity is an increasing problem in pet rabbits and is often due to the over feeding of concentrated foods.

Lettuce has little if any nutritional benefit for rabbits and is not recommended.

Parasites

The most common mite seen in rabbits is Cheylietella. This leads to the presence of marked dandruff.

Cheylietella can become a problem when the rabbit is poorly for another reason so should always be checked and treated by a veterinary surgeon. It is also zoonotic (can affect humans) so early treatment is advisable.

E. Cuniculi (or Encephalitozoon Cuniculi) can infect the kidneys, cause urinary problems, eye problems, weight loss, weakness, wobbliness or head tilts as seen on the right, and even death

Ear mites can also be a problem and need veterinary treatment. They live in your pets ear canals and can be very irritating.

Flystrike

This is a serious problem – often needing emergency treatment.

Flies lay eggs in soiled areas around the rabbit’s rear end and the maggots that hatch out will then start to eat the surrounding flesh.

It is important to check a rabbit’s rear end regularly, especially in the summer, to ensure there are no matted and soiled areas.

We can supply effective treatments to prevent the flies laying eggs.

Vaccination

Myxomatosis: 

An inevitably fatal disease, which can be spread by biting insects such as fleas. Because of this, spread is possible without direct contact with infected wild rabbits. Rabbits can be vaccinated from five weeks of age. Yearly booster vaccinations are required.


Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD): 

There are two strains of RVHD, these are known as RVHD1 and RVHD2. This is a very rapidly fatal disease. The RVHD1 can be given at the same time as the Myxomatosis vaccination. The Vaccination for RVHD2 is to be given from 10 weeks of age. Yearly booster vaccinations are required.

Dental Care

A rabbit's front teeth (the incisors) continue to grow throughout the life of the animal. Generally, the wear on the teeth through gnawing and eating is equal to the growth of the teeth, so the teeth stay the same length as seen below.

The first sign of teeth-related problems are often that the rabbit goes off its food and dribbles a lot – leading to a wet chin and front feet.

The main cause is poor diet leading to abnormal growth / wearing of the teeth, which results in them deviating and the formation of sharp spurs. These spurs can lead to laceration of the tongue.

The front incisor teeth may also be overgrown but it should be remembered that this is invariably related to problems with the back cheek teeth.

Dental care depends on the cause but can consist of:

  • Burring to reduce the size of the incisor teeth
  • Removal of incisor teeth under anaesthesia
  • Correction of overgrown cheek teeth under general anaesthesia
  • Radiography of teeth and extractions/treatment of cheek teeth if necessary

Early correction is essential as once the problem becomes chronic, there is little that can be done long-term.

Neutering

Unless you intend to breed from your rabbit, neutering is advisable:

Females:

  • Avoids unwanted pregnancies.
  • Avoids the risk of womb cancer in older rabbits.

Males:

  • Castration tends to make male rabbits easier to handle.
  • Allows them to be mixed with others without the worry of any females getting pregnant.

Both males and females can be neutered from about 5 months of age.

If your rabbit is bonded to another rabbit, it is important to bring them both to the vet so that the mate can offer moral support during the pre-operative waiting period and during recovery. It also will help prevent one coming home smelling of ‘the vets’, which could result in rejection by his/her mate. This also applies for bonded groups too. It is best to bring everyone in for moral support and to prevent post-operative social rejection.