Bought a new rabbit?
Healthcare tips for your new rabbit.
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are not easy to care-for pets. Their nutritional and health needs take considerable looking after but, hopefully, the following advice will help your bunny have a happy and hassle free life with you.
In the wild rabbits spend many hours chewing grass. This is a tough fibrous material that also contains abrasive silicates. In winter they consume dried grass that they have stored in their burrows. All year round they will top up their diet with dark green leafy weeds as well as fruit and roots that they come across.
In captivity we have developed commercial rations that are low in fibre and minerals and high in protein. Rabbits enjoy these diets and grow quickly. However, they are calorie-rich and do not require nearly as much chewing/grinding as the natural diet. Even if grass and hay are provided the rabbit will preferentially eat the wrong foods, resulting in dietary imbalances and deficiencies.
It is therefore best to keep the diet as natural as possible:
1. In the morning provide large quantities of the following:
Grass. This should be provided as free access to “grazing areas” or freshly picked/ cut grass. Grass clippings are probably best avoided as they tend to ferment.
Hay. Fresh meadow hay should be given. This may be obtained from local stables although good quality timothy hays are available via petshops and veterinary clinics.
Quality of hay should be judged by smell. If it is dry, dusty and smells bad, you cannot blame the rabbit for not eating it!
Greens. Mixed quantities of dandelions and dark green leaves (cabbage, kale, spring greens, carrot tops, etc.) should be given. Lettuce should be avoided.
2. If necessary then in the evening a small amount of a commercial ration may be provided. One should be selected that is as high as possible in fibre. Extruded pellets may be best.
The following day replenish hay, grass and greens in the morning but do not give further concentrate until the last ration has been totally consumed. While some rations are formulated to avoid selective feeding, others contain many different components – do not give more until ALL is eaten! Remember that no concentrate diet provides adequate wear on the teeth.
Fresh water should always be given.
There is generally no need to provide extra vitamins or minerals though a vitamin D3 supplement may be useful for houserabbits that do not receive direct sunlight. There is some belief that supplementing calcium and vitamin D may lead to bladder stones and it is best remembered that if a good quality complete diet is given then supplements are unnecessary.
Treats are always useful for training purposes. Chocolate and sugary treats are best avoided as dental caries have been recorded. Apple, pear (and other fibrous fruits) and carrots are ideal treats.
Remember that carrots are not a staple of any rabbit’s diet.
Wooden chews and sticks are fun for the rabbit but do not provide any additional nutrition or assist greatly in preventing dental problem.
Vaccinations are strongly advised for all rabbits. The two main diseases we worry about are myxomatosis, and viral haemorrhagic disease. Both these diseases are present in the wild rabbit population and are spread by biting insects (fleas primarily but also mosquitoes which are becoming more widespread due to our warmer climate). This means that your pet rabbit does not need to come into contact with wild rabbits to contract the diseases, just be bitten by an infected rabbit flea! We are now able to offer an all in one vaccination providing a 12 months cover against both these life threatening illnesses. The new vaccination has higher levels of protection against myxomatosis and means you only need to bring your rabbit for vaccination annually, saving you time and money whilst giving your pet the best level of care.
What is fly strike?
During the summer months, pet rabbits may be affected by maggot infestation. Different terms are used for this but fly strike is the common term. Healthy rabbits are generally not affected by fly strike.
There are three main problems that lead to the condition. First, a wound to which the flies are attracted and on which they lay their eggs (pictured left)
is an obvious site where maggots can cause damage.
More commonly, a rabbit that cannot take and eat its caecotrophs will quickly have matted and soiled fur around its anus. This, from the fly’s point of view, is an ideal opportunity to lay eggs. When the maggots hatch, if the rabbit cannot groom itself, these fly larvae survive, spread and may cause a tremendous amount of damage as they eat through the tissues.
Thirdly, damp bedding is an ideal environment for egg-laying and maggot growth and development. These may then migrate onto the confined rabbit
Ensuring your rabbit is not prone to fly strike – The key factors in preventing fly strike are to ensure that bedding is dry, that the rabbit does not have any wounds or ulcerated areas of skin and that there are no problems to prevent him taking caecotrophs.
What are these likely to be?
Dental disease can cause inability to groom. An animal which has sharp hooks on its molar or cheek teeth will not want to groom since these hooks cause pain when the rabbit extends its tongue to groom in the normal manner. Your rabbit’s teeth should be checked regularly by your veterinary surgeon and appropriate treatment given if necessary.
Rabbits with back problems may not be able to turn round to groom properly as will those with abdominal pain especially does with uterine adenocarcinoma. Physical constraints such as obesity or physical confinement in an overly small hutch may also impede the taking of caecotrophs.
There is also an insecticidal product (“RearGuard”; Novartis) that can be applied to the rabbit’s hindquarters and repels flies and their larvae.
There is nothing, however, to replace regular checking. In the height of summer fly strike may occur within a few hours so your rabbit must be checked at least every 3 or 4 hours.
Treatment for fly strike
The animal will need to be sedated or anaesthetised so that all the maggots can be removed and the whole area well disinfected with an antiseptic solution. Your rabbit will need antibiotics since there is a major probability of secondary bacterial involvement. In severe cases intravenous fluids may be needed. Ivermectin may be given to kill any remaining maggots. In such cases your rabbit will be hospitalised and kept warm and comfortable. Such intensive care may cure your rabbit of the maggot infestation but in extreme cases surgery may be needed to remove all the dead maggot-ridden tissue. It is therefore much better to prevent problems in the first place!
Aside from birth control there may be other issues:
Male rabbits do not normally require castrating unless
- They are to be kept with entire females (though see below).
- They are kept with other males and there is fighting – in these cases, castrate all the males!
- There is sexual, territorial or dominant behaviour towards other pets or humans.
Female rabbits should always be spayed, unless required for breeding as
- Uterine adenocarcinoma (malignant womb cancer) is very common in does over five years old.
- Entire does may often become very territorial and aggressive especially during false pregnancies.
- The ideal combination is a spayed doe and an entire buck.
We strongly recommend pet insurance to give you peace of mind and to give your pet the best veterinary care available. Veterinary care has advanced very rapidly in recent years, to the extent that technology such as ultrasound and MRI scanning is now readily available. Medicine and surgery has also advanced with new treatments being developed every year. This advance in veterinary medicine can mean that treatment costs may be large, and a good insurance policy is vital to cover this.
Three broad types of policy are available.
1. Annual Policy
This will cover treatment upto your chosen financial limit (for example, £3000 per illness) or for twelve months, whichever comes first. This means that for long term illnesses, your insurance would run out after twelve months. After this point the condition would be classed as ‘pre-existing’ so would not be covered if you were to change insurance company or by the existing policy.
2. ‘Pot of money policy’
This type of policy usually gives a high amount of cover for a condition. This money lasts as long as it takes to be spent. For example, if you have a £7000 ‘pot’ and your cat needs intermittent treatment for arthritis, it will probably take some years to spend your ‘pot’. However, if your cat needs an MRI and spinal surgery, you will rapidly run through the ‘pot’ when cover would end.
3. Lifetime policy
This policy will cover an illness up to your chosen level of cover each year. For example if you have a limit of £3000 per illness, and you spend £3000 on diabetes in year one, then you will be given another £3000 worth of cover for diabetes in the following policy years. Cover therefore is for life.
To see the value of insurance for your pet, have a look at these interesting cases.