RABBITS – ROUTINE HEALTH CARE
Did you know?
Female rabbits are called does, males bucks and young rabbits kits. The life expectancy of domestic rabbits ranges from 6-14 years. Rabbits reach breeding age at 4-10 months, and the length of pregnancy is 31 days.
How should I feed my rabbit?
Poor diet is a leading cause of health problems in pet rabbits, leading to dental problems, gut problems and obesity. Many commercial diets are not appropriate.
In the wild rabbits eat primarily grass. As per the diet triangle we recommended that pet rabbits eat the majority of their diet as fresh grass and grass hay. Grass hays include meadow, pasture, oaten, wheaten, timothy and paddock hays. We recommend Oxbow Timothy Hay. Avoid legume hays such as lucerne and clover as they are not grass hay and are too high in protein and calcium.
In addition to hay, rabbits should be provided with at least 3 different vegetables or herbs daily. Suitable vegetables include; broccoli, cabbage, celery, endive, carrot tops, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, Asian greens and dark leafed lettuce.
Suitable herbs include; parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill and mint.
A premium quality commercial pellet mix, such as Oxbow Bunny pellets should be offered in small amounts. Pellets should make up approximately 5% of the diet for a healthy rabbit.Treats can be offered but only in small quantities (maximum of 1-2 tablespoons per rabbit per day). Suitable treats include; most fruits, root vegetables (carrot, sweet potato) and capsicum.
Do rabbits need to be vaccinated?
Rabbits require vaccination against Calicivirus or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV). Initially they get two vaccinations one month apart then a booster vaccination is recommended every 6 months.
In 2015 a second strain of Calicivirus, known as RHDV-2, was detected in a wild rabbits in the ACT, and further cases were identified causing death in pet rabbits in Canberra. The virus has now spread throughout Australia.
Autumn 2017 saw the controlled release of a new strain of Rabbit Calicivirus, the K5 strain of RHDV1 (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus 1).
There are some very important points to understand about these viruses. K5 is a variant of the original strain of RHDV1. It was deliberately released into the wild rabbit population because the original virus had become less effective over time. RHDV2 is a European variant of the Calicivirus. It is not known how it came to be present in Australia.
Current vaccination against the original RHDV1 virus IS effective against K5. This means that pet rabbits up to date with Calicivirus vaccination will be protected against K5. However, our current vaccination provides only partial protection against RHDV2.
We recommend that initially they get two vaccinations one month apart then a booster vaccination every 6 months to give full protection against both strains of RHDV1 (and as much protection as possible against RHDV2). A vaccine for RHDV2 is under development in Europe but is some time off. When available be sure that we will notify everyone ASAP!
Minimising contact with wild rabbits and controlling mosquitoes and fleas in your pet’s environment is also very important. When it comes to Calicivirus infections – there is no cure, only prevention and it is very VERY important to stay up to date.
Do rabbits need flea treatment?
Rabbits can harbour flea infestations and should be treated monthly with Revolution top spot or Advantage. Regular flea treatment may help reduce the spread of the fatal calicivirus. Do NOT use Frontline as this product causes a fatal reaction in rabbits.
Should rabbits be desexed?
Desexing is recommended at 4-6 months of age for does and bucks. This helps to prevent disease, particularly in does. Some breeds have a 50-80% incidence of uterine cancer by the age of 5 years. Desexing can also be of benefit in avoiding territorial soiling and other behavioural problems.
Rabbits are unique animals with amazing and complex body systems. This has made them very successful in the wild where they breed like, well, like rabbits! However, they are susceptible to some diseases and there are some changes that you will need to monitor for as they can indicate severe disease.
Eating and passing faeces are very important parts of a rabbit’s day. If your bunny stops eating or passing faeces this is an EMERGENCY. The gastrointestinal system of the rabbit is based around fermentation of grass and other vegetable material in their hind gut. If this conveyor belt of food in and poo out slows or stops, the normal bacteria in the gut can quickly overgrow and become toxic. Not eating breakfast would not necessarily be an emergency in your dog but in your rabbit this required immediate veterinary attention! If in doubt, please always bring your bunny in for a check-up as prompt attention can avert what would otherwise be a gastrointestinal disaster!!
Other reasons for bringing your rabbit to the vet include:
- Fur loss, inflamed skin, dry scaly skin or excessive grooming
- Lack of grooming and clumping of shed fur or matting of fur
- Change in eating habits – this may be caused dental disease
- Drooling or slobbering – this may also be caused by dental disease
- Overgrowth of the front incisor teeth
- Discharge from the eyes
- Scabbing or wax accumulation in the ears
- Loss of litter tray training or change in toileting sites, urinating or defecating in abnormal places
- Urine or faeces getting stuck to the rump
- Drinking alot
- Inactivity, sudden or gradual particularly in older rabbits
- Sores on the feet
- Behavioural changes or agression between cage mates
- Fight wounds
Dental disease and rabbits.
Dental problems are very common in pet rabbits. A combination of genetics, diet and housing contribute to the complex of dental problems that are seen.
Rabbit teeth grow constantly and there is an ongoing need to wear them down though chewing. If a rabbit is born with dental occlusion that does not wear appropriately they will develop overgrowth of the teeth. Flat faced or brachycephalic rabbits are more likely to have problems than the more ‘wild type’ conformations.
Diet has a big influence on dental wear and health. Rabbits naturally chew very high fibre, tough grasses with a side to side action. As pets they are often fed low fibre diets or diets that are chewed up and down. This can lead malocclusion through inappropriate wear of the teeth. This is just another reason why it is so important for your rabbit to eat mostly grass hay and green leafy veggies!
The constant dental wear and rapid turnover of dental tissue in rabbits means they have a high calcium requirement. Rather than needing a high calcium diet, rabbits rely on vitamin D, which they can produce following exposure to direct sunlight. Vitamin D allows them to be very efficient at absorbing calcium from their food. Rabbits housed indoors may not get sufficient exposure to unfiltered, natural sunlight and vitamin D deficiency may contribute to their dental problems.
A good quality diet rich in long strands of tough hay that require side to side chewing and time spent outdoors will go a long way towards preventing dental disease. Once dental problems develop they often require ongoing care and management as the teeth keep on growing and changing.
Will my rabbit need to be groomed?
Depending on the breed of rabbit, grooming may be necessary. Any rabbit with long fur, in particular Angora breeds, is very unlikely to be able to manage its coat without help. If you are considering one of these breeds, be prepared to put a lot of time and effort into maintaining the coat. Left ungroomed, soft rabbit fur will matt and may need to be clipped. As rabbits have very fine skin they can tear easily, clipping is usually done under general anaesthesia and is quite a big job!
Even if your rabbit does not have long fur, it is very important to check the urogenital area daily for signs of wetness, accumulation of faeces or matting of the fur. If this does occur the area needs to be cleaned but a consult with your veterinarian is recommended as there may be an underlying problem such as low fibre diet or reduced mobility.
What should be considered when housing a rabbit?
Hutches need to be rain proof and provide protection from predators and temperature extremes. They should be easily cleaned and well ventilated. Soiled bedding should be removed daily and the hutch should be totally cleaned weekly. Mosquito proofing is recommended to reduce the risk of myxomatosis. Suitable bedding materials include; hay, straw and shredded paper. It is good to provide “bolt holes” in the form of upturned boxes or covered areas for rabbits to retire to. Rabbits should be given the opportunity to exercise outside the hutch for a few hours each day.
When rabbits are housed indoors beware of them chewing electrical cords and furniture. Rabbits can be toilet trained. Litter materials include hay, straw and some paper cat litters (avoid clay types). Rabbits should have access to unfiltered natural sunlight regularly, (through a window is insufficient).
Rabbits are social animals so keeping more than one may be considered. Suitable mixes include 2 females, male and female (if you want many kits) or mixes of neutered rabbits. It is not recommended to mix guinea pigs with rabbits as guinea pigs can get diseases from rabbits and they may bully each other.
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