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Rabbit Advice

Our advice for caring for Rabbits

Rabbits have been kept as pets in this country since Victorian times and today they are the third most popular pet in the UK. Rabbits live on average 4-7 years and some even longer. Males are called bucks and females are called does. Rabbits are social creatures and should be provided with a companion wherever possible. Littermates can be kept together but should be neutered if of opposite sexes. Unrelated females will usually tolerate each other if sufficient space is provided, but they can fight and males will fight and inflict severe injuries if they are not neutered. The best pairing would be a male and a female that have both been neutered.

Housing

Your hutch should be tall enough for your rabbit to raise itself up on its hind quarters and large enough for it to move around freely. Separate living and sleeping quarters are preferable so the rabbit has somewhere to hide should it so wish. Most rabbits are housed outside or in a garage/shed but many are becoming ‘house rabbits’ who live indoors and can be trained to use a litter tray. If you plan to keep your rabbit outside find a place for the hutch where there will be shade in the summer and protection from rain and draught in winter. Clean out your rabbit at least once a week (more in the summer) and spray the hutch with an appropriate hutch spray (available from pet stores). Use newspaper to line the hutch with straw on top of this for bedding and then hay to eat on top of this or in a hay rack. This makes the hutch easy to clean out by just lifting out the paper.

Handling

Never pick your rabbit up by the ears! Gently pick it up with a firm grip on the loose skin around the neck area with one hand whilst supporting the hindquarters with the other. If the rabbit struggles it can easily injure its back or give you a nasty scratch, thus handling from a young age to socialise your pet will prevent this. Unless you intend to breed it is wise to have your rabbit neutered at 4-5 months of age to avoid ‘hormonal’ behaviour problems and aggression.

Feeding

Rabbits require a high fibre diet and good quality hay, a limited amount of a dried mix and clean, fresh vegetables will provide it with all it needs nutritionally. Fresh water, changed daily is essential and a bottle is the cleanest way to provide this. Rabbits will tend to pick out the sweet biscuits they like from a ‘muesli style’ mix so a pellet mix such as Burgess Super Rabbit is preferable at 25g of pellet per kilo of rabbit bodyweight daily. Fresh vegetables can be given daily in small amounts in the form of cabbage/greens, carrots, broccoli etc. and wild plants such as dandelion, groundsel and chickweed are also safe for them to eat. Rabbits given a good diet will not require vitamin supplements and pet shop treats are best avoided as they can cause obesity.

Vaccinations

All rabbits should be vaccinated at 6 weeks of age and annually thereafter against the fatal diseases Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease. Whether they live in the country, the city, inside or outside, all rabbits are at risk since the disease is transmitted via biting insects which can be brought in on new bedding.

Health Issues

With a good diet, a clean cage and plenty of attention and handling you should have a happy and healthy rabbit. Check your pet daily, if problems are caught early there is a better chance of recovery. Things to check for would be:

Poor appetite and weight loss Soiling of hindquarters with faeces or urine Discharge from the eyes Drooling from the mouth Overgrown nails Scurfy skin If your rabbit has diarrhoea often withdrawal of greens for a day or so and probiotics (which can be purchased from the surgery) may be enough to put things right. If your rabbit stops eating this could be a sign of intestinal blockage and drooling from the mouth could indicate a dental problem. In dental disease teeth can develop ‘spurs’ which make the gums and tongue sore leading to ulcers. Dental disease can be controlled by cutting/burring back of these spurs under anaesthetic but a good diet as detailed previously will significantly reduce the incidence of dental disease.

Fly Strike This subject deserves a heading of its own as it is an extremely distressing situation for both rabbit and owner. Basically, if a rabbit has faeces on its coat, flies are attracted and lay their eggs on the rabbit’s coat. These subsequently hatch into maggots which then invade the rabbit’s skin. Rabbits are therefore at risk in the warmer weather, especially if they are overweight or elderly and unable to clean themselves properly or have diarrhoea. Check your rabbit twice daily for fly eggs and a soiled rear-end during the summer months. Fly eggs look like tiny, cream, cigar shaped objects and these should be removed as soon as possible. Rabbits can be protected from fly larvae by using a product called Xenex spot-on (available from the surgery) regularly during the summer months along with daily checking and attention to hutch hygiene. In the unfortunate event you should find maggots on your rabbit, telephone the surgery straight away as the toxins released from the infestation can quickly lead to death.

If you have any questions regarding your rabbit’s health or husbandry, contact our team who will be happy to offer advice.

Practice information

Taverham Hospital

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Bure Valley

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22 Norwich Road Aylsham Norfolk NR11 6BN
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Longwater Lane

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Longwater Lane Costessey Norwich NR8 5AH
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