Keeping rabbits as pets is growing in popularity. In the UK, rabbits are the THIRD most popular pet after cats and dogs. Having worked for many years in the UK, our vets are pretty experienced in dealing with most aspects of rabbit medicine and surgery. Previously thought to be of low intelligence and lacking personailty, pet owners are discovering what fun a tame rabbit can be in a family. Many rabbits now live indoors as “house rabbits” and can easily be traned to use litter trays. At CalviaVet we strongly support the idea of keeping a rabbit indoors as a proper family member. Please think carefully before purchasing a cute fluffy bunny “for the kids”. Rabbits are NOT a child´s plaything. Like all animals, they can inflict injury and be easily injured themselves. Do your research first: Too many rabbits end up alone and forgotten in tiny cages at the bottom of the garden when the novelty wears off and the pet is fearful and antisocial. (links below)
Just like other domestic pets, rabbits are susceptible to infectious diseases and health problems, so we would like to highlight some important veterinary issues in this species.
Pet rabbits in most countries need protection against two fatal viral diseases: Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). Vaccination can start as early as 5 weeks of age and should be repeated annually. The two diseases can now be protected against with a single vaccine injection, whereas previously they had to make two trips to the vet annually for this.
There can be definite behavioural advantages in neutering rabbits around the age of 3 months old. Both males and females are less likely to show aggressive traits or try to dominate other household pets. Most importantly from a health point of view, ovariohysterectomy (spaying) in female rabbits is advocated now by all rabbit veterinary specialists as uterine cancer is extremely common in middle aged to older females.
The most common complaint for which we see ill rabbits is dental issues. Rabbits have teeth that continue growing throughout life. The process of gnawing, chewing and grinding food, wears them down and keeps them at the right length. Overgrown or malaligned teeth cause huge problems for rabbits who will eventually starve to death or get septicaemia from mouth abscesses if left untreated! The main cause of tooth problems is inappropriate diet. Many owners are misled by bright food packaging and the ease of feeding a prepackaged diet out of a bag, not realising that the main component of their diet should be hay and long-stemmed vegetation that needs to be ground up and chewed. Beware: Multi-component, colourful food is the worst type! Rabbits will pick out their favourite sugary bits and leave the rest- they will often also lead to obesity. A homogenously pelleted food is better, but hay and fresh vegetables must be top of the menu.
Signs of dental disease are: Decline of appetite, weight loss, smaller-sized or no faeces, diarrhoea, wetness around the mouth and facial swelling. It is very important to catch these signs EARLY and seek a vet who has experience treating rabbits.
Probably every vet´s worst ever consultation is the poor rabbit that is brought in with a bottom seething with maggots- the larvae of flies who have opportunistically laid eggs in a nice moist, smelly area! Most rabbits clean themselves well and, as long as their living quarters are regularly cleaned of urine and faecal matter, flies should not be attracted to your pet. Occasionally rabbits can get messy around their back ends. This is not a good sign! If a rabbit has wet faeces or diarrhoea, it may have tooth or digestive problems. Obese rabbits may not reach their perineal area for clean ups, so are very prone to this too. Rabbits forced to sit on wet bedding obviously are at high risk.
Fly strike can happen fast- maggots can hatch out in a matter of hours and will start to burrow their way inside their “host”….a horrific thing for any creature to endure! Rabbits who are not picked up daily, petted and checked on, can suffer for days before this is detected and by then, it can be too late, so CHECK RABBITS EVERY DAY and if they are dirty underneath, seek veterinary attention.
Rabbits occasionally get fleas. These are potential vectors of diseases so always have them treated. There are only a few effective products that are safe to use. Again- always ask a vet, do NOT buy random pet shop or supermarket products!
Obviously, these are just a few basic bits of information on rabbit health but always get your bunnies checked if you pick up any change in appetite, behavior or toilet habits. There´s also plenty of advice on day to day rabbit care on the internet but here are some links that we would recommend for useful info for rabbit owners