Caring for your rabbit
Rabbits are sociable animals who do not like to live alone. House rabbits benefit from human company but those living in hutches should ideally be kept in pairs. Two rabbits of the same sex often fight, so it is best to have a buck and a doe; neutering is necessary unless you want to breed from your pets. Rabbits can breed from 4-6 months of age, depending on the type. Neutering is generally carried out around 6 months, and is beneficial in reducing the incidence of uterine cancer in females and behavioural problems in males.
Rabbits should be fed good quality hay or grass, green vegetables and some wild plants, supplemented with a nuggeted commercial feed such as Burgess Supa Rabbit. Fresh, clean water should always be available and treats should be kept to a minimum. A high fibre, low carbohydrate diet is essential to maintain good health, especially of the teeth and digestive system.
We strongly recommend that rabbits are vaccinated against Myxomatosis and HVD, and that flea control with a licensed 'spot-on' product is applied when necessary (fleas can act as vectors of both diseases). Currently, myxomatosis vaccine can be given to rabbits over 6 weeks of age, and should be boosted at 6-12 month intervals, depending on the prevalence of the disease in the area. HVD vaccination is generally carried out at 10-12 weeks, though rabbits as young as 8 weeks can be immunised. Annual boosters are needed. Unfortunately, the two vaccines available at present can not be given simultaneously, and a minimum 14 day interval is advised betweeen the 2 injections.
There is a new rabbit vaccine just arriving on the market which covers against both VHD and myxomatosis in the same injection and which only requires boosting annually. We will be switching to this as soon as possible to make it easier for owners to keep their rabbits safe.
Common medical problems
Dental problems are the commonest condition we see in pet rabbits. Overgrown teeth or dental malocclusion can cause loss of appetite, weight loss, dribbling and facial abscesses. Eye infections (caused by diseased tooth roots) and matted droppings under the tail (due to poor grooming) may also be an indication of dental disease. Regular teeth checks are essential.
Skin diseases include mite infestations, in the ears or elsewhere on the body, and ulceration/infection of the feet and hocks. Nails can overgrow; they should be checked regularly and clipped when necessary.
Eye problems are often associated with dental disease (see above). Abnormalities of tooth roots can block the tear ducts, leading to occular discharge and “scalding” of the skin beneath the eyes.
Diarrhoea is a frequent problem and can be serious, so veterinary advice should always be sought. In the summer, diarrhoea or matted droppings around the tail can attract flies which lay eggs and these, in turn, hatch into maggots on the skin. Rabbits should be checked twice a day in the warmer months and bedding must be kept clean and dry. Veterinary products such as 'Rearguard' are available to help protect against this.
Respiratory diseases seen in rabbits include Pasteurellosis or “snuffles”. If you suspect your rabbit is having trouble breathing, or if you notice occular or nasal discharges, inappetance or lethargy, it is best to seek veterinary advice/treatment.