The digestive system of the rabbit has more in common with a horse than with dogs or cats. Rabbits need a high fibre diet, and hay and grass should make up the vast majority of their food. These foods most closely resemble what they would have in the wild, and are essential for gut and dental health. Good quality grass or grass hay is the best source, but check that it is free from dust, mould, and grass seeds which might get into their eyes (meadow hay is ideal, but there are also other types of hay – alfalfa, oat, botanical, orchard grass to name a few. Oxbow Animal Health produces a good range).
Feed small quantities of fresh leafy greens only as they can cause diarrhoea, a mix is best i.e. kale, savoy cabbage, spinach, carrot tops, mint, parsely. Carrot and apple should only be offered as an occasional treat. Pelleted rabbit food can also be offered as a supplement. This is better than the muesli style food as it prevents rabbits selecting only the parts they want. Pellets should ideally be grass based and provide a high amount of fibre with no added sugars or colours. If you need any advice regarding diet please feel free to contact us.
Rabbits eat continually throughout the day and there therefore continually digesting food and producing faeces. Rabbits produce two types of faeces; the small dry round pellets that you often see and softer formed pellets that are called caecotrophs. The caecotroph is eaten directly from the bottom and passes through the digestive system for a second time so that the body can make use of the nutrients. In a healthy rabbit you should not see a caecotroph. If you find that your rabbit gets a sticky bottom or you see sticky patches in their house it is not normal and they should be checked by your vet.
If your rabbit stops eating or passing faeces for more than 12 hrs then CALL US!!
Myxomatosis – Myxomatosis is a viral disease that is often fatal, although milder forms sometimes occur. It is spread by biting insects such as fleas, mites and mosquitoes, and by contact with an infected (often a wild) rabbit. Vaccination, as with all vaccines, does not guarantee total protection, although vaccinated rabbits are more likely to survive the illness. We recommend yearly vaccination from 6 weeks.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) – Viral haemorrhagic disease, although less common, is also usually a killer disease. The virus survives well in the environment and is easily spread between rabbits, by insects or via indirect contact with infected people, clothing, shoes and other objects. All rabbits, even indoor ones, need annual vaccination, and you need to reduce their chance of coming into contact with the virus. There is combined vaccination available for VHD and Myxomatosis that needs to be given yearly. A second virus, VHD2 has recently emerged in the UK. It is now recommended to included VHD2 in your rabbit’s annual vaccination programme and is included alongside maxi and VHD1 for members of our Healthcare Plan. For more details on the risk of VHD2, see FAQs below.
If your rabbit is quieter than normal, is sitting still and hunched up, does not want to move about, he/she can go downhill VERY quickly so you should call us for advice or to make an appointment. Other things to look out for are;
Please note this list is not exhaustive, and that if you are at all concerned about your rabbit please contact us.
“Fly kills rabbit!” Not a tabloid sensation – sadly, this is often all too true. In the warmer months, all rabbits – even indoor rabbits – are at risk from attack by maggots. These eat into the flesh, causing severe damage and releasing toxins, which may produce shock, severe illness and death. Maggots on your rabbit are an emergency, so contact us immediately. Sadly, in severe cases, euthanasia may be necessary. Fly strike can be prevented by checking your pets daily, not letting them get overweight, checking for dirty bottoms and keeping the hutch/run cleaned out regularly. There are bedding and spot on treatments available that can help reduce the chance of fly stike but treatments should not replace vigilance.
Nails – If the nails are long and curving, you can trim them but avoid the pink bit (called the quick) in the middle. This hurts and will bleed if it is cut. Ask the vet to show you how to do it. Make sure your rabbit is getting enough exercise.
Coat and ears – Check the coat for scurf, dandruff, or itchy sores, and look in the ears for crusty wax. Fleas are not a big problem, but rabbits can get dog and cat fleas so get a suitable product from the vet if you have other animals. They can also get ringworm, which is a fungal infection, and infestations of microscopic creatures known as mites. Some types of mite live in the ears, causing severe irritation. In all cases, prompt veterinary treatment is needed.
Toilet troubles – Check your rabbit’s faeces daily. If there are changes in colour, consistency or amount, consult your vet. Rabbit urine varies in colour, from pale yellow to red, depending on the diet, and it can be cloudy. If it suddenly turns red, consult your vet who can test whether blood is present. If your rabbit’s fur is wet with urine, your pet is straining as if constipated, or has lost normal toilet training, see your vet – there may be problems.
Weight – A podgy belly or large dewlap often indicates your rabbit is overweight and at risk from flystrike, so bring him or her in for a weight check at the surgery. A prominent backbone may indicate your rabbit has dental problems or another disease so should be checked over by us.
VHD2 is a variant of VHD. This new strain is also very infectious and can cause liver disease and sudden death. The vaccination used against Myxomatosis and VHD is not protective against VHD2 so your rabbit will need a second vaccine to protect it. It is advisable to leave 2 weeks between the vaccines so the rabbit can respond and develop immunity from the first vaccination before it is given the second.
Further information can be found at: