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There are two diseases that we vaccinate against in rabbits, the common and widespread viral disease called Myxomatosis that causes a very distressing and debilitating illness that usually results in death in the domestic rabbit. This disease is endemic in the wild British rabbit population and is carried by the rabbit flea and sand-flies. Although more commonly seen in the summer months when the vector of spread is more active, this disease can be seen at any time of the year. Vaccination is available as an annual injection which gives protection against Myxomatosis and RHD. We recommend vaccination whether your rabbit is kept indoors or outdoors.
The other disease that we vaccinate against is Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) which causes sudden death in rabbits. There are two strains of this; RHD1 which is included in the annual vaccination. A new strain RHD2 has emerged in recent months and there have been outbreaks in the Fareham and Gosport areas. We recommend your rabbit have the RHD2 vaccination in addition to the annual jab. There is no cure for the condition and vaccination is the only means with which to protect your bunny.
Nutrition and Water
Nutrition - In the wild, rabbits are continuous grazers. Good quality hay should be fed and this should make up the bulk of the diet. We recommend grass hays such as Timothy, orchard grass or ryegrass. Alfalfa hay can be fed which will promote growth in young rabbits as it contains high quantities of protein and calcium, however adults should only be fed this in small amounts. The amount of hay fed daily should equate roughly to a loose bundle the same size as the rabbit.
Complete pelleted diets can also be supplemented but this is not essential. It is recommended that 26 grams per kg bodyweight of the rabbit is fed daily. This equates to about a small handful per kg bodyweight of rabbit. A pelleted diet is preferable to a muesli type diet as rabbits tend to pick out the tasty bits and leave the high fibre components alone which leads to an imbalance in the diet resulting in diarrhoea and tendency to gain weight. In the long term this chronic imbalance in the diet can lead to dental disease therefore we would never recommend the feeding of muesli type diets to rabbits. Try putting the pellets in amongst the hay to occupy and challenge your rabbits and encourage them to forage for food.
A selection of vegetables e.g. kale, broccoli, carrot tops, dandelions, watercress and parsley will provide variety, but these should be fed in moderation; no more than 20% of the rabbit’s overall diet. Feed only small amounts of fruits such as apple, melons, pears and peaches, if at all.
Water - It is vital that a constant source of fresh drinking water is supplied. Owners will commonly use the water bottles or ‘nipple feeders’ as they are often referred to, but there is evidence to suggest that these are a poor source of water for your rabbit. Your rabbit often does not get enough water quick enough from the water bottles. We therefore recommend a bowl of water on its own or in addition to a water bottle in your rabbit’s hutch with the water changed daily.
Rabbits, like many small mammals, have continuously growing teeth. They are worn down by grinding against each other and against fibrous plant material like hay and grass. If rabbits are not given access to a good quality diet to ensure effective wearing of the teeth as well as good bone development, your rabbit can develop a malocclusion (poor alignment) of the teeth which results in spurs forming in the back molar teeth, and overgrowing of the front incisor teeth. Unfortunately genetics also plays a big part in the quality of teeth and poorly bred and inbred rabbits are often more likely to develop malocclusion. Malocclusion is a very distressing disease for the rabbit and a challenging condition to treat for vets. Teeth sometimes will need to be extracted under a general anaesthetic, and regular filing down of the teeth may also be required.
To avoid dental disease in rabbits, source your bunny from a good reputable breeder and feed them plenty of good quality hay and grass from a young age. Get into a habit of examining your rabbits front teeth and look out for ‘slobbers’ or drooling from the side of the mouth and poor appetite which are often indicators of dental disease.
Neutering your rabbits
It is our view that rabbits kept in a domestic environment often will benefit from being neutered (spayed or castrated). The operation often makes them into better behaved, more relaxed bunnies.
A general anaesthetic in a rabbit does carry a risk just as with all species, but we feel that this potential risk is outweighed by the benefits of having your rabbit neutered. In rabbits we do not withhold food before an operation and we encourage them to eat as soon as they are around from the anaesthetic. We therefore ask you to bring in some of their own food for us to feed them after surgery. Being an animal that likes to nibble anything in sight, rabbits will often try to chew on stitches placed during the operation. For this reason, where possible, we use tissue glue instead of or in addition to sutures to reduce the chance of the wound opening up. We will ask you to check the wound daily to look for problems with healing. It is important that a rabbit eats regularly and continuously after surgery or they are at risk of developing gastric stasis, where the stomach stops contracting and the rabbit starts to feel unwell, stops eating and develops abdominal pain. A rabbit with gastric stasis needs immediate veterinary attention.
Spaying a female rabbit is a major operation performed under a general anaesthetic, and involves removal of the ovaries and uterus by an incision on the underside of the abdomen. There is a small risk of complication with this procedure but the advantages of having your rabbit spayed far outweigh the risks. Cancer of the uterus occurs in up to 80% or female rabbits over the age of four years and having your doe spayed will eliminate this risk. Also your rabbit is likely to be far less temperamental and hormonal! Of course the other advantage is there is no risk of unwanted pregnancy from this prolific breeder. We perform the spay from 4 months of age in rabbits.
Castrating a male rabbit involves removal of the testes via an incision into the scrotum, and is performed under a general anaesthetic. The operation carries few risks and recovery is rapid. We perform this operation from 4 months of age in male rabbits.
For more information on the care of your rabbit click here