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Caring for your Rabbit

Some helpful info and insights

Whether you’ve owned a rabbit before or this is your very first bunny buddy, we’re on hand to offer all the help and essential healthcare services you’ll need.

Vaccines

Why should I vaccinate my rabbit?

Vaccinations are essential to protect your pet rabbit against the following diseases:

Myxomatosis:

This is a disease that’s very widespread among wild rabbits, but also cause for concern among domesticated rabbits. It spreads very quickly and there is no effective treatment.

The virus is carried by rabbit fleas and mosquitos, so it can be passed very easily without direct contact. Early signs of the disease include puffy eyelids and a purulent pus, producing conjunctivitis. Swelling occurs under the eyes, ears and in the genital region. In some milder cases, lumps may appear over the ears, head and body. With intensive nursing, it’s possible for rabbits to survive, but it may take several months to return to normal.

Rabbits need to be vaccinated every 12 months to maintain protection against this disease.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease:

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a very nasty and untreatable disease that causes multiple bleeding of internal organs and sometimes skin. It results in sudden death, following the rabbit being quiet for a few hours or days.

VHD is caused by a calicivirus and although the incubation period is up to 3 days, animals may die suddenly without any clinical signs. If there are signs, they include anorexia, fever, apathy and prostration. There may be convulsions, coma, difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth or a bloody nasal discharge.

Due to the horrendous nature of this disease, we recommend that every pet rabbit is vaccinated annually.

Neutering

What is neutering?

Neutering female rabbits is also referred to as spaying. It involves the removal of the ovaries and uterus. Neutering males is also referred to as castration. It involves the removal of the rabbit’s testes.

Why should I neuter my pet rabbit?

  • Neutering your pet prevents unwanted bunnies.
  • It has been proven that neutering greatly reduces the chances of uterine cancers.
  • Neutering rabbits can help with aggression between hutch mates.

What happens when my pet comes in to be neutered?

The nurse will see you on the morning of the operation to admit your pet rabbit for the day. They'll make sure your rabbit has been well recently and is fine to have the operation, and also check that we have the correct contact information for you. For rabbits, it’s important that they eat right up to the anaesthetic and as soon as possible afterwards, because they’re very prone to gut stasis. They can also have water at all times.

Once the nurse has admitted your rabbit, they will be taken to their kennel room, made comfortable with padded bedding and given lots of fuss and encouragement to try to reassure them. There will also be a nurse in the kennel area during recovery to look after your rabbit.

The vet who’ll perform the operation will examine your rabbit prior to giving them an injection of a mild sedative to help keep them calm and ease the induction of anaesthesia. Your pet will also be given an injection for pain relief. Once your rabbit is nicely sleepy, the nurse and vet will lead or carry them into surgery. They will always talk to the animal throughout to try to put him or her at ease.

Throughout the general anaesthetic and on recovery, your rabbit will be monitored by the nurse. Once awake, they will be returned to their bed to be looked after by the kennel nurse, who makes sure they’re warm and cosy and comfortable. When they’re fully awake, a small meal is offered.

When you collect your rabbit to take them home that evening, they may be wearing an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from licking the surgical wound. The nurse will go through the required post-operative care in the discharge appointment with you – feeding, exercise and administration of pain relief medication, for example.

We’ll always arrange a 3 and 10-day post-op check-up with the nurse to ensure that your rabbit is doing well, is happy and comfortable, and that his or her wound is healing nicely.

Socialisation

In the wild, rabbits live in large colonies, so domestic bunnies normally prefer to live with another companion. 

The best pairing would be a neutered male and a neutered female. Same-sex pairings can work, but usually if the rabbits are from the same litter and are brought up together. Neutering in these cases is highly recommended to prevent fighting and dominant behaviour. 

Pairing or bonding is best done by placing the rabbits in an unfamiliar surrounding, such as a friend’s house. Placing the pair in a bath tub and open top cage can help, as rabbits are more likely to comfort one another. If you’re lucky, the bonding may happen after one attempt, but be warned that it may take several attempts, so time and patience is necessary to make the bond successful.

For more advice about this, please just ask...

Diet

Incorrect feeding can lead to many health problems for your pet rabbit. These can significantly reduce its life span as well as causing it a lot of pain and distress. 

Rabbits are not designed to eat just rabbit mix. A bowl of fresh water should always be available – avoid water bottles, as many rabbits have difficulty drinking sufficient amounts from them.

The Perfect Rabbit Diet

Your pet’s diet needs to be made up of mainly grass-based products (such as hay) and supplemented with a variety of vegetables and a small amount of commercial rabbit mix.

Grass really is the perfect food for rabbits. It’s high in fibre, which keeps their digestive systems running well, and is also highly abrasive, so it keeps their teeth nicely worn down – in a much better way than any shop-bought gnawing block could. A permanent grassy run attached to your rabbit’s hutch would be the ideal way to ensure that your rabbit gets as much grass as he or she needs.

Hay is simply dried grass, so use this as bedding (instead of straw or sawdust) and your rabbit will be able to munch away to its heart’s content! Rabbits can eat as much grass and hay as they like – but NEVER give your rabbit grass clippings, as they can make them very ill.

Rabbit Food & Vegetables

Provide your rabbit with a limited amount of commercial rabbit food, probably about one handful per rabbit per day. High-quality pelleted rabbit foods, such as Burgess Supa Rabbit Excel, are the best choice, as all of the pellets are exactly the same, ensuring that your rabbit receives a balanced diet and doesn’t just pick out the bits he or she likes best!

A selection of leafy greens and vegetables should also be offered each day. You’ll soon find out what your rabbit likes best! Steer clear of very sugary fruits, such as banana or citrus fruits, as both can cause gut problems. Shop-bought rabbit treats are also generally high in sugar, so should be given in moderation, if at all.

Housing

Before purchasing your new rabbit, a decision has to be made about whether you want your rabbit to live inside as a house rabbit or outside. Both are acceptable and rabbits can live happily either in- or outdoors.

Rabbit Living Outside

If you decide to keep your rabbit outside, you’ll need to choose a suitable hutch, made of wood, with a large living compartment that has a mesh front to allow ventilation and sunlight. This main compartment should be big enough for an adult bunny to stretch out in all directions and to be able to stand on its hind legs without its ears touching the roof. A private area is also a MUST-HAVE. The rabbit needs this area in which to sleep and be able to hide if it feels in danger.

The position of the hutch is very important. You’ll need to position it so that it is protected in extreme weathers and secure against access by predators.

The inside of the hutch can be lined with newspaper, while the bedding can be hay. Additional hay, to prevent soiling, should be provided in a hay rack for feeding purposes. You’ll need to clean the hutch on a regular basis – at least once a week, increasing to 3 times a week in the warmer months, when flystrike is a threat. In colder months, bedding can be topped up to add warmth.

Rabbits often use one area to toilet, so it can be useful to train your rabbit to use a litter tray, which will make cleaning easier. Keeping your rabbit’s home clean is very important as poor hygiene can lead to many problems. The worst of these is flystrike, when flies are attracted to soiled bedding  or even your rabbit’s bottom. The flies lay their eggs, which hatch into maggots, which then burrow into your rabbit’s skin. This can kill your rabbit very quickly. Always check your rabbit for sign sof flystrike twice daily in hot weather due to how rapidly this condition takes hold.

Outdoor rabbits will need daily access to a grass run. This should be secure enough to stop your rabbit jumping or burrowing out. Also ensure that it is predator-proof!

Rabbit Living Inside

If you’d like a house rabbit, you’ll need to make sure that your house is rabbit-proof – electric cables and furniture can be chewed very easily. You also need to provide a cage or hutch that your rabbit can use as a safe place and to confine them to when you’re not at home. Buy toys for your rabbit, to keep them occupied, and provide a litter tray lined with paper for your rabbit to use.

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