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An Essential Guide to Rabbit Care

Keeping your rabbits happy and healthy

blog header rabbit care

Did you know there are approximately 1.7 million rabbits kept as pets in the UK*?

Owning and caring for a rabbit is great fun and they make fantastic family pets. However, it is important to be aware that they are also a big responsibility and require long term commitment. Providing your pet rabbit with the right care, including a well-balanced diet and a comfortable home, is essential for providing your pet with the best care possible.

If you own or are responsible for a rabbit, even on a temporary basis, you are required under the Animal Welfare Act to care for him or her properly.

There isn’t a perfect way to care for all rabbits because every rabbit and situation is different. We hope that our essential guide provides you with an understanding of how to care for your beloved small furry.

Diet

Rabbits require good quality fibre to help maintain healthy teeth and a happy gut. If you feed your rabbit the wrong food, or the wrong proportion of the right food, they are more likely to develop urinary and dental problems. Rabbit’s teeth will grow their whole life – that’s why it is important to give them the right food, including fresh clean water.

Rabbits need unlimited access to hay. The basic rule is that a rabbit’s diet should contain 70% grass based products. This can include fresh handpicked grass, dried grass, meadow hay and haylage – never feed your pet rabbit lawnmower clippings!

Rabbits are allowed a small amount of vegetables each day but these vegetables should only amount to 28% of their diet – that’s a handful in the morning and a handful in the evening. The remaining 2% (20g per kg bodyweight) should consist of good quality commercial pellet or nugget food. Muesli should be avoided as this encourages selective feeding.

We highly recommend that you do not feed your rabbit garlic, rhubarb, amaryllis and chive.  

Health

Your rabbit’s health is your top priority and here at Medivet, we believe that prevention is far better than a cure. Rabbits need to be vaccinated against two serious and fatal diseases: myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).

What is myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis is a highly infectious disease which causes swelling, inflammation and discharge around the eyes. The disease is usually spread by biting insects that carry the myxomo virus but direct rabbit-to-rabbit contact can also spread the virus.

What is viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD)?

VHD is a highly contagious and acute fatal disease that affects adult rabbits and hares. We highly recommend vaccinating against VHD because this disease is unfortunately deadly – rabbits with VHD sadly die within a matter of hours. This disease is spread through saliva or nasal discharges, as well as through faeces. It can also be passed on through direct rabbit-to-rabbit contact, or through people, clothing, objects and animals. The liver and kidneys are usually the first organs to be affected, followed by the intestines and trachea. If you suspect VHD in your rabbit, please seek veterinary attention immediately.

When should rabbits be vaccinated?

Rabbits can be vaccinated as soon as they reach five-weeks-old, but a single vaccination does not protect them for life – that’s why they need annual booster vaccinations. Use our online practice finder tool to contact your local Medivet practice for more information and advice.

Many rabbits are also carriers of a disease called encephalitozoon (E.C). This is a parasite that lives inside the body cells of its host. Once inside the body, it can head off to other organs such as the kidneys and brain which may lead the rabbit to encounter problems as they grow older. They can catch this disease from their mothers or other infected rabbits. Some carriers can then go on to develop symptoms of illness from E.C, such as loss of balance and incontinence. Please speak to your vet about preventing E.C in your pet rabbit.

Environment

Rabbits are very active and sociable animals. Did you know that rabbits live a better quality of life in pairs? They also need plenty of space to be able to run, hop, jump, dig, stand upright and stretch out fully when they are laying down.

Things to consider when housing your rabbit:

  • Provide your rabbit with a large living area and a secure shelter.
  • Ensure their living area is well ventilated, dry and draught free to prevent them from becoming ill.
  • Provide them an area to hide in if they become scared.
  • Ensure your rabbit has the opportunity to exercise every day.
  • Provide them with soft toys to play with and chew, or the opportunity to play with other friendly rabbits and people.
  • Ensure your rabbit has plenty of bedding to keep them warm – make sure this is safe for them to eat, so provide them with insulating bedding materials such as dust-free hay and shredded paper.

Neutering

A male rabbit can be neutered between 3–4 months old. A female rabbit can be spayed from 6 months.

We recommend neutering for the following reasons:

  • Prevention of pregnancy.
  • A male rabbit usually behaves better when castrated and will smell less strong.
  • A large proportion of female rabbits develop uterine cancer after the age of 2 years if they are not spayed.

Rabbits are incredible animals with complex needs, so make sure you follow the right guidance and seek advice from your local vets to ensure your rabbit receives the best care possible.

We hope you enjoy a long, happy and healthy life with your adorable pet rabbit!

*Source: http://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1756-0500-7-942

Posted January 21, 2016 by Cara Zaleski in Pet Care Advice

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