Top Tips To Keep Your Rabbit Healthy
Rabbits can be a great pet, however, they are not a pet that can be thrown some food and forgotten about. Care also needs to be taken with young children as they can be easily hurt.
Rabbits need time, care and attention. I’m not trying to scare you, but they are prone to a few health conditions that if not acted upon immediately, can result in death. If you are considering getting a rabbit for a pet, or have one already, read on for the top things you need to consider to keep your rabbit healthy.
Rabbit calicivirus is a devastating disease that results in death. Your pet needs to start with 2 vaccines a month apart, then annual boosters to ensure adequate immunity.
Unfortunately there is no vaccine to prevent against this. Keeping your rabbit as a house pet only and using mosquito netting around their hutch can help prevent this disease.
Fleas, Mites & Lice
Rabbits are affected by the these just like cats and dogs. Products such as Advocate, Advantage and Revolution applied as per the label can prevent this (don’t use Frontline). Vacuuming and washing bedding will also help keep these under control.
Rabbit digestion can be a little fickle. They require a high fibre diet with minimal carbohydrate and protein. It is best to feed a diet consisting of:
- 70% quality Timothy grass hay (not lucerne)
- 20% leafy greens such as kale, broccoli or cabbage. Keep carrots and fruits as occasional treats as they are quite fattening.
- 10% quality pellets especially formulated for rabbits. Not all products are balanced, please contact us for a list of reputable brands.
Rabbits can suffer from a condition called gut stasis which can, if not treated appropriately, result in death. If your rabbit goes off their food, becomes depressed and stops producing faeces, please see your vet immediately.
Unlike dogs, cats and humans, rabbit teeth grow continuously. For that reason they need a yearly dental check up to ensure that there are no problems and to trim the teeth if necessary. If this isn’t done, then painful abscesses and jaw fractures can result.
Spaying or neutering your rabbit not only prevents unwanted pregnancies it can help calm them and make them less aggressive. Female rabbits are susceptible to uterine cancer, so spaying can reduce the incidence of this by up to 80%.
Book your young rabbits for desexing between four and six months of age. Aggression is terrible between same sex rabbits, avoid keeping them entire for this reason. i.e. female/female or male/male. Check with your local vet for the sex of your rabbit….a lot of mistakes are made!
Keeping rabbits indoors prevents exposure to predators and can lessen the likelihood of catching calicivirus and myxomatosis. They still require their own area for sleeping and toileting (they can be trained to go in a tray!).
Outdoor hutches need to be big enough so your rabbit can get adequate exercise. Provide toys and things to do so that they are not bored. Use mosquito netting over the hutch to prevent mosquitoes.
Rabbits and guinea pigs don’t make good flatmates! Always supervise when loose with dogs or cats, better still, don’t let them out together, it only takes a moment for disaster.
Rabbits often wriggle and occasionally will flip out! They have been known to flip and break their own backs. This is one of the reasons (the other being aggression) why rabbits don’t make great pets for children. Extreme care is required when holding, if possible handle on the floor.
When holding your rabbit, always support their bottom. Pick up by sliding one hand under their ribs and wrapping your fingers around their front legs. Lift and slide your other hand under their bottom. They should have their legs facing away from you.
Every day take note of how much and what types of food they are eating – are they leaving the pellets? Are they only eating hay?
Watch how much they drink – it is best to measure this. It can be difficult when more than one bunny shares an area.
Get to know your bunny’s poo! Learn what is normal for them – colour, form (soft, hard) and amount (a normal rabbit will produce 100-150 faecal pellets a day).
Observe your rabbit’s urine. Rabbit urine can change colour depending on diet. If worried, please contact your vet.
- Weekly run your hands over their ribs and spine. Are they more prominent (skinny)? Or can you not feel anything (fat)?
By Dr Leigh Davidson BVSc, BApplSc