Rabbits: common queries answered
Flystrike, or blowfly strike, is a serious condition, mainly affecting rabbits, that occurs during the summer months. It is caused by flies that are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces, or the odour of scent glands. The flies lay their eggs on or around the rabbit’s rear end where they hatch within hours into a seething bunch of maggots that eat into the rabbit’s flesh and release toxins in the process. If not treated quickly, the condition is often fatal. Rabbits at highest risk are those that suffer from obesity, dental disease, diarrhoea, urinary infections, arthritis and skin wounds.
Flies are also attracted to rabbits when the environment conditions and hygiene are poor, e.g. dirty hutches. It is therefore important to keep their living area clean and disinfected and to regularly remove waste and soiled bedding. To avoid obesity and diarrhoea, the bulk of the diet of the pet rabbit should consist of grass and good quality hay. A small amount of commercial pelleted food can also be offered. Green foods are also important and a variety should be fed daily.
During the spring and summer, all rabbits should be checked for flystrike twice daily. If you find maggots on your rabbit, seek veterinary attention immediately as a flyblown rabbit can become ill very quickly. Prevention of flystrike is much more effective than cure and we recommend using a product called Rearguard which contains an insect growth inhibitor. It is applied to the rabbits coat and gives 8-10 weeks protection.
Our nurses are at hand to discuss general care and husbandry specific to your pet and she can advise you on health checks that you can perform at home.
Rabbits can be the most adorable pets with their stubby noses and soft coats. They are very popular children’s pets, often considered a good ‘starter pet’ before moving to more demanding cat or dog ownership. Rabbits, however, can be just as time consuming, and in some ways, even more so, in their health care than cats and dogs.
Housing – Rabbits can be housed in groups but care must be taken. Bucks and does will fight if housed together unless they are introduced gradually. The most stable pairing is a neutered buck with a spayed doe. Furthermore rabbits should not be kept with guinea pigs as they will tend to bully them. Rabbits can also harbour a bacteria in their respiratory tract called Bordetella which can cause serious illness in guinea pigs.
Diet – Rabbits need lots of natural high fibre in their diet since they are hindgut fermenters. Their lower digestive tract takes insoluable fibre such as hay and converts it into a food stuff that they will digest in two stages. The first stage is consumption of the fibre. The second stage is called caecotrophy, where the rabbit takes a special form of faeces directly from their rectum and consumes it during the early hours of the morning to obtain any nutrients missed the first time (a form of recycling faeces). The best diet for a rabbit is grass and hay, supplemented with small amounts (perhaps less than a third of daily intake) of commercial pellets and vegetables. A diet too high in pellets can lead to a sluggish, hypo-motile intestinal tract, dental disease, and obesity.
Teeth – By far the majority of veterinary visits by rabbit owners are due to dental disease. Unfortunately rabbit breeds nowadays do not comply in their skull conformation for optimal dentition. Rabbits are being bred for more of a snub nosed appearance which doesn’t leave much space for their teeth to grow. Problems arise due to overcrowding of teeth causing mal-alignment and overgrowth, especially of the front incisors. Rabbit’s teeth grow continually, so they need chewable fibre such as long hay to wear them down. If your bunny has chronic eye problems, a wet mouth, and the so called bunny hanky (wetness over their front paws), it’s time to see your vet for a dental check up before they stop eating.
Neutering – Female rabbits should be neutered to prevent cancer of the uterus which is quite common later in life. Bucks should be neutered to prevent aggression and territorial urine spraying. It goes without saying that rabbits can be prolific breeders so if you don’t want too many bunnies you should be neutering them by the age of five months.
Vaccinations – If you are planning to keep your rabbit outside for any length of time then vaccinating them is an important part of keeping them healthy. The disease Myxomatosis is a pox virus which is transmitted by fleas from wild rabbits. It causes swollen eyes and lips, and pox-like lesions on the head. Myxomatosis is ubiquitous in Britain today, having originally spread from the continent in 1953. Another disease, Viral Haemorrhagic Diarrhoea, is spread by a virus as well. Both these diseases can lead to high mortality rates, but the good news is that they can be successfully vaccinated for. Ask the vet or nurse for more information about vaccination.
Caring for a pet rabbit can be hugely pleasurable and very rewarding if you follow some basic rules and, as with most health issues, prevention is so much better than cure. Talk to your vet or veterinary nurse for more information and guidance.
Rabbits are herbivores with a high dietary requirement for fibre. It is easiest to feed a pet rabbit on a commercial pelleted food or course mix, supplemented with hay and a small quantity of green vegetables and carrots.
Rabbits require careful regulation of dietary calcium content due to their different digestive system. Excessive dietary calcium can cause urine stones (urolithiasis) and a calcium deficiency is a common cause of osteodystrophy with associated skeletal and tooth defects.
Rabbits are selective feeders and if you feed a ‘rabbit mix’ you may find that the pellets and whole grains in the mix are rejected. This can result in vitamin deficiency as most of the vitamin and mineral supplements are incorporated in the pelleted portion of the diet. A fully pelleted diet such as SupaExcel is recommended to avoid selective feeding.
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