Rabbits can make great pets and are often the first pet of a child - even though it can end up ultimately with the adults in the house doing everything for them when the novelty wears thin. A rabbit really is for its life, and although they are a smaller pet, they nevertheless take a lot of care to ensure they have a good quality of life and are healthy.
In this Pets4Homes article, we will touch on several things to do with rabbits as an A to Z. Of course, putting everything in the article would mean it’s huge, to this is just a taster of the information available. If any specific area interests you, please do further homework into it - either by searching this website or speaking to your vet.
It is worth remembering that it’s not just cats and dogs that can be insured under pet insurance, you will also find pet insurance from companies especially tailored to rabbits. Although you may not think a rabbit will incur quite high costs that will outweigh the insurance, you may be surprised. Some procedures for rabbits can cost nearly as much as they can for a dog or cat.
Also consider ongoing treatment for rabbits, if they have to visit the vet a lot. About the only thing many insurance companies will not cover (and this is many times the case with cats and dogs) is dental work. As you will see this procedure is quite common for rabbits but won’t normally be covered. Let’s begin our A-Z with a disgusting condition…
Rabbits can get abscesses fairly commonly, and these are usually around the face and cheeks. The reason they get these abscesses is normally related to a tooth problem, normally one of the molars at the back of the mouth. First, tell-tale signs could be a discharge from the eyes, including the tear duct, which often gets blocked.
Rabbit abscesses are fairly straightforward to treat with a course of antibiotics and cleaning out the abscess. Of course, the cause of it also needs dealing with which is usually an examination in the mouth to determine what treatment is needed.
Unfortunately, rabbits can be a bit of a bully. They can be a bit mean to other rabbits especially when they start reaching sexual maturity. It becomes a bit of sibling rivalry. Sadly, the bullying can even mean that they injure the other animal so badly that they kill them. This can be stopped by neutering, as it takes away the hormones that make them really grumpy.
Bullying can also take place against other species, namely guinea pigs. That is why guinea pigs and rabbits should not ideally be kept together in the same living area. Guinea pigs also have a completely different dietary requirement than rabbits.
Did you know that rabbits eat their own poo? How disgusting does that sound? That is what this term means, but there is a very good reason that they do it. Rabbits recycle everything, which means as they eat their own droppings, the goodness that was missed the first time is picked up the second time.
So, when they do eventually pass through again, they have had all the nutrients and goodness taken out of them. So although this may sound disgusting, and let’s face it, It is, the process is also very clever.
For a creature that is so small, and has a small mouth, rabbits still have 28 teeth! The problem is these teeth can often cause them distress and other conditions. Domesticated rabbits are seen in veterinary practices mostly for dental problems. Rabbits' teeth grow constantly which means they need to wear them down by chewing.
Sometimes the teeth do not align properly, and this is called malocclusion. When this happens, the teeth can overgrow and cause problems with gums and abscesses. This also means the rabbit cannot eat properly, and a rabbit that can’t eat can die very quickly. It is why all dental problems need sorting out sooner rather than later and the rabbit needs any misaligned teeth to be trimmed, so they are more comfortable.
The trimming normally takes place using a specialist dental burr a bit like a drill. Because the rabbit's teeth do constantly grow, this will need to be done regularly – up to every couple of weeks. If you haven’t bought a rabbit yet, then this is one thing to consider as this will not normally be covered under pet insurance.
You can always tell a rabbit by its ears; they are normally quite long! They also have a vein that runs down the edge of them, and this vein is one of the most accessible in a rabbit. Using this vessel, veterinary staff can take blood and also give fluids and other injections.
Sadly, this is the vein that is also used if a rabbit needs popping to sleep. Believe it or not, the ear vein is where rabbits are dripped as well, meaning to keep the drip line in, the ears are bandaged up! One other important thing to remember about rabbit ears is never to pick them up by them.
This is one condition that rabbits can get which is totally preventable. It is one of the most horrible conditions that you can ever see on a rabbit, with maggots eating the poor rabbit alive. It may sound like a horror movie, but when a rabbit is not clean and has soiled cage/bottom, flies are attracted to the smell. They then lay eggs on the rabbit and the eggs hatch within 24-hours into maggots.
These horrible things then start eating flesh. This condition is preventable by regularly checking your rabbit and making sure they are clean. Especially in the summer or warmer weather when there are more flies about. Generally, a rabbit that has suffered from flystrike will even make a full recovery if caught early enough or will be euthanised on humane grounds if too late.
These are the staple diets that a rabbit should eat daily. They are there not just to keep the gut moving (rabbits can suffer from a condition called gut stasis where the gut stops working properly - this is a very dangerous situation). Chewing grass also helps keep the ever-growing teeth worn down.
It is quite mind-boggling to think that a rabbit needs to eat its own body weight in hay or grass each day. So, you can see that good quality hay is vitally important, premium hay is the best because it is very low on dust – it’s not worth paying for dust and the rabbit can’t eat it! One other point to mention is never give a rabbit or guinea pig fresh-cut grass to eat. This is because this grass can ferment in the gut causing large gastrointestinal problems.
Did you know you can keep a rabbit indoors? There is even a society for indoor rabbits. These intelligent little creatures can be made to be very clean and will follow you around the house like a cat or dog! As long as they have their own area to eat, drink and sleep in they will be happy.
You might think what about when they need the toilet? The answer to this is you can actually litter box train them, just like a cat. These rabbits can also be trained to do tricks, making them really endearing to young children.
Most people know that rabbits like to hop, skip and jump around. Their back legs are extremely well made for this, and extremely strong muscular. If you were holding a rabbit and it decides to jump it can cause big problems. Injuries are sometimes seen at vets where a rabbit has tried to leap from its owner's arms only to damage its back. In some cases, the back is even broken, and the rabbit cannot live like this.
So, if you are going to hold a rabbit, please do so firmly and ensure they cannot leap from your arms. Also, bear in mind that rabbits' claws are quite sharp, and they know how to use them.
This is the collective order name for rabbits and hares! The main difference between the two is that hares are normally bigger and have much longer ears and longer hind legs. Rabbits also live in burrows and hares make nests above ground.
We couldn’t have a rabbit article without mentioning this horrible disease. Myxomatosis is a man-made disease originally used to control the population of rabbits. It is now the number one killer in domestic and wild rabbits along with rabbit haemorrhagic disease (which we will talk about later).
Myxomatosis is normally carried by rabbit fleas, and the symptoms can include swollen eyes, lumps around the body, swollen genitals, discharge from the nose and lethargy. The rabbits don’t want to eat and generally feels extremely poorly. Unfortunately, if a rabbit contract myxomatosis, the prognosis is very poor. It is preventable with vaccination.
As mentioned earlier neutering can help cut down aggressive behaviour. It is also a great way to help stop certain tumours from forming, especially in females. Any rabbits that not going to be bred should be neutered to stop the infighting.
Males are much easier to neuter the females, so please check with your local vet to their neutering policy for rabbits as some do this at different ages.
If your rabbit is in the outdoor type, they need extra care during the winter. Things such as extra bedding for them to keep warmer, a large thick blanket covered in tarpaulin can help over the top of the hutch. This keeps the rain at bay and helps insulate the hutch itself. Any water bottles need to be checked regularly to ensure that they are not iced up and the rabbit can access water as it needs.
Consideration can be made to move the hutch into somewhere out of drafts and cold, such as a clean chemical and fume-free garage or inside a large shed. During winter your rabbit's diet may also increase a little as they use more fat reserves.
Rabbits can be under the risk of predators from the area so all their accommodation needs to be predator-proof and completely secure. Predators can range from local dogs to urban foxes. If you are thinking about leaving your rabbit in a run, make sure the run is completely fox proof.
These creatures are very intelligent and can get in the smallest of places. The run also needs to have an area of coverage, so your rabbits can sit in the shade on sunny days. (Don’t forget the sun will go around).
If your rabbit seems quieter than normal this is a worrying sign. Rabbits when they go quiet, normally means something is causing them pain, or they are feeling ill. A quiet rabbit, one that is not showing signs of wanting to do anything such as interact, eat or play should be checked out by a vet as soon as possible.
Don’t forget they are your pet and if there is a problem you would know them better than anyone else.
This stands for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, which is a killer among rabbits. It gives them horrible symptoms including diarrhoea and also comes on very quickly. In unvaccinated rabbit that gets RHD can die very rapidly. Unfortunately, not much is known about this disease as the mortality rate is so high, whereas post-mortems on rabbits that have been infected are low.
Along with myxomatosis, this disease can be protected against with vaccination. If you have more than one rabbit, then strict quarantine needs to be made between them to stop the spread of this deadly disease. If you have any concerns about this disease with your bunnies, speak to your vet.
Rabbits go at it like… rabbits! This is why neutering and keeping sexually mature rabbits apart until they have been neutered is so important. There is a large population of rabbits in the UK, in fact, they are the third most popular pet after dogs and cats.
Again, going back to neutering and behaviour, if you’re not going to breed from your bunny, please get them done!
Other than grass and hay which we have spoken about above, the rabbit should also have lots of leafy green vegetables. It is also worth looking for proper rabbit food pellets, these are not your usual muesli type, but specialist made rabbit food containing all the nutrients your rabbit could need in addition to everything else.
It is not worth getting them the muesli type food because all they end up doing is picking out the bits they like and leaving the rest. This is not only a waste of money but also you don’t know how much nutrition they are getting from it. They also need fresh drinking water available at all times.
If you want to check your rabbit without getting them stressed, especially the underneath of them in case of flystrike or to have a look at their feet or claws, there is a technique that works on a high percentage of rabbits – turning them upside down!
If you sit with your knees together and very carefully turn them so they are laying on their back along to your knees it has an almost hypnotic effect on many rabbits, and they will just lay there still why you check them out. Always do this with a bit of caution, because not all rabbits like it. If they struggle as you’re trying to turn them over, abort the mission.
We have mentioned that there are vaccinations available for both myxomatosis and RHD (rabbit haemorrhagic disease) and these are very much worth considering for your rabbit. Because different veterinary practices have different protocols on vaccination it is always worth calling them especially in the case of rabbits because some surgeries use vaccinations that can’t be given on the same day. It is a hassle but totally worth getting your rabbit fully vaccinated against these horrible and killer diseases.
Some surgeries also prefer rabbits in high-risk areas to be boostered every six months instead of every year, this is not a moneymaking ploy, but for the safety of your rabbit.
You would have no doubt heard about fat cats and fat dogs, but rabbits don’t escape either! Bunnies can become overweight especially during the winter months when their food may not be adjusted properly, and they have less exercise because of the weather outside. Treats such as carrots can also affect their weight as carrots contain a fairly high amount of sugar.
If you have indoor rabbits make sure they have plenty of exercise running around the house (but be aware of the stairs). If you are worried about your rabbit's weight or would just like them weighed speak to your local surgery and they will be happy to help.
Generally, rabbits are x-rayed for one main reason – to check how their teeth are inside their mouths. Teeth, as we have discussed, are a complete nightmare sometimes for rabbits, and some require extraction. Only by x-ray can the vet see exactly what is going on with the tooth and the bone they sit in.
A rabbit will be sedated for an x-ray such as this and there is normally a couple of different views taken so the vets can get a good all-round picture of what is happening with the mouth. If your rabbit has had an x-ray taken when you come to pick them up, be sure to ask the vet to show you the x-ray.
So, you have visited the local pet store and found the rabbit that you want when all of a sudden you see another one that you also want. The rabbits are young and the staff looking after them are not 100% sure of the sexes of the rabbits. This is a common scenario and one that has ended in baby rabbits being born when the young bunnies have been sexed incorrectly.
That is the trouble with young rabbits, they can be a little bit difficult to sex because everything looks the same! If in doubt one way to find out is to ask the shop staff to hold the bunny whilst you take a picture of their backend. Then you can ask your vet their opinion according to the picture!
This sometimes works but bearing minds not all vets like to do this and give you a guarantee, many will give you a clue to what they think the sex is. The only way to find out properly before them to examine the rabbit. This is where it is a Catch-22 situation, as rabbits get older it is much easier!
This last part of the A-Z we have added zoom – this is because rabbits are notoriously fast, especially when you’re trying to catch them! This must be remembered when they are in the garden and not in their run.
Always make sure your garden is rabbit-proof, which means the fences around it are escape-proof in the case of a very fast rabbit. If you do leave your bunny the run of the garden, remember they might be quite partial to a few of your favourite flowers and plants.
So, rabbits are great fun and can make a really lovely companion. We hope you have picked up one or two tips from the article and have a better understanding of your bunny. If you don’t yet own one of these little creatures but are considering it, then make sure you have the right breed for you - there are literally loads of rabbit breeds, in all shapes, sizes and fur length.
If you are worried about your rabbit's health, please seek advice from your own vet - rabbits can go downhill rapidly when sick, so please don’t delay in calling them if you are concerned. You know your rabbit better than anyone else!