After dogs and cats, rabbits are the third most popular pet in the United Kingdom. It’s not really difficult to see why - they are generally an amiable pet that many parents will buy as the first animal for their children. As long as the adults have done their homework beforehand, and know that getting a rabbit is a commitment, most bunnies will have a nice life being cared for. In this Pets4Homes article, we will take a further look at five things to take into account keeping your long-haired friend healthy and happy.
There are so many elements to looking after any pet as a responsible pet owner, when it comes to rabbits there are indeed several things that you need to take into account, to ensure that they are healthy.
Myxomatosis is a horrible viral disease that is often sadly fatal. It was first seen in the country as early as the 1950s and initially affected the wild rabbit population, however today both wild and domesticated rabbits are a risk from this disease. The disease itself is spread by insects that bite and act as carriers, these can include fleas, mites, and even mosquitoes.
This is why domesticated rabbits are even at risk, simply because these insects can go from bunny to bunny – even indoor rabbits are at risk of contracting myxomatosis.
Rabbits that contract myxomatosis can actually have the virus for up to 14 days before any symptoms show themselves. Initially, the rabbits may not seem themselves and be quieter and also unplayful. You may notice their eating habits become different. If they do have the symptoms of myxomatosis the first things that show signs of the virus are the eyes, nose and genital area. The main symptoms include:
Unfortunately, there is no cure for myxomatosis available. If a rabbit contracts the disease then sadly their prognosis is very poor. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may be able to be given supportive therapy, such as fluids, painkillers, and nursing care. In a majority of cases, and after a discussion with your veterinary surgeon, the decision is often taken to put them to sleep. It is a decision that is not taken lightly, however, with full-blown myxomatosis, it is as distressing for the owner as it is for the poor rabbit.
This is the key to keeping your rabbit free from myxomatosis – vaccination. There is a vaccine that is very effective against the disease and by regular vaccination, in line with your veterinary practice protocol, you can cover your bunny against myxomatosis.
The disease is prevalent across the whole of the UK and due to the mortality rate from the virus, prevention with vaccination is a very wise choice. If there are a large number of cases in an area, the veterinary practice may choose to suggest vaccination every six months, instead of every year. Speak to them for more information.
This is often called RHD2 and is also known as VHD2 (viral haemorrhagic disease). The number 2 is because this is the second variant of the disease that has become prevalent. This second strain of the disease is more prevalent in domesticated rabbits, and there are an estimated 1.3 million rabbits a risk from RHD2. Both of the strains are highly contagious, and veterinary practices, rescue centres, and animal charities are seeing more and more affected rabbits with this second strain. It is not a new type, the strain has been about for several years, but as developed and become a problem recently.
Worringly, symptoms for this disease are rare – and many rabbits that are suspected to have the disease suddenly die. If any symptoms are present, they need further investigation as they can also be symptoms of other problems. They include:
As stated above sometimes the cause of death is not confirmed as RHD2 but only suspected of being the cause. This is because in many occasions further tests are not undertaken, usually due to financial implications. If one rabbit has this condition (or subsequently suddenly dies) and there are others present, it is highly likely they will be at risk also.
Because this disease is spread through contamination, either on clothing, housing areas, water, and food bowls, even in the hay – vaccination is the key to prevention. If there is a suspected case of the disease, every area the to be completely decontaminated and no other rabbit allowed into the area where the problem occurred.
As with myxomatosis, some veterinary practices have their own protocol when it comes to this vaccination, so please speak to them directly. Such was the intensity of the disease rapidly becoming prevalent, that not all practices carried the vaccination, so it is definitely worth giving them a call.
Flystrike is a condition seen several animals but usually in rabbits. It is when flies are attracted to an unclean rabbit and lay eggs in their fur. The fly, normally the green bottle can lay up to 200 eggs are time. The flie’s eggs then hatch into maggots which start eating into the rabbit. It is a condition that sounds disgusting, and it is disgusting. In many cases can lead to the death of the poor victim. The saddest thing is that this condition is completely preventable.
Because rabbits rarely show pain, or indeed make a noise, you may notice a change in their behaviour. They may become quieter and not wanting to move around too much. They may start to lose their appetite and not show any interest in even the best food.
You may notice a smell coming from the hutch, and you may also witness rabbits digging in the corners of the hutch – worryingly this is a rabbit’s way of trying to get away from pain, one of the few signs they show. As the maggots’ progress in eating more flesh, the rabbit will go into shock and ultimately die.
If a rabbit has the condition, it is life-threatening so the initial treatment will be to remove the maggots from the rabbit and administer adequate pain relief. This can be time-consuming to make sure all the maggots are removed – and can include surgery on the skin to make sure none are still buried. The surgery and procedures may also be enough to tip the rabbit over the edge and through shock and pain, they may also die. If they are strong enough, the skin will sometimes need extra surgery, and most definitely a long healing process. During this time pain killers and antibiotics are normally given.
This is one rabbit condition that can be prevented. Checking your rabbit every day, especially around their rear end can make a huge difference. Making sure the hutch is completely clean and free from faeces and urine, will deter flies from being attracted. If your rabbit has diarrhoea or seems wet from urine, clean it off as soon as possible.
Diarrhoea in rabbits can be due to diet, illness or teeth problems – speak to your vet for more advice. These checks should be done at least twice a day – especially when there when there are more flies about. Most rabbit owners do this naturally anyway, with bunny cuddles!
Rabbits teeth grow constantly, so without having them ground down regularly (each day) by chewing, they can become overgrown, sharp in places, and even trap parts of the tongue or cause ulcers.
Although rabbits in the wild can get this condition – of course, their teeth still constantly grow – domesticated rabbits seem to be more at risk of dental problems, mainly due to differing diets. Wild rabbits will not eat commercial rabbit food, so their diet consists of a huge amount of grass to chew on and grind the teeth down.
Symptoms of rabbit dental problems can include any of the following – it is also worth remembering that they may only show one symptom.
Any of these symptoms can indicate a problem, and it is important that the rabbit is seen urgently by a vet. Rabbits have a very little reserve when it comes to diet and eating – they need to keep their guts working all the time otherwise they have something called gut stasis, which can become life-threatening.
Rabbits with overgrowing teeth may need regular treatment, that is every couple of weeks. Their teeth may need shortening if they are unable to do it themselves, by the use of a dental burr. This procedure makes the teeth shorter by grinding them down.
Sometimes they have something called a spur that is horizontal into the mouth and can cause ulcers on the tongue. These also need treatment. The only way to see inside a rabbit’s mouth properly is by having them sedated and a dental gag used. Rabbits have notoriously small mouths, but still have 28 teeth. In extreme cases teeth can be removed, but this is really a last resort.
Giving your rabbit good quality hay or grass to eat is vital – this helps to grind their teeth down. They should have their body weight in this diet alone, each day! Giving them other things to chew can also help.
Unfortunately, some rabbits have what is termed malocclusion, meaning their teeth do not line up with each other. Because of this, even with a good diet, their teeth will not grind together so can become overgrown. In the case of malocclusion, your rabbit will need preventative dental care on a regular basis.
It is not just dogs and cats that get worms, rabbits too can occasionally suffer from a worm problem. It is much less common in rabbits but something owners should be aware of.
These worms are commonly known as pinworms, and they normally cause an upset stomach.
Many times they are simply suspected, and a vet will generally do a deworming program with you, so the problem can be sorted out.
They are given a paste – much the same as puppies and kittens are given, so no trying to worry about getting a tablet into them!
The general consensus at the moment is rabbits rarely need regular worming.
The best way is to keep the parasites away to start with. Ensure that if the rabbit is in the area where a dog and cat has been, clear up any faeces. Also feeding your rabbit greenery from an area that wild rabbits may have been, is not advisable.
These are a general five tips about keeping your rabbit healthy. Of course, there are more ailments that they can get, but these are the most prevalent. Being aware of these issues can prepare you for any outcomes, but the underlying message throughout the whole article is being proactive – making sure that your rabbit is checked regularly and vaccinated against killer diseases.
If you have any concerns that all about your rabbit, especially if they not are eating properly (rabbits should go no longer than a day without eating) or are reluctant to move, please speak to your own vet for further advice.