Housing and Handling:
Rabbits are very sociable animals and need companionship or will be stressed and miserable. Rabbits can be kept happily together but may need to have been together since they were very young as strangers may fight. It is a commonly held belief that guinea pigs are good companions for rabbits but this often leads to the rabbit bullying it's companion. In any case allow for separate sleeping quarters and 'bolt holes' for privacy.
Rabbits make very good house pets and can be readily house-trained. A traditional hutch may make a secure sleeping place out-of-doors but is not suitable for long periods of time. If rabbits are not able to roam freely in a secure garden then a rabbit run should be provided preferably with mixed hard and grass surfaces.
It is advised to handle your rabbit as much as possible to reduce aggression but remember, some rabbits do not like to be held so it may be safer to handle them on the ground.
Regularly examine your rabbit for signs of problems especially overgrown teeth and claws, and under the tail for signs of contamination with faeces and urine and fly strike.
It is very important that rabbits are fed on a diet that is high in fibre to keep their bowels healthy, prevent overeating and to keep their teeth worn down. Fresh meadow hay (preferably Timothy hay) should be offered ad lib with no more than 25 grams per kilogram of extruded pellets. Around a cupful a day of mixed fresh greens should be provided but avoid succulent vegetables and fruits, iceberg lettuce and carrots apart from their tops. Access to fresh grass is ideal but lawn grass may be poor in fibre and it is best to avoid too much fast growing grass in spring. Some garden plants may be poisonous to rabbits and too much clover can cause bloat.
We do not advise it but if you feed a muesli style/mixed flakes type diet it is very important to make sure your rabbit eats it all before you replenish it to prevent selective feeding and overeating.
Never give sweet treats however tempting they may seem. Rabbits produce two types of droppings: soft green caecotrophs that they eat and recycle and hard brown faeces. Rabbits with sore teeth, or if they are overweight, may not be able to eat the caecotrophs and these can adhere to the fur around the anus. This can cause a firm concretion which is difficult to remove or lead to fly strike.
It was traditional to neuter male rabbits (bucks) to prevent unwanted litters when males and females are kept together. However, it is now recommended that female rabbits (does) are neutered, not only to prevent unwanted litters but the majority of does will develop ovarian cancer and other uterine disorders and neutering also helps to prevent aggression. We do not generally advise routinely neutering bucks unless there are particular behavioural problems.
We advise vaccinating all rabbits against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD)*. Myxomatosis can be transmitted by rabbit fleas and other biting insects, and outdoor rabbits are particularly at risk. Myxomatosis causes a severe respiratory disease with swelling of the face and head and is usually fatal. VHD can be transmitted on contaminated feedstuff and hay/straw and causes a severe respiratory disease with bleeding from the lungs. Sudden death with no symptoms is common.
We recommend worming rabbits at weaning then 2-4 times a year. We also recommend preventative treatment for the parasite E. cuniculi wich can be given concurrently with worming. Rabbits commonly suffer from a fur mite called Cheylitiella (walking dandruff) and ear mites. Rabbits that are not kept clean will attract blow flies, the maggots of which can literally eat them alive!. It is essential to keep your rabbit clean but products are available from us to help prevent these distressing problems. We can also supply a fly repellant hutch cleaner.
Rabbit Quick Stats:
Lifespan 6-8 years; weaned at 7-8wks; sexual maturity 16-24 weeks; gestation period 30-33 days; average litter size 7, range 4-12.
St Martins Veterinary Clinic
126 Station Road
Tel.: 01895 444400
Fax: 01895 431520
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