Rabbits are not rodents but are part of a group of animals called ‘lagomorphs’. Rabbits make gentle friendly pets that respond well to human interaction. The more time you spend with your rabbit the more friendly it should become.
Rabbits need to have a diet that is high in fibre for normal gastrointestinal function. The easiest way to provide this is to feed good quality hay, fresh grass- this should be the main component of the diet and along with a variety of leafy greens and vegetables will provide your rabbit with all the energy, nutrients and minerals it needs. Commercial rabbit pellets are better than muesli mixes as they offer a complete food source. They should only make up a small percentage of the rabbit’s diet as they are too low in fibre and high in fat. High quantities of concentrate food can also cause dental disease.
When in doubt think about what a wild rabbit would be eating.
As a guide:
- 90% of diet should be hay and grass
- 9% should be a variety of leafy greens and vegetables (see list below)
- 1% concentrate food i.e. pellets- for an average sized rabbit a tablespoon morning and evening
Leafy greens – can be fed all the time
Broccoli (leaves and tops) Coriander
Cabbage (red, green & Chinese) Basil
Spinach Apple tree branches
Bok Choy Kale
Carrots and tops Dock
Celery (stalk & tops) Brussels sprouts
Watercress Swiss chard
Fruits – can be fed as a treat
Kiwi fruit Peach
Forbidden foods – NEVER FEED
Beans Peas Nuts
Bread Cereals Wheat
Seeds Oats Any grains
Chocolate Sugar Avoid lettuce as this can cause diarrhoea
As with any pets your rabbits should be vaccinated against diseases to ensure they have a long and healthy life. The viruses we routinely vaccinate against are spread by flies and fleas, so it’s important to vaccinate indoor rabbits too.
There is a new combined vaccine against myxomatosis and Viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD). Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 wks of age. Immunity takes 3 weeks and will last a year.
Rabbits are very prone to developing dental problems, with some breeds more predisposed than others. They have teeth that grow constantly, and are worn down by chewing. This is another reason why it is important to feed a diet high in fibre, as this results in more chewing and appropriate wear to teeth. Feeding large quantities of hard commercial food can result in uneven wear on the teeth and formation of sharp spurs. Its is also important to provide a piece of unpainted untreated wood for your rabbit to chew so that they can wear down their front teeth down – apple tree branches are great.
Vets and rabbit experts tend to agree that pet rabbits should be neutered. Where possible, remember that bucks (male rabbits) can remain fertile for up to four weeks after the operation, so should not be kept with an un-neutered doe.
There are many advantages to neutering your rabbit- the obvious being that it prevents unwanted pregnancies. It also prevents sexual aggression in both does and bucks, which otherwise can be quite fierce. Studies have proved that neutering can also help to protect does against uterine cancers and infections. We usually neuter at 5-6 mths of age.
The main problem rabbits can suffer with is a protozoal infection called Encephalitozoon cuniculi. This condition causes neurological signs such as a head tilt and weakness. It is passed between rabbits via infected urine. It is important to treat any new rabbits that you get with 9 days of a worming paste called Panacur. If there are wild rabbits that have access to your garden we would advise regular worming throughout the year.
Flystrike is a common, extremely distressing and often fatal disease, which predominantly occurs during the warmer months.
It’s caused when rabbits develop a sore area, usually around the rear end as a result of faecal and/or urine soiling, attracting flies which lay eggs in the sores. These eggs then hatch into maggots that eat away at the tissue in the surrounding area. If left untreated, the maggots can eat away at the tissue reaching the rabbits abdomen causing so much suffering that they have to be put to sleep. If you spot any signs of flystrike on your pet, such as eggs or maggots, seek urgent Veterinary advice.
You can prevent Flystrike by:
- Keeping hutches clean and dry
- Feeding the correct high fibre diet to avoid diarrhoea
- Checking rabbits and their hutches daily for soiled areas
- Removing any wet bedding
- Keeping rabbits active and healthy – obese rabbits may be too big to clean themselves effectively
- Using suitable insecticides and insect repellents ie RearGuard
MITES AND FLEAS
Rabbits can suffer from flea and mite infestations.
Mites can live in rabbit fur on the surface of the skin, inside ears, and they can even burrow into skin. Fleas infestation symptoms are varied, from itching to severe scratching of the neck and biting around the base of the tail. If you are concerned your rabbit may have mites or fleas, consult your vet for further advice about the products available for treatment.
Gut stasis is a disease that occurs most commonly due to a diet low in fibre, but also as a secondary problem whenever the rabbit is unwell. Without enough fibre in the diet, gastrointestinal motility is reduced which leads to anorexia and further decreased motility. It is a vicious cycle that can kill rabbits quickly and must be treated as an emergency. If your rabbit is disinterested in food or not producing droppings you MUST seek advice from a vet immediately. The sooner we can see them, the best chance they have of recovery.