Knowing when to call your vet for advice and treatment could also help save your rabbit’s life in an emergency. Your vet will also be able to advise you on how regular check-ups and vaccination can protect your pet against potentially fatal disease. Diseases and danger signs to be aware of include;
Myxomatosis is a serious and often fatal disease spread by blood sucking insects including the rabbit flea, typified by swollen eyelids and swellings to the face and head. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is also often fatal with early signs including fever, lethargy and bleeding from the nose.
What are symptoms of mites in rabbits
Pet rabbits can be infected by ear mites which are small parasites that live in the ear canals. They may stimulate excessive wax production that can lead to clinical signs such as head shaking, ear scratching and blood around the ear canal. They are seen most commonly in the lop-eared breeds.
Mites may also infect rabbits on the back and shoulders causing dry skin and dandruff. These mites can also cause a mild rash in humans, so treatment is vital.
How to prevent rabbit skin problems
Bedding must be changed regularly – at least once a week Ð otherwise your rabbitÕs feet can become ulcerated and infected. Feet should also be checked regularly and toenails clipped if necessary. Urine and faeces may also stick to the rabbits skin, especially around the areas that are in contact with the ground, such as the bottom area and back of the legs.
If not removed this can lead to fly strike, where maggots literally eat your rabbit alive. It is therefore essential to check your rabbit daily, especially in the warmer months to prevent this potentially deadly infestation.
The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is good quality hay together with fresh grass. This is what they eat naturally, so it should make up the bulk of the diet and be offered all the time.
Feeding your rabbit hay and grass
Hay and grass provide essential fibre that keeps the teeth and digestive system in good health and nibbling throughout the day will keep your rabbit occupied and prevent boredom. Hay racks or nets can minimise any mess formed. Good quality meadow hay should be sweet smelling and not dusty. A good idea is to try and obtain hay from a farm or feed merchant but check that wild rabbits have not had access to stored hay.
Dried grass alternatives
Dried grass products that retain the green colour and are highly palatable are also now available.
A large number of rabbits will only eat certain components of mixed feeds, risking an insufficient uptake of protein, calcium and phosphoros. This is why high quality dry pellets, where all nutrients are present in each individual pellet is the preferred option.
Dry food dangers for rabbits
Overfeeding dry foods to adult rabbits is a common cause of diseases such as obesity, heart and liver problems, chronic diarrhoea, dental and kidney disease. Water should be available 24hrs a day and water bottles or bowls should be cleaned daily to prevent the build-up of bacteria and contamination.
Feeding rabbits fresh food
You can feed your rabbit limited amounts of fresh vegetables, fruit and greens daily. Wild plants are also greatly enjoyed. If your rabbit is not used to getting fresh food though, it’s best to begin by feeding green leafy vegetables, adding a new type of vegetable every two-three days. If the addition of any item leads to diarrhoea within 24-48hrs it should be withdrawn. Fresh foods should not make up […]
Obesity is a growing problem in rabbits, especially in females, and may lead to other problems such as matted droppings, creating a perfect environment for maggot infestations or fly strike or fatty liver syndrome.
Preventing obesity in rabbits
Most health issues seen in rabbits are either due to poor nutrition or care aka husbandry.
Rabbits eat only plants, therefore they are known as herbivores. This means that they require a high fibre content in their diet. A good diet for a rabbit includes good quality hay, lots of fresh leafy greens, and some fresh vegetables and fruit. A small quantity of pellets can also be added to their diet. Pellets should not make up more than 25% of your rabbits daily intake as they don’t contain enough fibre and are high in energy which means that feeding too much can make your rabbit overweight.
Lots of fibre will not only keep your rabbits weight down, it also ensures good fermentation in the gut encouraging the right sorts of microorganisms which keep the gut functioning, it assists in the movement of food along the gut making sure your rabbit doesn’t become constipated and keeps their teeth nicely ground down to prevent dental problems.
To assess whether your rabbit is the right weight or not feel around their ribs. If there is a small covering of fat over the ribs and the ribs can be easily felt without too much digging then this is the right weight for your rabbit. If there is too much fat over the ribs this will make it difficult to feel them and your rabbit is overweight and will need to have their diet changed. If you are concerned that your rabbit is overweight, ask your veterinarian about putting your rabbit on a diet as a drastic change is not the best […]
Many rabbits have bacteria living in their nasal sinuses called Pasteurella. These bacteria will not cause a clinical problem for a rabbit with a healthy immune system.
Causes of Pasteurella in rabbits
In certain situations, if the rabbit becomes stressed, these bacteria will multiply rapidly causing a disease known as pasteurellosis or ‘snuffles’.
Symptoms of Pasteurella in rabbits
This disease may affect the respiratory tract, uterus, skin, kidneys, bladder, tear ducts, middle ear or spine. Clinical signs include discharges from the eyes and nose, loss of appetite, lethargy, head tilt, loss of balance, hind limb paralysis and laboured breathing.
Treatment of Pasteurella in rabbits
The infection cannot be eliminated but it can be controlled with antibiotics and you should consult your vet at once.
Neutering of both male and female rabbits is strongly recommended unless you wish to breed from your pet. Rabbits become sexually mature between 4 months (in smaller breeds) and 6 to 9 months (in larger breeds). It is recommended that young rabbits are separated into single sex groups at 4months of age.
When to castrate male rabbits
Breeding is prevented by castration of male rabbits at about 5-6 months of age (once the testicles have descended).
When to spay female rabbits
Female rabbits should be spayed at around six months old.
Benefits of neutering rabbits
Intact males are more prone to developing behavioural problems including fighting, biting and urine spraying. The urine may also become strong smelling.
Having your female rabbit spayed at between six months and two years’ old dramatically decreases the chance of her developing uterine tumours later on in life. In some breeds the incidence of this cancer is over 80% in female rabbits aka does over five years of age.
Side effects of neutering
Neutered rabbits are more prone to obesity as they grow older, so care must be taken not to allow overeating.
Just like cats and dogs, rabbits need preventative healthcare to keep them fit and well
Vaccinating pet rabbits
Your rabbit should be vaccinated routinely against Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) and Myxomatosis. Both these viral diseases can be rapidly fatal in an unvaccinated rabbit and there are no cures once infected. The only protection you can give your rabbit is by vaccination.
Rabbit Haemorragic Disease
RHD is spread by direct contact between rabbits (both wild and domesticated) but also via indirect contact such as from people, clothing, on shoes, other objects, fleas and other parasites.
Myxomatosis is spread mainly by fleas or other biting insects and is transmitted in this way from wild to pet rabbits but can sometimes also spread via direct contact with other infected individuals. A combined Myxomatosis-RHD vaccination can be given from as early as 5 weeks of age. Boosters are given every 12 months and cover both diseases. Regular health checks for your rabbit
The best way of avoiding many medical problems in your pet rabbit is to have regular veterinary health checks. Your vet will do a full medical examination and check the teeth (particularly the back teeth) for any evidence of malocclusion which could lead to spikes and tongue ulceration. Rabbits with identified existing tooth problems should be checked at least every 6 to 8 weeks. A thorough dental check will require sedation.
Best rabbit diet and nutrition
Diet is vitally important as a means of preventing ill health and is one of the main causes of disease in rabbits. A low fibre, high carbohydrate diet (eg rabbit mix) can lead to dental disease, facial abscesses, sore eyes and conjunctivitis, obesity, intestinal upsets such as diarrhoea and furballs. It is vital to feed mainly fresh good quality hay or grass and vegetables as a source of fibre.
Insuring your pet rabbit
If your rabbit […]
Rabbits can develop eye infections that may be difficult to treat.
Symptoms of rabbit eye infections
The symptoms of eye problems in rabbits present as a milky white discharge from the corner of the eye. The infection may result in sore reddened skin just below the lower eyelid of the rabbit’s eye.
Treating rabbit eye problems
Tear ducts often become blocked and will need to be flushed. Tear ducts also become blocked when molar tooth roots grow abnormally.ÊSeek veterinary advice if your rabbit develops any signs of eye infection.
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), also known as Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a very serious infectious disease which first emerged in China during the 1980s that can affect rabbits. Within a few years this disease was seen virtually worldwide and it is now an endemic disease in wild rabbits in the UK. The disease is extremely sudden in onset in many cases with the only sign often seen in an infected rabbit is that is found dead. All rabbits are potentially at risk of RHD.
How is Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease spread?
RHD is spread by direct contact between rabbits (both wild and domesticated) and but also via indirect contact. Possible sources of indirect transfer are people, clothing, contaminated hutches and bedding, as well as insect vectors such as fleas and flies.
What causes Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease?
RHD is caused by a calicivirus and has an incubation period of just one to three days. The virus itself is very stable in the environment and can survive for up to 105 days.
What are the signs and symptoms of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease?
Signs include depression, collapse, difficulty in breathing, convulsions, high body temperature, lethargy and bleeding from the nose. Death usually occurs within 12-36 hours after the onset of fever and the mortality rate can be as high as 90-100%.
Can I stop my rabbit getting Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease?
RHD vaccination can be given to provide effective protection against this disease from as early as five weeks of age. A dual vaccine for rabbits covering both myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease has recently been launched in the UK. This new vaccine provides efficient protection of rabbits against both diseases and as with existing RHD vaccines an annual booster is sufficient to maintain immunity.
Myxomatosis is caused by the Myxoma virus, a type of pox virus that only affects rabbits. It was first discovered in 1896 in Uruguay and was imported to Australia in 1951 to control its large rabbit populations – initially having the desired devastating effect.
The disease was illegally introduced to France in 1952 and it appeared in Britain the following year. It quickly spread to both wild and domestic rabbit populations and within a few years had spread throughout Europe. Myxomatosis has been a threat to wild and domestic rabbits ever since. All rabbits, whether wild or domestic are at risk of Myxomatosis.
How is Myxomatosis spread?
Myxomatosis is typically spread by blood sucking insects, and in particular the rabbit flea, Spilopsyllus cuniculi. This flea is frequently found on wild rabbits and transmission in the absence of bites is unusual. All breeds of domestic rabbit can be affected, with little to suggest that one breed is more susceptible than another, and whatever the lifestyle of your rabbit there is a potential risk of this disease. Mosquitos and other biting insects are also potential sources of disease transmission.
What are the signs and symptoms of Myxomatosis?
The incubation period varies depending on the strain and its virulence and is typically at least five days. Along with the classic bulging eyes that most of us associate with Myxomatosis, localised swellings develop around the head, face, ears, lips, anus and genitalia. Severe swellings can lead to blindness and distortion around the face within a day or so of the onset of symptoms, leading to difficulty with feeding and drinking. Bacterial respiratory infection often complicates the disease resulting in a fatal pneumonia.
How can Myxomatosis be prevented?
You can protect your rabbit against Myxomatosis with an annual vaccination.
How can Myxomatosis be treated?
Progress of the disease may be slower in well cared […]