For rabbit awareness week, our nurses are doing free health checks for rabbits all week.
Please contact the surgery for an appointment.
We will be focusing on the 5 main welfare needs of rabbits:
Rabbits are primarily ‘fibrevores’ as fibre is essential for their overall health. It is important to feed rabbits the correct diet as it can help maintain health and prevent diseases associated with diet. Rabbits fed the right diet will have better dental, digestive and psychological health. It is important to imagine what diet and lifestyle wild rabbits have and try to mimic this with your domesticated rabbit. Wild rabbits spend most of their time searching for grass, hay and various plants to eat. This keeps the rabbit occupied and exercised whilst obtaining food at the same time. The diet of rabbits mainly consists of hay and grass, this should be the bulk of what they eat (85%). About 1/5 of their diet should be green foods and leafy vegetables like cabbage, spinach or kale as these are low in sugar. Often carrots are given to rabbits, however these are not a good addition to their diet as carrots are very high in sugar and should only be given on the odd occasion as a small treat. Grass/hay and green foods are essential to a rabbit’s diet however it is very difficult to provide all of the required vitamins and minerals for a balanced diet. To achieve this, offering a supplementary food such as nuggets are ideal. Nuggets are recommended over the muesli style fed as this can make the rabbits selective feeders. Selective feeding is where the rabbit will choose to eat the high starch parts of the food leaving high fibre parts which are required for their diet. If you are feeding a muesli based food then it is recommended that you slowly transfer them over to a hay and nugget diet. This is completed over 14-28 days. A couple of teaspoons of nuggets a day (20-25g/kg bodyweight) is enough to give rabbits the essential nutrients and vitamins they need, in addition with hay/grass, green foods and water should always be available.
Rabbits in the wild will run around large areas each day to keep them fit and exercised. Pet rabbits should be given the opportunity to have all this exercise too. It is important to give rabbits enough space to perform all of their natural behaviours. Ideally, rabbits should have a hutch which is:
- Connected to an outside run area so they can go outside as and when they wish
- Large enough for them to stretch out and lie comfortably
- Tall enough so they can stand where their ears do not touch the ceiling
- Long enough for the rabbits to perform 3 continuous hops from one side to the other
- Provides enough shelter from the weather and predators
- Comfortable and draught free
- Equipped with somewhere for them to hide
It is vital to keep the hutch and accompanying areas clean. The hutch must be well ventilated and cleaned out regularly. Lots of bedding will keep rabbit’s warm and cosy, newspaper and dust free edible hay is ideal.
Rabbits should have a natural wild environment as possible when kept as pets. Pet rabbits can get bored and depressed very easily when not stimulated with things to keep them occupied. Rabbits are prey animals, this means their natural response to any threat is to run and hide. From an early age, rabbits need to be handled gently and regularly for them to feel comfortable and safe around human interaction. It is important to offer rabbits places to hide in their home as they may feel threatened if in open spaces without any hidden holes for them to hide it.
Rabbits need to be kept occupied and active and encouraging playing behaviours, you can achieve this by:
- Creating a wild and friendly environment.
- Offering them places to be able to dig without damaging your garden, such as sand pits or soil pots.
- Providing tunnels to run through and cardboard boxes to hide in.
- Offering toys that are suitable and safe for rabbits to keep them entertained – these can be toys from pets shops or things you can easily find at home such as empty toilet rolls and other cardboard items.
- A variety of different levels and platforms for them to climb on.
- Offer their food in small treat balls so they can have fun whilst they eat It is important to change toys regularly so they do not get bored of the same things and ensure they are not damaged and potentially dangerous. Be creative with the enrichment you give your rabbits, as long as it’s safe and chewable they will love it.
Knowing when your rabbit has a health issue is very challenging as whenever rabbits become ill there natural instinct is to hide away. It is essential that you check your rabbits daily for signs of illness or injury and that they have regular veterinary examinations.
A full list of symptoms or illnesses that need to be seen by a vet right away are listed on www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk. Listed below are few common diseases to be aware of:
Gastrointestinal stasis (Gut stasis)
In rabbits, this is where the gut slows down resulting in less food being eaten and less faeces (droppings) being produced. This is mainly caused by a lack of fibre in your rabbit’s diet and could become painful and stressed. Rabbits will continuously eat throughout the day and it is important to monitor how much food is being eaten and how much faeces is being produced. Contact your vets for advice if your rabbit stops eating or defecating ( producing droppings).
Rabbits are social animals and prefer to have company rather than be alone. Rabbits have happier lifestyles when housed in a pair or a group, the best pairing is ideally a neutered female and a neutered male. Pairing rabbits wrongly can lead to unwanted baby rabbits or aggressive behaviours such as fighting. It is important that the process of introducing new rabbits to each other is thought out and planned carefully, this should be done at new location that both the rabbits are unfamiliar with. Methods on how to do this can be found www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk