Rabbits can be very rewarding pets, but they do take a lot of looking after and a lot of thought should go into their housing and feeding regimes! Most illnesses that arise in rabbits occur because their housing or feeding is not appropriate, so good management is key to a happy and healthy bunny.
The main problem we see in rabbit housing is that it is far too small. The majority of hutches and cages that can be bought in pet shops are too small for long term housing of an adult rabbit. Rabbits require both an outside run with access to grass and somewhere safe to shelter at night, where predators cannot gain access. A hutch may be suitable if it is only used as a night time shelter.
It is also of utmost importance that rabbits are not kept on their own. They are sociable creatures, and live in big family groups in the wild, so keeping them on their own does not meet their animal welfare rights.
Feeding a rabbit the right food is vitally important, and feeding too much of the wrong foods can cause life threatening illnesses. Rabbits produce 2 types of faeces, the normal faeces and Caecotrophs, which are partially digested balls that the rabbits ingest again in order to obtain all the nutrients they need from their food. They are hind gut digesters and rely heavily on the gut flora to obtain nutrients from their food. This is the reason that Rabbits are so sensitive to food. If they have a sudden change in diet, this can lead to dysbiosis (the gut flora becomes unbalanced) and can lead to over growth of bad bacteria and consequently diarrhoea, and if left untreated, death.
The main component of a rabbits diet should be grass (85-90% daily feed intake), and if grass is unavailable, then a good quality, dust extracted rabbit hay should be provided. As a supplement, a small amount of rabbit nuggets may be provided. We advise against using a muesli as rabbits will cherry pick their favourite parts(which are usually the starchy and sugary portions), meaning that their diet will not be balanced. As a supplement, fresh greens may be added to their diet, such as herbs, dandelion leaves and some salad leaves (avoid iceburg lettuce and cucumber as the high water content can lead to diarrhoea). Some rabbit feed companies also produce healthy treats for rabbits that you can use occasionally to help bond with your rabbit. Fresh Water should be available at all times.
Overfeeding your rabbits nuggets or treats may lead to obesity, which is a very common problem in rabbits. Obesity can be dangerous as it can mean that they are not able to efficiently select caecotrophs produced and therefore do not obtain all the nutrients they require. Similarly, it can make it very difficult for them to clean themselves efficiently, and therefore they may get a build up of faeces around their tail. In summer this can attract flies which then lay eggs in the fur, and this can lead to flystrike.
Rabbits require an annual vaccine to protect hem against Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorragic Virus, both of which are fatal diseases if contracted. We recommend that both indoor and outdoor rabbits are vaccinated as these disease are commonly spread by insect bites. We stock the new combination vaccine meaning that we no longer need to give 2 vaccines each year for your rabbit to be covered for both strains of the RHD virus.
Microchipping is advisable in rabbits, as if they every escape, they can be easily reunited if caught and taken to a vet. This can be done at any time, but we recommend that it is done at the same time as neutering
Neutering is advisable in all pet rabbits. In Bucks it can reduce aggression towards people and other rabbits, and in the Doe, it eliminates the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer, both of which are common conditions in older rabbits.
We do routinely neuter rabbits at our clinic, however there is always a risk with general anaesthetics that your rabbit will react badly.