The digestive system of rabbits is adapted to consume large amounts of fibre which passes through the system very quickly. They are hind gut fermenters which means that large amounts of food are mixed, separated and digested by millions of bacteria in the hind gut. Some of the material is then excreted as hard faeces—the familiar small round droppings. The rest is excreted as caecotrophs which are smaller and come out in a brown clump, often with mucus. These contain a lot of nutrients which the rabbit will eat straight from the back end and re-digest.
Hay and Grass
It is essential that rabbits have plenty of hay and grass available at all times. This is to prevent teeth overgrowing and to keep the intestines working properly. In the wild they would spend 75% of their time outside the burrow grazing. The action of chewing grinds the teeth together preventing them from getting to long. Dental deformities can be difficult to detect and treat, so if your rabbit stops eating or is wet around the mouth they should be seen straight away by a vet.
Selective feeding can also lead to dental disease. If a coarse or muesli mix is fed rabbits will often pick out their favourite high fat bits, leaving the rest and resulting in an unbalanced diet and the danger of obesity.
We recommend a pellet based diet such as Supa Rabbit Excel where every pellet contains a correct balance of nutrients. A small handful can be fed daily with a plentiful supply of hay and grass.
Did you know?
- Rabbits chew at a rate of 12 times a minute
- Rabbits’ teeth grow 2-3 mm a week
- Poor feeding regimes are the main cause of illness
We vaccinate against 3 disease in rabbits:
- Myxomatosis is spread by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. The virus multiplies in the skin of the face, ears and genitals causing swelling and a thick discharge. The rabbit is unable to eat, drink or breathe very easily and usually dies within 12 days. Most rabbits will not survive and so putting them to sleep is the kindest option. Dorset is a higher risk area and so vaccination is recommended every 12 months.
- Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 (VHD1) – also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), affects the liver causing severe bleeding. It kills most rabbits before any outward signs are apparent. The virus is very persistent and can be carried on clothing and footwear meaning that even house rabbits are at risk. The vaccine for VHD1 is given once a year as a combined vaccine with the myxomatosis vaccine.
- Viral haemorrhagic Disease 2 (VHD2) was first confirmed in Dorset in August 2017, in Blandford. We had seen no cases until sadly we had 3 rabbits die in the Weymouth area in November 2017. These were confirmed as VHD2. It is a similar disease in many ways to VHD1 and remains active in the environment for a long time. Like VHD1 it can be carried on contaminated clothes, footwear & bedding. It can also be carried by flies and fleas. In the face of an outbreak, it is recomended to vaccinate your rabbit every 6 months.
NB We cannot give the vaccinations for VHD2 at the same time as the myomatosis/VHD1 vaccine, so there needs to be an interval of at least 2 weeks between them.
Rabbits are social animals and enjoy the company of other rabbits. The best combination is male with female as single sexes often fight if kept together. Two litter females spayed at a young age may live happily together. Rabbits are territorial and they need to be introduced on neutral ground over a period of a few weeks before trying in the same hutch. In both sexes it will take up to 2 months for their hormones to
settle down after neutering. Close supervision should be given when reintroducing them to each other.
Male rabbits (bucks) may be territorial and spray urine. Neutered males are usually more relaxed, less aggressive and should stop spraying urine even if castrated later in life. Neutering can be done from 4-5 months old but please note that they will remain fertile for approximately 6 weeks after castration.
Female rabbits often become territorial and aggressive when they reach sexual maturity at 4-6 months old. They may bite and scratch their owners as well as other rabbits. Keeping 2 females (even sisters) tends
to make things worse. They can suffer from repeated false pregnancies and up to 80% of unneutered females will develop uterine cancer by age 5 years. Spaying can reduce and eliminate these problems.
Females should be kept away from males for 2 weeks following spaying.
Fly strike kills rabbits. It is a distressing condition occurring mainly in the summer months. Flies lay eggs around the rabbit’s rear end which then hatch into maggots. The maggots eat and burrow into the rabbit’s flesh. Minor cases caught early may be treatable but this condition is often fatal.
Prevention is better than cure
- Do not let your rabbit get overweight as it will be unable to clean its rear end and the soft faeces will cake and attract flies
- Feed a diet of mainly hay and grass to keep the guts working properly and prevent diarrhoea.
- Check your pet’s back end daily to ensure it is clean and dry
- Change soiled bedding daily using plenty of absorbent bedding such as shavings.
- Clean and disinfect the hutch weekly. We recommend “Keep it Clean” spray
- Fly prevention around the hutch Flies do not like the smell of citronella oil so this can be used on the outside of the hutch. Sticky fly paper can also be used as long as the rabbit cannot get to it.
- Fly prevention on your rabbit “Rearguard” is a liquid that is applied to the rabbit’s hindquarters. An application of one bottle will last 10 weeks, preventing the maggots developing to the stage when they cause damage.
This article attempts to answer the questions most frequently asked by owners.
If you would like to discuss anything further please speak to one of our veterinary nurses or receptionists.