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Rabbits

Our hints and tips for looking after your rabbit

Here is some information about rabbits, both in good health and when they are unwell. Please remember that reading this is no substitution for seeking the advice of a veterinary surgeon.

We are here to help you 24 hours a day, every day of the year so please contact us if you have any concerns that you would like to discuss with us.

Vaccinations

We recommend that your rabbit is routinely vaccinated against two fatal diseases - Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (HVD) and Myxomatosis. Both can be rapidly fatal in an unvaccinated rabbit and there are no cures once infected. Both viruses can be spread by direct contact between rabbits (wild and domesticated) but also via indirect contact such as people, clothing, shoes, other objects and fleas.

Protection can be achieved by regular vaccination. We are now able to provide vaccination against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease and Myxomatosis in one single yearly vaccination.

Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is caused by a pox virus which is spread by biting insects, typically the rabbit flea, although the cat flea can also transmit the virus. The disease has been seen in house rabbits that have never been outdoors – so all pet rabbits should be considered to be at risk. Myxomatosis can occur at any time of year but, in this country, most cases occur in late summer/early autumn and early winter months.

Symptoms of Myxomatosis include puffy swellings around the head and face, ‘sleepy’ eyes, swollen lips, swellings on the inside of the ear and puffy swellings around the anus and genitals. Within a day or so, these swellings can become so severe that they can cause blindness. Eating and drinking becomes progressively more difficult and death usually follows within 12 days.

Vaccination can start at 5 weeks of age. Animals should normally be re-vaccinated annually. However, where there is a high risk of infection (e.g. rabbit sanctuaries, heavy flea populations, areas where myxomatosis is rife) re-vaccination every 6 months is suggested.

Haemorrhagic viral disease (HVD)

This is another very nasty, often fatal disease. Affected rabbits become severely ill with internal bleeding in lungs, guts and urinary tract. It is caused by a virus (calici virus) and is very infectious. It usually affects rabbits above 8 weeks old and 70-80% of affected rabbits will become extremely ill within 2-3 days of being exposed to the virus. Signs seen are fever, depression, anorexia, lethargy, diarrhoea; however, these vague signs might not be noticed as the disease can progress very quickly. Nearly all affected rabbits will die suddenly with few clinical signs. In the terminal stages they can have nose bleeds, have fits, or become comatose and die. HVD is spread in the same way as myxomatosis i.e. between rabbits and on objects e.g. food and water containers, people etc. Treatment is unlikely to be successful because the disease progresses so rapidly. Some animals may recover but require intensive supportive treatment.

The only way to protect your rabbit against this fatal disease is to have it vaccinated. There is now a new strain of viral haemorrhagic disease RHD2 and we can offer the Filavac vaccine to prevent your rabbit from contracting this. This needs to be given at least two weeks after the single combined vaccine. A second dose may be recommended every 6 months in areas of high risk. Please speak with one of our vets for more information.

One of our vets will give your rabbit a full health check at the same time as having the vaccination - please contact us, or click here for an appointment.

To save money on the cost of vaccinations, take a look at our Pet Health Club

Neutering

Castrating Males

Male rabbits make responsive pets but can become territorial, aggressive and can frequently spray urine if not castrated. They have to be kept alone, which is not fair as rabbits like to have company. Neutered males are much happier and more relaxed. They can enjoy life without having to look for a mate and are much less aggressive and smelly! Castration is a minor operation which can be performed from 5-6 months of age. 

Spaying Females

Female rabbits can also become territorial or show signs of aggression once they have reached sexual maturity at around 4-6 months of age. If they are not spayed, they can have repeated false pregnancies, becoming aggressive towards their owners and other rabbits. Keeping two females together, even if they are sisters, can make things worse. Spaying female rabbits can also prevent uterine cancer, which may increase their life expectancy. Females can be spayed at about 4 months of age.

For any further information, please feel free to contact us.

To save money on the cost of neutering, see our Pet Health Club

Dental Care

Dental problems are one of the most common conditions that we see in rabbits. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life, they are worn down by the action of chewing and grinding their food ready to eat. Dental problems occur when the teeth are not aligned properly (malocclusion) as they do not wear down. Malocclusion can happen to both the front incisors and the back molar teeth. If the incisor teeth do not wear down, they can grow so much that they curl right round into the gums. If the molar teeth do not wear down, they develop spurs (spiky projections of teeth) that rub either on the tongue or the cheek, causing soreness and ulceration.

What causes malocclusion?

Malocclusion has three main causes:

  1. A congenital problem
  2. Trauma - this can be due to physical injury ot persistent pulling on the hutch wire
  3. Tooth root infections

What are the signs of malocclusion?

  • Difficulty eating
  • Reduced appetite
  • Salivation
  • Weight loss
  • Treatment

Teeth affected by malocclusion need to be trimmed using a high-speed dental burr, then filed smooth using a special instrument called a rasp. If repeated dental work is needed, it is sometimes advisable to remove the affected teeth. It is possible to clip the teeth, however, this will often cause longitudinal fractures in the teeth, which can cause abscesses and often worsen the angle of growth further.

Prevention

It is important that your rabbit has access to good quality hay, vegetables and chew sticks. The chewing action required to eat these foods will help wear the teeth down, thus preventing dental problems occurring.

Prevention is better than cure - if you would like to have your rabbit's teeth checked, please ring to book a complimentary appointment with one of our veterinary nurses.


To learn more about Dental Health warning signs, please click here.

Diet

Many health problems in rabbits are caused by incorrect feeding. Rabbits have a unique digestive system that has been developed to suit a high fibre, low protein, low energy diet. Wild rabbits eat mostly grass; therefore, it is essential that your rabbit’s diet consists of foods similar to those that he would encounter in the wild.

Rabbits need to be fed daily, this involves replacing uneaten food and giving fresh water. Hay, grass, fresh water, a large selection of fruit and vegetables, together with a small amount of quality complete rabbit pellets will provide your rabbit with a healthy and balanced diet.

What should I feed my rabbit?

Grass

Rabbits are designed to eat grass. Ideally your pet rabbit should have daily access to a run on the lawn.

Hay

Unlimited, good quality hay is the foundation of a healthy diet. As well as meeting his basic nutritional requirements, nibbling hay can help reduce boredom, and consequent behavioural problems. Chewing hay also strengthens teeth and jaws and maintains healthy gut movement.

Complete rabbit foods

We recommend feeding a complete pelleted food to your rabbit rather than a rabbit mix. Rabbits can be fussy eaters and, if fed a mix, will often pick out the tastiest ingredients and leave the rest, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies and cause serious health problems. A complete pelleted food will provide a balance of all the nutrients that your rabbit requires.

Treats

Excess sugars and starchy treats can lead to fatal digestive upsets. If you want to treat your rabbit, ensure that you stick to healthy treats such as chunks of carrot or broccoli, apple cores, carrot, swede and turnip peelings or cauliflower stalks.

Water

Rabbits should have access to fresh water at all times. Bottles can be used to give water, however bunnies with dental problems may find these difficult to use so will need to have a water bowl instead.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Rabbits need the correct balance of calcium in their diet. Too much calcium can cause urinary stones and bladder problems and not enough calcium can cause dental disease. Rabbits also need Vitamin D to enable dietary calcium to be absorbed from the gut. A normal, healthy rabbit which receives a good diet should not need a vitamin or mineral supplement. However, rabbits with existing dental disease or fussy eaters may benefit from receiving one.

We sell a range of premium rabbit foods, treats, and feeding accessories for your rabbit at each of our surgeries, please feel free to come in and browse.

Accomodation

Rabbits need a hutch to live in for shelter and protection. The hutch should be raised off the ground and protected from the wind and rain. Direct sunlight should be avoided as heat stress and heatstroke occur easily in rabbits as they cannot sweat and do not increase their water intake when hot. Good ventilation is essential to prevent respiratory disease.

The hutch floor, roof and sides must be made of wood and weatherproofed and the front of the hutch should be made of smooth wire netting. The doors of the hutch should be lockable to protect your rabbit from foxes and one third of the hutch should be enclosed to form a cosy sleeping compartment.

Hutches available from pet shops are usually too small. The recommended size of a hutch for one rabbit is at least 120cm x 60cm x 60cm. Rabbits must have enough room to stretch to their full height and length and be able to run and jump about inside the hutch.

Straw, newspaper and fresh hay make ideal bedding. The hutch needs to be cleaned out daily, any soiled bedding should be removed and replaced with fresh bedding.

Whenever possible, your rabbit should have access to an outdoor run to allow him to stretch his legs. The bigger the run the better, but it will need to be escape proof! As rabbits are naturally prey animals, they should always be provided with appropriate hiding areas such as empty cardboard boxes to hide under if alarmed.

Handling

Rabbits love being stroked and cuddled and enjoy lots of attention!

Handling your rabbit daily from an early age will help to develop a friendly temperament. The safest way to approach a rabbit is to stroke the top of its head, taking care not to make any loud noises or sudden movements, which may startle or frighten him. The correct way to pick up a rabbit is to scoop him up with one arm, using your other hand to support the rear quarters. Hold him against your body and use your other arm to restrain him. This way, your rabbit will feel secure and will not resent being picked up or handled.

Flystrike

Flystrike is a distressing and potentially fatal condition seen in rabbits during the warmer months. It is essential that your rabbit is kept clean as flies are attracted to faeces, urine and open wounds. Flystrike occurs when fly eggs hatch into maggots, which then feed on your rabbit and burrow into the skin.

Taking the following steps to ensure that your rabbit is free from flies can help to prevent flystrike:

  • Clean the hutch daily, ensuring that you remove all faeces and urine-soiled bedding.
  • Put flypaper in and around the run/hutch.
  • Never leave old, rotting food in or near your rabbit’s living quarters.
  • Check your rabbit at least twice daily for signs of matted droppings, fly eggs or maggots. If faecal material accumulates around his/her bottom, remove it carefully and seek veterinary advice.
  • Products can be prescribed to prevent eggs from hatching into maggots and thereby damaging your rabbit.

At the first sign of an maggots, contact us immediately. Any delay in treatment can be fatal for your rabbit.

For any further information, please feel free to contact us.

Practice information

Bradley Stoke

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  • Mon
    24hr, Appointment: 9:00am - 9:00pm
  • Tue
    24hr, Appointment: 9:00am - 6:30pm
  • Wed
    24hr, Appointment: 9:00am - 9:00pm
  • Thu
    24hr, Appointment: 9:00am - 9:00pm
  • Fri
    24hr, Appointment: 9:00am - 6:30pm
  • Sat
    24hr, Appointment: 9:00am - 12:30pm
  • Sun
    24hr, Appointment: Emergency only

Emergency Details

Please call:

01454 275000
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Find us here:

The Rowe Veterinary Hospital, Bradley House, Ferndene, Bradley Stoke, Bristol, BS32 9DT For the Ophthalmology referral department and queries on eye cases, please ring 01454 521000 and press 1 for eye department
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Please call this number for emergencies:

01454 275000

Thornbury

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  • Mon
    9:00am - 11:00am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Tue
    9:00am - 11:00am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Wed
    9:00am - 11:00am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Thu
    9:00am - 11:00am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Fri
    9:00am - 11:00am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Sat
    9:00am - 10:00am
  • Sun
    Closed

Emergency Details

Please call:

01454 275000
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Find us here:

Thornbury Veterinary Surgery, 3 Pullins Green, Thornbury, Bristol, BS35 2AX
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Please call this number for emergencies:

01454 275000

Wotton-Under-Edge

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  • Mon
    9:00am - 10:30am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Tue
    9:00am - 10:30am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Wed
    9:00am - 10:30am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Thu
    9:00am - 10:30am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Fri
    9:00am - 10:30am; 2:00pm - 3:00pm; 4:00pm - 6:30pm
  • Sat
    9:00am - 12:30pm
  • Sun
    Closed

Emergency Details

Please call:

01454 275000
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Find us here:

Wotton-under-Edge Veterinary Surgery & MRI Referral Centre, Bradley Green, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, GL12 7PP
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Please call this number for emergencies:

01454 275000

Yate

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  • Mon
    8:00am - 6:30pm
  • Tue
    8:00am - 6:30pm
  • Wed
    8:00am - 6:30pm
  • Thu
    8:00am - 6:30pm
  • Fri
    8:00am - 6:30pm
  • Sat
    9:00am - 12:30pm
  • Sun
    Closed

Emergency Details

Please call:

01454 275000
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Find us here:

Yate Veterinary Surgery, 9 Station Road, Yate, Bristol, BS37 5HT
get directions with Google Maps
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Please call this number for emergencies:

01454 275000