What is it?
A health-check is a nose to tail examination of your rabbit. This examination may be carried out by a veterinary surgeon or nurse.
Why is it important?
A health check aims to help identify any issues that can be prevented or may require treatment to improve the health, welfare and therefore quality of life of your rabbit. It is also a good time for you to ask any questions that you may have about rabbit health - this can include management at home, feeding and housing (see our other fact sheets for more information).
How can you prepare for the visit?
Any visit to the vets will involve travelling and handling which can be stressful for rabbits. There are a few things you can do before the visit to help reduce this: Make sure that you have a safe and secure carrier to transport them in - it is also a good idea to introduce them to this first. It can be left in their cage as a place to sit/hide if it is safe to do so (remove the door and don’t leave the carrier in there if they are likely to damage/chew it). Feeding your rabbit inside the carrier a few times before can also help associate it with a positive experience. Rabbits that are used to handling will find the examination much less stressful than those not handled at all. Get your rabbit used to having their face stroked and being picked up occasionally (place one hand under the chest, the other under the bottom and hold them close to your body with their spine against you to prevent injury to themselves or you). Sometimes it is helpful to take a sample of your rabbit’s faecal pellets (poo) to the appointment (sealed in a plastic bag) as these can give the vet information on digestive health. Make sure you know what food your rabbit is being fed so that you can discuss this during the appointment.
Any tips for travelling to the vets?
Even when your rabbit is used to their transport carrier travelling can still be stressful. Ensure that they have non-slip bedding (a towel/blanket) in the bottom so they feel secure during the journey and don’t slip around. If they have a bonded companion (“best friend”) we recommend travelling them together as stress levels are lowered when together. Try to travel at a time of day where you won’t get stuck in traffic.
Keeping stress to a minimum in the waiting room
Try to make your appointment at a quieter time of the day, ask your veterinary practice if they recommend a particular time as some may run small animal clinics where there will be no dogs/cats present. If there are dogs in the waiting room which are being noisy feel free to ask if you can wait outside in your car and be called in from there.
It is advisable to take a blanket/towel with you to cover the carrier cage with so the rabbits are less stressed by seeing the surrounding, unknown environment or predators (dogs/cats) in the area. There are calming sprays which may also help, these can be sprayed onto the blanket - ask your veterinary practice about these.
What to expect at the health-check examination?
This is your chance to have a chat about how the rabbits are kept at home, their diet and behaviour. This is an informal chat, not an interview and remember that your veterinary team is there to work with you and help so please feel comfortable to answer the questions honestly.
The following areas will be checked by the vet or nurse during the examination: Nose: Checking for any discharge. Eyes: Looking for any discharge, discolouration or other abnormalities. Ears: Checking inside for mites or excess wax. Chest: Observing movement of the chest whilst breathing . Listening with a stethoscope to the heart and lung sounds. Abdomen: Gentle palpation to feel the abdominal organs and gastrointestinal tract for any concerns such as tumours, impactions or other worries. Palpation will be gentle and can only detect some, not all abnormalities Listening with a stethoscope to the sounds of the guts moving (important in assessing for GI stasis). Bottom: Checking that the fur is clean and genitalia appear healthy with no discharge. Feet: Checking that the fur is clean and no sores (i.e. hock sores/pododermatitis). Claws: Looking to see if they are too long, or too short. Teeth: The incisors and jaw movements are examined from the outside. Then, the cheek teeth will be examined for any sharp points/spurs or other concerns with an oroscope (a metal/plastic tube inserted into the mouth to look at the back of the mouth). Fur/coat: Checking for signs of parasites, bald patches or staining.
What can be done?
This depends on the findings of the exam - if there are any concerns then the vet/nurse will discuss what can be done to help. As examples this could be a review of their diet or housing, prescribing a parasite treatment, a dental procedure or simply just a nail-clip! If nothing needs changing then we usually recommend a check-up every 6-12 months; unless you have any concerns before then.
Is there anything to look out for afterwards?
As with any experience that your rabbit may find stressful it is important to monitor them for any concerns that may indicate GI stasis/ileus or other issues after the visit. Make sure that they are eating, drinking and passing a normal number and amount of faecal pellets (poo) - if you have any worries contact your veterinary practice immediately.