Did the Easter bunny come this year? Not the imaginary kind that drops off chocolate, the real kind that lives for 10 years or more and deserves to have a better life than being trapped in a hutch at the bottom of the garden. If they did, or you are thinking of getting one, here’s my guide on how to care for them.
The majority of problems that vets see in rabbits are related to an inadequate diet. So, if you get their food right, you will give your pet the best chance of a healthy life!
The mainstay of a rabbit’s diet should be hay and every day they should eat a pile as big as they are. Rabbits have teeth that are constantly growing and chewing on hay keeps them in good shape. One of the most common issues for rabbits is sharp, overgrown teeth that can be so painful they stop eating altogether. Hay is also vital for healthy digestion, particularly important in rabbits for whom diarrhoea can be fatal.
Rabbits should also have a handful of fresh food everyday and a small amount (a tablespoon at most) of hard, pelleted food. Avoid the museli mixes as these allow your pet to pick out their favourites and become short on vital vitamins. For the majority of their day, your rabbits bowl should be empty (just like a dog or cat!), so they only have their hay to nibble on.
All rabbits should be vaccinated annually against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). These are both fatal and vaccination is the only protection. The injections can be given from 8 weeks of age. This visit to the surgery is also an opportunity for your vet to ensure your new pet is healthy and for you to ask any questions.
Having your rabbit neutered is very important. Females should be spayed when they are around 6 months and males can be castrated from 4 months. Entire rabbits can be grumpy, prone to biting and often urine spray, so not great pets! Also, 80% of entire female rabbits will develop uterine cancer in later life.
Training and handling
Rabbits are prey animals, so they are naturally nervous. This can mean they can be flighty and startle easily. As soon as you get your new rabbit, work with them to gain their confidence. Sit on the floor with them, offer treats, encouragement and try to get them to come to you. Don't pick them up until they are used to you and always handle them calmly but firmly.
Also, rabbits should never be kept alone. For a social animal, solitary confinement is akin to torture. Neutered pairs of the opposite sex work best and they can be bonded in later life, if they have previously lived alone.
The most common parasite in rabbits is a fur mite. It causes flaky, itchy skin and is easily treated with veterinary ´spot-on´ drops. They can also get fleas, just like dogs and cats, and again these are easily treated with veterinary products. They can also suffer from internal parasites (worms) but they are not common.
Fly strike is a horrific, and often deadly, problem. It develops when flies lay their eggs on the dirty fur around a rabbit’s backend. These develop into maggots which burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing huge pain and damage, often within just a few hours. This is why all rabbits should be handled and checked at least twice daily and there are preventative treatments available from your vets.
There are now several companies which provide insurance policies for rabbits and it is something all rabbit owners should consider.
Rabbit are entertaining, inquisitive and rewarding but they do need the similar levels of care and attention as other pets. They are not the low maintenance, children’s pet many people think they are. Hopefully this article has helped you if you do have a bun and if it has inspired you to own one, get in touch your local rescue, they always have rabbits needing loving homes!
Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com
If you have any worries about your rabbit or any pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
It may sound like a silly question but I would bet most owners with older cats could recount multiple examples of ‘feline senility’. Some are funny, some are sad and some are just plain unpleasant. But as tempting as it is to be angry with your cat for, say, mistaking your bed for a litter tray, the truth is that more than 50% of cats over 15 years of age suffer from some degree of dementia, also known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). Is your cat one of them?Let’s start with a couple of questions to get you thinking: 1) Has your older cat started to urinate or defecate in inappropriate places? 2) Does your cat demand more attention that she used to? 3) Have you noticed your cat crying out more frequently, particularly at night? 4) Is your cat less adventurous than he used to be, preferring to stay close to home? 5) Is she behaving strangely – staring at walls, forgetting there is food in her dish or perhaps interacting differently with a housemate? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your cat is in fact showing at least one of the signs of feline dementia or CDS. What is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome? The first question that often comes to mind is whether or not it is related to human dementia and in fact the answer is yes, there are many physical and behavioural similarities between CDS in cats and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Both diseases are likely caused at least in part by physical changes related to decreased blood flow to the brain and an increase in nasty little molecules called ‘free radicals’. They may have a funny name, but the damage these molecules do to living cells is hardly a laughing matter. The older the body gets the more free radicals it produces and when combined with decreased blood and oxygen flow, these molecules wreak havoc on the particularly sensitive and fragile cells in the brain. All this damage also leads to the deposition of protein ‘plaques’ around the nerve cells, making it even harder for signals to make it through. The end result is a collection of tired, damaged and dirty cells trying unsuccessfully to maintain normal brain function. A pretty distressing thought! The longer this process goes on, the harder the cat finds it to do the simple things that used to come so naturally. They may forget where the litter tray or cat flap is, resulting in poor toilet habits. Changes in sleeping habits and activity levels can lead to increased stress, which in turn can result in loud, seemingly pointless crying. Meals are forgotten and relationships with both human and animal housemates may suffer. Nobody wants to see their cat experience this kind of stress, yet in reality, most of the time the symptoms of CDS either go unnoticed or are simply put down to ‘getting older’ and as a result, nothing is done about it. What CAN be done about it? The first step to treating Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is actually diagnosing it in the first place. CDS is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that it cannot be diagnosed directly but rather by ruling out other conditions. There are many other conditions which can cause similar symptoms though, so it’s important to speak with your vet to try to figure out what’s really going on. The disease that most closely resembles CDS in terms of symptoms is arthritis, and in fact there are many similarities between the two conditions as both the underlying causes and the treatments are quite similar. Other conditions that result in some of the same symptoms as CDS include kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, deafness, blindness or brain tumours. As some of these are easily treatable, it is definitely worth trying to get to the bottom of it. If your vet diagnoses your cat with cognitive dysfunction, there are several things that you can do to help your feline friend as they learn to cope with their illness. The first is to feed a high quality diet, and preferably one that is particularly high in antioxidants (which kill off those free radicals) and other supportive compounds such as vitamin E, beta carotene and essential fatty acids. Several other vitamins and molecules have also shown promise in treating the condition and this has led to the development of several therapies including special diets and nutritional supplements. Perhaps equally if not even more important than changing what goes into a CDS cat’s body is changing their environment to support their condition. Some of the things that owners can do at home to help cats with dementia (and, incidentally, arthritis as well) include: