Wherever they come from, allow Parkside to check your new, young pet rabbit for free at the first health check. Most are weaned at 6 weeks of age. Pick up a Parkside rabbit care-pack at the same time.
Rabbits are becoming increasingly popular pets, and just like any other animal they require plenty of care and attention. Unfortunately, many rabbits are not properly protected against potentially fatal diseases such as myxomatosis, viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) and E. cuniculi.
Myxomatosis is a widespread disease. All types of rabbit are potentially susceptible, including house rabbits, with the disease being spread by blood-sucking insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. The first signs of myxomatosis are puffy swellings around the eyes, lips and ears and also around the anus and genitalia. The swellings can become so severe that they can cause blindness, and eating and drinking becomes progressively more difficult. The majority of affected rabbits will die.
Unfortunately there is no specific treatment so it is vital that you ensure your rabbit is protected against myxomatosis. Flea and insect control is essential in the fight against this disease. It is helpful to keep wild rabbits away from pets (contact with a wild rabbit is not necessary to contract myxomatosis, however they carry lots of fleas) and use flea control methods such as spot-ons. Insect repellent strips and nets will help with mosquito control. All healthy rabbits over 6 weeks of age can be vaccinated to help prevent this often fatal condition, with booster vaccinations given every 6 months.
VHD is a viral disease of rabbits which usually proves rapidly fatal. Signs of the disease can be sudden unexplained death, or may include depression, collapse, difficulty in breathing, convulsions (fits) and bleeding from the nose. The virus can be spread between rabbits but also via people, clothing, hutches and fleas. As with myxomatosis, there is no specific treatment for VHD so it is essential that your rabbit is vaccinated. Healthy rabbits are usually vaccinated from about 10-12 weeks of age and then should have annual boosters.
Whilst many people are aware of myxomatosis, less will know about Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) despite the fact that up to 50% of all domesticated rabbits may have been exposed to this parasite. Rabbits infected with E. cuniculi can suffer a variety of horrible illnesses including fits, kidney damage and blindness or the sudden onset of head tilt. This can be so severe that rabbits are only able lie on one side with their heads twisted round; this can be mistaken for a stroke. Unlike myxomatosis and VHD, rabbits with E. cuniculi can initially appear perfectly healthy but the illness can flare up at any time. The parasite is spread by infected urine as well as from mother to babies, and hutches and pens can harbour infection.
Again, prevention is better than cure, as the treatment may come too late to reverse the signs of this potentially debilitating disease. Panacur® Rabbit is an easy to administer paste which provides a simple method to help control E. cuniculi and intestinal worms in rabbits. The paste should be given daily for 9 consecutive days, 2 to 4 times a year and also during times of higher risk, such as when the rabbit is acquired, prior to mating and prior to mixing with others.
Keep clean and dry especially in summer to avoid fly strike. Check your rabbit's bottom every day and if it is dirty, you must clean it. If it is persistently dirty, this is often a sign of obesity as the rabbit cannot clean itself properly. Use a topical fly killer from Parkside if this is happening. Maggots are not nice.
Feed lots of hay and restrict pellet food to one meal per day, so they are forced to eat hay, greens and roots (carrot, turnip etc). This is how they prevent their teeth from overgrowing and causing mouth ulceration and eventual untreatable gum disease. In other words, do not be too good to them as they are made to eat LARGE quantities of poor quality food. If more people thought of pellets as chocolates and always gave hay, then we would see fewer teeth problems.
CLICK HERE to see a full feeding guide from Parkside.
CLICK HERE for a full feeding guide, from Parkside. You can print the pdf file for future reference.
Rabbit ownership is steadily growing, with many being kept as house rabbits. Did you know that there are 1.6 million kept as pets throughout the UK? It is alarming to consider therefore, that only one in every 12 owners ensures their pet is properly vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases like myxomatosis. Any rabbit, whatever their lifestyle or breed, is at risk of contracting this nasty disease and that the majority of affected rabbits will die - will your pet rabbit be one of them?
Please ensure they are vaccinated - read more about vaccinesHERE
Myxomatosis infection is more common between August and October, although rabbits can contract the disease at any time of year. Spread typically by blood sucking insects like the rabbit flea, the disease attacks domestic and wild rabbits alike. In addition to the characteristic bulging of the eye lids, key symptoms include localised swellings around the head, face, ears, lips, anus and genitalia. Severe swelling can lead to blindness and distortion of the face, often resulting in difficulty with drinking and feeding. In many cases, bacterial respiratory infection complicates the disease, encouraging the onset of a fatal pneumonia. Try to vaccinate in the Spring so that the maximum protection is given over the higher-risk months.
With no specific treatment, it is crucial that you put controls in place to manage it; namely controlling parasites and ensuring vaccination. Frequent pet checks for signs of fleas, along with monthly use of an insecticidal treatment (which you will find at a Parkside Surgery) will facilitate a high degree of flea control, lessening the likelihood of bites. It is recommended that a single dose of myxomatosis vaccine be given to all healthy, non-pregnant rabbits over the age of six weeks. Ideally, this will occur in early spring so that the rabbits have the optimum protection during the period of the year when they are most at risk. However, as myxomatosis can strike at any time of the year, boosters are recommended once or twice a year, depending on your pet's likely exposure to myxomatosis.
As owners, you have the power to ensure that your pet is adequately protected and not likely to fall victim to myxomatosis and other such diseases. To help, we have joined forces with Intervet UK and Burgess Supafeeds to provide owners with a free rabbit booster pack, helping to encourage a healthier pet rabbit population. In a bid to educate about the importance of vaccination, along with providing valuable information about health and nutrition, every owner whose rabbit is vaccinated at our practice, will receive the pack, which contains an informative leaflet highlighting the importance of vaccination, details on rabbit insurance, nutritional advice and a sample of Supa Rabbit Excel® provided by Burgess Supafeeds.
Rabbits can be vaccinated against Myxomatosis from 6 weeks of age and boosters are either given every 12 months or 6 months depending on the risk in your local area.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) it is spread through direct contact between rabbits and also through contaminated surfaces such as bedding, hutches and clothing and even food which may be contaminated by wild rabbits. This disease is in our area and is rapidly fatal. Symptoms are high temp, lethargy, loss of appetite convulsion and breathing difficulties, with internal haemorrhage. Vaccinations can be given from 8 weeks of age. Myxo and VHD vaccines have to be given two weeks apart and boosters are needed annually.
With warmer weather there is an increase in flies so there is a greater risk of rabbits developing fly strike, where flies lay eggs on your rabbit and the emerging maggots will eat flesh. Be extra vigilant in the care of rabbits, as a dirty rabbit is an attractive target to flies. Flies will usually be attracted to soiled bottoms or hutches and will then lay eggs onto your rabbit; within hours they will hatch into these tiny larvae (maggots) which will quickly start to feed and can burrow deep into the rabbit and eat it alive. It may only be when considerable damage has been done that any outward signs are visible, by which time it may be too late.
So, as a rabbit owner you can prevent this as follows:
1. Everyday check your rabbit from top to tail.
2. Clean any dirty areas of hutch on a daily basis to avoid it being an attractive settling spot for flies.
3. Clean and disinfect your pet's home thoroughly once a week.
4. Make sure the accommodation is adequately ventilated
5. Insecticidal sprays can be used to deter flies, but ensure that they are pet safe. Parkside recommend Rearguard which can be ordered from anyone of our branches and goes on your rabbit's fur and will kill fly eggs.
Remember: Prevention is better than cure
Another potential hazard for rabbits in the summer months is heat stroke. The symptoms are heavy, labored breathing and being floppy or unresponsive. If your rabbit does become overheated it is important to cool it down; this should be done gradually. Putting your rabbit in cold water can cause shock. Instead, dampen a cloth with cool water and bathe its ears and moisten its fur, move it into a cool area and contact Parkside as further treatment maybe be needed.
Rabbits become sexually mature between 4 months (in smaller breed) and 6-9 months (in larger breeds). We recommend rabbits be separated in single sex groups at 16 weeks. Males can be castrated at 5-6 months, females can be spayed at 6 months. Rabbits are sociable animals and appreciate a companion whenever possible; a castrated male and neutered female are best. Guinea-pigs are not suitable companions as they are often bullied and may even suffer injuries from biting or kicking.
More pictures in the Gallery
If you have a query regarding rabbit behaviour, feeding or general care, please contact Shona at our Dundee surgery.