All rabbits should receive a vaccination every 6 months and a general health check every 12 months.
How can I tell if my rabbit is sick?
Signs of disease in rabbits may be specific for a certain disease. Most commonly, however, signs are vague and non-specific, such as a rabbit with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases including hairballs, uterine cancer, and even kidney or liver failure. ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinary surgeon.
Dental disease is very common in rabbits. An appropriate diet is essential to maintaining not only good health in pet rabbits, but also dental disease. Rabbit teeth are classified as Hypsodont, meaning that their teeth continuously erupt throughout their life. Without appropriate feeding, these can easily overgrow and cause painful sores in your bunny’s mouth. Your veterinarian will be able to examine your rabbits incisors during consult, but visualization of the ‘cheek teeth’ requires a general anesthetic.
Desexing your Rabbit
Males benefit for the same reasons that dogs and cats do. Desexed “Bucks” are usually less aggressive, more likely to snuggle, and less chronically obsessed by sex
Desexing female rabbits is a more complicated procedure than desexing a male rabbit, but it is still very important, if not more so. Undesexed female rabbits are at a very high risk of developing cancer. In some cases these risks of developing reproductive cancer can be as high as 80% by the age of 3yrs.
You may also find that when your rabbit reaches sexual maturity (around 4mths of age), they will often start to spray urine. This occurs in both male and female rabbits, both of which are very territorial. Desexing in most cases will reduce the incidence of urine marking.
Rabbits are also considered to be quite sociable animals and do like each others company. However, finding the right partner or friend for your rabbit can be difficult as they can be fussy individuals, even more so when they are not desexed.
Most importantly it will also reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
As a general rule for rabbits, the desexing protocol involves a day procedure. Desexing can be performed from 4mths of age onwards.
In Australia, pet rabbits receive a vaccination against Calicivirus. The first calicivirus is given at 12 weeks of age, with a booster vaccination 4 weeks later. Vaccination is then required every six months.
The existing vaccination for calicivirus is not fully protective against the latest strain of Calicivirus released in Australia in 2017. An update vaccine has been developed in Europe, but is not currently available in Australia.
The department of Primary Industries recommends the following extra precautions to reduce the risk of Calicivirus in pet rabbits:
- Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits.
- Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits.
- Wash hands, with warm soapy water between handling rabbits.
- Good insect control is also important and will help reduce the risks of introduction of both RHDV and myxomatosis. Insect control could include insect proofing the hutch or keeping the rabbits indoors.
- Infected rabbits should be isolated and disposed of in a manner that will minimise environmental contamination.
- All cages and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Disinfectants that can be used to decontaminate any equipment include 10 % bleach, 10 % sodium hydroxide, or parvocide disinfectants. If using disinfectants material safety data sheets must be available and consulted, prior to use. Autoclaving will also kill the virus.
Feeding your Rabbit
The majority of illnesses we see in pet rabbits are directly or indirectly related to improper diet. Rabbits have a gastrointestinal system designed to digest large amounts of fibre. Wild rabbits eat grass and weeds, some flowers and other plant material, occasionally fruit and also chew on bark and branches. These items are high in fibre, moderate in protein and low in sugars and fat.
Unfortunately, most pet rabbits are fed diets opposite to this; eg. large amounts of poor quality rabbit mix or pellets that are usually high in carbohydrates, sugars and fats and low in fibre.
Fibre in a rabbit is essential for the following reasons:
- Promotion of an optimal intestinal bacterial population, preventing overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
- Promotion of gut motility and prevention of life threatening gut stasis.
- Tooth wear as rabbits’ teeth grow 2-3mm per week; inadequate wear will lead to serious dental problems.
- Promoting ingestion of caecotrophs (also known as night or soft stools).
Grass & hay should be available at all times. This is their major source of fibre and 80-90% of their feed intake should comprise this. Feed grass hay such as Timothy, Meadow, Pasture, Oaten, Wheaten, Paddock, Ryegrass hay, as they are higher in fibre and lower in protein and calcium.
Lucerne hay should not be fed in large amounts to an adult rabbit due to the increased calcium content (which can lead to urinary problems) and decreased abrasive action on the teeth.
Offer a range of vegetables (mainly leafy greens). Your rabbit should eat one and a half to two packed cups of fresh vegetables per kg of body weight. Good vegetables include Bok Choy, broccoli (mainly leaves), brussel sprouts, cabbage, spinach, herbs, dandelion flowers (no pesticides), strawberry leaves.
NB: Carrots are high in sugar and should not be fed in large amounts.
Fruits are offered in small amounts as a treat.
Feed limited quantities, or avoid, pelleted food or rabbit mixes. Most pellet diets provide little dental exercise, are low in fibre, and are high in protein, fat and sugar, can have sweetening agents added, and are often lacking in vitamin D or calcium.
Rabbit mixes have many of the problems associated with pelleted foods. In addition, they often contain large amounts of legumes, cereals and/or nuts. Even chicken pellets may be present! It is best to avoid mixes completely.
What Fruit and Veg can my rabbit eat?
At least 3 different vegetables a day are recommended. You can feed some or all of the following: Alfalfa, Radish and Clover Sprouts, Asparagus, Basil, Beet Greens, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots and Tops, Chicory Greens, Clover, Dandelion Greens (pesticide free!), Eggplant, Endive, Grass – freshly cut from your back yard, Kale, Mint, Mustard Greens, Mustard Spinach, Okra leaves, Parsley, Peppermint Leaves, Peppers (green, red, yellow…), Pumpkin leaves, Radicchio, Radish Tops, Raspberry leaves, Squash: Zucchini, yellow, butternut, Pumpkin, Turnip Greens, Various lettuce – avoid light heart varieties and no iceberg!, Watercress, Wheat Grass
Fruit: Feed only once or twice a week in small amounts – No seeds or pips!. Sugary fruits such as bananas and grapes should only be fed as occasional treats. The following fruits are appropriate: Apple, Blackberries, Blueberry, Pineapple, Melon, Papaya, Peach, Plum, Pears, Raspberries, Strawberries