At least 80% of rabbits in the UK are not being fed correctly and one of the most common reasons for rabbits becoming ill is a poor diet, often lacking essential components such as hay. In addition, an astonishing 30% of rabbits in the UK are obese, probably due to their relative sedentary life as domestic pets, compared to their life in the wild. Extra weight puts pressure on the heart and joints and may dramatically reduce the rabbit's life expectancy.
Rabbits rely on consuming their caecotrophs (soft faeces) for nutrients, however obese rabbits are often unable to reach behind and eat them. This can result in caecotrophs sticking to the skin around the anus, which may lead to Flystrike. Rabbits commonly suffer from osteoporosis if they are not allowed enough exercise, often due to a diet low in calcium, and dental conditions are also a major issue in rabbits with 75% of pets seen by vets diagnosed with the problem. Rabbit’s teeth grow continuously by about 2-3mm a week and whilst in the wild gnawing on rough vegetation wears them down, many domestic rabbits don't get the opportunity to do this and their teeth often need to be filed down by a vet.
To supplement the fibre gained from hay or grass, rabbits should be fed a wholesome balanced diet including all the vitamins and minerals they require, such as Burgess Excel Tasty Nuggets. The benefit of feeding any of the Excel diets over a mix food is that the rabbit can't pick out the bits it likes and leave the rest (known as selective feeding), therefore ensuring that it gets a balanced diet in every mouthful.
Rabbits must have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Bottles are easier to keep clean, especially in the hutch environment, but some rabbits prefer water bowls. Bottles with a ball bearing in the nozzle drip less, but you must make sure the bottle doesn't jam and prevent the rabbit from drinking.
Hay IS NOT for bedding!
Never feed your rabbit human food. Some human food is poisonous to rabbits, so don't take the risk.
Keep your rabbit’s vaccinations and worming up-to-date, especially if they're fed grass from outdoors. Myxomatosis is still common in wild rabbits and can be transmitted on grass to domestic pets.
People often think rabbits are very easy to look after and that all they need to do is pop them in a hutch in the garden and feed and clean them when needed. However, this is actually very far from the truth! Nowadays, we have a far greater understanding of rabbits and there are a few things we need to recognise in order to keep them happy. Rabbits expressing aggressive behavior towards you and your other pets often indicates they are in distress and suffering emotionally!
Rabbits are prey animals first and foremost and their natural response often is being fearful and run. They have a wonderful ability to interact with humans but need time and regular, gentle handling to become comfortable with you, especially from an early age
Rabbits need to be kept physically and mentally active. You can replicate a rabbit’s natural environment by providing some of the below:
It is important to vaccinate your rabbit against the two most common diseases - myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).
Myxomatosis is a viral disease which is transmitted by insects from wild rabbits. The first signs of the infection are puffy, fluid filled swellings around the head and face, and also 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.
Viral Haemorrhagic disease (VHD) is a calicivirus which infects both wild and domesticated rabbits. Infection can occur directly, for example via salivary, nasal or conjunctival secretions of infected wild rabbits, or indirectly, by the environmental contamination from the urine or faeces of infected rabbits. Clinical signs include, bloody discharge from the nose, mouth and/or rectum, anorexia/lethargy or sudden death.
There are two methods of control:
A single vaccination should be given to rabbits over 5 weeks of age, and then annually. Flea and mosquito control is also vital.
Common problems in rabbits
Obesity in rabbits is an increasing problem in our pets. The desire to be ‘kind’ to our small ‘fury friend’ means that we often tend to over feed them – as well as, more importantly, feed the inappropriate foods.
The extra weight means that grooming becomes difficult, so secondary problems such as fly strike occur. It also means that ulcers on their feet are common, and more seriously deposits of fat within their liver and gut leads to metabolic changes that can often be fatal.
A healthy life style is essential in rabbits just as it is with us, and Rabbit Awareness Week aims to promote just that. Lots of exercise, appropriate diet and mental stimulation will all help to ensure that your rabbit is fit and healthy.”
A condition where a rabbit's teeth do not align and continue growing. Often, a rabbit with malocclusion will have the "slobbers," matted fur around the mouth or down the front of the chest, because of the inability to close its mouth completely. Because a rabbit's teeth are continually growing, if the teeth do not line up properly, the rabbit will have trouble wearing them down as a healthy rabbit does. If the teeth get long enough, the rabbit might be unable to open its jaws or mouth wide enough to eat. In other circumstances, the teeth can grow up into the nostrils, into the lips or gums, or into the side of the mouth, and the condition can lead to infection and sores. Malocclusion can be caused by an injury to the head, pushing the teeth out of alignment. Or it can be the result of heredity. Malocclusion happens more frequently to a rabbit's front teeth, but in some cases, the back, or cheek, teeth have been affected. This is why it is very important to check your rabbit’s teeth on a daily basis to prevent malocclusion.
Home health check:
It is very important to check your rabbit every day. Once ill, rabbits can deteriorate very quickly so a quick health check every day can avoid disease and illness in rabbits getting to the point where the rabbit cannot be saved. The home health check should only take around five minutes and if you notice any abnormalities or have any concerns then veterinary attention should be sought.
What to check:
In addition to the home health check, your rabbit should be checked at the vets every six months. This detailed check will simply discover if your rabbit has teeth problems or obesity and can help in diagnosing a variety of other health problems.