To conclude our series of blogs on rabbit care….
Housing & Bedding
Before getting your rabbit you need to decide where to house it. Do you want it in the house, or in a shed or outside? In all cases the accommodation has to be large enough to provide separate living and sleeping areas. It must also allow the rabbit to lie down full length, ‘hop’ at least 3 times across and to be able to stand stretched up on its back legs if it wants to. If a rabbit’s hutch is too small, this can lead to depression and most likely ag-gression. Remember, the more rabbits you have, the larger the hutch you need. There must be enough space that an individual rabbit can find space to be alone if it chooses to.
An outdoor hutch must be raised off the ground, insulated, weatherproof, predator proof and draught free. Shade must be provided in hot weather as temperatures over 30 de-grees Celsius may cause heat stroke.
Ventilation (fresh air) and clean bedding is very important as a rabbit will produce a lot of urine that contains high levels of ammonia (a strong smelling chemical). If the hutch is not cleaned regularly this ammonia can cause damage to the rabbits’ lungs. Your rabbit will have a specific area where he or she will toilet, and this area needs to be cleaned at least every 1—2 days.
(image care of therabbithutch.com)
Bedding should be plentiful but dust free. Grass hay (which is edible) or pelleted paper (not edible) are ideal bedding materials. Some wood chip’s oils found in pine or cedar shavings can be an irritant to a rabbit’s breathing, as can sawdust, so these types of bed-ding materials should be avoided. The bedding should be completely changed once or twice a week.
Do not over clean your hutch though. Rabbits leave scent markings which can be re-moved by extreme cleaning. The loss of these markings can cause them stress, so leave a small corner of the bedding area untouched so it smells familiar.
Rabbits are susceptible to 2 infectious disease for which we can vaccinate. Both diseases are a killer of rabbits. They are myxomatsosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).
Mxyomatosis is a viral infection spread by fleas, flies and gnats which causes swelling and scabs on the face and genital region of a rabbit. Only mild cases are treatable, most rabbits however die.
(image from medirabbit.com)
VHD is also a viral infection which is spread from rabbit to rabbit or via objects such as bowl, brushes and bottles. Often rabbits are found dead before any signs of disease have been noticed. Signs of this awful disease are bleeding from the nose, mouth and anus.
We now have a combined vaccine which will protect your rabbit against these two diseases and can be given from 6 weeks of age, and will just require an annual booster vaccination.
Intestinal worms and the parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi (a parasite which attacks the brain and kidneys causing head tilt/neck twist, seizures and kidney infection leading to urinary incontinence and kidney failure) need to be controlled by good hygiene. In addition to this, there is a preventative treatment called fenbendazole (Panacur Rabbit Wormer) which needs to be given to your rabbit for 9 consecutive days, 2 – 4 times a year. If you introduce any new rabbits, or if any of your rabbits show possible signs of E. Cuniculi infection – treat them.
Blowflies, mites, fleas and to a lesser extent lice need to be controlled as infestations of these can cause major problems for your rabbit. The most distressing disease is caused by blowflies and is known as Flystrike. Most commonly occuring during warm summer months, faecal and/or urine soiling can cause sore areas around your rabbit’s bottom which attracts flies who lay their eggs. These eggs hatch into maggots which burrow into your rabbit’s flesh consuming as they go, effectively eating your rabbit alive. If caught early enough, this can be treated, but prevention is preferable.
A spot on insecticide and insect repellent which is effective to all common external parasites is Xenex Ultra, and a long acting blowfly sponge-on repellent is called Rearguard. Both are available from your vets, so please ask for details.
Neutering not only prevents unwanted pregnancies but can also help prevent a number of medical and behavioural problems. Spaying and castrating female and male rabbits prevents breeding, the growth of tumours and infections of the reproductive organs and can decrease aggressive, sexual and territorial behaviours between the same sexes.
Neutering should be performed just before or at the age of puberty. The rabbit will require an anaesthetic for the procedure and will need to spend the day at the veterinary surgery.
We hope you enjoyed our blogs on rabbit care. As you can see, they should not be considered an ‘easy’ pet to take care of, and are certainly not ‘disposable’. We are always on hand to offer advise on caring for your bunny, so please do not hesitate to contact us.