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St Anne's Veterinary Group Blog
Rabbit Awareness Week #HopToHay
This week is Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) where we highlight how rabbits should be cared for. Rabbits are the most misunderstood and incorrectly looked after pets in the UK. They are highly intelligent and social animals that hide illness well due to being a prey animal.
Many people buy rabbits for children thinking they are cheap to by and easy and cheap to keep, but this is not the case, leading to lots ending up in re-homing centres. Here we will cover some of the aspects of how to look after your pet rabbit and why hutch life really isn’t enough.
Did you know that in the wild, a rabbit’s territory is equivalent to around 30 tennis courts? Having such a large area to run around keeps them fit and healthy, you don’t see obese rabbits that cannot clean their bottom in the wild. Pet rabbits need plenty of space to run around too. Without enough room to run around rabbits quickly become bored and miserable, this can lead to being obese and not being able to groom themselves which can lead to flystrike and urine scalding. Rabbit’s shouldn’t be confined to a hutch, they should ideally have a shed with a large run attached so they can escape the sun or rain.
Rabbits are extremely sociable animals and having a single rabbit left alone in a hutch can be massively detrimental to their physical and mental health. Bonding rabbits can be hard work, to be successful, it helps if they are neutered. Rabbit fights can be extremely nasty with wounds sustained to ears and even testicles if they are entire. So bonding must be in very controlled circumstances and there are people who can help you or can even do it for you.
Having the correct diet can prevent a whole host of health issues. Did you know that rabbits should be fed 85-90% hay? Did you also know that there are 2 different types of hay? One being for bedding and the other for eating – let’s look at the difference. Bedding hay is usually cheaply manufactured, it usually looks browner and is not as nutritionally valuable. Feeding hay looks greener, it’s nutritionally richer and if commercially bought will be tested in laboratories to confirm this, tasty so they’re more likely to eat it and it will improve gut health. Eating hay is high in fibre and helps keep teeth under control. Rabbits teeth grow constantly throughout their life and they need to be worn down to prevent dental issues. Some rabbits are genetically predisposed to having dental issues, even though the owners have done all they can. This usually leads to frequent dentals and sometimes tear duct problems and dental abscesses which are very hard to treat in rabbits. A nutritionally balanced nugget food is suggested too at 20-25g per kg is ideal and a little amount of leafy greens.
Enriching your rabbit’s environment is essential, wild rabbits days are spent foraging for food, digging and defending their territory. Just like humans, rabbits need physical and mental stimulation and this can be done by providing things that mimic a wild rabbit’s environment. Such as company, tree stumps, suitable toys, safe and unsprayed branches for them to chew, tunnels to hide and play in, digging boxes and platforms for them to climb off and on to. If you want some advice on this, please ask, there are homemade toys and treats that can be made with children getting involved too.
Vaccinations are extremely important, watching a rabbit try to fight myxomatosis is one of the most awful things to witness. Being vaccinated against this and VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) and VHD2 are crucial. I have seen rabbits die of all of these diseases and to think it’s preventable by vaccination makes it even harder to bear.
Rabbits are wonderful creatures and have real personalities, they are just a pet that takes a lot of looking after.
Author: Menna Field RVN MBVNABlog topics