Keeping happy and healthy rabbits
The average life span for a domesticated rabbit is between 8 – 12 years. To help your rabbits live a long and happy life, you need to look after all of their welfare needs, including their health. A healthy rabbit is bright eyed and alert, with a good coat. They should be passing droppings regularly, eating regularly and drinking water.
Looking after your rabbits’ health is a key part to helping keep them happy. Checking up on their health regularly is a great way to keep on top of their wellbeing. Rabbits are prey animals, which unfortunately means they hide the signs of injury or ill health. This means it is even more important that, as their owner, you know what to look out for. It is vital that you register your rabbits with a bunny-friendly vet and take them at least once a year for a check-up and keep up to date with their essential vaccinations. If you’re ever worried or notice something isn’t quite right, always take your buns to the vet.
Common rabbit health problems
Dental disease is the most common health problem found in rabbits and is often associated with selective feeding. Dental disease can be caused by a lack of abrasive fibre in their diet which causes the rabbit’s teeth to become overgrown making it too painful for them to eat properly. If you notice one of your rabbits is eating less than usual you should take them to your vet as soon as possible. In order to help prevent dental disease you should feed your rabbit the appropriate diet with 85-90% feeding hay, supplemented by a small portion of nuggets. Hay is a fibre-rich food that helps to wear down the teeth.
Gut stasis is a condition where a rabbit’s digestive system slows down or stops. This can result in a build up of gas and toxins which can be fatal to the affected rabbit. Muesli style diets have been shown to reduce faecal output which may increase the risk of gut stasis.
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to keeping your rabbit healthy. Talk to your vet about your rabbits’ ideal weight and weigh them regularly. Make sure your rabbits are getting plenty of exercise and are on a good diet. Muesli style diets have been shown to increase the risk of obesity as rabbits are able to pick out easily digestible carbohydrates and fats. For more information, take a look at the PFMA’s Rabbit Size-O-Meter.
Flystrike occurs when flies lay their eggs in soiled fur. The eggs hatch into maggots and chew their way into the rabbits skin. Rabbits that are fed on muesli style diets may have a higher level of uneaten caecotrophs (sticky droppings) which can stick to their fur and make them more likely to get flystrike. It’s important to check your rabbits daily, especially in the summer as there is an increased risk of flystrike in hot weather. A good diet can help to prevent obesity, dental disease and diarrhoea and guard against fly strike. Check out the Excel Feeding Plan for more information.
Pododermatitis, or sore hocks, is a condition where pressure sores form on the bottom of a rabbit’s feet. If left untreated, the sores can become infected. Overweight rabbits or those with long nails put more pressure on their feet and are at a greater risk of developing pododermatitis. Hard, abrasive flooring can also cause pododermatitis. To help prevent this, avoid wire flooring and remove soiled and wet bedding every day. If you have any concerns, seek the advice of your vet
What vaccinations do rabbits need? Vaccinations are essential to protect your rabbits against the deadly diseases, Myxomatosis, RVHD1 and RVHD2. These diseases are spread by contact with an infected rabbit or blood sucking insects, or via contaminated objects. There are no effective treatments for these diseases, so prevention through vaccinations is essential. Your rabbits should receive annual jabs at their vets to protect them and other rabbits.
Neutering your rabbits
Neutering your rabbits avoids unwanted litters. Unfortunately, up to 80% of un-neutered female rabbits can develop cancer of the uterus by the age of 5. Neutering your female rabbit at an early age will stop these cancers from developing.
Un-neutered males can be aggressive to other rabbits. In comparison, neutered male rabbits can live happily with male and female rabbits. A neutered female and neutered male are usually the most successful pairing.
Rabbit health check
Giving your rabbits a quick health check regularly is a great way to catch any signs of ill health early on. Plus, regular handling will help you improve your bond. Avoid washing your rabbit with water. If you do need to, be very gentle as the water can make them feel vulnerable.
You should groom your rabbits daily and this gives the perfect opportunity to check them over! Check their whole body and feel for any lumps or bumps. Your rabbits’ ears should be free from mites and fleas and their eyes should be clear and shiny with no discharge. Their bottom should always be clean to help prevent flystrike, and their nails shouldn’t be overgrown – if they are seek the advice of your vet. Keep an eye on their teeth to make sure they aren’t overgrowing and that there’s no excessive drooling – but be careful, they could bite!
If you notice anything out of the ordinary, for example if your rabbit’s breathing becomes fast or if your rabbit has diarrhoea, seek the advice of your vet. You know your rabbits best, so trust your instincts and get it checked out. Don’t forget to invest in a good quality pet insurance for your rabbits too. This can help you cover some of the costs.