Owning a Rabbit – Part 1

Did you know there are approximately 1.7 million rabbits kept as pets in the UK? This makes them the third most popular pet after cats and dogs. There are many different breeds all varying in size, shape and personality.  It is generally thought owning a rabbit is easy. However, as they need daily attention, have quite complex needs and can live for a long time (typically 8-12 years or even longer) keeping a rabbit is a major commitment.

Buying a rabbit

If you are looking to get a rabbit, going to a reputable breeder is a good option.  They will have planned the breeding carefully and the baby rabbits should have a good temperament. They will have handled them from a young age so they get used to being picked up. You will also know the exact date of birth which will give you peace of mind that you are not taking the baby rabbits away too young.

Another option is to go to a rescue centre. Every year many rabbits get abandoned because the owners either lose interest or can’t look after them properly.  If a rabbit goes into a rescue centre they will receive a vet check to ensure it’s healthy before being put forward for adoption. The rabbit’s temperament will be checked to ensure they will be safe for children to handle.  Also, many centres will ensure the rabbits are micro-chipped and neutered before you take them home.  You may need to fill in forms, have an interview and possibly have a home visit. This is done to ensure you are able to look after the rabbit properly.

A lot of people will get their first rabbit from a pet shop. However, very few of them will get their rabbits from private/reputable breeders. They will more than likely get them from commercial breeders and the rabbits have been born as part of a mass breeding programme.  These types of breeders are aiming for quantity rather than quality.  Also, the baby rabbits won’t have been handled before reaching the pet shop which means they may be more afraid of humans.  If you do go to a pet shop, ensure the staff know what they are talking about and are able to provide you with all the information you need.

When getting a rabbit there are a couple of other things to consider:

Rabbits are very social animals and do not like to be alone.  If possible you should keep your rabbit with another friendly rabbit unless your vet has told you otherwise.  Rabbits can get bored very easily and can suffer if they have no company or nothing to do. If you have been told to keep your rabbit on its own make sure you interact with it every day.

If you already own a rabbit and you are getting another one, introduce them gradually and do not leave them on their own at first. It may be a good idea to put them in a space that is new to both to them.  Normally, young rabbits that are bought up together will get on, but if they are introduced as adults they may fight.

If you have other pets, a cat or a dog, do not leave your rabbits unsupervised when they are around. Even if you know they all get on. It’s better to be safe than sorry

Finally, unless you are planning on breeding it would be advisable to get your rabbits neutered as this can reduce the likelihood of fighting in both male and female rabbits. Another advantage is neutering female rabbits also stops them getting uterine cancer.

In the next part of our blog we will look at diet and advise on where to keep your rabbit – indoors or outdoors.

As always, if you have any questions you can call us at the clinic or leave a question on our Facebook page. Also, you can pop in to get a free check up with one of our rabbit nurses who can give advice on diet, dental, neutering, vaccinations, housing and boredom breaking activities to help keep your bunny happy

“The Vet Says……” – Myxomatosis in Rabbits

Perhaps one of the most well known animal diseases, it has had much publicity since it decimated the rabbit population after introduction to the UK in the early 1950’s. So virulent is the disease that 95% of rabbits in the UK had died by 1955. Since then it has gone on to be a major killer of wild rabbits over the years and can also be found in domestic rabbits. The disease is able to mutate and comes back with a slightly different strain making eradication very difficult. The severity of outbreaks tends to vary and there was quite a major outbreak in the South east of England in 2000. Myxomatosis is a threat to all rabbits but the greatest threat is to wild rabbits.

Those domesticated rabbits that live indoors are at least risk but they are still susceptible to it. Domesticated rabbits living outside in gardens and hutches are at an increased risk, especially if wild animals can get in to the garden, or they come into contact with a dog that hunts wild rabbits. The myxoma virus  is mainly spread by biting animals such as mosquitoes, fur mites or rabbit fleas. The fleas can go from one rabbit to another via contact with each other. The best way to protect your pet rabbit is to have it vaccinated against the disease. Myxomatosis  is a dreadful disease and the animals die a horrible long slow death. They can take up to two weeks to die and treatment is rarely successful, so the kindest option is usually euthanasia.

Symptoms

The first sign of the most common form of the disease is often runny eyes and can be confused with conjunctivitis. In myxi however, the genitals show signs of swelling & puffiness  while  the conjunctivitis worsens until it leads to blindness. Nodules can also start to appear on the head and body. Thick pus starts to discharge from the nose and swollen eyes  and death will follow. There are two other forms of myxomatosis and these have a better recovery rate if treated quickly. One causes pneumonia type symptoms and snuffles while the other is again nodular. Symptoms in vaccinated rabbits are much the same but less severe,  and the disease is potentially treatable in vaccinated rabbits.

Prevention

Domestic rabbits have no genetic immunity against myxomatosis and it is essential these rabbits are vaccinated to give them the best chance of survival. Boosters need to be kept up to date and owners need to look out for symptoms of the disease to catch it as early as possible. If it is thought a rabbit may have contracted the disease, it should be isolated from any other rabbits to prevent spread. If there is an outbreak nearby then it is safest to get a further booster if the rabbit has not had a booster in the last 6 months. Vaccinations can be given at 6 weeks of age and can also be given to pregnant rabbits. Regular 6 monthly vaccinations are recommended. Other steps you can take are to buy hay from farms not infested with Myxi, fit insect screens to hutches and runs & prevent standing water from accumulating nearby to reduce mosquito’s appearing. Check your rabbit regularly for fleas and fur mites and if found get treatment to eliminate them. The vaccination for myxomatosis is unusual in that part of the dose also has to go into the layers of the skin (intradermally) and for this reason it is best given by a vet to ensure it is done correctly otherwise the rabbit will not be properly vaccinated.

Treatment

This is as previously mentioned and is usually unsuccessful in unvaccinated rabbits. If a vaccinated rabbit contracts the virus then treatment can be successful with good veterinary & nursing care. This will likely include

  • Regular bathing of sticky eyes and genitalia
  • Keeping them in a warm environment
  • Fluid treatment
  • Feeding
  • Antibiotics to prevent secondary infections

Remember

As always, prevention is better than cure. Vaccination substantially increases the chances of survival and will reduce the pain and suffering a rabbit will have to endure from catching myxomatosis.