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Keeping Your Rabbit Healthy

Rabbits are Britains third most popular pet, but they have very specific and different needs to other animals in our care1.

Click on each area of care to find out some key ways to keep your rabbit healthy:

What do you know about rabbit health?

A baby rabbit is called a...

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A baby rabbit is called a kit.

Did you know that an adult female is called a doe and a male a buck?

A good rabbit diet consists of 80% hay and grass.

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Rabbits need a lot of fibre and therefore they should always have unlimited access to hay.

The rest of your rabbits diet should consist of approximately

  • 10% vegetables and herbs
  • Around 5% pellets (20 grams per kg of bodyweight)
  • A small amount of fruit and/or other treats
Remember to always provide sufficient fresh drinking water!

Rabbits are best kept alone because they are likely to have less health problems.

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Rabbits are social animals by nature and become anxious when they are alone.

Therefore, always keep more than one rabbit together (and ensure they are neutered where necessary!). The best way to get ahead of health problems in rabbits is to make an appointment with the vet for a health check plus vaccination at least once a year.

Both Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) and myxomatosis are highly contagious viral diseases for rabbits.

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Rabbits are at risk of two serious contagious viral diseases

Myxomatosis and RHD. There are two strains of virus that can cause the disease RHDV-1 and RHDV-2. These diseases are highly likely to prove fatal, so it is important to protect rabbits through vaccination!

It would be easy to know if a rabbit had contracted RHD.

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RHD can be very difficult to recognise and develops so quickly that the first sign is often death,

without seeing any disease symptoms beforehand. The time between becoming infected and symptoms (incubation period) is 1 to 2 days for RHDV-1 and 3 to 5 days for RHDV-2.

In the last year myxomatosis has not occurred in the UK.

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Unfortunately, rabbits die every year in the UK due to myxomatosis.

Wild rabbits and both indoor and outdoor pet rabbits are at risk of myxomatosis.

Myxomatosis is mainly spread by...

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Myxomatosis is most commonly transmitted through fleas, mosquitoes and other biting insects.

In addition, rabbits can also become infected with myxomatosis after direct contact with another infected rabbit.

Rabbits can be vaccinated by your vet from as young as 5 weeks old.

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If the mother rabbit was vaccinated, her kit will have protection for the first weeks of its life

via maternal antibodies. Since these maternal antibodies are only present for a short time, it is important that young rabbits are vaccinated. This is possible from 5 weeks of age if there is a particular concern about early exposure to disease risk but is more commonly recommended from 7 weeks of age or older.

Vaccination is only necessary for outdoor rabbits because indoor rabbits are not at risk of disease.

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Both indoor and outdoor rabbits are at risk of myxomatosis and RHD.

Both myxomatosis and RHD can be transmitted by mosquitoes and other biting insects such as biting flies and fleas, which become more active in the spring/summer.

RHD can be carried into the home on shoes and clothes.

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The two virus strains that cause RHD are spread through:

insects, birds, contaminated ground cover, grass or direct contact, but you can also carry the virus on the soles of your shoes. RHD viruses can remain active in the environment for many months.

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Common Health Problems

common rabbit health problems

Gut Stasis

Gut stasis occurs when the digestive system slows down or stops, leading to a build-up of gas and toxins which can cause serious complications and requires veterinary treatment. This may happen when a rabbit is getting fed inappropriately with too many readily fermentable carbohydrates and not getting enough high quality fibre in their diet.

Obesity

Rabbits kept as pets are less active than those in the wild so are at risk of obesity if the correct diet isn’t fed and they don’t get enough exercise. The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be high-quality hay or fresh grass. The muesli-style diets have been found to increase the risk of obesity as rabbits tend to favour the carbohydrates and fats found in the food rather than the high fibre pellets.

Respiratory disease

Rabbits are prone to bacterial infections that can lead to abscesses and serious respiratory disease e.g. snuffles and pneumonia.

Dental issues

Just like use rabbits are susceptible to dental problems because their teeth grow constantly. This is why it is important to feed a correctly balanced diet with abrasive foods, such as hay that helps to wear rabbits’ teeth down correctly.

Behavioural Issues

Behavioural Issues in rabbits commonly arise associated with fear and aggression, urine spraying and destructive behaviour caused by digging or chewing. Rabbits are social animals and are best kept with at least one other rabbit but neutering is important to ensure pet rabbits can be mixed safely.

Parasites

External parasites such as fleas, mites and mosquitoes not only cause irritation but may spread infectious disease such as myxomatosis, whilst a parasite known as E.cunuli can cause serious health issues that may lead to brain and kidney disease.

Fly strike

Flystrike happens when flies lay their eggs in the rabbit’s soiled fur around their rear end. The eggs then hatch and the maggots will burrow into the rabbits' skin. You should check your rabbit’s condition daily, ensuring that they are clean, dry and their fur isn’t stained with urine or sticky poo.

Click on condition for more information

References

1. O’Neill D, Craven H, Brodbelt D, Church D, Hedley J. Morbidity and mortality of domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) under primary veterinary care in England. Veterinary Record: first published as 10.1136/vr.105592 on 8 October 2019.