Caring for your rabbits' health
All rabbits should be registered with a vet, vaccinated and neutered. It is advisable that they are regularly brushed to keep their coats healthy. It is also important that rabbits are checked daily for any signs of illness. In warmer weather they should also be checked under the tail at least daily for signs of maggots as well.
Do rabbits need any vaccinations?
Rabbits can be vaccinated against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). These viral diseases are almost always fatal, but can be prevented through vaccination. Each year vets see cases of myxomatosis in unvaccinated rabbits. Your vet will advise you on when you should vaccinate your rabbits.
What is neutering?
Neutering is an operation carried out by a vet. In male animals, the testicles are removed – this is called ‘castration’. In female animals, the ovaries and the uterus (womb) are removed – this is called ‘spaying’.
Why is neutering a good idea?
There are hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in need of homes. Neutering stops animals from adding to this problem by having unwanted litters.
It also reduces the risk of rabbits developing some serious diseases. This can help them live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
Should I get my female rabbit neutered (spayed)?
Spaying is important for your rabbit because it reduces the risk of her developing cancer of the womb. It also allows her to live with another rabbit (e.g. a neutered male) without having unwanted babies. This is important because rabbits need company from other rabbits.
Spaying can help to reduce aggression, but you should get advice from your vet about any problems you are having with your rabbit’s behaviour.
When is the best time to get my female rabbit neutered (spayed)?
Female rabbits can be spayed at around 4 months of age. You should ask your vet when the best time for your rabbit is. A rabbit doesn’t need to have a litter before she’s spayed.
Up to 80% of un-neutered female rabbits can develop cancer of the uterus
Should I get my male rabbit neutered (castrated)?
Castration allows your rabbit to live with another rabbit (e.g. a neutered female) without having unwanted babies. It can also reduce behaviour that is linked to hormones, such as urine spraying and aggression, but you should get advice from your vet about any problems you are having with your rabbit’s behaviour.
When is the best time to get my male rabbit neutered (castrated)?
Male rabbits can be castrated at around 3 months of age. You should ask your vet when the best time for your rabbit is.
Do I need to groom my rabbits?
Most rabbits will groom themselves, but regular brushing keeps their coats healthy and prevents fur balls. Use a grooming brush intended for rabbits to brush the coat with gentle strokes in the same direction that the fur grows.
How often should I groom my rabbits?
Rabbits should be groomed from an early age so that they become used to it. Long-haired breeds will need to be groomed daily, whereas short-haired breeds will usually need grooming just once a week.
How do I know if one of my rabbits is ill?
You should check your rabbits each day for any signs of illness. These might include the following:
- Significant weight change (in either direction) over a short period
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking much more or less than normal
- Lack of energy/sleeping more than usual
- Unusual swellings
- Skin conditions
- Unusual bleeding
- Signs of pain, such as sensitivity to touch
- Runny eyes or nose
If you see any of these signs, visit your vet straight away. There could be other signs of illness, not on this list, and any change in behaviour should alert you to the possibility of illness.
What should I do if I think one of my rabbits is ill?
If you are worried about the health of any of your rabbits it is always best to contact your local veterinary practice.
Should I take out pet insurance?
If one of your rabbits becomes sick or injured you may be faced with expenses that you weren’t prepared for. These can rise rapidly, especially if your rabbit needs to be hospitalised. Pet insurance helps you budget for these unexpected costs. You should shop around for the best policy for you.
What is fly strike?
Fly strike is a very unpleasant condition caused by flies laying their eggs on dirty fur. These hatch into maggots which eat into the rabbit’s flesh and can kill a rabbit in a matter of hours. Vets see cases of fly strike every year.
How can I stop my rabbits getting fly strike?
Most at risk are rabbits that get dirty around their back end, so you should make sure the hutch and living environment are cleaned out regularly. If rabbits don’t groom their fur properly and allow it to get dirty, this can be a sign of a health problem, so you should visit your vet.
Check under the tail daily in the summer, as rabbits are most prone to maggot infestations (‘fly strike’) in warmer weather
How can I keep my rabbits’ teeth healthy?
The most important thing is to make sure you give them the right food – lots of hay or grass (at least their own body size in hay each day), and no rabbit ‘muesli’. Our page on Rabbit Diet can advise you on the most suitable food for your rabbits.
What are the signs of dental disease in rabbits?
- Going off their food
- A wet chin
- Weight loss
- Discharge from the eye
- Dirty bottom
An eye discharge can develop because the abnormal tooth roots can affect the eyes, and the bottom can become dirty because the sore mouth makes licking and grooming too painful for affected rabbits.
Visit your vet if any of your rabbits show any of these signs.
PDSA has produced the first ever comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK, revealing the state of our pet nation - The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report
Over 11,000 pet owners were surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for - below are the findings for rabbits and their health care.
Preventive care is often neglected in rabbits compared to cats and dogs. Regular checks help owners to see if their rabbit is healthy and enables them to pick up the early signs of disease. The low uptake of vaccination means that, as well as not being protected from potentially fatal diseases; many rabbits also miss out on a regular health check from a vet. Compared to the other species within the report, rabbits fare the worst in terms of their health needs not being met.
Health crisis on the horizon as rabbits miss out on vital healthcare.
- Only 56% of rabbit owners say their rabbit is registered with a vet, and only 46% have had their rabbit vaccinated with a primary course. Only 37% of rabbits are neutered. Unneutered females have a high risk of developing cancer of the uterus and other problems can include unwanted babies and aggression. Additionally, it is important that rabbits have company from other rabbits, and experts recommend that in most cases this should be a neutered male with a neutered female.
- Rabbit owners were asked how often they brush or groom their pet, the ideal response being daily for long-haired and at least weekly for short-haired. Only 15% of owners groom their rabbit daily while 36% do so at least weekly. 14% never groom their rabbit.
- 12% of rabbit owners never check their rabbit to see if there are any maggots on the skin leaving over 200,000 rabbits at risk of undetected flystrike, a condition where maggots eat into the rabbits’ flesh and can cause rapid death. To prevent flystrike, rabbits should be checked at least daily for maggots during the warm summer months.
- Encouragingly, 64% of rabbit owners check their rabbit’s teeth at least monthly. This is vital as rabbits commonly suffer from painful dental disease. However, the back teeth are commonly affected by dental disease and examining the back teeth is only usually possible for veterinary professionals. This means it is important for owners to look out for other signs of dental disease on a daily basis, such as going off their food, dribbling, weight loss, runny eyes or having a dirty bottom.
- Exercise is an extremely important part of rabbit health and welfare. While 49% of owners think rabbits should have constant access to an exercise area outside their hutch, only 21% actually provide this.
- 19% of rabbits go outside of their hutch less than once a day. The longer the owner has kept the rabbit, the less likely it is to go outside every day. 6% of owners think a rabbit doesn’t need to go outside of its hutch at all. Adequate opportunity to exercise is linked with lower levels of obesity, good physical health and improved mental wellbeing.
“I welcome this excellent report about rabbit health and welfare. Rabbits have been the poor relations of pets for too long – they deserve better. This Report shows us where their care falls short of the required standards and what needs to be improved.”
Mrs Frances Harcourt-Brown RCVS, Recognised Specialist in Rabbit Medicine and Surgery
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