Rabbit health

Rabbit health

In this section we’ll look at:

  • Creating the ideal health care for your rabbits
  • Vaccinations
  • Rabbit neutering
  • Neutering (spaying) female rabbits
  • Neutering (castrating) male rabbits
  • Grooming
  • General health
  • Pet Insurance
  • Fly strike
  • Dental health
  • Research
Creating the ideal health care for your rabbits

Creating the ideal health care for your rabbits

  • PDSA recommends that rabbits are registered with a vet, vaccinated and neutered. 
  • Brush them regularly to keep their coats healthy. 
  • Check them every day for any signs of illness. 
  • In warmer weather, check every day under their tail for signs of maggots.
Vaccinations

Vaccinations

Rabbit vaccinations give peace of mind for you – and give protection for your rabbits against life-threatening diseases. They can protect your rabbits against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) which are almost always fatal. Just ask your vet when to have your rabbits vaccinated.
Neutering

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’.

There are hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in need of homes. Neutering stops animals from adding to this problem by having unwanted litters.

Neutering can help your rabbits to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. It also reduces the risk of them developing some serious diseases – see below.

Neutering (spaying) female rabbits

Up to 80% of un-neutered female rabbits can develop cancer of the uterus. So have your rabbit spayed to dramatically reduce this risk.

  • Spaying stops her from having unwanted babies. So she can live with another male rabbit, which is important for companionship.
  • It can help to reduce aggression.
  • Ask your vet for advice if your rabbit has any behavioural problems.
  • Female rabbits can be spayed at around 4 months of age. Ask your vet when the best time for your rabbit is.

Should my female rabbit have a litter before she’s neutered (spayed)?
No, she doesn’t need to. Often litters are unwanted. If you are thinking about letting her have a litter, please consider the extra time and cost involved in caring for them all.

Neutering (castrating) male rabbits

  • Castration stops him from having unwanted babies. So he can live with another female rabbit, which is important for companionship.
  • It can reduce urine spraying and aggression and other behavioural problems that are linked to hormones.
  • Ask your vet for advice if your rabbit has any behavioural problems.

When is the best time to get my male rabbit neutered (castrated)?
Around 3 months of age. Ask your vet when the best time for your rabbit is.
Grooming

Grooming

  • Most rabbits will groom themselves, but regular brushing keeps their coats healthy and prevents fur balls. 
  • Use a rabbit grooming brush with gentle strokes in the same direction that the fur grows. 
  • Groom rabbits from an early age so that they become used to it. 
  • Groom long-haired breeds every day.
  • Groom short-haired breeds usually once a week.
General health

General health

Be alert to any change in your rabbit’s behaviour as this could point to the possibility of illness. Check your rabbits every day for any signs of illness, including:

  • Diarrhoea
  • 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
  • Limping 
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Signs of pain, such as sensitivity to touch
  • Runny eyes or nose
What should I do if I think my rabbit is ill?
It’s always best to contact your local veterinary practice.
Pet Insurance

Pet Insurance

At PDSA we recommend you take out pet insurance to save hundreds of pounds should the worst happen. 

Most rabbit owners will have considered routine costs, such as vaccinations. But out-of-the-ordinary expenses can easily happen. Costs can rise rapidly, especially if your rabbit needs to be hospitalised.

Shop around for the best policy for you. There are plenty of good options available.
Flystrike

Flystrike

Help protect your rabbit from fly strike which can be fatal.

  • Fly strike is caused by flies laying their eggs on dirty fur. These hatch into maggots which eat into the flesh and can kill a rabbit in a few hours. 
  • Minimise the risk: clean out your rabbit’s hutch and living area regularly, as rabbits with a dirty back end are prone to fly strike.
  • Visit your vet if your rabbit doesn’t groom properly and allows its bottom to get dirty, as this can be a sign of health problems.
  • Ask your vet about treatments to help prevent fly strike.
  • Check under the tail every day in the summer, as rabbits are most prone to maggot infestations (‘fly strike’) in warmer weather.
Dental health

Dental health

How to maintain good dental health

  • Give your rabbits at least their own bodyweight in hay or grass every day. 
  • Do not give them rabbit ‘muesli’. Unlike hay or grass, it doesn’t wear down a rabbit’s teeth so it can cause them pain. It can also lead to nutrient deficiencies. 
  • View more information on the most suitable rabbit food on our page on Rabbit Diet and download our guide to feeding your rabbits

Visit your vet if your rabbit has any of these signs of dental disease:

  • Going off their food
  • Drooling
  • A wet chin 
  • Weight loss 
  • Discharge from the eye. This can develop as the eyes can be affected by abnormal tooth roots.
  • Dirty bottom. This occurs if your rabbit has a sore mouth as it makes licking and grooming too painful.
Research

Research

The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report

Since 2011 we’ve surveyed over 53,000 pet owners, veterinary professionals and children, giving us a huge insight into the wellbeing of pets in the UK.
Here are the findings for rabbits and their health care:

Overview

• Health needs fare far worse for rabbits than for cats and dogs and their preventive care is often neglected too. 
• Regular checks help owners to see if their rabbit is healthy and let’s them spot early signs of disease. 
• The low uptake of vaccination means rabbits are not being protected from potentially fatal diseases. Many are also missing out on regular health checks from a vet. 

You can read our full PAW Report here.


Key findings from our most recent report:

Health crisis on the horizon as rabbits miss out on vital healthcare.


  • Only 65% of rabbit owners have registered their rabbit with a vet. Only 50% have had their rabbit vaccinated with a primary course. 50% of rabbits are neutered, a rise from 37% in 2011. Unneutered females have a high risk of developing cancer of the uterus. They can also be more aggressive and have unwanted litters. It’s vital that rabbits have companionship from other rabbits – ideally a neutered male should be with a neutered female.
  • 11% of owners never check their rabbit for maggots on their skin. This means over 130,000 rabbits are at risk of undetected fly strike, a condition where maggots eat into their flesh and can cause rapid death. Rabbits should be checked at least every day for maggots during the warm summer months.
  • Only 32% of owners check their rabbit’s teeth every month. Rabbits commonly suffer from painful dental disease, especially the back teeth: but these can only be examined by a vet. So it’s important for owners to look out every day for other signs of dental disease, such as going off their food, dribbling, weight loss, runny eyes or having a dirty bottom.

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