Rabbits make great pets and you should carefully consider their needs – plenty of space, exercise and companionship, as well as a good quality, high fibre diet and as much hay as they can chew!
The needs and behaviour of domesticated pet rabbits are essentially the same as rabbits in the wild. Therefore, the way that you care for and interact with your rabbits should reflect their natural instincts as a prey species, rather than predator species such as cats and dogs.
A rabbit’s anatomy and senses are designed to constantly check for danger, and their strong hind legs allow them to run very quickly to a safe place. Rabbits should always have a covered space that they can hide in, and accommodation that is secure. Their dietary and social needs are also very similar to those of wild rabbits.
Which Rabbits are right for you?
There are a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colours and coats and the rabbits you choose will be much more about the bunnies you fall in love with, than about which breed you select.
Did you know that rabbits like to live indoors with you? (Don’t worry; they can be trained to be clean and use a litter tray, just like a cat). House Rabbits (that’s their official name), love to run around the house, hiding behind furniture and playing. Be careful, though, they also like chewing, so watch out that your electric wiring, carpets, curtains and wallpaper are safe. Who knows, your bunny may even decide that your favourite chair is now theirs! For this reason, house rabbits should be supervised when roaming free, and the space they have access to should be made safe for them.
Rabbits should be kept in bonded, neutered pairs or groups. The most successful pairings are male and female – some same sex couples can also live together peacefully, especially when they are from the same litter. Ideally, both or all rabbits in a bonded group should be of similar size and weight. Single rabbits will benefit from the social aspect of living inside as a house rabbit, as part of the family – have you ever known a rabbit to live in the wild on its own?!
Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning that they are most lively in the mornings and evenings. They will rest for most of the afternoon, which for house rabbits, fits in with many working people’s lives.
Rabbits that live outside should be kept in a large secure hutch and attached run, (or suitable accommodation, like a shed with garden access) enabling them to socialise and exercise when they choose. A rabbit living alone in inadequate housing will become bored, lonely and may become aggressive.
Some rabbit breeds such as Lops, Giants and Dwarfs can be more prone to congenital health problems, such as misaligned teeth. Rabbits that suffer from teeth problems need regular veterinary attention, so it is worth considering this when selecting your pet rabbits. Experts advise that by choosing pet rabbits that more closely resemble wild rabbits (with a longer nose), your pets may be more likely to enjoy a longer, happier and healthier life together.
Bringing Your Rabbits Home
Make sure that you have everything ready before you collect your Rabbits, so that you can put them into their new home as soon as you arrive.
Your rabbits will feel unsettled for the first few days, and need some quiet time to settle in and get used to their new environment. Sit down near them and talk to your rabbits to keep them company and to help them get used to your presence.
Rabbit behaviour and psychology is the one thing that domestication didn’t change, so your pet rabbits are still very much a prey species and will be wary of you until they learn to trust you.
Rabbits do develop very friendly and loyal relationships with humans, but this can take some time and your rabbits need to feel secure with you first. For this reason we suggest you don’t handle your Rabbits for the first day or two and give them lots of clean water and plenty of hay.
Ensure that you feed your rabbits the same food that they were fed before they arrived. If you would like to improve their diet, introduce new foods gradually (over a two-week period), as rabbits have delicate digestive systems and new foods introduced too quickly can upset their finely balanced gut flora. You’ll soon know when your Rabbits have settled in – they will begin to eat, drink and groom themselves.
What to Feed Your Rabbits
Rabbits should have constant access to unlimited amounts of fresh hay and/or grass to eat. They should also have a carefully measured portion of rabbit food, fed half in the morning and half in the evening to make sure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need. In addition, a handful of fresh leafy green veggies add variety and can help add more tasty fibre to your pet’s diet.
A good quality, heavy, earthenware bowl keeps food dry and clean and prevents the rabbits from tipping the food and a hay rack helps keep hay clean and fresh. Bowls must be cleaned after every use.
It is important for rabbits to have a balanced diet with lots of fibre to keep their gut healthy and to encourage chewing to keep their continuously growing teeth in trim. Rabbits need a constant supply of as much fresh hay as they can chew and hay should make up at least 80% of their daily diet – check out our everyday Meadow Hay and our well-being Selective Timothy Hay.
In addition to hay, rabbits need to be fed a portion-controlled quantity of concentrate food to help ensure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need and this should make up approximately 20% of their daily diet (around one tablespoon of food fed in the morning and the evening – depending on the size of your rabbit and depending on the energy density of the food you are feeding, see pack guidelines for full details).
Ideally, your rabbit’s concentrate food should be an all-in-one pellet or nugget type diet, to prevent selective feeding. Supreme’s Science Selective rabbit food promotes wellbeing and vitality for adult rabbits and with no added sugars, it is kind to teeth. With 25% crude fibre, it promotes healthy digestion as well as providing great taste and satisfaction.
If you are looking for a rabbit food that can be helpful for rabbits that have dental or digestive issues, or do not like to eat much hay, Fibafirst has an even higher fibre content (30%) with unique long fibres that encourage even longer chewing times and promote environmental enrichment.
In the wild Rabbits spend up to 70% of their time foraging for food. A Rabbit that cannot do this can become bored, depressed and even aggressive.
Supreme’s Fibafirst is much closer to nature than other traditional rabbit nuggets and provides a much bigger daily portion with the same number of calories so that your rabbit can chew longer and forage more naturally.
In addition to your rabbit’s daily diet, you should also feed a handful of fresh leafy greens every day such as parsley, dandelion, carrot tops, broccoli, cabbage leaves, kale, spinach, basil, mint and watercress. Sweet vegetables such as carrots and fruit should only ever be fed in very small pieces as a special treat. You can find out more here.
Some rabbit foods contain a mixture of ingredients of varying taste, texture, shape, size and palatability – such as Supreme’s Russel Rabbit. These foods are often known as mixes, due to their appearance.
If rabbits are being fed too much of this type of food, they can feed selectively – this means they pick out the bits of the mix they like best and don’t get all the nutrition they need. In addition, some muesli mixes contain added sugars to make the food more palatable, this can also cause overeating and obesity, which can lead to digestive upset and dental issues. Supreme does not add sugars to any of its small animal foods – by selecting the very finest quality ingredients, our foods taste great naturally.
If you are feeding your rabbit a muesli mix style diet it is important to follow the on-pack instructions and only feed the recommended daily portion size and not keep topping up the bowl.
Your pet’s bowl should not be refilled until everything in the daily portion has been eaten and it should always be fed alongside ad lib hay, fresh water and a handful of suitable fresh leafy greens every day.
If your rabbit tends to pick and choose and is not eating everything in the daily portion of the mix (and 48 hours should be allowed for this to happen if necessary, ensuring an unlimited supply of fresh hay and water is available at all times), you should change your pet’s diet to an all-in-one diet such as Selective or Fibafirst.
Your rabbit’s diet should always be changed gradually and you can click here to download our Diet Transition leaflet for advice on how to safely transition your pet from one food to another.
To help alleviate boredom and provide environmental enrichment, as well as giving you rabbits constant access to lots of hay, you can provide chew toys such as gnawing blocks, or toilet roll tubes fiiled with hay and herbs. Fruit tree twigs such as apple, pear and blackberry are safe for Rabbits, as are Hazel and Willow twigs, which you can buy from many pet stores.
To find out more about food for your Rabbit, click here.
Feeding plants to your rabbit adds variety and interest to their diets, but some garden plants can be dangerous for your pet rabbit to eat. Download our Guide to Dangerous Plants to find out more Supreme Guide to Dangerous Plants
Treats should be a small element of your rabbit’s diet, as overfeeding may lead to health problems such as obesity, dental problems and heart disease.
You can give pellets as a treat, or a piece of your rabbit’s favourite green vegetable or some herbs. Here, you can download our guide to green vegetables and herbs that are suitable to feed to your rabbits.
It is vital that you ensure there is fresh drinking water available for your rabbits at all times.
It is recommended that Rabbits drink from a heavyweight earthenware water bowl. This helps to conserve their energy and is a more natural action for them than a gravity-fed water bottle. Bowls are easier to clean and change – they should be washed and replenished every day.
Alternatively you can provide fresh drinking water with a gravity-fed water bottle, attached to the front of the hutch. Use one of the large ballpoint bottles to prevent dripping and ensure a constant supply is available. Water bottles can quickly become contaminated if not cleaned and changed daily. You may find that you need to provide both, as some rabbits seem to have a preference for one or the other.
Whether outdoor or indoors, rabbits need plenty of space to exercise and stretch.
As a bare minimum, each of your rabbits should have enough space to do 3 hops, stretch out fully, and stand up fully on their hind legs. Without this, their bones and muscles can become weak and they can develop problems like arthritis, or even deformed spines.
Outdoor Hutches & Runs
Living in a hutch with a run allows your Rabbits to be outside and receive plenty of sunshine and fresh air every day.
Rabbits need good, secure, spacious housing. Bought hutches and runs are not cheap but they can be perfect for your pets – however make sure the hutch is large enough! The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund recommends a minimum hutch size of 6ft x 2ft x 2ft, but always think bigger is better. Rabbits naturally chew wood; so make sure that any wooden hutch you buy has been treated with non-toxic products.
In the wild, Rabbits can utilise the space of seven football fields in one day – so a large attached run will provide ample space to eat, rest and exercise.
You might know someone who could make one for you. A good hutch will have two compartments – one for the day and one to nest and hide in at night, or sleep away the afternoon.
If your rabbits’ run is sited on grass, you should have a wire mesh floor to prevent them from digging out, and prevent foxes from digging in. The hutch should be placed in a position that is sheltered, out of direct sunlight.
Extremes of temperature can cause stress that may result in discomfort or illness. In cold weather there must be adequate protection from draughts, wind and rain. Remember that repositioning the hutch can make the most of winter sunlight. Place it on bricks or legs to avoid becoming damp during wet weather.
Rabbits are more suited to cooler, temperate weather conditions – in the wild their burrows keep a constant cool temperature. In the summer, rabbits can overheat if exposed to prolonged hot sunshine, and this can lead to heatstroke. Heatstroke is a serious condition for a rabbit, and needs urgent veterinary attention.
• Laboured breathing
• Flared nostrils
• Inability to move
• Convulsions or listlessnessWhen the temperature reaches 24°C or above, it is time to take some steps to protect your rabbit.
Ideally the hutch or accommodation should be in a shaded area of the garden, where it gets the least exposure to the sun. Some hutch covers also help keep hutches cool in summer. You can also use sunshades designed to go in the windscreens of cars – place the sunshade on the roof of the hutch or run. If your indoor rabbit’s accommodation is near a window, this can also trap the heat as the sun shines in, so it is safest to move your bunnies to a cooler spot in the home while the weather is hot.
Indoors or outdoors, providing a few tiles or marble slabs for your rabbits to lie on will help keep them cool, as these don’t absorb heat.
Keep a supply of frozen water bottles to put in the hutch or run during summer months. Ice can be added to water bowls.
Hutches should be cleaned out on a regularly. This is especially important in warmer weather in order to prevent flies being attracted to the hutch.
Urban and country foxes are a real threat to outdoor rabbits. Your hutch and run need to be secure. It is recommended that you use strong wire, or double wire to secure the run, which should be securely bolted to the hutch. Wire on the floor of the run (if on grass) will prevent a fox from digging in from outside.
Indoor rabbits have the same spacious needs as outdoor rabbits. House rabbit accommodation can be very flexible and fit in with the space you have available. If your rabbits spend most of their time in a cage, then the cage should be large – 6ft x 2ft x 2ft minimum, preferably with an attached pen or safe room for exercise. House rabbits do need a space to call their own, and somewhere to feel secure, so even if your rabbits live in a room, they should still have a cage or somewhere similar to hide and sleep.
Without stimulation, house rabbits can become bored, and destructive, especially when they are young, so you will need to make sure that the spaces your house rabbits have access to are safe, or ‘Bunny Proofed. You should also make sure you have the time to give them plenty of attention and interaction. Electric wires need to be covered in plastic tubing or piping, as they are often a target of house rabbits, due to their similarity in shape to a twig or branch. Carpet corners can be covered with tiles or plastic edging, and training is essential – your rabbit can learn ‘No’, as well as do tricks like coming when called. Most rabbits can learn to stand up on their back legs, jump through hoops or tunnels and use activity feeders – all of which help your rabbits to stay stimulated, and less stressed in the home. Older rabbits seem to be less prone to house destruction, so this may be something to consider if adopting rabbits from a rescue centre.
And remember it is possible to litter train your rabbits. In fact, you may find that as your rabbits learn what they can and cannot do, you can gradually open up more spaces in the home. Get inventive and creative by building cardboard box warrens and provide tunnels and boxes for your rabbits to jump on – then see how happy they are!
Remove any soiled bedding
Wash and change water bowls or bottles
Wash food bowls
Inspect the hutch or cage for any signs of flies or larvaeIn warmer months (April to October) lift your rabbits and check their bottoms for any signs of flies, larvae or maggots. Flystrike is a fatal condition unless caught early. If you do find maggots, take your rabbit(s) to the vet immediately. You will be admitted as an emergency – no need to make an appointment. House rabbits can get flystrike too.
Twice a week
Remove all bedding.
Thoroughly sweep out all the soiled bedding. Rinse with warm water and mild detergent and wait until dry.
Spray inside of hutch with a safe cleaning product and wait until dry.
Replace with clean bedding (check for signs of mould etc. on bedding and discard if necessary).
Keeping your Rabbits warm and cosy at night is very important. As well as providing warmth for your Rabbits, it can also be absorbent, which makes cleaning easier for you.
Pine shavings and sawdust are not recommended as bedding, as they contain Phenols which can be harmful to your rabbit’s respiratory system. Plenty of hay and absorbent bedding, such as Tumblefresh will be sufficient. Make sure that if you are using straw, your rabbits are not eating it instead of hay, as straw has little nutritional value. In such a case, we would recommend paper-based bedding such as Tumblefresh.
It is extremely important that your Rabbits have exercise every day to keep their bones and muscles healthy.
It is extremely important that your Rabbits have exercise every day to keep their bones and muscles healthy. Without exercise, rabbits can develop problems such as arthritis and can also become obese. Obesity is a real health problem for rabbits.
Outdoor Rabbits require a large, secure run. This can be freestanding or attached to the hutch. Security and position are important to avoid any harm or stress to your rabbits during playtime.
Rabbits are naturally frightened of large, open spaces and love playing in a run that contains playthings, such as boxes, flowerpots, drainpipes and logs.
Hide food or the occasional treat under cardboard boxes, in empty plant or yoghurt pots, or in different areas of the animal’s hutch – your Rabbits will be forced to hunt for food – this will keep them occupied for many happy hours and prevent boredom. Treat balls, or activity feeders are a good way to keep your rabbit stimulated.
Handling and bonding with your rabbits
To ensure that your Rabbits become tame and affectionate it is important that you handle them frequently and correctly. Rabbits are prey animals and generally prefer not to be picked up as this is what a bird or fox would do to carry them away. For this reason, lifting your rabbits should be kept to a minimum, however it is important that your rabbit is used to being handled.
Remember that most small animals are prey in the wild. So, if approached from above they’ll see a large shadow and become scared, however you will need to get them used to being handled for clipping nails, checking the rear for flystrike and grooming them.
In addition, when you need to take them to the vets for vaccinations etc, they will need to be used to being handled, so small daily lifts will get your rabbits accustomed to this and they will learn to trust you, provided you lift them correctly. Picking up a Rabbit too frequently and incorrectly could lead to it being permanently frightened of you. Incorrect handling can also lead to spinal problems, and if the rabbit kicks and is dropped, it can easily break its legs or back.
Rabbits’ eyes see everything around and above them. They have a blind spot in front of their noses and behind their ears, so approaching rabbits from the side is preferable. If you approach your rabbits from the front, they may lunge at you, growl, box their paws or even bite you.
Pet your rabbit on the floor, whilst sat next to him, and talk to him. Your rabbit will not be stressed by this, and gently stroking his nose will most likely produce a purring sound – the teeth are gently grinding – this is a happy rabbit!
To lift your rabbit for a rear check, nail clipping or grooming, place one hand around the ribs, and support the weight of the rabbit by scooping up the rump with the other hand. Place it on your lap or in the crook of your arm. If you place the rabbit on your chest, he may try to run over your shoulder and you can end up with some serious scratches. If you are standing up, the rabbit may jump, and could easily injure himself.
Hold the rabbit firmly, but not so firmly that you restrict its breathing. Try to stay as near to the ground as possible, the higher up you are, the more frightened your rabbit will be. Release the rabbit as soon as you can, and reward it immediately afterwards with a treat or some herbs, so that he associates the stressful action with something pleasurable.
For more information about handling your rabbits, please see this article on the Hopping Mad website.
Understanding Rabbit behaviour – An infographic created by the RSPCA
Long haired rabbits should be brushed every day, and short haired ones twice a week. This helps to reduce the amount of ingested hair, which can cause problems in the stomach.
Grooming is a wonderful way for you to bond with your rabbits. You can groom them on a low level table, your knees, or preferably the floor. Relax your rabbit by brushing his head with a soft brush, then make long sweeping strokes down his body. You may need to secure your rabbit by placing your fingers on his shoulders. As your rabbit learns to trust you, grooming sessions will become something they look forward to. Rabbits with a thick coat will also benefit from a metal comb – with rounded points – being drawn through the fur.
As you brush or comb the fur, look for any problems in the skin, such as parasites, or bald or red patches that will require veterinary treatment. Gently lift the eyelids and check that the eyes are clear. Some pet rabbits have misaligned jaws, which can lead to teeth problems that cause them to stop eating due to the pain. Run your fingers under your rabbit’s jaw line and become familiar with how it feels, so that you will be aware of any changes that could indicate a problem.
Your rabbits need to be vaccinated to protect them from Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD), both of which are fatal.
A new combined myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease vaccine has been introduced across Europe. It involves a single subcutaneous injection in the scruff of the neck and provides a year of immunity against both diseases. Rabbits previously vaccinated with a myxomatosis vaccine (i.e. one derived from myxomatosis – this is NOT the type of vaccine we use in the UK), may not respond as efficiently to the VHD portion of the vaccine and require additional protection. Please ask you vet for advice.
If an unvaccinated rabbit contracts Myxomatosis, it will need to be put to sleep, as it cannot recover, but the disease will not kill the rabbit for at least two weeks. Vaccinated rabbits can contract a slightly different form of Myxomatosis, and in some cases can recover – but your vet will advise you on this.
Your vet will also give your rabbit a full health check prior to giving the vaccinations, and this is vital to your rabbit’s long term health.
Choosing a Vet
Due to their unique digestive system, rabbits are classed as ‘exotic’ animals. Try to find a vet that has plenty of experience with rabbits, or ideally has an ‘Exotics’ accreditation from the RCVS.
As prey animals, rabbits hide pain well to avoid being singled out by a predator. Because of this, rabbits can endure illness without you knowing anything is wrong, but they go downhill very suddenly and can die very quickly if not identified and treated promptly. In fact rabbits can even die of shock.
A rabbit knowledgeable vet is a vital asset to your rabbit’s health and wellbeing, as being able to quickly diagnose any problems and give the correct advise and treatment can be the difference between the life and death for your pets.
Common Illnesses: Dental Problems
Rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout their life, at a rate of 2-3mm per week. Rabbits require a high fibre diet that is high in coarse, abrasive fibrous foods including hay, grass, wild leaves and herbs, to ensure the teeth are evenly worn and to prevent overgrowth.
If the teeth are not worn down, they grow incorrectly leading to dental overgrowth and misaligned teeth, which in turn can lead to abscesses, anorexia, and gut stasis – all of which require veterinary care, which can be expensive to treat and may even be fatal.
Once a dental malocclusion (misalignment) is established, it may never go away, and your rabbit may need frequent dental attention. Abscesses are notoriously difficult to treat in rabbits, and can lead to euthanasia.
Indication of dental problems may be saliva around the mouth, on the chest or front paws, an inability to eat or teeth grinding.
Some rabbit breeds are more prone to congenital dental problems. For example, Lop eared rabbits and Dwarf breeds have a different skull shape to that of the wild rabbit. This difference can create dental issues, even if the rabbit has no congenital health problems. Owners of these breeds need to ensure that their rabbit’s are receiving plenty of abrasive foods and that the rabbits have things to chew on, such as willow twigs and gnaw blocks.
For more information on congenital health issues, please see this article on the Hopping Mad website
In all cases, prevention is better than cure! Ideally, hay and naturally high fibre foods should make up 80% of your rabbit’s diet.
Common Illnesses: Flystrike
Flies are attracted to rabbit droppings and warm, damp areas such as a dirty rabbit’s bottom, or dirty accommodation. Fly eggs will hatch into maggots and will initially feed on the dropping. They can then burrow into the rabbit and eat its flesh, which results in discomfort and ultimately, an extremely painful death. If Flystrike goes unnoticed, it is always fatal.
Take steps to avoid flystrike by removing droppings regularly from the hutch, grooming your rabbit daily and ensuring good ventilation to the hutch, as this will prevent flies becoming attracted to, and then trapped in the hutch. All rabbits should be ‘rear checked’ for flystrike twice a day in the warmer months. This is simply lifting the rabbit’s rear (close to the ground) and looking in the fur around the bottom for any signs of faeces, flies, maggots or larvae.
The most vulnerable rabbits are those that are overweight and/or obese, as well as those that have reduced mobility. If a rabbit is obese, it may not be able to reach down to it’s bottom to ingest the nutrient rich caecotrophs. These stools are soft and pungent, if they stick to the rabbit’s rear end, then this significantly increases the risk of attracting flies. Owners with overweight rabbits should restrict their rabbit’s diet and encourage exercise to bring their rabbit’s weight under control – Supreme’s VetCarePlus Weight Management Formula is available from you vet to help with safe weight loss. All owners that have rabbits with restricted mobility should be extra vigilant in checking and spot cleaning their rabbits. Spray Keep It Clean in the hutch, on bedding material and the environment to deter flies and to eliminate bacteria.
In the event of an attack, seek veterinary advice immediately. Do not attempt to remove maggots yourself – they will release a toxin into the rabbit. Flystrike is a Veterinary emergency, and you should be seen immediately without an appointment, However, if you can ring ahead, they can be prepared for your arrival.
Common Illnesses: Snuffles/Pasteurella
This is a condition caused by the Pasturella bacteria and most rabbits will be exposed to it and will harbour it. In some rabbits, under certain conditions, it can become a health problem and develop into ‘Snuffles’. This can be brought on by any general stress, and weather stress (such as fluctuating temperatures, excessive cold. draughts, etc.) Stress in rabbits suppresses the immune system, allowing these bacteria to develop into a health problem.
The animal will develop cold like symptoms, with a runny nose, breathing difficulties and possibly sneezing, discharge from the eyes, conjunctivitis and laboured breathing due to congestion. Snuffles can lead to more serious problems, such as pneumonia, head tilt and tooth root abscesses.
‘Snuffles’ is potentially contagious, however, this is not always the case – if the other rabbits in a pair or group are well and healthy, their immune system may protect them.
Make sure you keep your rabbits’ enclosure well ventilated, clean, and at a fairly constant cool temperature. Avoid leaving damp bedding in the hutch, and aim to keep stress to a minimum.
Common Illnesses: Gastro-intestinal Disorders
Rabbits have a delicate digestive system that requires large volumes of coarse fibre to ensure constant gut motility. When that motility slows down, the rabbit is vulnerable to digestive upsets in the caecum, and complete stasis of the gut – called gastrointestinal stasis (GI Stasis).
GI stasis has a number of contributory factors:
1) Pain – dental pain (as previously discussed), is a common factor. Other pain may be an infection, abscess, sore hocks or ear canal pain.
2) Inadequate diet – not enough coarse fibre in the diet. A rabbit’s diet should be high in fibre and fresh hay should be freely available to them at all times.
3) Dehydration – rabbits tend not to drink a lot of water, but get it from their wet foods, such as grass, green vegetables and herbs. As well as supporting all the other bodily functions, rabbits need water to lubricate the passage of food through the digestive system. Dehydration enables hair and food particles to bind together, forming a mass (compaction), which can block the digestive tracts and cause GI Sasis
4) Compaction – not common in rabbits that are adequately hydrated and eat plenty of fibrous foods. Once a mass has formed, it may break down and pass through the rabbit, or it may become more serious. A compaction can cause gas to build up in the abdomen, and this can quickly become fatal if not treated by a vet, urgently. Otherwise known as ‘Bloat’, this is an extreme form of GI stasis.
5) Weather stress – extremes of temperature can cause GI stasis, a couple of days after the event
6) Extreme stress – it is possible for a rabbit to have a heart attack if it is experiencing extreme fear – in the wild, this reaction would spare the rabbit an unpleasant end in the jaws or talons of a predator. When a rabbit experiences extreme stress, and survives, it can take many hours for the shock to subside. Stressors to household pets can include an attack by a predatory fox, dog or cat, or a fight with another rabbit, electrocution from chewing household wires (make them safe!), or from being dropped.
Symptoms include anorexia (the refusal of food), combined with reduced and smaller hard stools. These are the visible symptoms that the rabbit’s gut motility is in crisis. Your rabbit may also move less or appear hunched up, with its ears pinned back. If you can hear loud crunching noises from the rabbits mouth, the rabbit is experiencing acute pain.
The less food your rabbit is eating, and the less mobile it is, the sooner you should be thinking of taking your rabbit to the vet.
If your rabbit hasn’t passed any stools, or consumed any food or water for 3-4 hours, it needs to see a vet as soon as possible. GI stasis is a common killer, but it can be treated by a vet, if it is noticed and acted upon quickly
GI Stasis. Prevention is the best cure!
-Feed plenty of high fibre food every day
-Ensure your rabbits have have access to unlimited hay that is freely available at all times
-Rinse greens and herbs, and leave residual water on them
-Check stools every day – be alert to any change in size, texture or shape
-Spend time and get to know you rabbit’s rhythms and natural patterns, then you’ll know when something isn’t right.
Remember – rabbits hide pain, so you need to be vigilant!
If you are unsure of what to do if your rabbit stops eating, contact your vet immediately. Time is of the essence with GI stasis, and it can quickly become a very serious condition, if left untreated.
For more information and a free GI stasis Flow chart, please see this article on the Hopping Mad website.
Common Illnesses: Myxomatosis
This is a disease transmitted by fleas, or from contact with other infected rabbits or objects. Initial Symptoms are usually swollen eyelids and a thick discharge from the eyes, nose and swelling of the genitals. Nodules or bumps will appear on the rabbit’s face and skin. The rabbit will become blind and very subdued, Mymomatosis takes up to two weeks to kill the rabbit. This condition is always fatal, unless the rabbit is vaccinated.
Take your rabbit to the vet immediately if he shows any of these symptoms, and isolate him from any other rabbits. Remember vaccination of your rabbit can control strains of this disease. However vaccinated rabbits are not immune from Myxomatosis, but are much better protected. Symptoms in vaccinated rabbits tend to be less aggressive and many vaccinated rabbits survive, going on to have life long immunity. It has been known for vaccinated rabbits to contract the full symptoms of myxomatosis.
House rabbits are also vulnerable to contracting Myxomatosis, and should be vaccinated
In warmer months, keep the hutch and run /cage clean, dry, ventilated and regularly treated with Keep It Clean. Rabbits should be vaccinated every 6 months for optimum protection.
Common Diseases: Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD)
VHD is a highly contagious disease that kills rabbits swiftly and suddenly. Some rabbits will die showing no symptoms. Sometimes there is blood around the mouth and nose. The disease can be carried on clothing and surfaces, or following contact with rabbit waste and products.
VHD is a silent killer, and unless your rabbit is vaccinated, it has no protection from VHD, and absolutely no chance of surviving it.
In groups of two or more rabbits, if one rabbit dies, it is likely that the others will die also. House rabbits are just as vulnerable as rabbits that live outdoors.
Vaccination is annual, is relatively inexpensive and the only guarantee of protection against VHD
Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern.
If you need to know more
For more detailed information about Rabbits, you can contact us and we will get back to you with our experts’ advice. However if you have any concerns about the health and wellbeing of your rabbit, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.
Additionally, the RSPCA has provided many helpful rabbit guides you can find here.
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