Rabbits can make a great pet. They are cute and usually quite friendly especially if handled well from a young age. They can live for up to 8 or 10 years of age and bond well with their owners. Rabbits can live outside in a hutch, however they can also be trained to use a litter tray and live indoors. Be warned though – they tend to chew through cables so you need a rabbit proof house before you let one loose.
Here is a some veterinary advice on important issues for rabbit owners in Ireland.
Important Healthcare information.
One of the main reasons vets see rabbits is due to dental problems. Rabbits teeth grow continuously, therefore they need to spend lots of time grazing to keep their teeth worn down. Wild rabbits eat hay and grass – so this is a good place to start with our pet rabbits. Avoid lots of carrots and lettuce. This can be too rich and means they will not spend enough time eating. Also be careful about mixed pellets – rabbits will select the tastiest morsels and leave the rest behind. This can results in your bunny becoming overweight and often they can get teeth problems.
We recommend feeding ad lib hay and water. If you are feeding dry mix use “Supa Rabbit” from Burgess pet foods – available in our clinics. An occasional piece of carrot once a week will do as a treat!
Dental problems in rabbits can be very difficult to resolve – they often result in eye problems or abscesses.
It is a good idea to have a block of wood or an apple tree branch in your rabbits hutch – this gives him something to gnaw on.
Fresh water is essential – bowls or bottles are fine. If you are using water bottles check every day to make sure the nipple is not blocked.
Outdoor rabbits can graze the grass – it is possible to get hutches that sit directly on the grass. This allows your rabbit to graze without becoming prey for a dog or cat. Rabbits are tougher than you think and can defend themselves well. We have lots of clients whose rabbits live in harmony with their dogs and cats.
Rabbits can be affected by myxomatosis , a deadly virus that is spread by fleas and other insects. Signs include swelling on the skin particularly the eyes, mouth and genitalia. It is frequently fatal. We recommend annual vaccinations to help prevent this disease in our rabbits.
Here is a useful link to a site with info on mysxomatoses.
We also recommend vaccination against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease of Rabbits, this virus typically results in sudden death in rabbits. It is endemic in Ireland and has been isolated in veterinary laboratories.
Rabbits are in danger of getting “fly strike”. Fly strike occurs when flies lay their eggs on rabbits. The eggs hatch into maggots which then eat away at the rabbits flesh. In warm weather this process can happen in hours.
Flies are attracted to dirty or damaged skin. Rabbits with obesity,poor hygiene,dental problems, urine scald or diarrhoea are at high risk. Also rabbits with arthritis who cannot groom themselves are at risk.
Prevention is achieved through the use of fly repellants, careful checking of your rabbits bottom daily. There are prescription medications available also. Some of these are not licensed in Ireland – however your vet may be able to source them for you.
Rabbits can get fleas – they are often implicated in the spread of myxomatosis. Preventative treatments are available from your vet. We use advantage (a spot on remedy from Bayer) – it is licensed for use in rabbits in the UK but not in Ireland. (This is because the market is too small for the pharma co. to spend money getting a license for rabbit use.)
A huge percentage of female rabbits aged over four will get uterine adenocarcinoma (cancer of the womb). Therefore it is a good idea to get them spayed while they are young.
Male rabbits can be neutered too. Neutered males are easier to handle and they tend to be less aggressive.
Like dogs and cats rabbits can suffer from arthritis. Feet problems are common too – especially sore hocks. Ensuring a soft surface underfoot and clean dry bedding helps to prevent this problem.
Handling your rabbit
Rabbits have a very light skeleton and powerful back legs. They can easily injure their spine if they jump from your arms to it is important to handle them correctly. Never pick them up by the ears!. Pick the up gently, cradling them in your arms and supporting the back. If you have a nervous rabbit keep a grip on the scruff of the neck – this will not hurt him, however he may find it stressful so do not hold on to him for longer than necessary.
Rabbits that are well handled when they are young will make the best pets.
Rabbits are a burrowing animal so they tend to have quite long nails. Be very careful clipping them as it is easy to clip the “quick” and make their toes bleed.
Rabbits with normal teeth do not need their teeth clipped. However if your rabbit develops dental problems he may need his teeth clipped regularly.