Our pet rabbits are a domestic version of the wild rabbit. For optimal health it is important to provide a diet similar to the wild rabbit and give them the exercise, companionship and freedom they need. Rabbits can live for up to ten years provided they are cared for appropriately. Please click on the following headings for advice on caring for your rabbit.
10 Top TipsTOP TIP 1Rabbits need lots of hay (and grass!). Hay is the most important party of a rabbit's diet and helps to keep their digestive system moving. It is recommend they need at least their own body size in hay every single day.TOP TIP 2Rabbits need a good source of fibre as it helps their complex tummy to keep in good working order. Supplement their hay with a good quality complete nugget diet. Avoid muesli diets as this encourages selective feeding and therefore an unbalanced diet.TOP TIP 3Fresh leafy green veg should also be offered to your rabbit, but in small amounts.TOP TIP 4Unlimited clean, fresh water available all the time is a must.TOP TIP 5Be careful giving your rabbit treats - even healthy ones may be higher in sugar and salts making them very tasty for your rabbit, but not so kind on their well being if they have too much.TOP TIP 6Everyone needs a friend and rabbits are no exception. Neutered pairs that cannot breed are the bet combination.Help your rabbit get together with a friend of his or her own species and watch them form an unbreakable bond.TOP TIP 7Carrots are NOT a natural part of a rabbit's diet. They can be feed occasionally, but are high in sugar which can damage the rabbit't teeth and cause an upset tummy. Its best to keep it green!TOP TOP 8Rabbits are herbivores and need a diet that is high in fibre. Also, rabbits will eat their poo on the first pass to get all of the nutrients they need - this is perfectly normal!TOP TIP 9Take time to understand your rabbit's normal behaviour - you are more likely to spot illness if you know what is normal for your rabbit. For more info visit the RSPCA rabbit behaviour pages click here.TOP TIP 10Rabbits need annual vaccinations. They need protection against myxomatosis and two strains of viral haemorrhagic disease.
CompanionshipRabbits are very sociable creatures and live in groups in the wild, therefore it is best to keep them together. The easiest pairings are opposite sex. It is possible to keep same sex pairs but only if they have grown up together. If your rabbit’s companion dies finding them a new friend can be more difficult. Find a rescue centre that wants to meet you and your rabbit so that a suitable pairing can be made. We do not recommend keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together. They have very different needs and wouldn’t naturally live together in the wild.
HousingThe rabbit hutch was invented in the Victorian era as temporary housing before they were eaten. Rabbit hutch sizes have not moved with the times and many rabbits spend most of their lives in a hutch which is too small for them. Our rabbits need to be able to jump along their hutch, (at least 3 full jumps) stand and stretch up on their hind legs without touching the hutch ceiling.For most breeds this means a hutch of 6ft long x 2ft tall so this is recommended as the minimum hutch size, but bigger is always better. A hutch is not enough. Pet rabbits need to be able to exercise properly.
While they may not have the large territories that wild rabbits have, we can still provide for them. You can provide an exercise run attached to their hutch/cage, this way they can come and go as they please. A portable run, with wire mesh floor to stop them digging out, can be used to provide the rabbit with a fresh supply of grass and exercise. Make sure the run area is
free of chemicals and pesticides.
Whatever your chosen housing you need to protect your rabbit from predators, e.g. dogs, cats, foxes, and birds of prey. Strong weld mesh wire will give greater protection than commonly used chicken wire and will also help to keep disease carrying vermin out of their home. Make sure hutch doors can be secured properly and exercise runs are enclosed. Regularly check their enclosures. If your rabbit runs free in your garden make sure it is escape proof and that they have access to ‘bolt holes’. Keep them away from any poisonous plants.
Your rabbit and their hutch should be checked daily. Spot clean the hutch every 2-3 days with a total clean out once per week. Rabbits are clean animals and will tend to use one corner for toileting. This makes it easy to litter train rabbits so the toilet area can be easily cleaned out.
For further information please follow this link to the Rabbit Welfare Association website and join their 'Hutch is not enough' campaign.
General HealthRabbits have a unique digestive system which is adapted to suit a high fibre low energy diet. The majority of their diet should consist of grass and hay. This contains the fibre needed to wear their molar teeth, which continuously grow throughout their life. The correct diet is also important for maintaining good digestive health. A lack of fibre can lead to soft stools and the wrong diet can also lead to obesity. If the rabbit is too obese to groom itself, soiling will occur, this can lead to fly strike which if not treated urgently can be fatal.
General points to consider:
If you have any further questions on diet or any aspects of your rabbit’s health do not hesitate to contact the surgery.
- Your rabbit should have access to fresh water at all times. Make sure it doesn't freeze in the winter and remember that some rabbits prefer drinking from a bowl rather than water bottle.
- Any change to a rabbit’s diet should be made gradually. Sudden changes can sometimes lead to loss of appetite. Even short periods of not eating e.g. 24 hours can lead to liver problems in rabbits. Changes to diet should be made gradually over 2-3 weeks to prevent this. Sometimes in older rabbits it is not possible to wean them off mixed diets onto pellets because they refuse to eat the pelleted food.
- Occasional soft stools are normal especially in a young rabbit whose gut may not be fully active yet. This should clear up in a day or so with no change of diet or you could try feeding only hay for a few days. If the problem persists ring us for advice.
- Some fresh foods such as dandelions and cabbage may cause the rabbit to produce red urine. This is normal and not a problem. If you notice red urine and they haven't been eating these foods, your rabbit might be ill and we would advise you ring us.
- Soiling around the back end may be an indicator of disease or your rabbit may simply be overweight. Soiling can cause a real problem for rabbits and can lead to fly strike - this can be life threatening.
- A rabbit that refuses to eat may have mouth problems or some other disease and again this needs to be checked by a vet.
- Feeding your rabbit correctly is one of the keys to a long and healthy life. Remember, hay and grass (high fibre) should make up 80% of your rabbit’s diet. Since most rabbits choose other foods in preference, the best way to achieve the balance is to offer only small amounts of commercial diet and vegetables. Once that has been consumed, your rabbit will spend the rest of the day happily eating his or her healthy fibre.
Travelling to the vets
- Choose a carrier that fits your rabbit and their companion comfortably together - in many situations bringing both rabbits to the vets will help preserve the bond they have
- The carrier should be made of a solid material (e.g. plastic) and have the ability to completely remove the top half of the carrier while the rabbit/s continues to sit in the bottom. This allows a less stressful access.
- Make the inside of the carrier comfortable - use an absorbent towel/blanket in the bottom to soak up any urine and pack with fresh hay - for eating if they wish and for hiding in to help them feel safe
- Add in some treats to occupy your rabbit/s and attach a water bottle to the side of the carrier for longer journeys away from their home and in warmer weather.
- Familiarise your rabbit with their carrier before they have to start using it - you can even use it as a permanent hiding place in their house or run
- Use a towel / blanket over the carrier while moving it from the car into the vets and keep it away from other animals. Remembering that our rabbits are prey animals and we what to help reduce their stress levels.
- Using a product such as 'Pet Remedy' spray or wipes can help settle your pet during travel and trips to the vets. For more information click here.
Behaviour and recognising signs of painUnderstanding the basics of rabbit body language and facial expression is a great skills for any rabbit owner to have. That coupled with daily interaction and observation of your own unique rabbit/s will allow you to spot subtle changes in their behaviour.
Ears for example can tell us quite a lot of information. If they are close together, facing upwards and pointing outwards, the rabbit is likely to be relaxed and happy. Anxious rabbits will flattened their ears against their back. The rabbit's eyes and their body posture / how they are moving also give us signs. Simply hiding away, could mean they are anxious.
For more information on body language signs and how to read your rabbit, click here.See our Recommended Rabbit Resources Section for further information.
VaccinationRabbit diseases: There are several viral infectious diseases that effect rabbits. The only effective way of controlling these viruses is by vaccination. The following information gives further details of the diseases, their signs and symptoms and vaccinations.
There are two different diseases we vaccinate rabbits against:
There is no treatment for these diseases and despite our best efforts there is usually nothing that we can do to save the affected rabbit. But we can advise VACCINATING YOUR RABBIT ONCE A YEAR.These are highly contagious diseases and can spread to and from the wild rabbit population which speeds up their spread both locally and nationally. Myxomatosis is also spread by biting insects such as mosquitoes. RHD is spread by direct contact but mainly through inanimate objects e.g. can be carried on shoes/clothing, after walking in areas with wild rabbits.
- Myxomatosis (myxi): This produces swellings and high fevers before ultimately causing death
- Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease - RHD (also referred to as Viral Haemorrhagic Disease or Disorder or VHD). Most rabbits affected by RHD die suddenly without showing symptoms apart from a short period of dullness and lethargy. We can vaccinate against two strains - RHDV-1 and RHDV-2.
Signs of illness: Rabbits are prey animals and can hide signs of illness for as long as possible to help protect themselves from predators. A change in your rabbits normal behaviour may be a signal of ill health. If you notice the following changes or are concerned with your rabbit then please contact us:
- Lethargy or changes in activity
- Loss of appetite or change in droppings
- Soiling with faeces or urine
- Discharges from eyes or nose
The vaccination programme: your rabbit needs will depend on their age and past vaccination history. We are moving towards a single annual vaccination using the new 'Nobivac Myxo-RHD Plus' vaccine. If your rabbit has not received this vaccination yet, you will be advised about a course of 2 vaccinations in the first year, then this as single annual vaccination in subsequent years.
Baby Rabbits: Rabbits can be vaccinated against Myxomatosis, RHDV-1 and RHDV-2 using the 'Nobivac Myxo-RHD Plus' vaccine from as early as 5 weeks of age, but a course of two of this same vaccine will be needed for these very young rabbits. Rabbits who are 7 weeks and over only need one vaccination for a full 12-month duration of immunity.
Vet Health Examination is important: Alongside your rabbit's vaccination they will get a full nose to tail health check! We pay special attention to rabbit's teeth - as they continuously grow and can cause problems ranging from a lack of appetite and dribbling to grooming issues and dental abscesses. During the examination we will also listen to their chest to check their heart and lungs feel their tummies and listen to their intestines with our stethoscope to check they are working (they should make a gurgling sound!). Taking and recording their weigh and body condition score is a good indicator of health and we can give you dietary recommendations to keep them healthy.
DietRabbits need access to fresh drinking water. Water drinking bottles are normally used but some rabbits prefer drinking from a bowl. Rabbits need a high fibre diet. The best sources of fibre are good quality hay and freshly picked grass. 80% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of good quality hay and fresh grass. The hay should be fresh, smell sweet and be dust free. In addition to this a small amount of pelleted diet can be given once a day. Rabbits fed commercial muesli mixtures tend to selectively feed, leaving the most nutritious but least palatable pieces behind. This unbalanced food source can lead to nutritional deficiencies, obesity and dental problems.
A complete pelleted diet is recommended to prevent this. Vegetables and fruits such as carrot, sweetcorn, celery, apple and greens should only be provided as a treat twice a week. Some fresh foods such as dandelions and cabbage may cause the rabbit to produce red urine. Commercially produced rabbit treats are usually very high in calories and should be avoided. A diet high in commercial foods, fruit and
vegetables will reduce the rabbit’s intake of hay and grass which is essential to their health. Any changes to a rabbit’s pelleted diet should be made gradually over 2-4 weeks. Sudden changes can lead to loss of appetite but also liver disease and digestive orders.
A good quality prepared rabbit food with a constant supply of clean water and grass or fresh hay together with a varied selection of fresh fruit and vegetables is all that a rabbit needs. Anything extra is a treat and should be given in moderation to avoid any harmful effects on bunny.SO WHAT TO FEED
1. Complementary foodThis can come either in pelleted form or a cereal mix which looks not unlike muesli. This is what is normally sold in pet shops as ‘Rabbit food‘ but is not a complete food and is designed to be given in conjunction with hay or grass. These foods are nutritionally balanced but if your rabbit does not eat all the mix or picks and chooses what it eats from it, problems can occur. Therefore we advise that only the pelleted rabbit diets are offered.2. Grass and HayGrass is an ideal food for rabbits and would be what they would eat in the wild. A portable run moved around the lawn is an ideal way to provide your rabbit with a fresh supply of grass. Make sure that the lawn is free from chemicals and pesticides. This is important. Good quality hay should be offered alongside the grass. Fresh hay smells sweet and is full of the calcium a rabbit needs.3. VegetablesGenerally speaking vegetables with high amounts of roughage are best — such as root vegetables, broccoli, sweetcorn, cauliflower leaves, apples, celery and many more. Don't forget garden weeds provided they haven't been sprayed — even bramble clippings make a tasty chew. Check this list of foods to make sure you are not giving plants that are poisonous to rabbits, click here.4. TreatsThe best treat you can give your rabbit is an extra big carrot or a piece of sweetcorn. Commercial rabbit treats are OK once in a while but remember they are rich in sugar and fat — things that rabbits only need in very small quantities.5. WaterYour rabbit should have access to fresh water at all times. Make sure it doesn't freeze in winter or evaporate in the summer! If you are using a water bottle, check the tip is working properly. Don't be surprised if your rabbit likes their water to be offered in a bowl! Offer both options.PROBLEMS TO LOOK OUT FORChanging any animal's diet too quickly can cause diarrhoea so always introduce new foods gradually. Sometimes soft stools are normal especially in a young rabbit whose gut may not be fully active yet. This should clear up in a day or so with no change of diet or you could try feeding only hay for a few days. If the problem persists please ring us for advice. A visit to the practice may be necessary.
Some fresh foods such as dandelions and cabbage may cause the rabbit to produce red urine. This is normal and not a problem. If you suspect that there is blood in the urine you need to get your rabbit examined by a vet the same day.Soiling around the back end may be an indicator of disease or your rabbit may simply be overweight. If you notice any soiling you need to get your rabbit examined promptly. Dirty / soiled bottoms will attract flies and a rabbit can be crippled with fly strike.
(Fly eggs are laid on the fur and skin, which in warm weather quickly hatch out in to maggots and eat the rabbits flesh. This is a life threatening condition and the reason why rabbits must be checked daily. Overweight, aging and rabbits with existing medial conditions should be checked twice daily throughout the warmer months.)A rabbit that has difficulty in eating / refuses to eat or has any signs of saliva and/or tear staining on their face / chin or neck, may have mouth problems or some other disease and again this needs to be checked by a vet.Feeding your rabbit correctly is one of the keys to a long and healthy life. Remember, hay and grass (high fibre) should make up 80% of you rabbit's diet. Since most rabbits choose other foods in preference, the best way to achieve the balance is to offer only small amounts of commercial diet and vegetables. Once that has been consumed, your rabbit will spend the rest of the day happily eating his or her healthy fibre!If you have any further questions on diet or any aspects of your rabbit's health do not hesitate to contact our practice.
TeethThe silica in grass and hay when chewed evenly wear the rabbit’s teeth preventing dental problems. This is why the correct diet is so important for your rabbit to avoid dental disease. Check your rabbit’s teeth regularly. Lift his lips and check the incisors. The rabbit has two upper and two lower incisors, there are also two peg teeth behind the upper incisors.
If your rabbit has discharge coming from its eyes or signs of dribbling under their chin, they will need to be examined as this could be a sign of dental disease. Other signs include reduced appetite and avoiding hard food. The rabbit’s molar teeth cannot be visualized. A full dental examination can only be carried out by your vet.
Parasites & Fly StrikeFly strike and parasites can be avoided with good health and husbandry measures.
Parasites such as mites, lice, fleas and flies can affect your rabbit.
It is important you contact us for advice if you see any of these signs. Treatment is available by administering an insecticide or insect repellent specifically for rabbits and rodents. We can advice you of the best and safest product and if used as a preventative measure, can keep your rabbit free from some of these parasites.
- They can be transferred between rabbits and through their bedding.
- If you notice your Rabbit has a poor coat condition, a large amount of dandruff, crust hears or is scratching or biting its fur and causing sore patches then this could indicate parasites.
- Apart from being very uncomfortable, if left untreated your pet can become unwell.
Flystrike is a common condition of rabbits.
- If the rabbit has urinary incontinence or loose stools, the soiling on its bottom attracts flies and they lay their eggs on the soiled area.
- These then hatch into maggots which then start eating the rabbit’s skin. This condition is very painful and deteriorates very quickly as the maggots grow rapidly.
- If left untreated the rabbit may die or have to be put to sleep.
- Fly strike can be prevented.
- Check and groom your rabbit daily especially, if it becomes soiled.
- We can advise a specific topical insecticide for your rabbit.
- If you find eggs or maggots in your rabbit’s fur, you should contact us immediately for further advice.
- Fly strike is more common on elderly or obese rabbits.
Keeping your rabbit at the optimum weight will allow it to groom effectively and keep their bottom clean.
NeuteringNeutering is very important in rabbits to prevent unwanted litters. There are health and behavioural implications too:
Does suffer from uterine cancers, if not neutered, which is a very painful condition. 80% of unneutered does over 4 years old develop uterine cancer. They can also become aggressive if left entire.
Neutering bucks can also reduce aggression, spraying and makes them much more relaxed. Castrated bucks can still mate successfully with unneutered does, up to 6 weeks after their operation. If a buck and doe are being kept together neutering is recommended in both sexes at the same time. If this is not possible keep both rabbits separate for 6 weeks.
Both sexes can reach sexual maturity from as early as 8 weeks, though it is uncommon for them to mate successfully at this age. We recommend spaying does from 16 weeks and bucks at 12 weeks. For male and female pairs, neutering at the same time is recommended.
Recommended Rabbit Resources!As the UKs third most popular pet we want to help you access good advise about the care of your rabbit. We hope you have found our rabbit page useful. Finding trusted sites on the worldwide web isn't always easy so here are a few of our recommended sites and resources:
Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund - registered charityWe would recommend you visit the Rabbit Welfare Associations website – www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk This a a fantastic resource for rabbit help and advice. Become a member and you will receive their jam packed 'Rabbiting On' magazine, 4 issues a year and archive copies available to purchase. You can also download the latest edition of 'On The Hop'. A comprehensive rabbit care guide and a must read and reference guide for all rabbit owners. To download your free copy, click here!
The Rabbit House
Another great general resource is www.rabbithouse.com - for information, videos and pod casts on various rabbit subjects.
Infographic of Rabbit Behaviour
The RSPCA have produced a great illustrated poster with rabbit body language signs - click here.
Understanding Your Rabbits Habits by Tamsin StoneUnderstanding Your Rabbits Habits by Tamsin Stone - is a super illustrated book guiding you through your rabbits body language, helping you understand bunny behaviour and advising you on how to enrich your rabbits environment in the best way you can. Available through all major book stores.
Recognising pain in your rabbits
Newcastle University have produced a 'The Rabbit Grimace Scale' which is widely used to pain score rabbits in the veterinary profession. It focuses on facial features and ear position, click here for the link and scroll down the page for the rabbit poster.
Keeping your rabbit trim!And finally keeping an eye on your rabbits body condition is a great aid to their health and wellbeing. You can do this yourself at home too - use this link for a video on how to check your rabbit and download your own rabbit size-o-meter chart, click here!