Rabbits

Biological data

Average life-span 7-12 years
Adult Bodyweight Breed Specific
Gestation period 30-32 days
Litter size 4-12
Sexual maturity Female: 4-5 months
Male: 5-8 months
Weaning age 4 – 5 weeks

Housing and husbandry

Rabbits are social animals, best kept in pairs consisting of a neutered doe and a neutered buck. Avoid keeping them with guinea pigs as bullying can occur on both sides. Your rabbit requires clean dry sleeping quarters (or retreat/hide), and a light, extensive and secure exercise area preferably on grass, ideally 1.8m2. They enjoy playing with toys. Rabbits produce large quantities of urine and faeces which must be cleaned away daily. They can be trained to use a litter tray. They withstand cold well and do not need to be kept indoors through winter.

Diet

Provide clean fresh water, preferably in a bowl, and replace water daily. A rabbit’s digestive system is adapted to digest large quantities of high fibre food and the diet should be based on hay and/or grass and other green plant material. Rabbit food should be fed sparingly, if at all, and should be a high fibre entirely pelleted concentrate (never a mix). Rabbits produce 2 types of faecal pellet; the normal firm dark pellet and a softer pellet covered in mucus which they eat (this is normal and part of the digestive process). Regular feeding through the day is important. Rabbits that do not eat should be seen by a vet as a matter of urgency. Overweight rabbits are more prone to heart and joint problems and are not able to groom properly resulting in other problems such as fly strike.

 

 

E.Cuniculi (Encephalitozoon Cuniculi)

This is a microscopic brain and kidney parasite affecting over 50% of pet rabbits in the U.K. Some rabbits may carry it without ever showing symptoms. Those that do become sick show signs that may include: head tilt, weakness in the legs or paralysis, uncontrollable spinning or rolling, blindness or kidney failure. We recommend that all new rabbits be treated with a parasiticide (wormer), prior to introduction with your other bunnies and that rabbits who go outside are ‘wormed’ at least six monthly.

Health problems

  • Teeth – overgrown teeth and malocclusion are very common, and can often be prevented by correct feeding from an early age.
  • Fly Strike – caused by a number of contributing factors including hygiene, obesity and medical disease (including teeth problems)
  • Gut Stasis- when a rabbit’s gastro-intestinal tract stops moving the food and faeces through.
  • Fur Balls – particularly when the rabbit is moulting
  • Abscesses – common and can be difficult to treat
  • Traumatic injury – from incorrect handling
  • Parasitic skin conditions – fleas and mites
  • Canker in ears – caused by mites
  • Anorexia – there are many causes of loss of appetite and a rabbit that hasn’t eaten for 24 hours should be seen by a vet.
  • Diarrhoea – This is often misdiagnosed. A ‘mucky’ bum is more often caused because a rabbit isn’t eating their softer night time poos.
  • Obesity
  • Eye problems
  • Neurological problems
  • Infectious diseases – including Myxomatosis and VHD
  • Neoplasia/Cancer – common in older rabbits

Speak to your vet early if you have any concern about your rabbit’s health. Delay can affect the outcome dramatically

Handling

Owners need to learn to pick up and handle rabbits correctly: the weight must be supported with a hand under the rabbit’s bottom. Do not pick up rabbits by their scruff or ears. Inappropriate handling can lead to injury to both rabbit and handler. It is extremely important to turn your rabbit over twice daily and check its bottom for soiling and to prevent fly strike.

Behaviour

Ownership of a pet rabbit can soon turn to disappointment if it behaves aggressively or is reluctant to be handled. We can give you advice before purchasing a rabbit and if there are behaviour problems late-on.