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Hart Vets Waddesdon 01296 651000

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Caring for your rabbit

  • Dental care in rabbits
  • Fly strike in rabbits
  • Neutering your rabbit
  • Rabbit Vaccinations

Dental care in rabbits

Rabbits’ teeth grow throughout their life.They are worn down to an even surface by the chewing and nibbling actions of a rabbit eating. If the incisors overgrow they may protrude from the mouth or curl round making eating and grooming progressively more difficult. Overgrowth of molar teeth causes sharp spurs which cause pain and laceration in the cheek and tongue. Drooling of saliva is often seen with molar problems. A significant and serious complication of molar problems is abscess formation.

 Why do rabbits’ teeth grow abnormally?

Dental problems in rabbits can be caused by congenital defects, trauma, foreign bodies, tumours and incorrect diet. There is a progressive problem of acquired dental disease in pet rabbits that is common and due to diet and lifestyle.The first stage of disease is poor enamel quality and long tooth roots. These teeth then distort and stop wearing against one another correctly.

What can be done with overgrown teeth?

Overgrown incisors can either be clipped or preferably trimmed with a high speed bur. Sometimes they can return to wearing correctly.The best long term solution however is usually to extract the incisors. Molar teeth are clipped or burred under general anaesthesia. Diseased teeth may again be extracted, especially where the opposing tooth can also be removed. The procedure will need to be repeated every 3-18 months.

What should I feed my rabbit to try and prevent teeth problems?

  • Pet rabbits should have good quality hay or grass available at all times. Chewing roughage is essential to stop the teeth from overgrowing.
  • A wide range of green foods and vegetables should be given but fruit and succulent vegetables such as lettuce and tomatoes should be given in moderation.
  • Feed small amounts of rabbit pellets once a day only and remove after a couple of hours. Avoid feeding cereal mixes which allow the rabbits to pick out the carbohydrate rich pieces and leave the mineral and vitamin pellets.
  • No more than 2-3% of the rabbit’s bodyweight should be fed as pellets daily.
  • Introduce all new foods gradually.

Fly strike in rabbits

Pet rabbits may be affected by a maggot infestation caused by flies. Blowflies like to lay their eggs on material that will provide their larvae with food as they develop. When your rabbit has a dirty bottom, soiled with either urine or faeces, it is a perfect place for blowfly eggs to grow. Some rabbits rarely get a dirty bottom; they groom themselves carefully and always move away from where they have just urinated or passed a motion, however there are exceptions.

Which rabbits are at risk?

If your rabbit has problems with overgrown incisors or molar teeth they can not groom properly or chew their food well, which often causes them to have softer faeces or diarrhoea.To a rabbit this isn’t as pleasant to clean and more difficult as well.

Rabbits on an inappropriate diet that is too high in easily digested carbohydrates, i.e. biscuits, bread and rich fruit stick treats will often develop diarrhoea as they cannot digest these unusual sources of carbohydrate. This disturbs the population of bacteria and protozoa in the gut.

Overweight rabbits have problems reaching their bottoms to clean them allowing a build up of sticky pellets which attract flies.

Older rabbits and those becoming less mobile will also have potential problems with dirty bottoms as they are not so likely to move away from the areas where they pass urine and faeces and may get residue stuck to their fur.

In very rare cases maggots can develop in areas where there is excess moisture or discharge, such as around the eyes if they have conjunctivitis, or nose if they have dental problems.

What are the signs of fly-strike?

First stage
Your rabbit may just have a dirtier bottom than usual, or be more obviously smelly when you clean their cage.

Early stage
You may see tiny white flecks 1-2 mm in length, which are the fly eggs on the fur of the rabbit’s bottom and between its legs or on its rump. Overnight these can hatch into young maggots.

Mature stage
The young maggots grow rapidly into mature maggots. Once the maggots are mature they start burrowing into the rabbit’s skin around the groin and base of the tail and eventually can penetrate into the muscle and fat underneath causing great pain and discomfort.

By this stage the rabbit will be very subdued and smell horrible. Its bottom will be moist and the skin will often be easily separated from the flesh underneath, where the maggots have eaten under the skin attachment.

Although some rabbits can be treated very successfully in the early stages of fly-strike, the ones with severe muscle damage and skin trauma find it more difficult to recover.

What can be done to prevent Fly-Strike?

All rabbits are at risk of fly-strike but there is a considerably higher risk during the warmer summer and autumn months. Always ensure that the rabbit hutch is clean so that it does not attract flies, and make sure that the hutch is away from areas frequented by flies such as the dustbin or compost bin.

It is a good idea to make a habit of checking your rabbit’s bottom every day, even during the winter. If you practice turning over your pet rabbit from the first day you get him it will soon become an acceptable part of his routine to be examined for signs of sticky faeces or urine staining.

If your rabbit’s bottom is dirty, clean it off under a warm tap or in a warm bath, with a mild shampoo and dry him off well. If the sticky bottom persists then your rabbit should be checked by the vet. A sponge on application called Rearguard can be used to soak your rabbit’s fur and will prevent maggots developing. Fly repellents in the hutch, such as citronella plants, may also help deter flies.

Neutering your rabbit

Rabbits are social animals and are ideally kept in pairs or small groups. If male and female rabbits are to be kept together they should be neutered to prevent unwanted baby rabbits. Same sex pairs are prone to aggression and fighting unless neutered.

Female rabbits usually make better pets if neutered. Entire female rabbits are often grumpy, can be difficult to handle, and sometimes can even be aggressive to their owners. Neutering female rabbits prevents health problems in later life including womb infections (pyometra) and uterine tumours.

Male rabbits also make better pets once neutered. They are usually calmer, less aggressive, and less likely to spray urine.

Spaying

Rabbits become sexually mature around 4 months of age. We generally advise that rabbits are spayed when they are 6 months old because the surgery is riskier in younger rabbits.

The spaying operation involves a general anaesthetic and the surgical removal of both ovaries and the uterus through an incision made in the midline of the abdomen. Rabbits, unlike dogs and cats, should not be starved before the operation. Your rabbit should be brought to the vets with some food in her carrier.

Your rabbit will be able to return home the same day. She will have dissolvable sutures under her skin that will need checking after 7 – 10 days by one of our nurses. You will notice that some fur will have been shaved from underneath where the incision will have been made. We do not routinely use buster collars in rabbits as they find them very upsetting. It is very important that your rabbit eats as soon as possible after surgery.

Castration

Rabbits may be castrated soon after their testicles have descended – usually around 4 months of age. Castration involves removing both testes under general anaesthetic through two small incisions in the scrotal sacs. Rabbits, unlike dogs and cats, should not be starved before the operation. Your rabbit should be brought to the vets with some food in his carrier.

Your rabbit will be able to return home the same day. He will have dissolvable sutures under his skin that will need checking after 7 – 10 days by one of our nurses. You will notice that some fur will have been shaved from underneath around the surgery site. We do not routinely use buster collars in rabbits as they find them very upsetting. It is very important that your rabbit eats as soon as possible after surgery.

Rabbit Vaccinations

What vaccinations do rabbits need?

We advise all domestic rabbits should be vaccinated against RHD-1, RHD-2, and Myxomatosis.

When should young rabbits first be vaccinated?

We advise young rabbits have their first vaccination as soon as possible after they are 5 weeks old.

How often are booster vaccinations needed?

Booster vaccinations are required yearly for the combined Myxomatosis and RHD vaccines.

What are the diseases we vaccinate against?

Myxomatosis is a viral disease which causes an infected rabbit to become depressed, have a temperature and stop eating. It is characterised by swellings and discharges around the eyes, nose and genital areas. Treatment is rarely successful and affected rabbits suffer awfully. There is a much less common skin form of the condition which presents with mild lethargy and lumpy lesions on the skin – these cases can be successfully treated. Myxomatosis is spread by biting insects including fleas and mosquitoes.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) has been in the press lately following reports of a new strain called RHD-2. The most widespread strain is RHD-1. The RHD virus is extremely hardy and survives for a long time in the environment. It is spread through direct and even in-direct contact –this means the virus can easily be brought into your home or garden on contaminated shoes, food and bedding.

RHD-1 and RHD-2 are different strains of the same virus. RHD-1 is the most common strain and is almost always fatal. Rabbits with RHD-1 sometimes develop bloody diarrhoea but most rabbits are found dead or severely depressed and collapsed. RHD-2 has a lower mortality rate (20%) and a slower course – most rabbits will have a mild illness and then recover.