Rabbit Awareness Week runs from 15th-22nd September.

Rabbits are the third most commonly kept pet in the UK, but all too often we hear stories of them being left in terrible conditions.

Rabbits have a few basic needs including a clean, dry environment, protected from adverse weather conditions with enough space to be active and stretch out. They must have the ability to exercise or play, either in an outdoor run or in the house. They need constant access to water and roughage (which includes grass or hay) Rabbits need the conditions to graze whenever they want to, which maintains dental, intestinal and emotional health. Rabbits should have a varied diet, which can be boosted with pellets (these are far better than a muesli mix) and occasional fresh green vegetables (such as broccoli, kale or spring greens). Just be careful not to overdo this, as it may lead to an overweight bunny or diarrhoea. Ideally rabbits like to live with a partner and the best mix is a neutered female and neutered male. But beware: introducing a new rabbit can be difficult as rabbits can be quite territorial. If your rabbit will not accept a mate ensure it has plenty of human attention to make up for it.

Rabbits can suffer from a number of health problems :

Myxomatosis is a life-threatening virus affecting both outdoor and house rabbits. We have recently seen a number of wild rabbits suffering or dying after contracting myxomatosis, which is spread by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. Signs include swelling around the eyes and genitals, and rabbits can die within 12 days if left untreated.

Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) can also be fatal. It is spread by direct contact between rabbits and biting insects, as well as through indirect contact from people’s hands clothes and objects. Signs of VHD are extremely rapid, including internal bleeding and a high temperature, with many owners sadly finding their pets dead before we have time to treat them.

Donaldson’s now has a new combined vaccination against myomatosis and VHD that lasts for one year. Our vets will perform a full health check at the same time as administering the vaccination, which could pick up on other problems such as dental disease or skin complaints.

One of the most common reasons we see pet rabbits is because they have contracted mites. More often than not the parasite cheyletiella (“walking dandruff”) is the cause. Thankfully this is easily treated and can be prevented by administering a licensed spot-on preparation, or a course of anti-parasite injections.

Fly strike is caused when they develop sore skin around their bottom from urine or faecal soiling. It can occur because the animal is overweight, has dental disease or back problems, meaning it cannot clean itself properly. Blowflies lay eggs in the sore skin, which then develop into maggots that eat away at the tissue. It can be an extremely serious condition that requires aggressive medical care, and in some cases,the only option is euthanasia. Regular cleaning of your pet and maintain a dry hutch are essential. You must check your rabbit’s bottom daily for signs of soiling. Animals vulnerable to the problem can be prescribed with an insecticide and insect repellent such as Rearguard®.