Rabbit: General Advice

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Recent research has shed new light on the important disorder of dental disease in rabbits. About 90% of pet rabbits have some tooth disorder, which is unheard of in wild rabbits. However, with an appropriate diet from weaning, most dental disease can be prevented and obesity avoided.

Rabbits are susceptible to a condition that affects the deposition of calcium in their bones (eg skull and teeth). The result is a mineral imbalance which causes abnormal tooth growth and distorted teeth. Subsequently if the teeth do not meet properly, normal wear and tear is reduced (nb rabbits have open rooted teeth which do not stop growing as they mature) and the teeth become overgrown to such an extent that the poor beast cannot close its mouth or chew its food. It loses weight and can even starve to death.

The calcium status of your pet can be assessed by looking at the surface of the front (incisor) teeth. If they are rough and ribbed then a problem exists.

Many proprietary rabbit foods contain a mixture of flakes, pellets and biscuits. Unfortunately many rabbits prefer the sweet tasting foods (a bit like children really) which are not necessarily good for them. Such selective feeding can result in the rabbit becoming deficient in various dietary components, even though the diet ostensibly provides al, their nutrient requirements. Also these diets often contain higher levels of fat and lower levels of fibre than the rabbit really requires.

This has other consequences

The rabbit can rapidly consume its daily quota of nutrients and then carry on eating, becoming over fat becoming bored and possibly aggressive.

Reduced levels of fibre means that the molars (grinding teeth) are not used as much, wear inadequately and can overgrow, developing sharp spurs (outer in upper teeth, inner in lower teeth) which impinge on the cheeks and tongue.

As the rabbit becomes overweight, it cannot groom itself as effectively and becomes prone to problems with flies. We call this fly strike. Flies lay their eggs around the soiled rear end. Rabbits produce two types of stool. Secondly they pass a pellet (which you will be familiar with), but firstly a softer stool (caecotroph) which is the result of bacterial digestion of fibre in the intestine. Believe it or not, this provides an essential source of B vitamins which the rabbit eats again (!) to absorb essential vitamin B12 in a second digestive cycle. If your bunny has dental problems, or is so overweight that it cannot reach its nether regions then it may be unable to eat this stool which becomes clagged around the rear ends and attracts flies. Fly strike (maggots) then ensues.

A product (Rearguard) is available which can protect against fly strike by stopping the development of maggots. Ask us for details. However the best method of preventing this problem is by providing a good diet. Rather than feed mixed flaked food, offer a quality pelleted food that provides higher levels of fibre, lower levels of fat, and which prevents rabbits picking out the bits they don’t like. Burgess’s ‘Supa Rabbit Excel’ is the recommended brand (we sell this at the surgery) and is not expensive. Also if you have guinea pigs living with your rabbits, there is now a Supa Guinea food, which is OK for both rabbits and piggies (Note that some rabbit diets do not have enough Vitamin C for guinea pigs).

If your rabbit is particularly fussy and will not eat anything other than its usual proprietary rabbit blend, then offer smaller quantities of food to encourage it to eat its entire ration, including the pellets. Leave the food down until it has all been eaten. Avoid discarding uneaten food and replacing it with fresh. Allow the rabbit run to have access to fresh grass where possible. Give good quality hay at all times If the rabbit will not eat its hay, reduce the amount of cereal given.

 Please note that it is an old wives’ tale that you should not give your rabbit green stuffs. Green foods are a desirable constituent in any rabbit's diet; but it is important that any changes in diet should be made gradually to avoid tummy upsets.

It is important to allow rabbits access to daylight every day, even during the winter, as sunlight enables rabbits to manufacture vitamin D, essential in calcium metabolism.

Further tips on having a healthy happy bunny.

  •  Most rabbit hutches are too small – provide your bunny pet with as much space as possible, as well as an outside run. Drain pipes allow rabbits to hide away from potential predators (e.g. next door’s cat) and will make them feel more secure.
  • Get your rabbit vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. These are best administered several weeks apart.
  • Female rabbits have a high probability of developing uterine disease (90%) It is advisable to consider getting your rabbit spayed when young.

 

Rabbits are social creatures and are best in pairs or groups. Non-littermates may fight, particularly if the space is limited. Neutering will reduce territorial aggression (particularly important in does). Note that Guinea Pigs may be bullied if penned with rabbits unless they have plenty of space.

 

This information is provided for information purposes to our registered clients. It is the individual opinion of veterinary surgeons within the practice. It should not be relied upon as an alternative to a clinical examination and diagnosis by a veterinary surgeon. If in any doubt please contact the practice for further advice.

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