How to keep your pet rabbit healthy

Doug Paterson
Doug Paterson

Rabbits are becoming popular pets with more than one million kept across the world.

As a result their welfare and needs are progressively being recognizsd and the treatments available are improving. Today’s column touches upon some of the needs of our pet rabbits.

Rabbit care should focus on five needs; shelter, food and water, expressing normal behavior, company and medical needs.

Rabbits should have a hutch large enough for them to stretch out to their full length as well as stand comfortably on their back legs. Rabbits love to run and explore, so let them out of their hutch at least once a day. Rabbits are also very curious and use their mouths to investigate (much like babies!) so cables should be moved or ‘rabbit proofed’.

Rabbits are herbivores and their diet should consist mainly of grass and hay with some fresh green veg as extra. A rabbit should eat their own body size of hay or grass each day. Fresh water should be on hand at all times either from a dripper bottle or ideally a sturdy bowl.

Wild rabbits live in large warrens and are sociable animals. Keeping two rabbits is ideal for company; be wary of gender as a male and female will ‘breed like rabbits’, unneutered animals will also fight. Human contact is important for trust and bonding.

Preventative veterinary care is of utmost importance as, being prey animals, rabbits are very good at hiding any illness or injury they might have. At the point where it is very noticeable, it can often be too late to treat. Preventatives such as vaccinations for myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) should be top of the list as both diseases are fatal. Protection from fly strike (where flies can lay their eggs on the rabbit which hatch into maggots) is important in the summer months; clean bedding and daily inspection of their private parts can help prevent this. Dental disease is also very common - ensuring adequate hay can help ensure that their teeth stay healthy.

Neutering rabbits is advised as it prevents unwanted pregnancies and prevents uterine and testicular cancer.

Today’s top tip is to weigh your rabbit regularly. A drop in weight often allows you to detect illness.