Rabbits are a popular pet as a low maintenance cuddly animal that can be tamed. The small herbivore has specialized digestive systems and feeding needs. As a selective eater, they choose new plant shoots and nutrient-rich leaves over-mature plants which are higher in fibre.

Therefore, a rabbit is considered a naturally picky eater that chooses high energy density foods which cause them to grow obese in captivity.

Neuter/Spay Surgery

All female rabbits not being kept for breeding should be spayed. Non-spayed female rabbits have a very high risk of uterine cancer with some breeds of a rabbit having a 50-80% incidence of uterine adenocarcinoma by five years of age.

The ideal time to spay a rabbit is at 5-6 months of age. However, female rabbits can reach sexual maturity at 4-5 months of age so they should be separated from all male rabbits during this time.

The castration of male rabbits is also recommended in order to reduce aggression, territorial behavior, and bullying of other rabbits. Castration also completely eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.

Male rabbits can be castrated from 4-6 months of age (they reach sexual maturity at 5-8 months of age).

Common rabbit behaviour

  • Rabbit owners should know that a pet rabbit loves attention and company

  • As self-groomers, they get hairballs

  • Chewing and digging are natural and to prevent the destruction of valuable, provide them with chewing and digging outlets.

  • These furballs communicate by spraying urine on lower-ranking rabbits and to mark their territory

Feeding an inappropriate diet is one of the most common causes of disease in pet rabbits. It is important to feed them correct foods in the correct amounts in order to ensure dental and gastrointestinal health.

  • >70% of the diet as grass hay – oaten hay, timothy hay, or meadow. NOT lucerne or clover hay.

  • 20-28% of the diet as vegetables and other greens. At least 2 packed cups of fresh greens per kg of body weight per day – choose at least 3 different types from broccoli, cabbage, celery, chicory, kale, mustard greens, endive, beet/carrot tops, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, bok choy, Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties, herbs (parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint, etc)

  • 2-3% of the diet as treats. Max 1-2 tablespoons per rabbit per day – fruits (apple, banana, pear, cranberry, strawberry), root vegetables (carrot, sweet potato, sweet peppers) and rabbit pellets

Never feed– seeds, cereals, grains, nuts, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate

Common Rabbit Diseases

As a wonderful domestic pet that loves attention, you must always keep in mind that they hide illness. Therefore, is close observation needed or you will miss signs of disease or illness until it is too late.

Domesticated rabbits can get:

Calicivirus

Calicivirus is also known as a rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus. It is spread through direct or indirect infected rabbits, flies and mosquitos. In adults, it progresses rapidly and starts as a fever with sudden death happening within 48 to 72 hours after infection. You need to be on the lookout and know your rabbit’s behaviour as clinical signs include fever, lethargy, restlessness and poor appetite. The mortality rate of this virus is between 70 to 90%. You can prevent death by vaccination which is recommended at six-month intervals. The importance of getting your rabbit to us and getting this vaccine is vital as there is no treatment available.

Myxomatosis

Infected rabbits, fleas, and mosquitos are responsible for this virus. You will recognise the virus when discharge and swelling are present from the anogenital region, nose, and eyes. It is yet another fatal disease and flea control and mosquitos should be kept at bay.

Hairballs

As a self-groomer, hairballs are common but it must pass through the rabbit’s gut which often causes obstructions. A rabbit that refuses to eat could have a hairball and a way to prevent it is a high fibre diet. We recommend medication and if the problem persists surgery must be performed.

Snuffles

Pasteurellosis, as it is also known, comes from infected rabbits and affect the nose and eyes. The rabbit will show signs of squinting, redness, and discharge of the eyes and sneezing. Prevent it by placing new rabbits in quarantine and avoid overcrowding. Only a long course of antibiotics will cure this disease.