Keeping your rabbits healthy
If your rabbits have a healthy diet, plenty of space, and at least one compatible companion rabbit they should live a happy and healthy life.
However, health issues sometimes arise and if you are ever in doubt you should talk to your veterinarian.
Rabbits are good at hiding their symptoms, as a sick rabbit in the wild would be easy prey. Pay close attention to your rabbits’ appearance and behaviour; sometimes a rabbit that just looks a bit down is actually very unwell. It helps to recognise rabbits’ symptoms early, this is easier if you handle and check your rabbits daily.
You should check your rabbits’:
- Weight: A healthy weight for a rabbit is slim but not bony. You should be able to feel (but not see) their ribs just under their skin without a thick layer of fat. A monthly weigh-in is a good idea. Any sudden decrease in weight is likely to be health-related and must be taken seriously with a visit to the vet. An overweight rabbit is likely to suffer from ongoing health issues, so it is important to feed your rabbit the right foods in suitable quantities and seek advice if your rabbit is getting overweight.
- Eyes, Ears and Nose: These should be clear, clean, and bright looking with no discharge. If your rabbit is shaking his/her head a lot and/or repeatedly scratching around the ears, it could be a sign of ear mites or another issue and they will need to see a veterinarian.
- Coat: A rabbit’s coat should be thick and shiny. Dandruff is likely to mean that your rabbit has mites, which will require veterinary treatment. Rabbits can also get fleas; your veterinarian or the SPCA can advise a safe flea treatment for rabbits. Any flea treatment used must be one that has been specifically formulated for use on rabbits, as rabbits are very sensitive to some drugs, which means that some products can kill them. Never, ever use a flea collar on your rabbit as this can kill them. Brush your rabbits with a soft brush to keep their coats looking nice and healthy. Angora and cashmere rabbits need a lot more grooming than other breeds. Your rabbits will moult a few times a year and will require additional brushing at this time.
- Droppings: Rabbits have two sorts of droppings – hard fibrous pellets and soft green caecotropes. Rabbits will reingest their caecotropes; this is a normal and important part of a rabbit’s digestion and does not indicate ill health. Diarrhoea is very serious for rabbits and can be deadly if it is not treated or addressed. If a rabbit has diarrhoea for more than 24 hours or shows signs of being unwell in other ways, consult a veterinarian immediately.
- Teeth: Rabbits’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives and dental problems can frequently occur. Make sure that you provide your rabbits with adequate chewing material. Branches from trees such as willow, apple, pear, poplar, and citrus trees, or other safe untreated wood treats, will help keep rabbits’ teeth from getting too long. Avoid trees which have been chemically treated or are close to sources of pollution. A rabbit who is reluctant to eat or drooling is indicating a potential dental or other health problem that should be checked immediately by a veterinarian.
- Claws: Rabbits’ nails are likely to need clipping regularly (about once every six to eight weeks). Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do this properly, as it is easy to do it incorrectly and cut through the blood vessel and sensitive tissue in the claw, causing bleeding and a lot of pain to your rabbit. Paving stones or similar that are placed in an area that your rabbits regularly travel over may help reduce the need to trim their nails as often.
Rabbits also need vaccinations to prevent/protect against Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus which causes intense suffering to rabbits and are often fatal. Talk to your veterinarian about having your rabbit vaccinated.
Those rabbits adopted from the SPCA will have been vaccinated but may need additional vaccines if they were not at the SPCA long enough to complete the full vaccination course and rabbits need yearly booster vaccinations.
In other countries rabbits are also often vaccinated against myxomatosis but we do not currently have this disease in New Zealand and so do not routinely vaccinate against it in rabbits here.
Treatment for parasites
Rabbits should be given regular and effective treatments to prevent internal and external parasite burdens, as recommended by veterinarians or product manufacturers (only products intended for use on rabbits should be used). Rabbits should also be checked regularly for signs of infestation with external parasites e.g. scratching, chewing or hair loss, and should be treated appropriately.