Author: noahsarkvet_admin1

Herpes virus infection

The order of herpes viruses is known as Herpesvirales; it is a large group of viruses that includes various strains that infect humans and many types of animals through direct contact with body fluids. The herpes virus is highly contagious and is characterised by latent and recurring infections. It inhabits the cells of the body and lies dormant until it is triggered to re-emerge. It is typically a life-long infection due to the viruses’ ability to evade detection by the host’s immune system.

During the active stage of the disease, herpes virus replication within cells causes development of tissue lesions in the affected area. Many strains of the herpes virus produce external blisters and sores on the skin and these are highly contagious and can be transmittable between species. Some species of herpes virus can be transmitted between humans and animals but transmission from animals to humans is rare.

Rabbits can acquire a handful of different herpes viruses, but for pet rabbits, the most common infections are caused by Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), Herpes cuniculi (LHV-4), Herpes cuniculi (LHV-2) and Herpes sylvilagus (LHV-1/LHV-3).

Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1)

A form of the virus that is thought to be specific to humans, but the external lesions make it easily transmittable to other species, including pet rabbits. One of the most common ways HSV-1 can affect rabbits is by infecting the eyes. Signs of this condition can include watery eyes, squinting, conjunctivitis (redness around the eyelids), ulceration of the cornea and blindness. It is a condition that can come and go as the virus re-emerges after periods of dormancy. Exposure of the HSV-1 strain to pet rabbits has also rarely resulted in brain lesions. This condition leads to seizures, coma and death.

Herpes cuniculi (LHV-4)

A form of the virus specific to domestic rabbits and is the most common naturally acquired strain of herpes virus in pet rabbits. It has also been seen occasionally in wild rabbits. This strain has mostly been seen in North America, and is usually found when larger colonies have been infected. It is highly contagious and young females seem more likely to be infected. The most common signs include wounds and blisters on the face, back, eyes and genitals, but other more serious signs can occur, including a swollen face, discharge from the nose and eyes, respiratory distress, anorexia and sudden death.

Herpes cuniculi (LHV-2)

Indigenous to domestic rabbits, but causes no signs of disease, so is difficult to detect.

Herpes sylvilagus (LHV-1/LHV-3)

Indigenous to wild cottontail rabbits, and is not known to infect domestic rabbits. It causes lesions in the throat, lymph nodes, liver, kidney and spleen.

Diagnosis varies depending on the strain of the disease. For mild or common strains, the veterinarian can diagnose the disease by observing clinical signs or taking blood or tissue samples and sending them to the laboratory for analysis.

For some tests, general anaesthesia may be required.

As with all viruses, treatment is aimed at supporting the animal until the virus can be largely controlled by the animal’s immune system. Since herpes viruses cannot be cured, there is no treatment that will eliminate the disease, but when the virus is active and signs of disease are seen, supportive treatment can be provided. For mild cases, this may mean giving pain relief, helping to minimise secondary bacterial infection by keeping wounds clean and administering nutrition and fluid support to help the animal recover faster. In some cases, the veterinarian may prescribe anti-viral medications to help the immune system combat the virus.

When the virus is active, the animal may be able to shed the virus to other animals, and possibly even humans, so the rabbit must be isolated from other animals and excellent hygiene adhered to at all times. Once the virus returns to a dormant phase, the animal will still be a carrier and may shed the disease to other animals so it should be housed to ensure that cross-contamination with other animals does not occur. Outbreaks of the disease can occur at any time, especially during seasonal changes or throughout periods of stress.

Rabbit proofing your home

Living with a house rabbit isn’t something that happens with little or no preparation, and one of the most important things you need to do before moving a bunny into your home is to make the environment safe for them. Remember that chewing and digging are natural behaviours for rabbits and they generally aren’t fussy about what they test their teeth and claws on, so it is up to you to ensure you possessions are rabbit proofed.

Domestic rabbits have retained many of their wild ancestors natural behavioural traits, including chewing and digging!

Wild rabbits chew on coarse material, such as tree bark to ensure that their continually growing teeth are kept at the correct length. Pet rabbits often don’t have such means of keeping their teeth in tip-top condition, so rely upon other methods.

In the wild rabbits dig extensive burrow systems, and again very few pet rabbits live in such a set-up, so find other methods of expressing this natural behaviour.

You can’t and shouldn’t try and stop a rabbit from chewing or digging. These are natural behaviours and if you bring a rabbit into your home you must expect some wear and tear on your possessions. However, it isn’t unreasonable to not want to have teeth marks or scratches over your entire house!

Firstly, always ensure that your rabbit has a constant supply of good quality, fresh hay to eat. Not only does hay provide the vital high-fibre diet, essential to keep a rabbits digestive system working properly, but the abrasive texture of hay helps to ensure correct dental wear, as well as keeping the rabbit occupied and hopefully diverting their attention away from things they really shouldn’t be chewing!

You can also give the rabbit a selection of toys, such as tough plastic baby rattles, balls, boxes of straw and hay to dig in, pine cones or any of the toys now on the market that are designed for rabbits.

Putting them in a safe enclosure in the garden for several hours, whenever possible, where they are allowed to dig in the earth and chew on toys placed in the enclosure, may help to satisfy their need.

Rabbit proofing your home serves two main purposes; to protect the rabbit from dangerous situations and to protect your possessions.

Firstly a look at what hazards our homes may hold for our pet rabbits:

Electric cables

All electric cables must either be put out of the rabbits reach (remembering how tall the rabbit is when they stand on their back legs and that rabbits are experts at getting into small spaces).

If this isn’t possible then the wires must be protected. Rabbits have very sharp teeth and a wire is often too good to resist a nibble on, with often-fatal consequences.

Cables can be protected by placing them inside tough, durable plastic tubing, these are usually available from aquatic stockists (used as tubing for ponds and fish tanks).  If the plug comes off the appliance you can remove this and slide the wire into the tubing.  If the appliance has a fixed plug, simply slit the tubing down one side so you can open it up to put the wire inside it. You must check tubing regularly as rabbits may still attempt to chew at it and it may need replacing from time to time.

Electrical items (computers, TVs, washing machines, etc)

It has already been mentioned above, that any electrical item may cause a danger to your rabbit, unless all of the cables are placed out of the rabbits reach or protected, and it is also in your own best interests to adhere to this, to protect your electrical items, as well as your rabbit.

Telephone/internet cables

Although these don’t pose an electrocution risk to rabbits, you may want to place them out of their way, or protect them in the same way as suggested for electrical cables, otherwise you may be spending a small fortune on continually replacing them and many house rabbit owners have had their telephone conversations or internet connection abruptly ended by a bunny chewing through the wire!

Poisonous plants

A variety of plants and flowers kept as houseplants are deemed to be poisonous to rabbits to some degree or another, with possible consequences of ingestion ranging from: dribbling from the mouth, fits, loss of balance/consciousness or even death. Rabbits are unable to vomit, so any toxic substance that is eaten, cannot be eliminated in this way.

Plants/flowers that may be toxic to rabbits if eaten include: Chrysanthemum, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, lily, poppy and rhododendron. However, a wide variety of many other plants and flowers are also harmful, so all houseplants are best kept well out of the reach of rabbits.

Accidental injury

Rabbits like to run around your feet, as well as playing under tables, behind sofas and generally anywhere else they can gain access too and which looks fun!

It is all too easy to accidentally kick a rabbit or even shut a door on them, as they make little or no noise as they move. So, always ensure you tread very carefully, paying attention to what you are doing to make sure that there is no bunny in the way, before you shut doors, move chairs, open cupboards or make any movements.

Now onto protecting your possessions – It has already been established why rabbits chew and dig and some methods on how you can try to stop them destroying some of your possessions. However, it is useful to know exactly what may be tempting for them to nibble on and other ways of trying to stop untoward behaviour.

Your furniture

Cupboards, sofas, chairs, tables etc may be targets for chewing. It is easiest to deny the rabbit access to these areas, or only allow them access under supervision.

If this isn’t possible then you can try an anti-chewing repellent, which can be purchased from pet shops or your vet, however the majority of people report minimal success with anti-chewing repellents when used for rabbits, but some people have reported success with putting lemon juice onto paint or woodwork. Before spraying the whole area, be sure to do a sample test on a small area to ensure the product isn’t going to damage your furniture.

Books

Never leave any books or magazines lying around the place, unless you want nibbled corners or missing paragraphs! Having a houserabbit does force you and your family to pack things away when you have finished with them, otherwise they may not be in the same state you left them in when you come to find them again!

Carpets

Rabbits will often have one or two places which they will decide to use as a digging area, often much to an owner’s annoyance!

A cheap and simple solution is to get hold of some carpet samples, which are frequently thrown out by carpet shops, and place these over the affected areas. These are cheap and easy to replace and the rabbit can use them to dig on to their hearts content. Plastic carpet covers are another useful solution to cover problem areas. Although neither may look pleasant to the eye if situated within a prominent area of the house, they will at least spare your carpet.

Chewing and swallowing pieces of carpet can be harmful to rabbits if the carpet accumulates in the digestive tract, it may cause the digestive system to slow down or stop which is a very serious health concern and requires immediate veterinary treatment.

Wallpaper

Swallowing wallpaper can be just as dangerous, as wallpaper paste may contain chemicals that are harmful to rabbits, and there is also the possibility of the paper swelling up inside the rabbit.

You can try blocking off the rabbits access to any problem areas, by relocating furniture over the area (which may also work with carpet chewing), although this may simply not be practical.

One solution, although this is often not a very attractive solution, is to cover the affected area of wallpaper with clear, plastic perspex up to the stretching height of the rabbit and if all else fails you can try painting your walls instead of using wallpaper!

By and large, the simple answer to destructive behaviour from rabbits is that they are bored or simply enjoy doing it as it satisfies their natural instincts, but excessive chewing may also be a sign of dental problems, so you should ensure that your rabbit has a thorough veterinary health check, paying special attention to the mouth and teeth (which may require sedation to get a proper look at the back teeth), to rule this out as a cause.

Catching them in the act!

If you catch your rabbit chewing or digging at something they shouldn’t be then a quick spray of water, aimed at their body, or clapping your hands or stamping your feet are usually enough to stop the rabbit in its tracks, and the rabbit shouldn’t associate the punishment with you. If you offer the reprimand immediately, they should learn that if they perform a particular behaviour, in a particular place, then something unpleasant might happen. But you have to be instant with your reaction and repeat it each time. Any time delay will only confuse the rabbit as to why they are being told off.

However, you must never, ever shout or smack a rabbit. Rabbits are naturally timid animals with humans being one of their natural predators, so any behaviour that reinforces their belief that you are a threat to them will damage your relationship with your rabbit.

If you have tried all the possible solutions and have ruled out a health problem you have two possible courses of action:

  • You can ask for a referral to a behaviourist who has specialist knowledge in rabbit behaviour and may be able to help you more on a one to one basis with advice aimed specifically at your rabbit. Your vet should be able to put you in touch with a suitable behaviourist, or the Rabbit Welfare Association will be able to.
  • If you don’t wish to pursue the option of further help, then having the rabbit as a house rabbit may not be the best option and it may be better for not only yourself, but also the rabbit if they moved from the house to a suitable outdoor enclosure with another rabbit for company.

Rabbit companions

Rabbits are social animals; in the wild large groups will live happily together, providing company, security and physical grooming to each other. Company of their own kind is just as important for pet rabbits too. However, to ensure that the bonding process is as trouble-free as possible, there are some simple, but important guidelines that should be followed.

The most successful combination tends to be a male (buck) and female (doe), with both individuals neutered (around 4-5 months for bucks and 5-6 months for does). Obviously if neither animal is neutered you’ll soon end up with lots of baby bunnies!

If only the doe is neutered the buck will constantly try and mate with the doe, which will antagonise her and lead to possible conflict between the two animals. If you just neuter the buck, the doe may actually try and mount the buck, which again will cause upset between the two rabbits, and the doe will also still be at an increased risk of uterine cancer; affecting up to 80% of unspayed does by the age of 5 years. Some occasional mounting behaviour is a normal display of dominance, even between two neutered rabbits.

Rabbits of the same sex can live together but bonding two rabbits of the same sex is often much harder, takes a lot longer, has a higher failure rate, and any fights are likely to be much more serious and vicious. If you are attempting to bond two rabbits of the same sex, then ideally they should be introduced at a young age and neutering of both animals is essential.

Up until a few years ago, many rabbit books recommended keeping guinea pigs with rabbits for companionship reasons, but the tide has turned and now the majority of rabbit and guinea pig books, as well as rescue centres, animal organisations and vets, agree that the two should be kept with their own kind and not mixed.

Provided all the rabbits and any male guinea pigs are neutered, they can cope quite well together. But guinea pigs are rodents and have different dietary requirements from rabbits. Guinea pigs are unable to synthesise their own vitamin C, so require fresh foods high in vitamin C (dark leafy vegetables such as dandelion leaves, spring greens, kale, etc). These foods also provide rabbits with essential fibre.

Even docile rabbits will often bully and molest guinea pigs; chasing them, biting them, mounting them or even sitting on them, which can cause serious and fatal injuries to the guinea pig, not to mention the stress they endure. The majority of this is sexual frustration and is avoided if the rabbits and male guinea pigs are neutered.

Even the smallest of rabbits is going to be comparable in size to a guinea pig, with powerful back legs, which are more than capable of causing serious injury to a guinea pig. Having a hideaway where only the guinea pig can fit into isn’t a satisfactory compromise as there may be occasions when the guinea pig is unable to reach its safe area, e.g. if it is backed into a corner. However, in the rabbit’s defence, it has also been known for guinea pigs to bully rabbits!

Having ascertained that rabbits should live with other rabbits and that company in the form of another bunny is preferable, how do you actually go about trying to bond rabbits?

The bonding process is the same if you are attempting to bond two rabbits of the same sex or one of each sex, though as has already been aforementioned, one doe and one buck is usually easier and quicker to bond and bonding of two same sex rabbits is liable to fail.

Rabbits are often very territorial and introductions need to be done carefully. Firstly both rabbits must be neutered; if the rabbits aren’t old enough to be neutered then continue at stage 1 until both have been neutered and recovered from their operations (baring in mind that a buck may still be able to impregnate a doe for at least 3 weeks after castration, so keeping a doe and buck apart for around 4 weeks after neutering is advisable).

Stage 1

Place each rabbit in a cage, where they can see and smell each other through the wire of the cages, but cannot get at each other to cause injury. Swap their litter trays and toys over every day, so each bunny gets used to the others scent.

Stage 2:

When you are happy that the rabbits are both at ease with each other and showing no aggression you can begin mixing them for supervised, short periods of time in a neutral place – somewhere where neither rabbit has been before, so could claim as their territory, i.e. a room in the house, bath-tub, new run, etc.

Place lots of toys in the area (rattles, tunnels, boxes to hide in, balls etc, which has neither rabbits scent on) to help distract the rabbits attention from each other and at least two feeding bowls so the rabbits don’t feel they have to compete for food.

Some chasing, nipping or mounting is perfectly normal. Continue putting the rabbits together like this on a daily basis or several times a day if possible, until the rabbits seem to accept each other. Leave them together for as long as possible (always supervised), increasing the time when you feel they are comfortable with each other.

Sometimes rabbits can just ‘fall in love at first sight’ and if this happens, followed by mutual grooming of each other, they should be OK to be left together unsupervised, as this is the stage that you want to achieve.

If serious fighting breaks out, separate the rabbits immediately (being very careful not to get bitten yourself – use blankets, cushions or cardboard sheets to push between them) and revert back to stage 1, until the aggression disappears, and then move back onto stage 2 again (this may have to be repeated several times).

Car journeys:

If the rabbits seem accepting of each other, but are still showing some nipping and chasing of each other, you can also try taking them for car journeys. Place the bunnies in a large enough carrier for two bunnies and take them for a short car journey. This is a stressful experience, so the rabbits will rely upon each other for support, rather than attempting to fight, and begin to form a bond. If any tension is shown then separate the rabbits immediately, but the journey times can be gradually increased if both rabbits seem okay. This can be done daily or as often as you feel necessary, for as long as necessary.

Stage 3:

The aim is to get the rabbits to accept one another and rely upon each other for support and company. Once the rabbits have begun grooming each other you can be pretty confident that no real aggression will be shown from this point on, but it is very wise to keep a close eye on them both for several weeks afterwards.

There are no set rules for bonding rabbits it can be an instant attraction or take many weeks or months of hard work. Sometimes you may never be able to bond two specific rabbits together.

Rabbits do have distinct preferences as to who they want to live with and will sometimes not bond with a specific rabbit, only to happily accept the next bunny you try and bond to them. Even bonded pairs may have tiffs when an increase or return of nipping, chasing and mounting may be seen (usually around spring). This is normal and as long as no real aggression is shown they shouldn’t be separated. However, it is wise to keep a closer eye on both rabbits at these times.

Yes, even rabbits who haven’t set eyes on another bunny for many years can happily accept a bunny pal and often a younger pal will give an elderly bunny a new lease of life in their twilight years.

This is largely dependent upon how much time you are able to spend with your rabbit. For people who work all day, it may be worth considering getting your rabbit a friend to keep him company whilst there is no-one in the house. But if you are at home for a large percentage of time, and able to spend time giving your bunny company then you may feel that he doesn’t need a bunny pal.

This rarely works and can seriously damage the bond between the two existing rabbits so is not recommended. The saying twos company, threes a crowd is very true! If you have enough space and time, mixing two already bonded pairs can be easier than adding a single rabbit, but each pair needs its own personal territory so be prepared for lots of nipping and chasing!

A rescue centre is usually the best place. Often the rabbits are already neutered and some will also allow you to take your bunny along to select a friend for an existing bunny. Be certain that your rabbit’s vaccinations are up-to-date before taking it along.

Another added advantage is that if you really can’t bond a rabbit from a rescue centre to your existing bunny, the rescue centre should be able to take the bunny back and you can try your rabbit with another from the centre.

Bonded pairs should never be separated; what illnesses one rabbit has the other is liable to already have anyway. If one rabbit has to go to the veterinary surgery, or be hospitalised, then take its mate along for company. Often having their mate there will give the sick rabbit encouragement to carry on and taking their mate away when they are ill will only depress and upset both rabbits.

Frequently, bonded pairs who are split up, for even a short amount of time will have to be re-bonded when being introduced again and may not accept each other again, so it is imperative that pairs are never separated unless it is detrimental to one or both of their health to stay together.

When the sad time comes you will be understandably very upset, but your rabbit may also be affected and there are things that you can do to make this time easier on them.

Try and let the rabbit that has been left behind, spend some time with their companion’s body. This enables the rabbit to realise that their friend has gone. The rabbit may initially nudge the body trying to get them to move. This can go on for seconds, minutes or hours and if possible it is best to leave the body with the remaining rabbit until they lose interest in it and move away from them. At this point you can remove the rabbit’s body.

Watch the rabbit closely for any changes in their behaviour. They may seem more lethargic and depressed and not want to eat as much. Ensure that they keep eating, drinking, urinating and passing faeces and if you are concerned about their health then contact your vet straight away.

Spend more time with your rabbit. They are used to having a constant companion so will be feeling lonely, confused and maybe scared. Offer them their favourite foods, play games with them or just sit, stroke and talk to them gently.

Consider getting another rabbit as a companion. This may feel like the last thing on your mind but it may be the best option for the rabbit that has been left behind. Rescue centres always have rabbits that are in need of a loving home and will often come fully vaccinated and neutered and many rescue centres will undertake bonding introductions so you can see if the rabbits are going to get along together.

Things to remember

  • Introduce only neutered rabbits, regardless of sex.
  • One buck and one doe is the most successful combination.
  • Introduce rabbits on neutral territory.
  • Never split up bonded pairs unless serious fighting occurs.
  • Introduction a third rabbit into a bonded pair rarely works.
  • Some nipping, chasing or mounting is normal, even in bonded pairs.
  • Immediately separate rabbits if serious fighting occurs.
  • It may not be a good idea to mix rabbits and guinea pigs.
  • Try and go to a rescue centre to acquire a bunny-pal.
  • It may be love at first sight but it could also take months of perseverance.

Is a rabbit right for me?

Rabbits are now the third most popular pet animal in the UK. TV programmes like Pet Rescue and Animal Hospital and organisations like the British House Rabbit Association are educating people about responsible rabbit ownership. This is resulting in a change in attitude from the rabbit as pet confined to a hutch at the bottom of the garden to one which is as much a part of the family as a dog or cat.

Some possible answers to this question are:

  • Rabbits are cute and cuddly.
  • Rabbits don’t need much looking after.
  • Rabbits make ideal pets for children.
  • A rabbit will keep our guinea-pig company.
  • Rabbits don’t take up much space.
  • Rabbits are cheap to keep.

If any these answers match the reasons why you want a rabbit then, unfortunately, a rabbit may not be the best pet for you. It may surprise you, but owning a rabbit will demand as much commitment from you as owning a cat or dog.

Rabbits are very cute, particularly when they are babies. However, many ‘cute’ baby rabbits are bought from pet shops on impulse and their new owners have not considered the reality of owning a rabbit. For example, the average lifespan of a pet rabbit is 7-9 years which represents a big, long-term commitment.

Also, rabbits are not usually cuddly in the way that soft toys are! As ground-dwelling animals, they often feel insecure when picked up, and so do not enjoy being held and cuddled. If the rabbit is not securely held it will struggle and may be dropped. Unfortunately this commonly results in injuries such as fractures to the limbs or spine which can be fatal.

Rabbits do adore being stroked and will allow you to stroke them for hours – providing that they have all four paws on the ground! Owning a rabbit means that you have to learn to interact with your pet in a way that makes it happy. Happy rabbits will respond by licking their owner’s hands. Some rabbits learn to come when their name is called, and can be taught tricks such as begging for treats.

When you own any pet, its needs and requirements must come before your own. It is a common misconception that rabbits don’t need much looking after. Rabbits require at least 3 hours of your time every day:

  • They need to be checked at least twice a day for feed and water.
  • They need access to a run or enclosed garden for exercise for at least 2 hours every day (except in bad weather).
  • They need at least 1 hour of interaction (stroking, play etc.) with you to build up their confidence with humans.

No animal should be thought of as a ‘toy’ for children. Rabbits are particularly not suitable pets for children because they do not enjoy being picked up and if they are not being held properly (as is often the case when a large rabbit is picked up by a small child) they often scratch or bite. Remember that rabbits can live for 7-9 years and unfortunately children can lose interest or grow out of wanting to look after them.

Guinea-pigs, mice and rats are much more suitable pets for children as they are easier to hold. Rats and mice can also be taught tricks.

Rabbits and guinea-pigs do not mix! They are very different animals and have different behaviour and requirements:

  • They need very different diets – guinea-pigs need a diet that is very high in Vitamin C and they will develop severe medical problems if fed only a commercial rabbit mix.
  • They have different health problems – rabbits carry a type of bacteria which does not affect them, but which can cause severe respiratory infection (like bronchitis) in guinea-pigs.
  • They behave differently – rabbits can ‘bully’ guinea-pigs!

A rabbit should not be kept on its own as they are social animals and need other rabbits for company. Rabbits live in groups in the wild and it is extremely unnatural for them to live a solitary existence. The best combination for rabbits is a male-female pair, but this will require both rabbits to be neutered as soon as possible to prevent unwanted litters. Same-sex pairs are possible but only if the rabbits were littermates or were introduced at a very early age. If the pair do not bond, both animals may need to be neutered.

A rabbit hutch can never be too large. Rabbits need a large hutch – with both a living area and a sleeping area. A combined floor space of 150 x 60 x 60 cm has been suggested for a hutch for two small rabbits. Avoid placing the hutch in a site which is in direct sunlight during the summer or where it will be exposed to draughts.

Rabbits also need to be able to exercise for at least 2 hours per day. This can be either in a large, secure run or ‘ark’ placed over grass, or if your garden is securely enclosed, they could be allowed to run free in it.

Before you can bring your rabbit home, you need to invest in a hutch, a run, a food bowl, a water bottle, sawdust and straw for bedding, and food such as rabbit mix, greens and hay. You may also wish to have your rabbit neutered in the first few months.

On-going costs of keeping your rabbit are feed and veterinary care. Rabbits require at least two vaccinations a year, they are also prone to developing chronic health problems, such as snuffles or dental disease, which can require months of treatment. Pet insurance is available for rabbits to protect against large vet bills and this should be considered.

Housing your rabbit

Whether your rabbit lives indoors or outdoors it needs somewhere to call home. Hutches and runs come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Choosing the right one is important to ensure that you have a happy rabbit.

Dimensions

No hutch can be too large. The days when it was thought acceptable to keep rabbits in cramped, confined hutches are over. Two small rabbits should have a minimum hutch size of 150 x 60 x 60 cm, and two large rabbits will need 180 x 90 x 90 cm. Your rabbit needs to have room to lay down lengthways and stand up on its hindfeet.

Partitions

There should be at least two ‘rooms’ in your rabbit’s hutch. The larger one should have a wire-fronted door and this is the area where your rabbit will eat and toilet. The other area should have solid walls and will be more private. Your rabbit will want to sleep here so provide it with lots of straw bedding.

Construction

The hutch should be raised off the floor slightly to allow air to circulate underneath it. The roof of the hutch must be waterproof. You can treat the outside of the hutch with wood preservative or paint to make it waterproof but do not paint or treat the wood on the inside – your rabbit will probably chew this and some chemicals can be harmful if eaten.

The hutch should be strongly built and secure to protect your rabbit from cats, dogs and foxes. Bolts are the best fasteners for the doors – they cannot be opened accidentally and will be safe against other animals.

Traditionally, hutches had wire floors – allowing the droppings to fall through and be cleared away. These are not suitable for pet rabbits as they can cause sore feet.

If you are going to use a second-hand hutch, you must disinfect it well with an ammonia solution (diluted bleach) and let it dry thoroughly before adding the bedding.

Bedding

Lining the floor of the hutch with a layer of newspaper will help to protect the wood from being soaked. Next, add a thick layer of woodshavings – but take care which type you use: some woodshavings, e.g. cedar, may release fumes which can irritate the eyes and respiratory tracts of rabbits. Do not use sawdust as the particles are very small and can easily enter the eyes causing irritation. Finish off with a layer of straw all over the hutch, but add extra straw to the sleeping area so your rabbit can make a bed.

It is essential to clean the hutch regularly to keep your rabbit in good health. Most rabbits are very ‘clean’ – they will use one corner of their hutch as a toilet. This area should be cleaned out daily – use a dustpan and brush to sweep out the droppings. Then every 7-10 days, the entire bedding in the hutch should be replaced. Move your rabbit to an outdoor run while you do this. Ideally leave the hutch empty of bedding for a couple of hours to allow the wood to dry out.

Rabbits that are kept in unsanitary hutches are likely to develop conditions such as snuffles, sore feet, urine scalding, dirty bottoms, and fly strike (a condition where blow flies lay their eggs on the rabbit and the maggots bury into its skin).

Dimensions

Runs allow your rabbits to freely exercise and graze on grass. Ideally, your rabbit should have 2 hours of exercise in it’s run every day (except in bad weather). There are no recommended dimensions for a run – some people can make a secure, safe run for their rabbit out of the whole of their garden – others prefer a smaller run which is lightweight and can be moved to a fresh piece of lawn every day.

Construction

Runs need to be very secure – your rabbit must not be able to escape and other animals (dogs, cats etc) must not be able to get in. The weight of the run is quite important – it must be too heavy for your rabbit to tip up, or for a dog to nudge over. Wire pegs are a good idea – these will pin the frame to the ground. Some runs have the wire netting extending over the floor of the run – the advantage of this is that your rabbit cannot dig its way out! The disadvantage is that the wire may cause sores on your rabbit’s feet.

Runs are usually constructed with a wooden or metal frame with wire netting placed over this. It is important to provide your rabbit with some shelter in the run so it is protected from sun or rain. A sturdy cardboard or plastic box on its side with some straw inside or a piece of plastic drainpipe will allow your rabbit to shelter and feel secure.

Don’t forget that your rabbit can still get thirsty while it is in the run – remember to add a bowl of water or a drinking bottle.

Muscular dystrophy and other muscular conditions

Generalised muscle weakness in rabbits has numerous causes, many of which are extremely rare or have never been conclusively diagnosed in rabbits, but are important to discuss. By its definition, muscular dystrophy is defined as a degeneration of muscular tissue sometimes caused by faulty nutrition. This has been seen to occur in rabbits as well as other mammals.

Muscular dystrophy is a broad term that is used to describe a group of inherited diseases that are categorised by a progressive weakness and degeneration of the skeletal muscles (paresis). As the disease progresses and the muscle fibres weaken, fibrous and fatty tissues replace them. The disease is caused by a gene mutation that is transmitted genetically from parents to off-spring.

The main cause of muscular dystrophy in rabbits is a serious lack of, or no, vitamin E in the diet, leading to a deficiency. Clinical symptoms include mortality of neonates during the first 3-10 weeks of age, weakness, coma and eventually death.

Currently there is no cure for muscular dystrophy, nor is there any way of slowing the progression of the disease. Medical management may include supportive treatment, pain management, a good diet and respiratory support. Steroids may be of some benefit, but the potential side-effects need to be taken into consideration.

Floppy rabbit syndrome

Floppy rabbit syndrome (FRS) has been well documented in rabbits but its exact cause has never been truly identified. Rabbits affected with FRS lose all the strength in their limbs, but remain bright and able to eat and drink as long as food is put within reach. Lead poisoning, hypokalaemia (potassium deficiency) and plant toxins have all been cited as potential causes, although no diagnosis based on investigative evidence, has ever been documented.

Often after 2-3 days, with supportive treatment, rabbits seem to spontaneously self-cure of FRS; however some may relapse some weeks, months or years later.

Myasthenia gravis (MG)

An extremely rare autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness and excessive muscle fatigue. This varies in severity affecting voluntary muscles in the legs, neck, eyes, respiration, etc. Smooth muscles and that of the heart (cardiac muscles) remain unaffected.

Treatment normally consists of anti-cholinesterase medication (pyridostigmine), which prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine and improves the chemical signal at the neuromuscular junction.

Immunosuppression in the form of steroids can also be used to suppress the immune system, however, steroids can have side-effects, so should be used with caution. Due to the side-effects, often additional drugs are used, such as azathioprine or ciclosporin. These also suppress the immune system and allow a lower dose of steroids to be given.

MG is often diagnosed by clinical symptoms and a response to treatment, but can be diagnosed with the Tensilon® test, whereby an injection of edrophonium is given, which results in rapid, but short-lived improvement in the symptoms.

Prognosis is guarded to poor, since the condition cannot be cured and the risk of inhalation pneumonia from choking on food is high. Rabbits diagnosed with MG are normally euthanased.

Hepatic lipidosis

Any length of time without constant throughput of food within the gastrointestinal tract can begin a sequence of events that can prove to be rapidly fatal to the rabbit.

Rabbits who go any length of time without food become hypoglycaemic (low blood glucose), which stimulates the mobilisation of fatty acids from the fat reserves. These are transported to the rabbits liver, which are intended to be used as an energy source. The fat accumulates in the hepatocytes (liver cells), leading to liver failure and death, sometimes within a few hours. Symptoms of hepatic lipidosis can include muscle weakness.

Pregnancy toxaemia

Pregnancy toxaemia is a disease that may affect rabbits during late gestation and is characterised by abnormally low levels of sugar and high levels of ketones in the blood.

Predisposing factors are generally obesity and anorexia. The main clinical signs are generalised weakness and incoordination. The rabbit is generally very quiet and unwilling to move. In severe cases, if not treated as an emergency, it can lead to death.

Treatment consists of administration of glucose solution, fluid therapy and assisted feeding.

Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi)

E. cuniculi has been documented as occurring in up to 50% of rabbits; many of whom carry the parasite asymptomatically and remain healthy throughout life and never suffer from any of the symptoms related to the parasite.

However, symptoms can include paresis, including paralysis of the limbs. Other symptoms may include head tilt, urinary incontinence, rolling, nystagmus (rapid flicking of the eyes), uveitis, fitting or even sudden death.

Treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation within the brain and kidneys, which the parasite has caused and returning the parasite back to its dormant stage. This is usually achieved with medication such as fenbendazole for at least 28 consecutive days. Sometimes a longer or repeated course is required. Supportive treatment is aimed at maintaining gastrointestinal function, pain relief and the mental and physical wellbeing of the rabbit, until the rabbit is capable of supporting itself.

Despite intensive treatment, sometimes some rabbits do not respond to treatment and require euthanasia to spare them suffering any further.

Feeding a good diet that is contains adequate amounts of vitamin E is essential; all good quality rabbit foods will contain sufficient amounts of vitamin E.

Rabbits can be blood tested to see if they are positive for E. cuniculi. However, a positive result does not indicate an active infection. It only indicates that the rabbit has, at some point in their life, been exposed to the parasite. A negative result is evidence that the rabbit is clear of E. cuniculi.

Ensure that if your rabbit stops eating, you contact your vet as soon as possible. Hepatic lipidosis and pregnancy toxaemia can begin after only a few hours of anorexia. Obesity should also be addressed and treated.

Hip luxation

Luxation (dislocation) is defined as ‘dislocation of a joint so that there is no contact between the articular surfaces’. Rabbits have very delicate skeletons, and as their muscle mass is large relative to their skeleton injuries to joints can easily be caused through trauma or abnormal or excessive sudden movements. In addition, congenital abnormalities are also seen in rabbits and therefore hip luxation may be commonly encountered in pet rabbits.

Luxation of the hip is when the ball of the hip joint comes out of the socket, instead of normally sitting nicely in contact with each other. This is often caused by trauma, which may be as little as the rabbit jumping and landing awkwardly, or any forceful trauma to the hip, e.g. being trodden on, running into something, fighting, kicking out when being picked up, etc.

Clinical signs after trauma are often immediate with the rabbit having an obvious limp and looking very uncomfortable on the affected limb.

Congenital conditions causing luxation may appear more slowly as the rabbit develops.

Splay leg is a term often used to describe a number of developmental conditions in young rabbits of up to a few months old. The affected rabbit is unable to adduct the affected limb/s, i.e. hold it in the normal position under the body, and often has an appearance much like Thumper in the film Bambi, where he slides on the ice! The condition can affect forelimbs as well as hindlimbs, but seems more common in the hindlimbs.

Euthanasia is often the kindest option for those rabbits that have more than one limb affected. Those affected to a lesser degree may be able to cope with careful management of their environment, ensuring they are kept clean and are housed on non-slip flooring.

Since the condition is inherited, affected rabbits should never be bred from.

Diagnosis of luxations can be performed by taking an x-ray of the rabbit’s hips and pelvis. Often two views are needed, a lateral view from the side, and a ventrodorsal view achieved by lying the rabbit on their back.

Rabbits are often sedated or anaesthetised for this, since in order to achieve diagnostic images, the rabbit needs to remain totally immobile.

Sometimes it is possible to put the luxated hip back into its socket by manual manipulation, which must be done under sedation or anaesthesia since it can be painful to the rabbit.

It is sometimes necessary to perform corrective surgery, as often the hip can re-luxate within hours, days or even weeks after being placed back into the socket, and therefore permanent stabilisation is required.

Eye abscesses

Abscesses develop when bacteria enter a part of the body. It is the body’s natural defences to try and ‘wall off’ infection to stop it spreading elsewhere within the body. This can lead to problems when the abscess is located within the region of the eye, since the location is hard to successfully operate on, and the case is frequently difficult to cure.

Abscesses are a common occurrence in rabbits, and form when bacteria enter the skin or a body cavity, and sets up an infection. This causes a pocket of infection to form, characterised by an accumulation of pus.

Unlike dog and cat pus (exudate), rabbit exudate is thick and semi-solid, much like toothpaste, making it difficult to flush. This causes a high recurrence rate, since only a small amount of exudate needs to be left inside the abscess cavity for it to return.

Abscesses that are located around the face are often due to dental disease, which can also manifest as ocular problems, since the upper tooth roots can overgrow and impinge upon the eye socket and the nasolacrimal tear duct.

Abscesses that develop behind the eye are known as retrobulbar abscesses. They are very well encapsulated and because of their location they are very difficult to reach and drain.

Dental disease is often a predisposing factor since the roots of the upper cheek teeth can impinge upon the eyeball, and in extreme cases penetrate through it. The food passes from the mouth to the socket of the root developing infection that eventually becomes an abscess.

The most common signs of a retrobulbar abscess are bulging of the eye, protrusion of the third eyelid across the eye and inability to close the eyelids completely. Abnormal ocular or oculonasal discharge can also develop as a consequence of the eye irritation and the rabbit may show signs of discomfort such as excessive blinking and grinding teeth.

In chronic cases, rabbits can continue eating and drinking normally, but often the rabbit will deteriorate as the pain escalates or the dental disease progresses and eventually will stop eating and passing faecal pellets.

There are many investigations that are possible to perform in order to make a diagnosis of retrobulbar abscess; the first is the a physical examination. Often, in moderate to severe cases, it is possible to make a presumptive diagnosis after having examined the affected eye and the mouth for the presence of dental disease.

However, in order to confirm the diagnosis, radiographic and ultrasonographic examinations are generally the tests of choice. Radiography (x-rays) of the skull is generally performed under general anaesthesia. X-rays will not only show abnormalities behind the eye, but will also give the opportunity to confirm or rule out dental disease.

Ultrasonography (scan) of the eye can be performed when the animal is conscious or under light sedation depending on the nature of the animal. However, this test is limited to the evaluation of the eye and the retrobulbar space.

Ideally a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan should be taken to assess the extent of the abscess, the infection and the tooth roots, but often this is not possible due to financial constraints.

It is also posssible to aspirate material from the abscess and test it for bacteria in order to make a diagnosis of infection rather than tumour, and also to choose the best antibiotics as treatment.

Unfortunately, retrobulbar abscesses are very difficult to treat due to the thick exudate that is difficult to drain and due to the location just behind the eye.

Medical treatment is generally unrewarding and surgical removal of the eye (enucleation) is usually necessary. Surgery allows complete removal of the abscess and a thorough flushing of the cavity to ensure that none of the exudate is left within it. The abscess cavity may also need debriding and being packed with antibiotic impregnated beads.

Occasionally this can be curative, but since the origin of the problem is very often related to dental disease, this will also need to be addressed. This can prove long and expensive, and treatment may need to be aimed at palliative care, to keep the rabbit comfortable for as long as possible.

Drainage of a retrobulbar abscess through the mouth can be successful in mild cases, and if caused by a tooth. In this case, the tooth needs to be removed as well as long-term medical treatment with antibiotics started.

Treatment of retrobulbar abscesses is an extremely difficult procedure and, unfortunately the majority of chronic retrobulbar abscesses may recur.

Overgrown teeth

The incisors, premolars, and molars of rabbits grow throughout life. Rabbits do not possess any canine teeth, but do have peg teeth which sit just behind the upper incisors. The normal length is maintained by the wearing action of opposing teeth. Malocclusion (mandibular prognathism, brachygnathism) probably is the most common inherited disease in rabbits and leads to overgrowth of incisors, premolars and molars, with resultant difficulty in eating and drinking. However, malocclusion can develop in later life due to incorrect diet, especially one lacking in the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio or through trauma to the teeth or jaw.

A temporary correction can be made by burring the overgrown incisor teeth down with a dental burr and filing any pre-molar or molar overgrowth down. Cutting teeth with bone, wire cutters or nail clippers is not recommended due to the pressure it exerts upon the teeth. This often leads to them shattering, resulting in tooth root infections and abscesses.

Because malocclusion is generally considered to be inherited, rabbits with this condition should not be bred from. However, young rabbits can damage their incisor teeth by pulling on the cage wire, which results in misalignment and possibly malocclusion as the teeth grow. This type of malocclusion or one caused by trauma to the teeth, may resolve by itself after burring of the teeth, but may take more than one treatment.

One of he most common reasons that rabbits are taken to a vets is for teeth problems. This may be for either incisor and/or cheek teeth overgrowth.

Dental disease in rabbits can cause immense pain to the rabbit since the incisor teeth can grow up or down into the opposing lips. Cheek teeth often cause painful ulcers on the tongue or cheeks, even possibly semi-severing the tongue!

Abscesses are a common problem associated with dental disease since the tooth roots can grow up into the eye or down into the lower jaw. Such infections are difficult if not mostly impossible to treat and euthanasia is often the kindest option for the rabbit.

Runny eyes are another common problem associated with teeth problems since any overgrowth of the upper tooth roots can impinge upon the tear duct, stopping tears from draining from the eye to the nose as they are supposed to do, so they overflow onto the face. This can make the rabbit’s face very sore.

The best way of avoiding teeth problems is to purchase your rabbit from a reputable breeder who knows the history of your rabbits family and has ensured that only those rabbits who have no dental disease in the breeding line have been used. However, this isn’t going to ensure that your rabbit doesn’t develop dental disease, since the most common cause of dental disease is a poor or incorrect diet.

Rabbits teeth grow at 2-3mm per week and this needs to be constantly worn down by chewing on abrasive foods. The best diet for a rabbit is one that mimics what wild rabbits eat.& Unlimited amounts of fresh meadow hay and access to graze on grass provide the rabbit with fibrous and abrasive feeding matter which not only creates a side to side chewing action, which is perfect for wearing the teeth down, but also ensures the rabbit is getting a high fibre diet, ensuring the gastrointestinal system is kept moving.

On top of the hay and grass, offer a small amount of an extruded nugget food, of which there are several varieties available now to prevent the rabbit from selectively feeding. Rabbits who are allowed to selectively feed, and pick out certain pieces of the muesli style rabbit food, over-time become deficient in calcium and phosphorus which allows the teeth to loosen in the sockets slightly and misaligns them, leading to dental disease. If you do feed a muesli type food then ensure the rabbit eats all of it before you offer anymore.

Allow your rabbit to have fresh greens daily and avoid mineral supplement blocks for them to gnaw on. These are unnecessary for rabbits fed a balanced diet and do not promote correct dental wear, and can cause other health problems.

Providing straw/wicker mats, plaits, baskets, etc for your rabbit to chew on is another way of getting them to chew on abrasive materials and keeping them entertained at the same time.

Avoid feeding sugary treats bought from pet shops and excessive quantities of fruits.

It is important to check your rabbits teeth on a regular basis, at least on a weekly basis, to ensure you pick up on any potential dental problems before they start causing your rabbit any discomfort. Whilst checking the incisor (front) teeth is possible, it is impossible to check the rabbits cheek teeth without taking your rabbit to a vet, so knowing what symptoms a rabbit may show with dental disease is important.

Symptoms vary; the rabbit may salivate or have matted fur on the inside of their front legs from where they have been wiping the saliva. Weight loss may occur if the problem is allowed to go on for a while before treatment is sought. The rabbit may go off certain foods and favour others or stop eating completely – this is an emergency and veterinary attention must be sought straight away.

The rabbits eyes may discharge, lumps may be felt under the rabbits chin, the rabbit may sit and grind its teeth loudly in pain and be uninterested in its surroundings. If abscesses have developed then swellings may be seen anywhere around the rabbits face.

All of these symptoms may indicate a dental problem and your rabbit must be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

This really depends on the type of dental disease and severity of it.

Facial abscesses associated with bony structures (osteomyelitis) carry a very poor prognosis since it is virtually impossible to remove the abscess, draining it often has no effect as it will simply refill and it is hard to get antibiotics to the site at a strong enough concentration.

If the rabbit is pain free or its pain can be managed successfully, it is eating and drinking and has a good quality of life, then sometimes rabbits can live perfectly happily with such abscesses for many months/years, but if the rabbits quality of life cannot be maintained then euthanasia is the kindest option.

Overgrowth of the incisor teeth can be maintained by frequent burring of the teeth, which is often possible to do on a conscious rabbit but may need repeating every 2-3 weeks. The incisor teeth can often be removed to solve the problem.

Cheek teeth malocclusion may need regular dentals under anaesthetic, to rasp off the sharp edges, often every 4-6 weeks, but sometime as long as 6-12 months between treatments is seen. The owner will need to be vigilant for symptoms. If the rabbit has a good quality of life between treatments and the owner is able to afford such regular veterinary care then this can carry on for many years. But if the rabbits quality of life is poor between the treatments or the owner cannot afford the financial commitment, then putting the rabbit to sleep is often the only option. It may be possible to remove the offending cheek teeth but such surgery is complicated and most vets will refer the rabbit onto a more experienced rabbit vet if they are not confident at performing the surgery, which may be expensive to the owner. Furthermore, pet insurance will often not cover dental disease, so always check with your insurance company before embarking upon treatment, if paying for it yourself may be a problem.

When it comes to dental disease prevention is much better than cure, as since most forms of dental disease cannot be cured, they are expensive for the owner and often painful for the rabbit, so always ensure your rabbit is fed a good diet and be vigilant for dental problems.

Keeping your bunny amused

Does your rabbit have toys and objects to play with to keep him amused? Or have you never really thought about giving him something to play with?

Its readily accepted that cats and dogs need toys to keep themselves amused, but most people never think of giving their rabbits toys to play with.

Rabbits are intelligent and social animals, and as well as enjoying the company of other rabbits (and people), they need a lot of mental stimulation in order to keep their body and mind active and in peak condition. Toys encourage a rabbit to display and undertake their natural behaviours, such as digging, nibbling, throwing objects, and skipping and jumping, which helps to keep them fit and occupied.

Rabbits can have a wide and varied variety of toys. Toys made of strong, non-toxic plastic, cardboard, willow and wicker are ideal, although make sure that you inspect all the toys regularly for any sharp edges or dangerous holes which they could get a foot or their head stuck in or which may cause them an injury.

Shop bought toys

If you look in any pet shop nowadays they will have a wide selection of toys that have been designed especially for rabbits. These will include rattles, balls, chew blocks, tunnels, etc. However you don’t have to stick to rabbit toys some toys made for cats, dogs and birds are also equally suitable for rabbits, as are baby toys which are always tough and non-toxic.

Feeding balls/cubes which are designed to keep dogs amused are also ideal for rabbits. These allow the rabbit to play, whilst exercising and being rewarded with food. All or some of the rabbits daily food ration can be placed in the feeding ball in the morning to allow them amusement over the course of the day.

Home-made toys

You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money on toys for your rabbit. As well as buying toys, everyday items found around the home that would otherwise be thrown away can make ideal toys for rabbits.

The inner cardboard tubes from kitchen rolls and toilet rolls make good objects for rabbits to nibble on, tear and throw around. However, if the rabbit tries to swallow any of the cardboard then the tubes should be taken away and only given when the rabbit can be supervised.

Old magazines are a firm favourite with many rabbits for tearing and digging at, but again ensure the rabbit isn’t swallowing any of the paper and any staples are removed.

Large cardboard boxes that are filled with hay or shredded paper, with food items hidden inside them will provide a rabbit with hours of fun as they scramble around in the box, nibbling the hay and searching for the food.

Dangerous toys

Any item which can be swallowed, either whole or if the rabbit chews the toy, is dangerous and shouldn’t be given. Likewise items with sharp edges, those which may be poisonous or toxic should never be given. If you are in any doubt as to the safety of at toy then it is always safer not to give it and to give them something else.

In order to keep your rabbit amused, instead of allowing them access to all of their toys all of the time, you can change their toys each week so they have a different selection to play with.

As you can see supplying your rabbit with a selection of toys doesn’t have to be expensive and you will see a difference in your rabbits behaviour as they explore and discover how to play with toys of different textures, shapes and sizes, not only giving them hours of fun but also rewarding you with amusement as you watch them.