The Irish Blue Cross,
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Top Ten Questions asked about Rabbits
Top ten questions asked about rabbits
(1) Can my rabbit live outdoors?
Rabbits need lots of space to enable them to stand up on their hindquarters and hop around. Therefore most commercial hutches are too small for the sole residence of your rabbit. A large grazing area or run with a bedroom for privacy is ideal. A hutch can be used for this private area, with free access to the run. Ensure the run is enclosed and safe from predators such as cats or foxes which may be in the area. Providing large pipes will stimulate burrows which are also used for boltholes when your rabbit feels threatened. The best area to place your rabbit’s home is in a shady part of the garden out of direct sunlight, as rabbits do not like high temperatures but not in a windy area.
(2) Can I keep my rabbit in the house?
Rabbits also make great indoor pets; they love the social activity within the home. Rabbits use latrines in the wild so toilet training your rabbit is possible. A cat litter tray can be used but do not use cat litter substrate as your rabbit may eat this. A deep tray with newspaper and hay on top will encourage your rabbit to eliminate in the tray. Again, rabbits don’t like high temperatures so ensure your rabbit is in a cool part of the house as a warm humid atmosphere can lead to respiratory problems. If keeping your rabbit indoors ensure they have a hiding area they can retreat to when they feel the need to be in a safer environment. Rabbits are known to chew lots of objects when indoors, so ensure your rabbit has no access to electrical cables or household plants etc.
(3) What food does my rabbit need?
Rabbits are herbivorous which means they only eat vegetation. Fibre is an essential part of a rabbit’s diet; it helps prevent dental and intestinal problems. The best diet for your rabbit is grass and meadow hay, but make sure no chemical products are used on this feed i.e. weedol etc as this will harm your rabbit. Grasses are a huge source of fibre and the action of chewing this feed creates plenty of wear on the check teeth which is required to prevent the teeth from over growing. Mixed vegetables should be added for an additional fibre source, but introduce these slowly and gradually or it will create a tummy upset. High fibre rabbit pellets have all the nutritional requirements incorporated in the pellet which should be given and changed on a daily basis. Your rabbit may selectively eat when given muesli type feeds resulting in nutritional deficiencies. Rabbits produce two different types of droppings, one of which is re-ingested, this process is called caecotrophy. This dropping is high in protein and vitamins which your rabbit needs to stay healthy. Avoid feeding high carbohydrate snacks such as breakfast cereals, crackers etc as this will also lead to stomach upsets and obesity. Obesity poses a great concern for rabbit health, an overweight rabbit will find it very difficult to groom and perform caecotrophy. Fruit can be given to your rabbit as a treat periodically. Ensure all fruit and vegetables are fresh, washed and fit for human consumption. Your pet rabbit will require plenty of fresh water daily, so keep a check on the volume your rabbit has access to as they drink quiet a lot. Water bowls can tip over, so if this is a problem try using a water bottle.
(4) How should I clean my rabbit’s enclosure?
Your rabbit’s hutch and enclosure should be cleaned regularly. Soiled material must be removed daily such as soiled bedding and faeces and replaced with fresh bedding. The hutch and private area must be cleaned thoroughly on at least a weekly basis using a 5% concentration of diluted water and bleach. A stronger concentration will harm your rabbit as a residue may remain on the surface. A weaker dilution may not adequately clean the area. Ensure the solution is rinsed thoroughly afterwards. Like wise with an indoor rabbit the latrine area must be cleaned when soiled and replacement lining provided.
(5) Do I need to treat my rabbit for parasites?
Rabbits can acquire parasites such as fleas and mites but there are few licensed products available in Ireland. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you what product is best to use should treatment be required. If you are concerned about your rabbit getting parasites from other domestic animals in the household, regular treatment can be given to cats and dogs in spot on form to help prevent them passing the parasites to your rabbit and are available from most veterinary practices. Rabbits can also get flystrike a condition where flies lay their eggs in dirt or faeces which is attached to the rabbit’s coat. A fly strip can be easily placed in the rabbit’s enclosure to help prevent this condition. If you notice any signs of this, such as a dirty coat around the tail and reduced grooming contact your veterinarian immediately as this can develop in to a very serious condition which can be difficult to treat, so check for this daily especially in the summer months.
(6) Will my rabbit need vaccinations?
Rabbits should be vaccinated against infectious diseases such as viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) and myxomatosis. These vaccinations are available within Ireland and must be administered by a veterinarian. Such diseases are highly contagious and can be fatal to your rabbit. , your Rabbit can receive vaccination from the age of eight weeks old, contact your veterinarian for advise on what vaccination regime is best suited for your rabbit. The vaccinations provide twelve months immunity, after which annual booster injections can be given. Rabbits in high risk areas of myxomatosis should receive regular vaccination every six months.
(7) Do all rabbits need their teeth clipped?
A rabbits teeth are open rooted which means they continuously grow. This does not cause any problems if your rabbit has the correct diet. As previously noted a rabbit’s diet must consist of fibre such as grass and pellets. When your rabbit chews this food it is providing plenty of abrasion which naturally wears the teeth. Often rabbits can still have dental problems even if they are getting the correct diet and care. So it is very important to observe your rabbit closely to ensure they are able to eat without any problems. If you are concerned that your rabbits teeth are overgrowing or observe any of the following signs, drooling of saliva, a reduced appetite, weight loss and reduced grooming contact a veterinarian immediately.
(8) How should I handle my rabbit?
Rabbits have very strong hind legs which allow them to run very fast, jump and kick. When holding a rabbit it is very important to support the entire body particularly the hind limbs by placing one hand under the tummy and the other under the tail, holding them close to your body. By holding your rabbit in this way they feel secure and help prevent them from injuring themselves, as they are capable of doing so if they kick out with their hind legs. When putting your rabbit down always do so gently, hind legs first on a non slip surface. If your rabbit is handled correctly from a young age they will usually enjoy the experience. Your rabbit should be groomed and petted daily, also examining their mouth, ears, eyes, coat and skin will aid in recognising any signs illness or injuries which can other wise go un-noticed. This will familiarise them with being handled and help your rabbit feel more comfortable when being examined by the veterinarian. Also inspect your rabbit to ensure that faeces are not collecting around the tail area, particularly during the summer time. If this occurs it suggests your rabbit is unable to perform caecotrophy, therefore your veterinarian should be contacted immediately. This may suggest poor health or obesity and can lead to more serious conditions such as flystrike. Daily observation of your rabbit in this way helps you to pick up on any problems early, in turn speeding up the initiation of any treatment which may be required. Should you notice any health problems with your companion always seek professional advice from your veterinarian?
Never hold a rabbit by the ears!!!
(9) Can my rabbit be neutered?
Rabbits can become sexually mature from the age of six weeks and can successfully reproduce from this age. It is not necessary for your rabbit to mate or have a litter and they can be neutered from an early age. Therefore we would advise you to separate male from female rabbits from the age of six weeks which is the time of weaning. Contact your veterinarian for advice on what age your rabbit should be neutered. Neutering both male and female rabbit’s aid in prevention of territorial and sexual aggression, prevention of uterine cancer in females and unwanted pregnancies. There are always possible risks associated with administration of anaesthesia, should you think it’s necessary to have your rabbit neutered contact your veterinarian for further information regarding the procedure and reasons for this elective surgery.
(10) Does my rabbit need a hutch mate or companion?
Rabbits are very social animals, in the wild they live in large groups. One rabbit on its own may become very lonely. The best option is to keep a compatible pair or group such as neutered males and females etc. Always take great care when introducing your rabbit to other species. Ensure both the rabbit and the other animal does not have access to each other at any stage unless you are confident they are happy in each others company and that no harm will come to them. Rabbits are territorial and will defend their enclosure area by fighting with intruders so arrange new meetings on neutral territory. Domestic animals such as cats and dogs can harm the rabbit with rough play or even aggression if they are unfamiliar with the species as a result of incorrect introductions, the consequences can be fatal. Therefore you must consider if the introduction is necessary and take all the appropriate measures to ensure a safe get-together. It is not advisable to keep guinea pigs with rabbits. Guinea pigs are susceptible to respiratory disease from bacteria which rabbits carry and can become ill during times of stress as rabbits can be found to bully smaller rodents sharing territory.