Rabbit Care and Information Sheet

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Google Maps location for Bakers Hill Veterinary Hospital

Bakers Hill Veterinary Hospital
4609 Great Eastern Highway
Bakers Hill
WA 6562

Phone:
08 9574 1061

Bakers Hill Veterinary Hospital’s guide to Rabbit Care

Click here to download this info as a PDF handout

 

Rabbit Basic Information, Feeding and Veterinary Care:

Rabbits make great family pets! They are generally friendly, inquisitive and cuddly creatures who become a real part of the family.  There is however a lot of misinformation about rabbit care which can lead to a range of problems. This information sheet outlines what we recommend for basic rabbit husbandry, feeding and veterinary care.

Rabbit Background Information:

Rabbits live on average 6-10 years of age; however there are some cases of rabbits living well into their mid-teens. Rabbits are found in most countries around the world and are a common agricultural pest.  Their weight can range anywhere from 1-8kgs, depending on the breed.

Rabbits are actually not rodents but are known as Lagomorphs, which are characterised by having 2 rows of upper incisor teeth.

Rabbits will reach sexual maturity at 4-8 months of age. Female rabbits (Does) don’t have a set oestrous cycle, they are induced ovulators. This means that the act of mating will bring on the Doe’s ovulation. Rabbits average gestation period is between 28-32 days. An average litter size can vary from 4-12 babies. Baby rabbits (kits or kittens) are born furless, with their eyes closed and live their first 3 weeks in the nest their mother has made. Rabbit kits should be weaned once they reach 6 weeks of age.

General Keeping Recommendations:

Rabbits are a social animal and benefit from having a companion rabbit. Single rabbits will require more human attention, but the human companion can never quite replace a true mate. Both bucks (males) and does (females) are able to be housed together. A slow introduction is best as they can fight if suddenly introduced to unfamiliar rabbits. There may be an initial confrontation to determine the ranking order of the group. Desexing your rabbit is the best way to reduce the risk of fighting and aggression as well as cancers. 

Rabbit Husbandry:

Good husbandry is important for rabbits, with most diseases preventable by adequate care.  Rabbits do well in a hutch that can be inside or outside, but it must be undercover i.e. free from direct sunlight, wind and rain. Newspaper can be used to line the bottom of the hutch with a bedding substrate such as straw, meadow hay or pine shavings placed on top of the newspaper. To avoid the cage becoming too dirty it must be changed at least once a week, and if soiled it must be changed more regularly.

Rabbits produce ammonia in their urine, and rabbits are sensitive to high levels of ammonia in the air. Keeping your rabbit’s hutch clean prevents ammonia build up and avoids potential problems. Waste from the hutch makes great compost for your garden!

Rabbits are sensitive to heat, and high temperatures over 28 degrees can cause heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can be life threatening! So it is very important to keep your rabbit cool on hot days, especially if they live outdoors. On hot days provide plenty of cold water and vegetables and ensure that the hutch is not in full sun. Frozen water bottles are a great way for your pet rabbit to cool off by laying against it.

There are a couple of deadly diseases that your rabbit is at risk of getting, both carried by wild rabbits. If your rabbit lives outdoors it is extremely important to mosquito-proof the hutch as mosquitos can transmit the deadly myxomatosis virus from wild rabbits to your pet. For this reason we recommend all outdoor hutches be fitted with fly screen mesh to prevent mosquitos from being able to get access to the hutch. Wild rabbits also carry the deadly calici virus and may pass this disease directly to your pet rabbit or via fleas or even the air. Vaccination is available and recommended for calici virus but there is no vaccine in Australia for the myxomatosis virus.

What to Feed your Rabbit:

Many problems we see in rabbits are due to feeding inappropriate or inadequate diets. For this reason it is crucial to feed your rabbit correctly.

A diet containing high fibre, moderate protein levels with some fat, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins is the most suitable for a rabbit. The rabbit should always have access to some good quality grass such as meadow hay or timothy hay and this should make up 70-90% of your pet rabbit’s diet. A good quality oaten or lucerne chaff approximately 30g/kg/day, as well as a good quality rabbit pellet, some fresh grass and a range of fresh vegetables and herbs make up the rest of the diet.

Appropriate fresh vegetables and herbs include Asian greens, broccoli, celery, carrot, silver beat, parsley, mint and basil. Fruits are only to be given as a treat item!

Foods to never  feed include but are not limited to:  iceberg lettuce, onion, garlic, potato, meat, tomato plants, jalapenos or rhubarb.

It’s very important that your pet rabbit has access to fresh water at all times, which can be provided by using a bottle attached to the cage.

 

When does your Rabbit need a Vet?

Rabbits, like any other pets, require regular check-ups and veterinary care

Annual checks-

We recommend annual check-ups for your pet rabbit. At this time the vet will do a thorough examination of your rabbit and this helps to identify any problems that may be occurring. Your rabbit’s teeth will be checked and advice on prevention and management of dental disease (a relatively common problem in rabbits) can be discussed.

Vaccination-

To prevent your pet rabbit from contracting the deadly calici virus we recommend vaccinating against this virus.

Please note: a new strain of calici virus was released in 2017 to control wild rabbits.  The Australian Veterinary Association recommends that for best protection against the current calici virus released, previously released calici viruses and the variant found in some parts of Australia, the following vaccination protocol should be followed in consultation with us, your vets:

  • Kittens: 4, 8, 12 weeks of age, then 6 monthly for life
  • Adults: 2 vaccinations 1 month apart, then 6 monthly for life
The Department of Primary Industries have also recommended that owners of rabbits take these additional precautions if they have pet rabbits: 
  • "Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits"
  • "Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is a risk of contamination from wild rabbits"
  • "Wash hands with warm, soapy water between handling rabbits"
  • "Good insect control is also important and will help reduce the risks of introduction of both calici viruses and myxomatosis.  Insect control should include insect proofing the hutch or keeping the rabbits indoors" 
  • "Infected rabbits should be isolated and disposed of in a manner that will minimise environmental contamination".  If you have any questions about how, please feel free to contact us for more information.     
  • "All cages and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected".  Speak to us about what to use.  
 Sterilisation-

We strongly recommend that you sterilise or desex your pet rabbit. Apart from preventing unwanted pregnancies, our main reasons for this are:

  • Sterilisation prevents the development of uterine cancer, an extremely common reproductive disease in even young female rabbits
  • Sterilisations reduces the risk of fighting if you have more than one rabbit
  • Sterilisation decreases aggression

 

Summary

By following this advice you can help ensure that your rabbit is receiving the care it deserves to live a healthy life, and it reduces the chance of some common problems occurring.

Unfortunately, even with the best care, problems can still occur and if you are in any way concerned about your pet rabbit, feel free to give us a call to discuss this or arrange an appointment with our vets.

Things to watch out for in your rabbit (and be concerned about) include, but are not limited to:

  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weak back legs
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Hair loss
  • Dull eyes or coat
  • Dirty
  • Scratching excessively
  • Staining around the mouth
  • Discharge from  eyes or nose
  • Weight loss or change in appetite or change in dietary preference
  • Lumps
  • Abnormal urine colour