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Rabbit Q & A's

Answers to common rabbit questions

Will one rabbit be happy living on its own?

No, but for many years people were advised to keep rabbits as individuals so that fighting and unwanted mating would not occur.  However when studying the natural behaviour of rabbits it is evident that they are social creatures, (wild rabbits live in social groups of 2-8 adults) and therefore group housing is recommended. Studies show that rabbits housed within a group display less abnormal behaviour (such as restlessness, excessive grooming and timidity). However it is important that individuals within a group have enough space and places to hide away from other rabbits in the group. In addition several food and water stations should be provided to prevent competition and possible aggression.  When keeping rabbits as pets we should try to provide the most natural living conditions possible. A happy rabbit is more likely to stay healthy and will be more of a pleasure to own, with definite increases in owner/animal interaction and bonding.

The suggested ideal group for pet companionship consists of one male and two neutered females.  To prevent aggression within the group, rabbits should be introduced to each other by 6 weeks of age and the females should be neutered at 4-5 months of age. 

We thought we had two female rabbits but one gave birth, should we get them neutered?

Firstly it is best to get your rabbits sexed accurately, as it is possible that they are both females, but were mated prior to you getting them. Pregnancy in rabbits lasts about one month, litters usually consist of 4-5 kittens, but unlike other species rabbits can be mated and become pregnant within 12 hours of having the last litter, hence the term breeding like rabbits! 

The current advice is that it should be the females that are neutered as not only does this stop unwanted litters, but also by removing the uterus it prevents uterine cancer, which has a very high incidence in rabbits. Therefore if two females are kept together without a male it is still recommended that they be neutered to prevent uterine cancer. Neutering of females should be carried out at 4-5 months of age.

There are certain situations when males should be neutered such as when a group of males is kept together. Neutering will decrease the territorial behaviours demonstrated and decrease the incidence of fighting between them. Neutering of males should be carried out at 5-6 months of age.

My rabbit only picks out certain bits of his food to eat, is he still getting a balanced diet?

Unfortunately not.  Commercial rabbit mixes are designed to provide a balanced diet but only if all the different ingredients are eaten together. However rabbits are naturally selective feeders and therefore where mixes are made up of different coloured and textured grains and cereals they may only eat the bits they prefer.  Therefore it is better to feed a commercial diet that comes in a pelleted form, to prevent selective feeding.  It should be remembered that commercial diets should only make up a very small proportion of the daily food; the majority of the diet should be grass or hay.  Rabbits are designed to eat lots of high fibre, low energy food. This keeps their teeth ground down, and so prevents dental problems, is good for digestive health and so prevents diarrhoea, and also prevents obesity.

I suspect my neighbour's rabbits are treated badly, what should i do?

Despite being a popular pet, sadly rabbits are often neglected just through lack of knowledge of their requirements. I’m sure your neighbour doesn’t mean to be cruel, talk to her and tell her your feelings. You can also get her to look at websites such as Rabbit Welfare for more information about good husbandry.

Enough space should always be provided to allow the rabbits to demonstrate natural behaviours; in the wild a rabbit will spend time running, leaping, jumping and twisting all of which are impossible within the confines of a small cage. Research has shown that the following diseases can be associated with improper housing and include osteoperosis, obesity, dermatitis, ulcers, respiratory problems, heart disease and fly strike. Ideally rabbits should live in a two-tier hutch (with sleeping quarters). The rabbits should be able to access a large grassy area from their hutch, but due to natural digging behaviour mesh should be used to prevent the rabbits from digging out.  Wooden boltholes need to also be placed within the area so that the rabbit may hide when threatened.  Look out posts can be placed within the enclosure and hollow logs, clay pipes and upturned clay flowerpots provide shade and alternative places to hide, play and explore. Hayracks will keep hay off the floor and encourage stretching.  Fruit twigs, carrots dangling from ropes and areas of parsley and dandelion for feeding encourage a more natural feeding behaviour.

What is fly strike and how can I prevent it?

Fly strike is caused by flies laying their eggs in soiled areas on rabbits skin. This usually occurs around a rabbit’s bottom where the fur is soiled due to diarrhoea. The eggs hatch out to maggots, which then eat their way into the rabbits flesh. The condition is very distressing to the rabbit and can be fatal.  It can easily be prevented by daily handling your rabbit and checking it for diarrhoea, or other problems which may attract flies, such as urine scald or open wounds. Several products are available from vets to prevent the development of maggots, however the condition is best avoided by good husbandry. If a rabbit is fed the correct diet, it will not get diarrhoea. If a rabbit has a large hutch and run that is regularly cleaned out, it will not sit in soiled bedding and get urine scald.

What diseases do I need to have my rabbit vaccinated against?

Myxomatosis and rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD).

Most people are aware of Myxomatosis. It was originally imported into France to control the wild rabbit population, and then was accidentally introduced to the United Kingdom. It causes a high temperature and swellings around the eyes and genitals. The affected animal goes off it’s food and usually dies about a week later.  Myxomatosis is caused by a pox virus which is transmitted by blood sucking insects (not by direct rabbit to rabbit contact). Therefore as well as vaccinating rabbits it is important to control fleas and other biting insects. The vaccination can be given from 5 weeks of age, and should be repeated at least yearly.
RVHD is much less known about by the general population, often because death can occur very quickly with few outward signs. It is also caused by a virus, and is either spread by direct contact between rabbits, or indirectly by spread of the virus on clothing and objects. Signs include depression, collapse, convulsions, suffocation and bleeding from the nose or other orifice. There are two strains: RVHD1 and RVHD2. The RVHD1 strain is usually combined with the Myxomatosis vaccine, and can be given from 5 weeks of age, and should be repeated annually. The RVHD2 strain should be given every 6-12 months.

I regularly worm my dogs and cat, do I need to worm my rabbit too?

Yes, not only does regular worming control intestinal parasites (such as pinworms, tapeworms and roundworms) it can also control protozoan parasites. In rabbits we are most concerned with the protozoan parasite called Encephalitozoon Cuniculi. It is a tiny parasite that lives inside the rabbit’s body cells.  Once infected rabbits can show a range of signs, from nothing obvious to severe neurological problems (such as hind limb weakness, head tilt and fits). The parasite is spread in spores within the urine and faeces of infected rabbits.

We advise worming with a fenbendazole wormer (such as Panacur rabbit). The wormer has to be given daily for 9 days, and should be repeated 2-4 times a year. Rabbits should be wormed at periods of higher risk, such as when a new rabbit is acquired, prior to mating and when mixing with other rabbits.