RHD is caused by a virus. Most Rabbits affected by RHD will die rapidly without showing obvious clinical signs apart from a short period of dullness and lethargy lasting a few hours. In rabbits which survive longer, the signs can be quite varied but may include fever and convulsions, progressing rapidly to a terminal coma with affected animals usually succumbing within 12-36hours. In a number of cases a bloody discharge from the nose may be seen just before death.
The virus is shed in the urine, droppings and respiratory secretions of affected animals and readily spreads to other rabbits either by direct contact, or indirectly by biting insects or via contaminated clothing, hutches, water and feed containers and other objects.
The incubation period for a case of RHD is 1 – 3 days. A rabbit can be vaccinated from the age of 8 weeks and an annual booster is required.
Myxomatosis is caused by a virus. The first signs of infection are puffy, fluid filled swellings around the head and face. “sleepy eyes” are another classic sign, along with swollen lips, tiny swellings on the inside of the ear and puffy swellings around the anus and genitals. Within a few days, these swellings can become so severe that they can cause blindness. Eating and drinking becomes progressively more difficult and death usually follows within 12 days.
The disease can be controlled through the reduction of risk through control of insect parasites, avoiding sorcses of infection and vaccination. Myxomatosis is commonly spread via blood-sucking insects and in this respect flea control is especially vital. Keep wild rabbits away from pets and use flea control methods such as spot-ons and sprays. Mosquito and fly control is more difficult but insect repellent strips and nets can be used. Dry bedding will also discourage flies.
Your pet can be vaccinated from 8 weeks of age with single inoculation that will provide immunity against both RHD and Myxomatosis with an annual booster required.
Rabbits become sexually active at about 4-5 months of age in female rabbits (does) and 5-8 months of age in male rabbits (bucks).
Does are only pregnant for 28-32 days and can have litters of 4-10 kits depending on the breed of rabbit. Does are dependant on their mothers milk for upto 21 days and and weaning occurs at around 6 weeks of age. Due to them being induced ovulators they can become pregnant again straight after giving birth as it is the mating process that causes the female to produce an egg which is then fertilised.
What is Neutering?
Neutering is the term used to describe surgically preventing an animal from reproducing. In a male this is called a castration, and in a female it is called a spay. Neutering is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and can also have many health benefits. The best pairing for rabbits is a neutered male and neutered female rabbit, but as long as they are introduced properly it is possible to have same sex pairings as long as they are both neutered.
Both procedures require a general anaesthetic for the patient. In a male we make a small incision over each testicle to remove them and in a female we have to go into the abdomen to remove the uterus and ovaries. This is usually done at around 5-6 months of age and it is important to keep any un-neutered mixed sex pairs apart until at least one of them has been neutered. It is worth bearing in mind that a uncastrated male may still try to mount a neutered female which may cause fighting and cause stress. If you neuter your male rabbit but leave your female rabbit unspayed, she will have repeated false pregnancies, is likely to become aggressive, and will be at risk of early death from uterine cancer. Male rabbits may still carry sperm in their reproductive tract for about 6 weeks following castration so he will need to be kept away from any unspayed female rabbits.
A neutered rabbit will live a longer and healthier life. Here is how your rabbit will benefit from the procedure...
Prevents unwanted pregnancies.
Prevents uterine cancer and other uterine and mammary conditions.
Stops territorial behaviours.
Keeping two unspayed females together, even if they are sisters, is very likely to result in serious fighting and the risk of injuries.
Prevents unwanted mating.
Prevents testicular cancer and prostatic cancer.
Stops territorial behaviours.
Uncastrated males spray urine, neutering can stop this.
Neutering can also make it easier to litter train your rabbit. It is better to get your rabbits neutered when they are young and healthy and this will make the surgery safer.
Rabbit Husbandry and General Care
Rabbits are very social animals, and benefit from living in pairs or small groups, though care
should be taken not to have female-male pairings unless they get along well and are neutered, neutering also prevents fighting between females and uterine cancers.
A wild rabbit territory is the equivalent to 30 tennis courts, so pet rabbits need lots of chance to exercise, and extra stimulation can keep them both physically and mentally active, things to help with this include:
• tree stumps or twigs
• digging boxes and safe hiding boxes
• toys and food balls
Check all toys like the inside of the hutch and garden perimeter regularly for signs of damage, wear or hazards, and if rabbits are kept inside the house do be careful of exposed wires or other hazards which they may be able to chew or hurt themselves with.
Rabbit hutches should be (as a minimum) large enough to allow your rabbit 3-4 hops in any
direction, as well as to stand on their back legs comfortably. There should be a separate litter area which can be cleaned out regularly and a run for exercise, and hutch or house areas for your rabbit should be dry, draught free and well ventilated. Garden areas where rabbits are allowed to roam free should be well checked for potentially toxic plants or other substances, these include Ivy, Foxglove, rodent poisons or weedkillers.
Handling rabbits should be done gently and with care, talking to them softly and moving slowly will help to comfort rather than startle them, and always use two hands to hold your rabbit, one under the rump taking the majority of the weight, and the other under the front legs. Handling and grooming your rabbit regularly can help create a wonderful bond between you and your rabbit.
Fibre is essential for rabbits diet, and their food should be made up of 80% grass or good quality hay, 15% green vegetables and 5% nuggets, muesli is not recommended as it allows rabbits to be selective, eating only parts of the food rather than it all. Typically rabbits live to 8-12 years old, though their diet must be monitored carefully to help them live long and happy lives. Rabbit front teeth grow at approximately 3mm per week, the large volumes of hay they eat helps to wear this down, and they eat constantly through the day, including eating some of their droppings or 'caecotrophs'. If you like you can even choose to plant rabbit friendly food sources in your garden, these can include cauliflower, cabbage, celery, dandelion, mint, parsley, nasturtium or watercress.
Vaccinations are vital for rabbit and we always recommend every rabbit receives their RHD and myxomatosis vaccination each year, as occurrences of these illnesses are usually fatal. To health check your rabbit at home, make sure their eyes and nose are free of discharge, their ears and not dirty, and their bottom does not have matted fur or a build up of faeces, also check how long their nails and teeth seem to be, if these look excessively curled or long do check with your vet.
What is it?
Flystrike is the condition caused when flies, most commonly blue and greenbottles, lay their eggs in the soiled fur of animals. Maggots hatch from these eggs and begin to feed on the flesh of the animal, which can quickly result in serious trauma and even lead to death. Rabbits are particularly susceptible to flystrike, as many are housed outside, especially if they have difficulty keeping their back end clean. Flystrike is more common in the summer, but can occur at anytime of year. All rabbits are at risk and it is important for all rabbit owners to be aware of this devastating condition.
How can I prevent flystrike?
Flystrike can be prevented be checking your rabbit's rear end every day and keeping it clean and dry. Remove dirty litter and bedding daily, to prevent flies from being attracted. Keep any wounds clean and dry. If your rabbit is overweight, it may have more difficulty cleaning itself, so it is important to feed your rabbit an appropriate diet and keep your them at a healthy weight. If you need advice on rabbit nutrition, please call and speak to one of our vets or nurses. If your rabbit's faeces is wetter than normal, please arrange a vet appointment so we can help you resolve this change. Wet faeces is more likely to cling to your rabbit's fur and dry there, causing the ideal environment for flystrike. Commercial sprays are available to help repel flies, but these are not a substitute for regular checks of your rabbit.
What should I do if I think my rabbit has flystrike?
Flystrike is a true emergency, and requires immediate veterinary attention. If you see maggots on your rabbit, you can delicately remove them with tweezers, so long as it will not delay you in bringing them to a vet. Do not try and bathe your rabbit, as the vet may need to clip your rabbits fur and our clippers will not work through wet fur.