Until a week ago it was looking like summer was just around the corner, and cows, horses and rabbits were enjoying fresh grass.
Rabbits are becoming the UK’s second most popular pet, but are not as easy to keep as you’d think. They are much closer to their wild cousins than dogs and cats so it is important to make allowances for this.
Rabbits have complex social needs. They should live in pairs or groups, but the wrong pairing can result in fighting or unwanted kittens. Rabbits should be introduced carefully. Probably the best pairing is a neutered male and neutered female — neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies, fighting and ovarian and uterine cancer. Guinea pigs make very poor companions for rabbits. Their diets are different, they communicate differently and often rabbits will bully them.
Health problems are often related to diet. Seventy per cent of a wild rabbit’s time above ground is spent feeding and they are designed for an almost constant throughput of fibre. We need to recreate this by feeding good quality hay and grass, forming at least 80 per cent of a pet rabbit’s diet. Feeding pelleted or muesli mixes alone leads to dental disease, intestinal disease, urinary tract disease and obesity.
Wild rabbits can pose a serious threat to pet rabbits through the spread of myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).
Myxomatosis is a virus spread mainly by biting insects. Fleas can travel long distances and find a way into even the cleanest of houses so vaccinate your rabbit whether it lives indoors or out. Affected rabbits will generally have a swollen face and discharge from the eyes and nose, and there is frequently swelling around the genitalia. The disease process is long and while we successfully treat a handful of cases every year, nursing is extremely challenging and many rabbits will die.
Vaccinating is very easy and offers excellent protection.
VHD, while far less common, is highly contagious and a sudden killer. It can be spread by insects, as well as direct contact with infected rabbits or their droppings. Signs include fever, loss of appetite, lethargy and muscle spasms, but many rabbits die without ever showing signs.
Fortunately, vaccinating is very easy and offers excellent protection. Next week is Rabbit Awareness Week. Robson and Prescott is offering free rabbit health checks and half price combined myxomatosis/VHD vaccines. The RAW website is full of useful information. You will find links on our website – www.vetcentremorpeth.co.uk
By CHRIS GREEN, Director