Hop along to vets for advice on rabbit care

From May 10 to 18 is National Rabbit Awareness week.

The aim of the week is to raise the profile of rabbits as pets and encourage owners to seek veterinary advice on nutrition and healthcare.

Such a week is necessary in a reflection of the unfortunate fact that whilst rabbits are the third most popular pet (discounting tropical fish) in the UK – a million rabbits, with one in three per cent of UK households – their basic care is too often substandard.

A common misconception is that rabbits represent the ‘easy care’ option for a family who don’t have the time to look after a dog or cat. This is far from the truth. It is important that an owner recognises their rabbit’s needs in terms of housing, exercise, companionship, feeding and health care.

All too often as vets, our first involvement with a rabbit is when damage has already been done – when inappropriate housing has led to hock infections, when the wrong diet has led to abscesses, diarrhoea, dental or eye diseases, when an unvaccinated rabbit has contracted a terminal myxomatosis infection, or an un-neutered doe a fatal uterine cancer.

Recognising that prevention is better than cure, Rabbit Awareness Week is an opportunity for vets to offer advice to owners to prevent theses conditions.

At our hospital we will be carrying out free health checks, advising why many rabbit foods are detrimental to their health, why parasite control is important, why it’s essential that a pet bunny is picked up and examined daily, why rabbits get lonely and how conditions such as arthritis occurs in older rabbits.

We are also offering discounted vaccinations. Rabbit vaccines improved dramatically with a combined injection that offers effective year-long protection against two killer diseases, myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).

The symptoms of myxomatosis – swollen, pus-filled eyes, depression, swollen genitalia and death – are well recognised. Awareness of VHD, however, is much less. VHD is far more prevalent in the Scottish Borders and Northern England than anywhere else in the UK. It can survive in the environment for up to seven months and accounts for massive mortality in wild and pet rabbit populations. The extent of this often goes unrecognised as casualties die suddenly without any diagnosis. With the right advice from your vet viral haemorrhagic disease, like so many other conditions that affect rabbits, can be prevented.

By Sam Prescott, Director