Archive for the ‘Rabbit’ Category

Rabbit Vaccinations: Are they necessary?

In the UK we currently recommend vaccinating rabbits against two diseases; myxomatosis and rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RHD). To understand why vaccinations are so important we need to know what they are protecting our rabbits against.

Myxomatosis

What is it?
Myxomatosis is a disease caused by the myxoma virus and has been present in the UK since 1953. There are different strains of the virus which can result in different forms of the disease some more severe than others (see below). In unprotected rabbits, the disease is usually fatal and so prevention is strongly recommended.

What are the symptoms?
There are two types of myxomatosis, nodular (lumpy) and oedematous (swollen) but the latter is the most common and the most lethal. Symptoms begin between 4-10 days after infection;

Oedematous (swollen) Type Nodular (lumpy) Type
  • Swelling around the eyes, mouth, bottom and/or genitals
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dull behaviour
  • Light sensitivity
  • Secondary infections (eyes, nose, lungs)
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing (end stage) and death
  • Lumps in and/or under the skin
  • Lumps become ulcerated (open wound) but can heal over
  • Secondary infections

It is possible for rabbits to get a mixed form with symptoms from both types of the disease which may be milder. The oedematous form acts quickly and after around 1-2 weeks of symptoms rabbits will die from starvation and difficulty breathing.


How do rabbits get it?

Rabbits can become infected with the virus from direct contact with other infected rabbits but also from being bitten by blood sucking-insects with the virus. These insects become carriers when they feed on infected rabbits but don’t become ill themselves, allowing them to move on and feed on another rabbit passing on the infection. Any blood-sucking insect can be a carrier but fleas and mosquitoes are the most common and because mosquitoes can fly long distances, they also help spread the disease to new areas.

Can you treat it?
Treatment of the oedematous form is usually hopeless, particularly if the rabbit is already having difficulty eating or breathing. Due to this our vets sadly will most likely recommend euthanasia to stop the rabbit from suffering. Rabbits with a mixed form of the disease may be able to survive with supportive care if the disease is mild. Supportive treatment is typically aimed at maintaining adequate nutrition and alleviating other symptoms while the immune system clears the virus. This may include;

  • Fluid therapy
  • Syringe feeding
  • Antibiotics if there is a secondary infection
  • Anti-inflammatories for the swelling
  • Active warming

How can I prevent it?
Rabbits can be vaccinated against myxomatosis from 5 weeks old. This vaccine should be repeated every year to maintain adequate protection. Rabbits in high-density populations such as those used for breeding can be vaccinated every 6 months. Vaccinated rabbits can still become infected with the virus but the symptoms are normally very mild and treatable.

You can reduce the risk of infection further by ensuring your rabbit does not have contact with wild rabbits which may be infected, or eat food from areas where wild rabbits live. Protect your rabbits from insects that may carry the disease by using insect screens and flea prevention spot-ons. If you’re introducing a new rabbit, quarantine it for at least a fortnight to ensure it is not infected before exposing it to your current rabbit/s.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

What is it?
RHD is a deadly disease caused by a calicivirus which can be transmitted both directly and indirectly. The RHD virus is currently divided into subtypes including RHD1 and RHD2. The virus has been present in Europe since 1988 but a recent outbreak of RHD2 in the UK started in 2013 and has caused a large number of rabbit deaths.

What are the symptoms?
Sadly, one of the most common symptoms of RHD is sudden death, with many owners believing their rabbit died of “fright” or a heart attack. External symptoms are not always seen and so many rabbits dying from RHD are not known, meaning the disease is likely more widespread than we think. The disease acts so quickly (within 1-3 days of infection) that rabbits can look completely normal the day before. Possible symptoms include;

  • Sudden death
  • Bleeding from the nose/mouth/bottom
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever (early)
  • Seizures
  • Vocalising
  • Collapse

A mild form of the disease does exist but this is very uncommon and those rabbits are normally just generally unwell with non-specific symptoms which often mean we do not recognise they have RHD.

How do rabbits get it?
The virus can survive in the environment for many months, especially when it’s cold, allowing it to cause disease outbreaks year after year. RHD can infect rabbits directly through bodily fluids such as faeces/urine/saliva and mating as well as indirectly by contaminated objects such as clothing/cages/bedding/food/humans as well as insects, birds and rodents carrying the disease. There is even suspicion the virus can be carried on the wind. Blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes and fleas can cause the virus to spread quickly and over considerable distances.

Can you treat it?
RHD is usually fatal and cannot be treated so vaccinating your rabbit is strongly recommended to prevent them from getting it. We may be able to provide some supportive care to infected rabbits but normally our vets will recommend euthanasia to alleviate suffering. Rabbits known, or suspected, of being infected should be isolated from all other rabbits and strict hygiene protocols used to prevent the virus from being transported elsewhere. All equipment and housing should be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned.

How can I prevent it?
Vaccines exist in the UK for both the RHD1 and RHD2 types of the virus. As there is no way of predicting when a rabbit may become infected with RHD, vaccination to protect every rabbit is the best-recommended action. Vaccines can be given from 4-5 weeks old and then a booster every 6-12 months is advised as the reported duration of immunity is 9 months-1 year. In the UK the RHD1 vaccine can be given at the same time as the myxomatosis vaccine, then the RHD2 vaccine is licensed to be given a minimum of two weeks later.

Where possible you can try and limit exposure of your rabbit to RHD by quarantining any new rabbits, using insect screens and flea spot-ons, and avoiding contact with wild birds and rodents. General hygiene is also important; we advise that all objects (e.g. water bottles, bowls, cleaning equipment) are cleaned and disinfected regularly as well as your rabbit’s housing. Bedding should be changed regularly and along with hay, should be sourced from a supplier where it has been grown with no known infected wild rabbits.

Conclusion: Is vaccination necessary?
There has been a lot of concern in recent years about over-vaccinating our pets and whether annual vaccination is needed. Given the large number of deaths reported for both diseases and the ability for these diseases to spread to different geographical locations we feel vaccination is essential to protect all rabbits as there are no “safe areas”. In rabbits, a single vaccine has only been shown to provide protection for 9-12 months when vaccinated rabbits are challenged with RHD2, which is why we recommend that you give your rabbits annual vaccinations. Additionally, one study showed that cross-immunity between RHD1 and RHD2 was minimal and so both vaccines are needed to ensure adequate protection.

Can I Share Food With My Pet?

Our pets love to share our food. The act of hand feeding itself is a reward because of the attention. Also, the foods we offer often have high-fat content, making them super tasty. Having their own food in a bowl is much less attractive than a higher calorie feast that has been making the kitchen smell amazing while it cooks. Fat makes food more palatable and as we need more calories, our food is often much more tempting than theirs! The focus in human nutrition is to move away from pre-prepared foods and cook from scratch. Fresh ingredients with as much variety as possible (eating a rainbow every day) are hard work but yields long term health benefits. So, as we improve our own diet, we may feel that it would be better to feed our pets in this way rather than open a can or bag.

Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as that. We know a lot about our calorie requirements, which nutrients we need, in what proportions and what vitamins and minerals are essential, but these are all different for our pets. All these parts of formulating a complete and balanced diet to promote health and long life are unique. If we feed a diet deficient in a specific nutrient this is likely to cause illness. For example, both cats and dogs need a protein called taurine in their diet, they cannot make it from other proteins as humans can. So, a human diet is likely to cause a taurine deficiency. Unfortunately, taurine deficiency, which used to occur more commonly before pet foods were generally fed, is now on the rise again in animals fed unbalanced diets. It is a devastating deficiency as it causes heart disease resulting in heart failure. Early cases can be rectified and then heart disease managed, it can often improve on a balanced diet. Taurine deficiency can also cause serious eye problems.

A balanced diet also varies within a single species depending on what age the pet is. An adult animal will be a lot better at compensating whereas a younger pet needs specific nutrients in exact ratios which feed the growth of muscle and bone. A trend to feed meat only without any other ingredients sometimes means that a growing animal does not have enough calcium to form strong healthy bones. Although diseases like rickets are in the past for humans, we see it in young animals fed on diets without enough calcium. These puppies and kittens develop deformed limbs or fractures of their back or limbs.

These are just two examples of the problems that can arise from a diet that is not designed for the animal concerned. In this blog, we will briefly review the differing diet requirements of pets. However, if you have any concerns about the diet or health of your pet, come and see us. Together we can discuss all the needs and requirements of your individual pet and find a diet that optimises their health and enjoyment.

Calorie requirements vary between species. We may need roughly 1500-2000 calories daily, but a cat needs only 250-350 a day and a small dog under 400. So, the volume of food and calorie density is important. Obesity is very common in our pets. This results in joint disease, osteoarthritis as they age and can lead to diabetes, and liver disease in cats. When we are investigating diets, it can be best to feed a low-calorie density food, so they feel full, especially if we are going to add in the odd treat. Sometimes our pets can’t get as much exercise. For example, if the weather is terrible our cat won’t go outside and exercise as usual, or if we have surgery and can’t walk our dog. In this case, we need to reduce the calories they eat for a short time.

Protein is an important part of any diet. Cats need twice the amount of protein in their diet that we or dogs do. They are called obligate carnivores as they need animal protein in their diet to supply all the amino acids they need. Vegetarian diets can be formulated for dogs, but it is important that the diet includes a source of every one of the amino acids they need. The proportion of amino acids varies with age – for example, a growing pup needs much more arginine than an adult dog, to avoid liver problems. Fat is essential in the diet for certain fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins which aid health and organ function. Carbohydrates need to be carefully considered in cat diets, some cats put on a lot of weight on high carbohydrate diets.

As cats are desert-adapted species, they have a low drive to drink. This can sometimes mean that they don’t feel thirsty and can become dehydrated or their urine becomes very concentrated. Some cats need some wet food in their diet to combat this. Otherwise, they can develop bladder stones. Many cats enjoy fresh water, and some will drink more if they have a water fountain.

Our small furry pets, rabbits, guinea pigs and rats love the odd high-calorie treat from us, but their dietary requirements are so different that we must take care not to make treats more than 10-20% of their diets. For rabbits and guinea pigs, it is important that the bulk of their calories comes from fibrous food so that their constantly growing teeth are kept in check. The small furry species have very small calorie requirements so can put on weight very easily, which prevents them grooming and can lead to skin problems.

We are always keen to provide the best preventative health care for your pet or pets and are always here to discuss their diet as part of keeping them well and happy. We can work together to choose the right diet that will contribute to a long and healthy life.

Fly strike in rabbits – and how to avoid it.

An estimated 1.5 million rabbits are kept as pets in the UK. They are increasingly popular, no doubt for their sweet, amusing personalities and, what some might be surprised to hear, their surprising ability and willingness to learn and to be interactive members of the family. Awareness of the best way to care for rabbits is on the increase. From the requirement to keep them with at least one other rabbit, to their complex dietary needs, bunnies are being cared for better than ever. And yet there is one issue, one agonising problem that rabbits continually come to us vets with, and that is fly strike. Fly strike is an unpleasant, painful and sometimes fatal condition that, tragically, is often only noticed once it is well developed. We can help you to recognise the early signs, and to make some very necessary checks for this awful disease.

First it’s helpful for you to know what fly strike is (technical term for fly strike is myiasis), and it really is just as its name describes. The green bottle fly seeks an environment to lay its eggs. The perfect environment is one which is warm and preferably with a ready food source. Bunnies, as well as other animals such as sheep, commonly fit the description, especially if their rear ends are covered in faeces or urine, as the odour attracts the fly.

Having been laid upon the rabbit, eggs develop into maggots, which in turn feast upon your bunny’s flesh. It is as gruesome as it sounds and also extremely painful. The sooner we see these bunnies at the vets, the sooner we, along with our strong-stomached nurses, can painstakingly remove each maggot with special instruments. We will provide your bunny with pain relief, fluid therapy, and whatever else they might need for the best chance of recovery.

It is obvious then, that preventing this kind of suffering is far better than curing it. The first step in the fight against fly strike is to identify it early, so it’s helpful to know which rabbits are especially at risk.

Those with dirty derrieres is the best place to begin. It is vital that rabbit enclosures are cleaned out regularly, and this is especially true in the spring and summer months because a dirty environment will attract the green bottle fly. A large, suitably-sized enclosure is not only important for the mental well-being and physical fitness of a rabbit, but will also allow them to move away from dirty areas, keeping themselves clean. Given the chance, a rabbit is a clean creature, who likes to urinate and defecate in one area, and eat, play and sleep in another.

Another key risk factor for fly strike is obesity, due to low-slung rear ends dragging through faeces and urine, as well as the inability for overweight rabbits to get to the ‘hard to reach’ areas in order to clean themselves effectively. Ensuring an appropriate diet and keeping your rabbits in good, healthy condition can do wonders for preventing fly strike.

What’s more, an overly rich diet causes faeces to be soft, sometimes runny and therefore more likely to coat their fur. For example, you might be surprised to learn that 85% of a rabbit’s diet should be roughage such as hay or grass. For more information on the appropriate diet for your rabbit, and to ensure you’re feeding roughage, vegetables and commercially prepared pellets in the right proportions, please get in touch, we are more than happy to advise.

Another group of rabbits that are less fussy about personal hygiene are the aged. As a rabbit embarks on a slower pace of life, perhaps they are less inclined to move away from dirty areas in their enclosure. Arthritis is also a very real problem that can make it hard for rabbits to contort themselves in such a way as to allow themselves to clean every nook and cranny. Thus older rabbits are potentially more likely to be dirty and therefore are exposed to increased risks.

So as well as a clean environment, maintaining a healthy body weight and a good quality and appropriate diet, how else can we prevent fly strike?

Fundamental to the care of your rabbit is checking them from nose to tail regularly. Not only should you check for other parasites, cuts and bumps, the condition of teeth, rabbit owners also need to be checking their rear ends undercarriage every day. Checking for fly eggs, sores (another way-in for maggots) and cleaning away any muck is necessary.

It will have the added bonus of desensitising a rabbit to being handled, which will in turn make them a more sociable pet. Other signs indicative of fly strike include lethargy, anorexia and potentially a strong odour. Should you notice any of these signs, you should get in touch immediately.

There are topical treatments available for the prevention of fly strike and we highly recommend that you use them during the warmer months. Our preferred treatment is one that you apply to your rabbit every ten weeks and it acts as a repellent to flies – ask one of our vets for details of this prescription-only medicine.

We hope you have found this information useful. The key message here is check regularly and get in touch with us for advice if you are in any doubt.

Do Rabbits Need A Companion? What Happens When I Go On Holiday?

Rabbits are the 3rd most popular pet in the UK, behind cats and dogs, and it’s easy to see why. They are intelligent and inquisitive animals, making them an extremely rewarding pet choice. However, before getting a rabbit it’s important to plan ahead and make sure you are prepared to meet all their needs, just as you would for a cat or dog. One important thing to consider is companionship; does your rabbit need a companion?

In the wild, rabbits live in large, complex social groups and enjoy having company from their own species. Our pet rabbits are no different; they too need company from at least one other rabbit in order to be happy.  Rabbits that are kept alone are much more likely to develop unwanted behaviours and habits that could harm their health. Many people think that other pets such as guinea pigs or even the family cat and dog may get on with their rabbit. Although they may get on, they should never be left unsupervised as they could harm each other. However, nothing beats the company of another rabbit.

It is easiest to get two rabbits that have been kept together from birth; however, rabbits less than 12 weeks old will usually get along together. A neutered male and a neutered female are an ideal pairing, but two females or two males from the same litter should get along if both are neutered.

Neutering your rabbit has numerous benefits, but includes preventing unwanted babies and reducing aggressive behaviour that may lead to fighting. We would always recommend neutering your rabbits and you can come and speak to one of our vets about neutering at any time.

Introducing two older rabbits should be done more carefully but is often successful. As for younger rabbits, we recommend that older rabbits are also neutered regardless of sex. We also suggest that, when choosing rabbits to introduce, you select rabbits of a similar age and size if possible. Personalities may also influence a rabbit’s ability to be introduced to companions, so choosing compatible personality types can make the process smoother.

When introducing older rabbits the key is to do it slowly and supervised at all times. Scent and smells are very important to rabbits, so a good first step can be to swap furniture and bedding so the rabbits get used to each other’s smells. It can also be a good idea to introduce rabbits early in the day so you have the rest of the day to supervise their behaviour.

One option for introduction is to use neutral territory. Use a large but secure area that is unfamiliar to both rabbits. Make sure you provide plenty of hiding places and positive distractions such as treats. The rabbits should be placed at far ends of the space and allowed to move together in their own time. Some chasing is normal but any signs of stress or aggression should be treated with extreme caution and the interaction stopped. Fighting can be very harmful to your rabbit as they have very thin skin that tears easily. Rabbits that get on well together may be able to be housed in a neutral hutch overnight. However, if you have any doubts, its best to be cautious and continue to gradually introduce them in the same manner over the course of a few days until confident.

Another option for the introduction of older rabbits is separate runs. This method is good if you are not around to supervise all interactions, or there is no neutral space available. Place the rabbits in separate runs, arranged so they are next to each other. Swap the rabbits over occasionally to prevent them establishing territory, and keep up positive reinforcement such as treats. The rabbits will gradually get to each other this way. Once they appear friendly with each other (e.g. lying next to each other against wire) then they may be introduced in a joint run. Take care not to rush the introduction in the joint run as this can take many days to achieve.

Regardless of when you introduce two rabbits, in order to live happily together, they will need a suitable living arrangement. This may be indoors as house rabbits, or outside between a hutch and run. If living indoors, the rabbits should be provided with plenty of space to roam as well as protection from wires and other hazards. If housing in a run and hutch, then both areas should have plenty of space and be tall enough for your rabbits to stand on their hind legs. Whether housed outdoors or indoors, your rabbits’ living spaces should have multiple food bowls and water drinkers, as well as litter trays, so the rabbits do not have to share. There should also be quiet spaces such as igloos or tunnels for rabbits to hide from people as well as each other if they wish. Providing toys such as tunnels, balls and chews can help alleviate boredom and reduce the chance of fights occurring.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and some rabbits may dislike company from other rabbits. However, in these cases, it is recommended that you discuss this with one of our vets to rule out any other problems. If your rabbit does need to be kept alone then it is important to spend time interacting with them daily, as you will be their companion.  Even if rabbits have other rabbits as companions daily interaction is a great way to create a bond with your rabbit.

So, now your rabbit has a companion, what happens when you go on holiday? Although your rabbits may not rely on you for companionship they still need daily care and attention.  Unpredictable factors such as adverse weather or illness could happen at any time and so it is always worth having a trustworthy person to care for your rabbits when you are away. A reliable family member, friend, or even hired pet sitters are all great options for pet care when you are away. Ideally, they should visit your rabbits at least once or twice a day. They should be given clear instructions to carry out each day as well as your contact numbers if they are unsure about anything. Our vet’s contact details should also be provided for emergencies.

Company and daily care are both essential parts of keeping your rabbits healthy and happy. If you have any concerns or need any advice for your bunnies then remember our knowledgeable vets are available to talk.

 

How to keep your rabbits sane

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a bunny ‘binky’, you will know that it’s hard to beat. The leap and twisting of their body is a sign of pure enjoyment and it’s a true delight to witness. We want bunny ‘binkying’ to be a regular feature in your rabbit’s life, so we’ve got some advice to help them enjoy life to the full.

Imagine being locked in your home and garden, with just the odd trip out to a friend’s house a couple of times a week. Then imagine having no television or radio or anything to keep you occupied. Similarities can be drawn in keeping rabbits cooped up with nothing to play with and no real change to their surroundings, and rabbits can become bored and depressed. So unless they have acres to roam in safety (and let’s face it most of us can’t afford them that luxury), then guess who they will rely on as their source of entertainment? That’s right, you! Quite the responsibility, but don’t panic, we have some handy tips to get you started.

Firstly, make your job easier; give your rabbit as much space as possible for their home. As a minimum, a pair of medium sized rabbits should have an enclosure of 3 x 1 x 1 metres in size. They require at least an uninterrupted three metre length to run and play naturally, as well as a sleeping area. The height of a rabbit enclosure is often overlooked, because their shape is seemingly low to the ground. Rabbits will stand on their hind legs and they must have provision to do so for the health of their skeleton and muscles. With the basics in place, why not also consider whether they can be let out in the garden for a really good explore every now and then. Obviously not recommended unless your garden is enclosed and supervising them is the only way to be sure they’re safe from predators such as cats and dogs and foxes.

Now the real fun starts!  There are all sorts of novel ways you can provide enrichment to your rabbits’ lives, let’s first consider toys. Never underestimate your rabbit’s desire to play. They are full to the brim with character; you just need to press the right buttons to expose it, something which you will find very rewarding. Rabbit toys are available to buy in abundance these days, from balls that they love to push and throw, to activity toys where they must find the hidden treat. But you needn’t spend lots of money, sometimes the simple things in life are the best – consider making your own. A toilet roll stuffed with hay and other treats can provide hours of entertainment.

How about stringing a ‘washing-line’ across their cage and pegging various delights all the way along? Don’t forget furniture too. In the wild a rabbit is used to jumping over logs and roots, and burrowing and tunnelling. So provide platforms and tunnels for them to re-enact this natural behaviour. You will encourage them to run and jump and duck and scurry, and it will do them the world of good. Take food foraging one stage further and recreate ‘the wild’ by spreading their food around the enclosure. Hide pieces of carrots as a treat (not daily), in different areas and make them work for it a little.

Entertaining your rabbits can massively increase the bond between you. Take the time to handle them, stroke and massage them and also take the opportunity to check them over for health concerns. If your rabbit isn’t used to being handled then start slow and with short sessions. Human interaction will really break up your rabbits’ day and give you the opportunity to enjoy them as a pet. Consider teaching them some tricks – rabbits can learn a surprising number of party-tricks, from jumping through hoops to running through tunnels. If you’ve ever seen rabbits ‘show-jumping’ you’ll know it’s a sight to behold. If not, then you must Google it! Always ensure training methods are positive and reward based to further increase the bond.

So a rabbit’s horizon needn’t be small, there is so much you can do to broaden it. With a little creativity and investment of time we think you’ll enjoy play-time just as much as they will.