Keeping your bunny healthy this Spring!

This month our vet Cristina gives us her top tips on keeping our bunny rabbit healthy as we enter spring. It’s almost here and we can now see sure fire signs all around us that spring is well on its way.

“As spring approaches it’s very tempting to bring our bunny’s out for some well needed fresh air and grass! Whilst we should do this as soon as we can, don’t be tempted to bring them out of their sheltered winter accommodation too soon as the nights can still get cold and frosty. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and check the temperatures regularly, and bring them out at regular but shorter intervals at this time of the year so that their digestive system can adjust more slowly to the new spring grass, and keep them cosy at night!”

“Because we are still keeping them in a bit longer than we would do in the hazy days of summer, make sure your rabbits hutch is nice and roomy. This is a vital basic for your rabbits welfare. A good hutch should be divided into two connecting compartments; one for daytime that will allow fresh air and light, and one for night time with a solid door to provide a cosy retreat and shelter from any wind, rain and cold that we might get during the British summertime! The hutch must be raised off the ground to give protection from damp, vermin and any predators such as dogs or foxes.”

When you do offer your bunny rabbit some outdoor grazing time your exercise run should be large enough to allow your rabbit to display all of their key natural behaviours; Running, digging/burrowing, jumping, hiding, foraging and grazing. You can provide them with some bunny obstacles to run and hop over to explore, along with plenty of access to green and lush grass. Be careful of certain plants and flowers though and as a general rule of thumb keep them away from anything that grows from a bulb such as snowdrops, hyacinth, bluebells, crocuses, daffodils and tulips. Other toxic plants include foxgloves, primroses, poppies, nightshade, ivy, privets and holly to name a few. Always keep a close eye on your bunny when they are out and if you see them start to salivate, or start to look ‘drunk’ and are collapsing then contact your vet immediately to get them checked over. Diarrhoea in rabbits is also very uncommon, so if they start to have soft stools then get them checked over.”

Keep your rabbits vaccines up to date! When they are outside they can be vulnerable to the diseases that wildlife and insects can bring into your garden. Rabbits are commonly vaccinated against myxomatosis and rabbit viral hemorrhagic disease (RVHD). The most common route for them to become infected by myxomatosis, for example, is to be bitten by an insect carrying the disease from the wild rabbit population. It’s unlikely that they will come into direct contact with wild rabbits, but it’s not impossible if you live in a particularly rural area. Common symptoms include conjunctivitis of the eyes, and swellings around the head and genitals. It can often be fatal so is worth considering vaccination for your bunny if you haven’t already. RVHD they can pick up from direct contact, but they can also become infected by coming into contact with infected urine or faeces, so if you know you have wild rabbits in your garden it’s important to consider this vaccination seriously and ensure they are kept unto date with both vaccines. The virus is usually always fatal, and can cause internal bleeding. The first symptoms can be bleeding from the nose or the bottom, and usually by the time symptoms start to show it can be too late to save them. Talk to us about how to start your rabbits vaccination course.”

“To neuter or not? If you have a mixed sex pair of rabbits, they both need to be neutered to live together harmoniously. Even if your female rabbit is spayed, an un-castrated male will still try to mount her which can trigger fighting and cause stress to both of them. Likewise, if you neuter your male rabbit and not the female rabbit, she is at high risk of repeated false pregnancies, she may become aggressive and a moderate risk of uterine cancer. Whilst mounting can still take place between neutered pairs this is more dominance behaviour rather than reproduction and is a wholly natural behaviour for them to display. There are also many advantages to have males castrated over and above pregnancy prevention, which include reduction of behavioural urine spraying (a bit like tom cats do), prevention of prostate and testicular cancer, neutering can make litter training easier, and it can make them less aggressive due to reduced testosterone levels. For females, the benefits can include reduced territorial behaviours and therefore reduced chance of injury between rabbits and the prevention of uterine cancer or womb infections – both of which can be fatal. Remember that rabbits can reproduce from 4-6 months old, and rabbit pregnancies are short at just over a month with several kits per litter. They are also able to mate immediately after giving birth – the possibility for a population explosion is huge!!”

Check your rabbits health and welfare daily! It’s unfortunately not uncommon for us to see flystrike in practice during the summer months and it can be so easy to prevent it from happening in the first place by checking your rabbit for any open wounds, dried or matted fur on a daily, or better still twice daily, basis. Flystrike is where flies lay eggs in the rabbits fur which can then hatch into maggots. This can cause untold problems for the poor rabbit and is a true emergency that cannot wait to be dealt with. Be sure to feed your rabbit a good quality diet that will prevent them from getting gut upsets and diarrhoea, and clear out any soiled bedding or hutch substrate on a daily basis, because the most common reason flies can be attracted to the rabbit in the first place is the presence of faeces, especially soft stools.”

Keep them free from parasites. Rabbits can get an infection from a parasite known as Encephalatizoon cuniculi (or E cuniculi for short!) which is a parasite that resides in the brain and kidney. It’s believed that they are most at risk around the time of weaning and is the most common time for infection, but they can get it later in life if they come in to contact with the parasite after the introduction to a new rabbit, or sharing pasture with an infected rabbit. It’s most commonly received maternally though so it can already be present in a newly acquired baby bunny. Some typical signs include a head tilt, drinking or urinating more than usual, flickering eyes (nystagmus) or a weakness in the back legs. As disease progresses poor rabbits may spin or roll uncontrollably, and more seriously develop seizures, deafness, cataracts which can be fatal. We can treat early symptoms successfully, but you can also prevent infection or development of any existing infection, with an anti-parasitic medication course. It’s important to note it can transfer to humans, but only those who are at that time immune-suppressed themselves or vulnerable to disease, typically those people on chemotherapy. If you are concerned, speak to your own doctor and talk to us about treating any poorly rabbits.”

“Finally, as we head into summer watch out for those unexpected hot and sunny days! Rabbits don’t tolerate heat well and can be susceptible to heat stroke which can be fatal if not treated quickly. You can keep your rabbit cool in hot weather by setting up a fan nearby their hutch to blow cooler air in; ensure they are located in a shady spot and ensure shade is provided in any outdoor runs or grazing areas; placing a large ceramic or marble tile that will stay cool for them to choose to lay on; pop some ice cubes in their water dish; mist their ears with cool water; brush loose fur from their coats to ensure no build up of fur; provide wet veggies as part of their diet to keep them hydrated. Early signs that your rabbit may be suffering from summer heat stress can include lethargy, panting and dehydration. Heat stroke can result in them being uncoordinated, unresponsive and can cause convulsions, so always keep your bunnies cool in the summer heat!”

April is small furries month for us, so pop in and get your bunnies, guinea pigs and other small furries checked over with a free health check with our nurses. We are also offering 50% off nail clipping this month, so give your small pets a healthy spring checkover. Contact our team on 0113 267 8419 (Cookridge) or 01274 610627 (Greengates) to book your appointment this April!