Bunnies & Rabbits
Caring for your pet rabbit
Rabbit Food and Nutrition
Good nutrition is incredibly important to rabbits. The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be hay, as it helps with normal gut function and tooth wear. Hay and fresh grass should be available to rabbits at all times and in decent quantities. Ensure that the hay is fresh. It is a good idea to keep it in a little rack up off the ground.
When feeding fresh food, the majority should be grass and green leafy vegetables. Examples of green veges include dandelion, parsley, bok choy, silverbeet, mint leaves, red/green cabbage, turnip tops, and carrot tops. Rabbits love variety and a varied diet also helps to ensure your rabbit gets all the essential minerals he needs.
A commercially made pelleted diet should also be fed. This should comprise a maximum of 10-20% of your rabbit’s diet as they are high in calories and low in fibre. The pellets should be fresh daily and stored in an airtight container.
Fresh clean vegetables and fruits can also be fed to rabbits as a treat. Examples include carrots, apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, beans or pineapple.
Fresh water should always be available to your rabbit either from a solid bowl that cannot be tipped over or from a hanging drip bottle that attaches to the side of the hutch. The water should be changed daily.
In addition, to vaccination, there are ways in which you can limit the risk to pet rabbits:
- Control insects (especially flies and fleas) both indoors and outdoors as they can carry the virus (remember to regularly flea and worm your rabbit just as you would your cat or dog).
- Remove uneaten food daily and regularly clean and disinfect their hutch, bowls etc (10% bleach is safe for rabbits). Rinse off with water after 10 minutes.
- Make sure your backyard is rabbit proof so wild rabbits can’t get in (and yours can’t get out!)
- Avoid handling unfamiliar rabbits and wash hands, shoes, and clothing after handling other people’s rabbits
- Do not feed cut grass to your rabbits if there is a risk of contamination from wild rabbits.
- Hutch hygiene
- Prevent flystrike in rabbits
Worm and flea treatment
Advantage and Revolution flea treatments are licensed for rabbits, and can be used to treat fleas which are relatively common in rabbits. Worms (tapeworms, round worms and pin worms) are uncommon in rabbits. On the rare occasion they are noticed your Vet will be able to advise you on treatment options.
When choosing a hutch for your rabbit there are several things to think about. Firstly, they need plenty of space – the more the better! Rabbits need room to stand up and stretch. They often like having a second storey, and need a dry inside area for shelter from the cold or sun. Shredded paper or straw makes good bedding in this area. Avoid using treated wood to construct the rabbit’s hutch as it’s toxic if they chew it (as many of them do!). Provide your rabbit with chew toys or branches to gnaw on instead. Often hutches are constructed so that the rabbit is walking directly on the grass in the outside area, which is a good idea as wire floors can be hard on the rabbit’s feet.
Rabbits are sensitive to stress from things such as other animals and road noise. Rabbits cannot tolerate too much heat, so make sure they have shade available in summer. Bear these things in mind when choosing the location of the hutch.
Hygiene is very important. Ensure the inside area of the hutch is cleaned regularly and is kept dry. Any litter trays need to be cleaned daily. The hutch should be shifted daily to allow access to fresh grass.
Rabbits are very intelligent animals, and can be trained to do a number of tricks. Ensure your rabbit always has plenty to do. Provide them with rabbit toys, and ensure as much human interaction as possible. Treat balls are a good toy, and are one way you can feed your rabbit their daily pellets.
Rabbits are very fragile creatures and if picked up or handled incorrectly can be hurt quite easily. As you approach the rabbit speak softly so you don’t startle him. Place one hand under the chest and belly and the other hand at its bottom and hold it firmly against your body. Rabbits like to feel secure when being held. Never pick up a rabbit by its ears, scruff or by placing your hand around its throat as this could result in injury to your rabbit.
Long haired rabbits need to be groomed regularly. You can buy a suitable brush from Anexa Vets.
Rabbits can be trained to use a litter tray just like a cat. Rabbits are naturally very clean animals and do prefer to use one area for toileting. It is even possible to house train a rabbit. You may want to provide a litter tray in a corner of their hutch. It’s best to use a shavings based litter, but do ensure that your rabbit is not eating it. Be sure to clean the litter tray daily. Rabbit urine is often a deep orange colour, so do not be alarmed if you see this. It also smells strongly.
Rabbits have two types of faeces: a hard round type that is normally seen in the cage, and a soft type which the rabbit will consume as it is being passed. This is an important process as the rabbit absorbs extra nutrients from it this way. Usually the soft faeces are not observed by the owner.
Rabbit Dental care
Rabbits are prone to dental issues, but it’s often easy to miss the signs. Here’s how you can maintain your rabbits’ dental health and spot the symptoms when there’s a problem.
The number one way to ensure your rabbits’ teeth stay healthy is to feed the right diet. ‘They need mostly hay, and some leafy vegetables, to keep their teeth in good condition. Dry foods and pellets don’t wear their teeth down, and muesli-type foods are not recommended because rabbits often just pick out the bits they like so don’t get the full range of nutrients they need.’ This is important, since a nutrient deficiency could lead to a calcium and phosphorous imbalance, which can contribute to poor dental health.
You don’t need to clean your rabbits’ teeth, but they do need a little day-to-day help with dental health. Give your bunnies something extra to chew to help them wear their teeth down naturally. Small, fresh branches from fruit trees are ideal, but a daily diet of hay and greens is the best way to keep teeth healthy.’ This relates to the fact that rabbits teeth continue to grow so rely on chewing firmer foods to wear them down.
Another way to help prevent problems with your rabbits’ teeth is to trim their nails often. They can use their nails to scratch off the enamel on their teeth.
How can you tell if your bunnies already have tooth troubles?
Signs to look for include:
- Weight loss
- Your bunnies not grooming themselves and falling prey to flystrike (rabbits use their teeth for frequent wash-and-brush-ups and to get rid of hair)
- Wetness on the front paws from cleaning their mouths
- Going off hay and grass because it’s too painful to chew – if a rabbit seems not to ‘like’ hay, it’s almost certainly due to tooth problems and an inability to chew properly
- Faecal matting around the back end
- Lumps on the face – feel the rabbit’s head on both sides and check for any lumps that are on one side only
Also look out for discharge from your bunnies’ eyes, as misaligned teeth can change the shape of a rabbit’s delicate skull – which can block the tear ducts and lead to a build-up of gunk.
End of life
At Anexa, we understand how tough it is for our clients to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Our staff are here for you to help you through this difficult time and can outline the options around the process and answer any euthanasia questions.
We offer this service both in clinic by appointment, and also in your pet’s home environment. These services are available during office hours and do require prior arrangement for vet and nurse availability.
Depending on the situation, sedation may be given to your pet. This will commonly occur if the pet is very anxious or fractious. The aim is to keep stress on the patient to a minimum and keep everyone safe.
There are a number of options for cremation which our staff can outline for you, or you can choose to have a home burial.
Our vets have also prepared the following articles you may find helpful when making this difficult decision.
Animal Health Check
Rabbits should be vaccinated against Calicivirus. This is a deadly untreatable disease that was introduced to New Zealand to help control wild rabbit populations. This vaccine can be administered from 4 weeks of age (boosters required) or at 12 weeks old, then repeated yearly. A yearly vaccination also allows a thorough health check to be performed by your Veterinarian.
Microchipping rabbits is an extremely effective way to permanently identify your pet. By registering them with the NZCAR (New Zealand Companion Animal Registry) if they go missing, there is a high probability that they will be reunited with you.
Our clinics are equipped with X-ray, ultrasound and on-site lab testing
These services enable us to provide accurate and timely diagnoses, leading to more effective treatment plans. For pet owners, this means peace of mind knowing that their furry companions are receiving the best possible care. X-rays can help detect fractures, foreign objects, and other internal issues. Ultrasounds are invaluable for assessing organs and pregnancies. Onsite lab testing allows for quick results for blood work and other tests, facilitating faster treatment decisions. With our diagnostic capabilities, we aim to provide the highest standard of care for your beloved pets.
Desexing and Reproduction
The female rabbit (doe) reaches sexual maturity between 3-5 months of age and the male rabbit (buck) at 6-7 months.
The doe is pregnant for 25-32 days and she can become pregnant again as soon as 2 weeks after giving birth. The young can be weaned at around 4-8 weeks of age. It is ideal to keep them together after weaning from the doe for at least 5 weeks, as this will reduce the stress for them.
It is best to neuter male rabbits at about 4-6 months of age. If this is not done they can become aggressive and hard to handle. Desexing also reduces the risk of unwanted babies.
Female rabbits are very prone to cancer of the uterus, so it is a good idea to get them speyed. This can be done from 4 months of age.
When to call a vet
End of life care
At Anexa, we understand how tough it is for our clients to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Our staff are here for you to help you through this difficult time and can outline the options around this process.
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