The Well Rabbit check list
A good diet can keep your rabbit away from the vets for life. Rabbits evolved on the badlands in what is now Spain. Their eating habits and their digestive system enabled them to thrive on sparse dry grass lands. They are selective feeders; this means that they are choosey with what they eat. Find the highest calorific-value grass, shrub or tree to eat fast because you don't have a lot of time sitting around: not if you don't want to be eaten. The grasses and bark are high in cellulose and other indigestible fibre. The digestive system of a rabbit copes well with this. The teeth continue to grow, so don't wear out; the intestine with the aid of microbes will digest the cellulose enabling it to be assimilated on the second passage.
If we feed a mix containing high calorie items the rabbit will search these out. This will reduce the chewing time, allowing the teeth to overgrow. It will also cause the rabbit to become fat. The low fibre content will affect gut motility and the rabbit will get a dirty bottom.
Therefore a rabbit's main food should be hay, grass and water. Rabbit mixes should be looked on as a treat. And like human treats, not left lying around in huge piles expecting the rabbit to ignore them and eat hay!
Obesity causes soiling, urinary blockages, pressure sores and invites fly-strike.
Rabbits should not eat crisps, cereals, chocolate bars or hamburgers.
Rabbit's teeth keep growing. If they eat properly it should keep their teeth at the correct level. Poor diet, lack of sunshine, and some breed characteristics will make overgrown teeth more likely. Poor teeth will cut the tongue and gums causing loss of appetite and poor digestion. The longer teeth will push their roots back into the skull causing blocked tear ducts, abnormal tooth growth and abscesses.
There is a new combined vaccine available to keep rabbits healthy:
Myxomatosis is a viral disease spread by biting insects and rabbit fleas. It causes swelling around the eyes leading to blindness. Affected animals become very ill, often dying from pneumonia. They rarely respond to treatment. In 2007 we saw a 10 fold increase in pet rabbits with myxomatosis. Many had no access to adjoining fields.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease is also a virus that can easily spread with out direct contact. Initially the rabbit is lethargic, inappetant and may have nose bleeds. There is no cure and most rabbits will die.
Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks of age against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease.
Flies are attracted to moist fur. Mucky hutches, dirty bottoms will mean fly strike in summer (April to October). The flies lay eggs which hatch into maggots. These will burrow through the skin causing distress, pain and eventually death. This can all happen in 24 hours! Rabbits need their bottoms checking every day. Fat rabbits cannot get around to clean their bottoms; these are at great risk.
Urine blockage, scalding
It's fat rabbits again at risk. Rabbits' kidneys handle calcium salts differently to dogs and cats. Any excess in the diet is immediately passed in the urine. This is why cloudy urine is normal for rabbits. The plant pigments cause the variety of colours. In an active rabbit, the urine is passed frequently keeping the salts suspended. A rabbit that has little chance of exercise or overweight will not pass urine as frequently. This causes the calcium to sink in a sludge to the bottom of the bladder. When urine is passed, it is the calcium salt free fraction that is voided. This results in the gradual sludging up of the bladder leading to incontinence or blockages.
A rabbit uses its back feet to massage its ears to stop wax building up. An injured rabbit or a fat one may get blocked ears if it can't reach them.
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