The majority of a rabbit's diet should be hay and/or grass (except grass clippings) as they need this for their digestive system to function properly and to keep their teeth worn down. Leafy green vegetables, herbs and non-poisonous weeds can also be fed daily. Wild rabbits have no need to eat cereals/nuggets/pellets due to the variety of plants they eat. We feed domestic rabbits cereals to ensure they get enough nutrients because they are not free to roam. However, cereal nuggets are higher in calories and do not encourage teeth to be worn down and so should not be fed in large quantities.
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Neutering rabbits helps prevent unwanted breeding. It can also help prevent certain diseases and improve behavioural problems. The ideal combination for rabbit pairing is a neutered male and a neutered female. Male rabbits should be castrated for the following reasons;
- They are being housed with entire female rabbits (to prevent breeding)
- They are being housed with other male rabbits and there are problems with fighting
- There is sexual, territorial or dominant behaviour towards other pets or humans
Where there are multiple male rabbits and behavioural problems, all the rabbits should be neutered. Female rabbits should be spayed for the following reasons:
- To prevent uterine adenocarcinoma (cancer of the womb)
- To prevent/decrease territorial/aggressive behaviour especially during false pregnancies.
Neutering rabbits involves a general anaesthetic. Rabbits have a higher risk under anaesthesia compared to dogs and cats but every possible precaution is taken and they are constantly monitored at all times to minimise this risk. Unlike dogs and cats rabbits cannot vomit and so do not need to be starved before an anaesthetic. In fact we encourage your rabbit to keep eating right up until the time they go for their anaesthetic. If you are bringing your rabbit in to be neutered please bring plenty of food for them to eat before and after their operation to help maximise their chances of a full recovery.
Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks old for myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD). They should then be vaccinated once a year moving forward.
Myxomatosis is a disease caused by the Myxoma virus which is found commonly in wild rabbits. The virus can be transmitted by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitos so even rabbits completely separated from any contact with wild rabbits can become infected. Clinical signs include swelling of the eyes, mouth and genitals along with purulent conjunctivitis. These rabbits tend to stop eating and can eventually starve to death before they succumb to the virus itself.
Viral haemorrhagic disease
VHD is caused by a calicivirus originally found in China, however, the number of cases of this disease in the UK is slowly increasing. The virus can be transmitted directly from infected rabbits but also via insects, birds and other mammals (even humans) who have been in contact with an infected rabbit. After infection clinical signs tend to appear after 2-3 days. Clinical signs of VHD include anorexia, pyrexia, lethargy, difficulty breathing, bloody discharge from the nose mouth or rectum, foaming at the mouth and seizures. Rabbits can also die suddenly without any clinical signs. Some rabbits may survive the initial phase of the disease only to die a few weeks later of liver disease and jaundice.