Rabbit Care

Advice on caring for your rabbit


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.

E. Cuniculi

Encephalitozoonosis is caused by the protozoan parasite, Encephalitozoon cuniculi. This parasite lives inside the rabbit's cells and multiplies usually in the brain, eyes and kidneys. Rabbits usually become infected by ingestion or inhalation of spores which are excreted in the faeces and urine of infected animals. 

Clinical signs can vary and may depend on which organ(s) have been infected. The following may be seen in any combination:

Brain: head tilt, torticollis (neck twisting), weakness, paralysis, behavioural changes, seizures and eventually coma.
Eye: Infection of the lens may occur which can eventually burst causing a massive inflammatory reaction.
Kidneys: Increased drinking and urination which may result in urine scalding, shrunken/pitted kidneys may be visible on x-rays.

The only way to get a definite diagnosis of E.cuniculi is to take a biopsy of the infected tissue and see the parasites under the microscope. However, as the organs usually infected by the parasite are the brain, eyes and kidneys most rabbits are only diagnosed post-mortem. A blood test to check for antibodies against the parasite can also be performed, however, a positive result can occur even in healthy rabbits as the test only tells the vet that your rabbit has been exposed to the parasite at some point in their life. If the blood test is negative though this does rule out illness due to E.cuniculi.


A drug called fenbendazole (at 20mg/kg once daily for 28 days) has been shown to eradicate infection in some cases but not all rabbits will recover. Tetracycline antibiotics have been shown to limit (though not remove) the parasite.

Fenbendazole is also licensed for use at 20mg/kg once daily for 9 days to be used 3 times a year as a preventive measure, however, this assumes there are no parasites in the environment. The most important prevention measures are based around hygiene, biosecurity and quarantine of new incoming rabbits to protect the environment from becoming contaminated.


Flystrike is a serious life threatening condition which most commonly occurs in the Spring and Summer months. Flies are attracted to rabbits with damp/wet fur solied with urine or faeces. Each fly can lay up to 200 eggs on the skin usually around the bottom. These eggs can hatch into maggots within 24 hours in warm weather. The maggots then start to feed on the rabbit's flesh and can very quickly eat away large areas of tissue around the bottom and will continue to spread over the back and even through the body.  Rabbits will initially become quiet but as the maggots continue to eat away at the rabbit the rabbit goes into shock and will collapse and die.


If you see maggots on your rabbit call the vet immediately, it is an emergency and must be assessed quickly. If a rabbit with flystrike is caught early then we may be able to save them by removing all the maggots, clipping and cleaning the fur and giving them medication for pain relief, infections and sore skin. Long-term, the reason for the soiled fur should also be addressed to prevent recurrence. In severe cases, such as when the maggots have eaten their way into the rabbit's abdomen, the rabbit may need to be euthanased due to the extent of their suffering.


Rabbit's should have their bottom checked twice daily during warm weather and if any fly eggs/maggots are seen they should be immediately removed by clipping, bathing and/or combing the rabbit's fur. 

Conditions which may increase the risk of urine/faecal soiling should be treated e.g. dental disease, diet, obesity, arthritis. If there is no soiling of the fur then the risk of flystrike is minimal. 

A topical product can be used to prevent fly eggs from hatching. Once applied to the skin it lasts for 8-10 weeks. Contact us for more details.