The virus that causes this disease is spread by blood sucking insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. When the insects bite the rabbit small amounts of the virus are transferred into the rabbit’s system. The virus multiplies in the skin of the rabbit’s face, ears and anus causing large facial swellings; making it difficult for the rabbit to see, eat or drink. Most rabbits will die, only a very small percentage may recover with intensive medical and nursing care.
Prevention of the disease relies on vaccination and insect control. Rabbits can be vaccinated from 6 weeks of age and we recommend vaccination every six months, ideally in spring and autumn.
Insect control products are available from Hall Place Veterinary Centre.
After monitoring the disease situation we now feel it is necessary to recommend VHD vaccination of all rabbits. This is a deadly disease that affects rabbits over 6 weeks old. The acute form of the disease attacks the liver and causes severe bleeding; most infected animals will die very quickly, often with no warning.
The virus that causes VHD is particularly persistent and will survive for long periods of time in the environment. It is spread very easily on clothing, footwear, birds and insects, which means that house and garden rabbits are at risk.
As there is no effective treatment it is vital to have your rabbit vaccinated. We recommend one vaccination each year. Rabbits can be vaccinated from 10 weeks of age.
Unfortunately the myxomatosis and VHD vaccination cannot be given together, injections must be at least two weeks apart.
Fleas from wild rabbits coming into your garden are the method by which myxomatosis is spread. Hence flea control can help significantly in the prevention of myxomatosis. A new formulation of Advantage is now available specifically for rabbits. It is a simple to use spot-on product, which is applied to the base of the rabbit’s neck monthly. This can be bought at the surgery and comes in a pack of four tubes. It is very important, however, not to use other flea control products on your rabbit without consulting your vet, as many can be toxic to rabbits.
For those people living near the river, remember mosquitoes can also spread myxomatosis, so consider using mosquito netting over your rabbit’s cage at dawn and dusk.
It is important to know that although myxomatosis is highly contagious between rabbits, it does not affect any other animals or people.
Flystrike is very unpleasant and may in severe cases be fatal. It occurs when flies lay their eggs around a rabbit’s rear end and these eggs hatch into maggots, which feed on rabbit’s flesh. Prevention is far better than cure.
Every day check your rabbit’s fur is clean, dry and not matted.
Dirty soiled bedding attracts flies so remove dirty sections daily.
Once a week remove all bedding and thoroughly clean and disinfect the hutch.
A treatment is now available to help prevent this (Flystrike), please ask the surgery for more details.
Rabbits have a unique digestive system that is designed specifically for a high fibre, low protein and low energy diet. It is very easy to give our rabbits treats or extra food, which they do not need and this can actually cause many problems. Incorrect diets lead to dental problems, which lead to difficulty in eating and problems with both the jaws and eyes. In addition, insufficient fibre or too rich a diet may cause bloat or diarrhoea. Most of the commercial treats are made with seeds and honey. Seeds are high in fat and honey is simple sugar- the rabbit digestive tract is not designed for them.
Your rabbit should have a diet containing approximately 12-14% protein, at least 20% fibre, an appropriate calcium/phosphorous ratio and supplying about 2000kcal/kg/day.
Complete rabbit foods
Complete rabbit foods are specifically prepared for rabbits to supply sufficient fibre, protein, minerals and carbohydrates. They are only complete if the rabbit eats all of the mixture, and are designed to be fed with hay. The most readily available and well-known foods are the Russell Rabbit mixes and the Supa Excel pellets. If you choose to feed Russell Rabbit you absolutely MUST make sure your rabbit eats all of the mixture, and is not selective. If feeding Supa Excel, your rabbit does not have a choice - what he eats is well balanced!
Neither of these foods are meant to be fed ad libitum, and in fact if you do so, you will probably end up with a fat bunny. Fat rabbits are not healthy rabbits - they do not groom themselves properly, have trouble cleaning their bottoms and may not eat their caecotrophs. It is best to feed the recommended amount split into 2 daily meals, breakfast and dinner. An average sized rabbit (2.2kg) needs just 80g of Supa Excel per day that is 40g twice daily, it is best if you weigh your rabbit and the amount of food he requires, and mark it on a measuring cup.
Rabbits should always have access to hay and fresh or dried grass
In the wild, rabbits spend hours each day foraging for grass and edible greens. These foods are high in fibre and the best thing we can do for our pet rabbits is mimic this natural diet by always providing fresh hay and grass.
Additional greens and vegetables
Your rabbit will also like fresh leafy greens such as cabbage, dandelions, milk thistle, lettuce, clover and watercress. These greens are all high in calcium, which is needed for healthy teeth and bones. Small amounts of root vegetables like carrots are fine too. These greens and vegetables can cause soft stools or diarrhoea if fed in too great a quantity or introduced too quickly. It is important to introduce them slowly and if your rabbit does have diarrhoea just feed hay and a complete food until the stools are firm again, then gradually reintroduce the greens. Do not feed beans or rhubarb. It is best not to feed vegetables straight from the fridge, but rather let them warm to room temperature.
Your rabbit should always have access to fresh water. If outside, beware of water freezing in winter. Some rabbits prefer drinking bottles whilst others like bowls- it doesn’t really matter as long as water is always available.
There are many reasons to consider neutering your rabbit. Obviously, if you are keeping a male and female together, you will probably want to desex at least one - we all know how quickly rabbits multiply. Rabbits reach sexual maturity from as early as 4 months of age. We prefer to delay neutering until 6 months of age, but in circumstances where breeding needs to be prevented, we are happy to discuss early neutering. In males both testicles are removed. In females we remove the entire uterus and both ovaries through a midline incision. Whilst surgical anaesthesia is never risk free, improvements in the drugs available and our expertise means rabbit anaesthesia and surgery is much safer now than in the past.
If your rabbit is a house rabbit, neutering will make housetraining much easier and prevent regression due to territorial instincts. Neutering also reduces aggression, both between rabbits and towards owners. Female rabbits often become aggressive as they mature, usually at about 6 months
of age. This can include biting and scratching you. If spayed, the aggression nearly always resolves.
Recent research shows that 80% of 5 year old female entire rabbits have uterine carcinomas, a form of cancer. This is another good reason to consider spaying your rabbit.
Apart from these seasonal problems your rabbit’s general health can be monitored. Checking for healthy teeth, eyes, ears, coat, and that there are no sudden changes in temperament or weight are important. When you bring your rabbit in for vaccination the vet will give your pet a thorough health check at the same time as part of our service.
Type 2 variant of rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD2) has been the cause of mounting worry amongst rabbit owners of the UK.