Rabbits

Vaccinations

The Australian Veterinary Association recommends that rabbits are vaccinated against calicivirus at 6-8 weeks of age, and again at 10 - 12 weeks of age. Annual booster vaccinations are then performed every 12 months to maintain immunity throughout life. Calicivirus and Myxomatosis are diseases that have been introduced in Australia to help control the wild rabbit population. Whilst there are no vaccines available to prevent myxomatosis, rabbits should be vaccinated against calicivirus which is spread by insects.

Parasite control 

Rabbits can attract dog fleas. There are some excellent, easy to use flea control products available including Advantage and Revolution. Rabbits can be infected with either fur mites or ear mites. Fur mites usually cause a "dandruff type" skin condition over the shoulders of the rabbit that is normally not itchy. Rabbits with ear mites frequently scratch at their ears and earwax may be visible. If your bunny has any of these signs a vet should examine him/her so the condition can be treated, and your pet made more comfortable.

Dental Care

Rabbits have teeth that continually grow that are worn down naturally through their diet. However, it is possible that overgrown incisors (front teeth) and molars (cheek teeth) can occur. We often see rabbits with overgrown teeth due to poor diet or hereditary factors. Spurs may form on their molar teeth if they are not worn down naturally by chewing roughage (e.g. Hay). Some rabbits need their teeth burred down regularly under general anaesthesia if they suffer from spurs.

Feeding

The basic diet for a rabbit is simple. Rabbits require 80% grass/oaten hay (not lucerne) and 20% leafy green veggies (never give iceberg lettuce). A high percentage of fibre also helps control teeth growth. Rabbits groom themselves like cats and therefore develop hairballs - a healthy diet prevents hairballs becoming a problem. 

Rabbit fed on a high carbohydrate/low fibre diet can suffer from a condition called gut stasis. This can also be bought on by stress, lack of exercise or fur ingestion. This causes the gut to stop fermenting food and no faeces are produced. Rabbits suffering from gut stasis will stop eating, become depressed and stop producing faeces. This condition can become serious after just a few hours so if you notice changes in your rabbit you should have him/her checked as soon as possible.

Any Rabbit that has stopped eating or passing faeces for more than a few hours could be a medical emergency and should be examined by a veterinarian.

Not all commercially available rabbit foods are good for rabbits. Some are not balanced and can cause severe problems for rabbits including gut stasis

Desexing

If you are not planning to breed from your pet, desexing is recommended.

Desexing your pet rabbit

Rabbits reach sexual maturity as early as 12 weeks of age and therefore need to be separated to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Not only will desexing prevent unwanted litters, but it can also be beneficial in preventing sex-specific health issues and reducing undesirable behavioural issues.

As male rabbits reach sexual maturity, they often exhibit urine spraying, mounting and aggression. Desexing can help alleviate these unwanted behaviours and allow males to live together without fighting.  Desexing your male rabbit removes the risk of them developing testicular cancer.

Upon sexual maturity, female rabbits may become aggressive and difficult to handle.  Additionally, un-desexed females may undergo ‘phantom’ pregnancies in which they pull out their fur and make nests. Should they ingest large amounts of fur, this can result in intestinal blockages.  Furthermore, up to 60% of un-desexed females will develop uterine cancer.

There is no proven health benefit to allowing your rabbit to have a litter prior to desexing.

What does the surgery involve?

Castration in males involves the surgical removal of both testicles. Females undergo an ovariohysterectomy in which the ovaries and the uterus are removed. Both procedures require a general anaesthetic.

Prior to the surgery

Rabbits are unable to vomit and therefore do not need to be fasted prior to undergoing surgery. It is important that your rabbit has access to food and water up until the very last moment to ensure adequate gut motility. We also recommend packing a ‘lunchbox’ of your rabbit’s favourite/familiar foods so that we may offer it to them once they have recovered from their surgery.

Should your rabbit have a companion to whom they are bonded with, we recommend bringing them along on the day too. This can help reduce any unwanted stress and ensure your rabbit feels more secure.  Please notify the clinic if you will be bringing a companion along.

Homecare

Please ensure your rabbit’s enclosure or environment is clean and warm prior to bringing them home.  Your rabbit may have medications that will need to be administered at home following the surgery.

Desexed males will need to be kept away from un-desexed females initially as they remain fertile for four weeks following surgery.

It is essential that you monitor your rabbit to ensure they are eating and producing faecal pellets. Anaesthetic drugs can affect gut motility and if your rabbit is not eating or defecating, please contact the clinic. 

Anaesthesia and Rabbits

Rabbits are known to have a higher anaesthetic risk than cats and dogs. We tailor anaesthetic drugs and protocols to suit the individual patient to ensure they have the safest anaesthetic we can possibly achieve. Each surgical patient will have a highly trained nurse monitoring their anaesthetic throughout their procedure. Additionally, all rabbits will have an intravenous catheter placed in an ear vein, so that intravenous access is maintained throughout the surgery. However, with every anaesthetic there is still a risk and again this is statistically higher in rabbits.

Please notify your veterinarian if your rabbit has been unwell recently or behaving differently. If this is the case, your veterinarian may elect to delay the procedure.

All rabbits undergoing a surgical procedure will have a pre-admit health check with the surgery veterinarian on the day. Ideally your rabbit will need to weigh at least 1.2kg to be of a sufficient weight to undergo an anaesthetic.

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