Rabbit Awareness Week this year focusses on asking UK rabbit owners to #ProtectAndPrevent by vaccination, to help make sure our rabbits to not fall prey to potentially fatal infectious disease. Veterinary surgeon Tessa Plagis from NOAH explains…….
Rabbits are popular as pets in the UK, according to the PDSA around 2% of the UK population have rabbits, meaning around 1 million pet rabbits. Keeping your rabbits healthy can be a tough task and there are many aspects rabbit owners need to consider. Protecting the health and welfare of pet rabbits involves taking a proactive approach.
Giving a rabbit a fibre-rich, balanced diet is very important for its general health and well-being, especially with inside rabbits as minimal exercise and overfeeding can cause obesity. Rabbits need continuous access to hay and some fresh grass and vegetables, this can be supplemented by small amounts of specially formulated rabbit food.
Keeping rabbits alone can cause long term stress and depression which will weaken their immune system and make them more susceptible to diseases. It is therefore advised that rabbits have a friend and a safe home environment, protected from predators and the elements. It is ideal to have a neutered male and neutered female rabbit together, preferably from the same litter.
Just like our cats and dogs, we need to protect our rabbits to prevent infectious disease. Your vet can advise you on the vaccinations available and what is appropriate for your rabbits. . The viral diseases we vaccinate against are rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) and myxomatosis which often cause death in unvaccinated rabbits. Depending on how your rabbit is kept, for example; with other rabbits or inside/outside, will affect how often and which vaccination your rabbit will need. Even if your rabbits are strictly indoors, they can still be vulnerable as these viruses can spread via direct contact, between one rabbit to the next, and indirect contact, such as via our clothes, shoes, birds, insects and even the wind.
With these rabbit diseases, prevention is so important as there are no specific treatments available. Veterinarians will often try to give an affected rabbit supportive treatment but the prognosis is often poor. Recognising symptoms of these diseases is very important and may give a chance of saving your rabbit if caught early on. Myxomatosis often causes swelling of the eyelids, ears, lips and genitals. RHD type-1 and RHD type-2 are very tricky to recognise, as infected rabbits often have no symptoms. RHD type-1 may cause bleeding from the nose, eyes or anus area, however more commonly sudden death occurs. Similarly, RHD type-2 often also causes sudden death, with no recognisable symptoms before, symptoms that may be noticed are lethargy, fever, neurological signs and bleeding.
Your vet is a great source of information, and they can advise you on appropriate diets, neutering, health concerns and an appropriate vaccination protocol for your rabbit. A vaccination appointment not only helps to protect your animal against infectious diseases, it also gives you a time you to discuss any concerns with your vet and allows them to perform a full health examination and diagnose any issues that may need to be addressed, nipping potential problems in the bud and helping keep your rabbits healthy and happy for longer.
Lastly, because rabbits are prey animals in the wild, they do not show symptoms of sickness as quickly as we would expect. If you notice any subtle changes it is best to contact your vet as soon as possible.
#ProtectAndPrevent and speak to your vet about vaccinations available for your furry friend!