Statistics revealed that around 75 percent of the 1.3m pet rabbits in the UK are still not vaccinated, which means 975,000 rabbits are at risk of contracting diseases including Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), according to figures from MSD Animal Health.
Dental disease and digestive problems are common issues with pet rabbits in the UK, so vets have produced a guide to help increase the number of healthy rabbits.
Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “Rabbits are often misunderstood and require a lot of more care and attention than some people may realise.
“Rabbit Awareness Week is the perfect opportunity to highlight the best advice on rabbit healthcare and help improve the lives of the UK’s pet rabbits.
“Feeding rabbits the correct diet is without a doubt the single most important part of keeping a rabbit healthy and happy.
“Incorrect feeding can lead to dental disease, behavioural problems, gastrointestinal disease and obesity, so it is key that owners know exactly what to feed their rabbits.
“Rabbits usually spend around six to eight hours a day grazing and eating, so good quality hay and fresh grass should always be readily available for rabbits, and should make up the largest proportion (70%) of their diet.
“Hay and grass is low in fat but high in fibre, which helps with a rabbit’s digestion and chewing on them keeps their continuously growing teeth at the right length and shape.
“The rest of the diet should be made up of leafy green vegetables and herbs, such as dandelion, cabbage, watercress, basil, carrot and parsley, along with a small ration of pellets.
“Any new food should be introduced gradually and if owners ever notice any signs of diarrhoea or their rabbit isn’t eating, they should take them to their nearest vet practice for a check-up immediately.”
But vaccinating a pet rabbit to help protect them against deadly diseases such as Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), is also very important.
“Preventative healthcare is very important for keeping your pet safe from disease and illness,” added Dr Stacey.
“Primary vaccinations and regular boosters will help protect rabbits from horrible diseases like Myxomatosis and RHD which are nearly always fatal.
“From vaccinations, to appropriate diets and providing the perfect environment for pet rabbits, there are a whole host of ways to keep your bunny safe, healthy and happy.
“Further information can be found in the rabbit section of the 2015 Vet Report.”
Rabbit healthcare guide
- The majority of a rabbit’s diet should be made up of good quality hay and fresh grass
- Leafy green vegetables and herbs like; broccoli, cabbage, carrot, parsley, watercress, basil, chicory, dandelion, chickweed, sunflower, dock and yarrow, should also be given daily
- Only give the recommended measure of pellets or use them as treats
- Avoid muesli and coarse mix (generally a commercial mixture of cooked cereals, flaked peas, minerals and vitamins that you can buy in most pet shops)
- Introduce new changes in diet very gradually
- A hutch outside with access to grass is the best environment for a rabbit so they can graze and run around
- The hutch should be sheltered from wind, rain and sun
- The hutch floor should be covered in hay and straw, which needs to be replaced constantly whenever it gets damp or dirty
- If it snows you may need to consider moving their hutch indoors or providing them with extra bedding and a rug to protect them
- Rabbits need a lot of exercise to stay healthy and in shape
- Rabbits may have fun with appropriate toys: roll them a ball and see if they chase it
- Cardboard forts and constructions allow your rabbit to burrow and play
- Rabbits need enough space to stretch their legs and run about so make sure they have a grass run attached to their hutch that they can play in
- Rabbits are very sociable animals and enjoy having a fellow rabbit for company
- Introducing a new rabbit to a group can be tricky, so make sure to ask your vet for all the necessary advice before doing so