Spring Dangers for Rabbits
Knowing how to keep your rabbit safe and happy in spring can make sure you both enjoy this gorgeous time of year.
As anyone who has owned a rabbit will tell you, they are curious creatures and are happy to give most things a go! This inquisitive nature can cause problems, especially in spring when the range of places and things to explore tends to increase. The warming weather over spring, while a welcome change from winter, also brings other potential dangers. Knowing how to keep your rabbit safe and happy in spring can make sure you both enjoy this gorgeous time of year.
Spring dangers for rabbits
As the weather warms, flies start to appear. While many are harmless some, such as the bottle fly, lay their eggs in fur. They are especially attracted to damp or soiled fur, which is most commonly found around the back end of rabbits. Damp and dirt can build up on rabbits if they are not regularly checked, if they are suffering with obesity, they have an incorrect diet, dental problems or wet housing. These eggs hatch into maggots which burrow into the skin, leading to shock and rapid death.
Flystrike can be prevented by a combination of methods. The first is top-notch health care – the happier and healthier your rabbit is, the less likely they will become afflicted with flystrike. Checking your rabbit all over daily, with special attention to their rear end, will make sure any problems are picked up fast. Any dental, tummy or dietary problems should be discussed with your vet as soon as possible.
It is also possible to use sprays and liquids to prevent flystrike – these either repel flies, or prevent eggs from developing into maggots. This seasonal flystrike protection is an important part of rabbit care, and should be part of the normal seasonal routine even for the healthiest of rabbits.
While chocolate may seem like an odd thing for rabbits to enjoy, the sweetness can really appeal to our bunny friends. Unfortunately, despite them often having a taste for chocolate, chocolate is toxic to all our common household pets, and this includes rabbits.
Easter is an especially bad time of year for chocolate, as households across the country stock up on Easter eggs. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, as well as caffeine, which is what makes it potentially deadly. Rabbits struggle to break down theobromine, so when they eat chocolate this builds up in their blood. Too much theobromine can lead to multi-organ failure and even death, so if your rabbit has eaten chocolate it is important to get in touch with your vet right away.
Make sure your rabbit has no access to chocolate. House rabbits often have the run of several rooms, and may well sample any chocolate left lying around. Clearing away any leftover chocolate, not leaving chocolates out as any kind of display, and making sure children are aware of the danger chocolate poses to rabbits are all important ways to reduce the risk to your rabbit.
Spring is a time for finally getting out into the garden, and this can involve the use of slug pellets, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers. Sadly, although these products can help our gardens look great, many of them contain substances that are toxic to rabbits. Slug pellets may contain an ingredient called metaldehyde. This is extremely poisonous to pets, and causes drooling, twitching, fever, seizures (fits) and even death. Glyphosphate is another common ingredient, seen in weed killers, and can be an irritant to skin and the tummy if consumed. Weed killers and slug pellets also contain many other ingredients which may be bad for your rabbit. Fertilisers, which are very high in minerals, can cause toxic imbalances.
Check any slug or snail pellets for metaldehyde, and weed killers for glyphosphate. Lawn treatments and any poisons, such as rodenticides or slug pellets should be avoided if you can - even if you can keep your own pets away, they can impact on wildlife too. If used, rabbits should be kept off the area until the products are broken down and absorbed. Keep rabbits away from any bottles or bags of garden treatments, and make sure everyone in the family knows where is safe or not for your rabbit to roam.
Along with the joys of spring comes less welcome jobs, like the annual spring clean. As part of this, many cleaning products come out of the cupboard, often including stronger ‘deep clean’ products. Keeping your house clean and clear is important, and helps keep your rabbit safe, but cleaning products can be dangerous for rabbits. Strong acid or alkaline cleaners, such as bleach and limescale remover, are a big risk. Most cleaners will only cause an upset tummy or skin irritation in small amounts, but if you think your rabbit has eaten even a small amount of any cleaning product, we recommend contacting your local Vets4Pets as soon as possible.
Keep cleaning products in a secure or raised cupboard to prevent pets having access. When using products diluted in water, such as floor cleaners, keep an eye on pets to prevent them sampling the goods, and for strong cleaners keep them out of the room entirely – undiluted cleaners, especially strong cleaners, can damage eyes and skin even without ingestion.
Rabbits can breed all year round but they are especially fertile in spring and summer. In some cases rabbits can reproduce from four months old, so this should be taken into account when planning housing of opposite-sex pairs. To avoid having additional bunnies you might want to consider neutering.
Neutering is the surgical procedure carried out by your vet to sterilise rabbits and is one of the most common procedures carried out. Neutering means that the sterilised rabbit will no longer be able to reproduce. In female rabbits (does) neutering is known as ‘spaying’, and in male rabbits (bucks) it is called ‘castration’.
Neutering can be done at any age, but many of the additional benefits of neutering are seen more strongly when neutering is undertaken early. Some of the main neutering benefits for bucks and does are:
- Removing the risk of unwanted babies (kits)
- Reducing the risk of territorial and sexual behaviours such as aggression, ‘humping’ and urine marking
- Improving the sociability of co-housed rabbits, for both same sex and opposite sex pairings
- Removing the risk of false pregnancies
- Eradicating the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer in does, or testicular cancer in bucks. Neutering also reduces the risk of mammary cancers and uterine cancer, (which does are at high risk of in early years up to 5 years old)
- Removing the risk of uterine infections (pyometra) in does, which often requires surgery to treat.
Your Vets4Pets team will be able to advise you when the best time to get your rabbit neutered is.
Spring usually means that you will be starting to re-introduce rabbits back into the garden. Whilst grass is great for digestive health, and being outside getting lots of exercise is super important, a sudden change in diet for any pet can cause tummy troubles.
New fresh spring grass can be particularly rich for small tummies and you should introduce rabbits to it gradually. The following tips will help prevent your pets suffering from digestive problems such as bloating and diarrhoea.
- Make sure that you give them something to eat before they go out onto the grass. This will fill them up and should prevent them eating too much
- Be aware of the intake of grass, keeping it low initially. You can do this by either limiting the time that they are on the grass, starting with 10-15 minutes and increasing it gradually every other day. Monitor their droppings during this time. If the initial 15 minutes means that their droppings become soft, reduce the time to 10 minutes the next day, or limiting the amount of available grass, so that they only have a certain sized section of grass to eat from.
- Give them shelter too, especially on sunny days
- Make sure that there is plenty of fresh, clean water available, either in a bottle or bowl.
Spring grass can be a nightmare to keep on top of, and you may find yourself getting the lawnmower out every weekend, even with rabbits helping you keep it short! It is important to know that although grass and hay is a hugely important part of a rabbit’s diet, feeding these grass clippings is a no-no for rabbit health. The heat from the lawnmower can start a fermentation process, which continues inside your bunny and can make them very sick.
Make sure you store grass clippings away from rabbits, and that they have access to fresh, growing grass instead. Getting your rabbit’s diet right is really important for their health, and many common rabbit health conditions can be avoided by good nutrition.