Did you know that September 26 is International Rabbit Day? Rabbits can provide the same companionship as cats and dogs when kept in a proper environment. Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits have unique feeding and care requirements to keep them healthy. It is important to ensure your rabbit has proper veterinary care to ensure a long, healthy life.
We recommend that rabbits have examinations twice a year to evaluate for any medical conditions and discuss their feeding and housing requirements. All new rabbits should be examined — especially if you already have a rabbit at home. Your veterinarian will examine the skin and hair coat; listen to the heart and lungs; feel the abdomen to check the kidneys, bladder, stomach and intestinal tract; examine the ear canals for signs of mites or infections; examine the mouth for overgrown incisors and molars; and perform a fecal exam to look for parasites such as coccidia (common in some pet store rabbits). Beginning at the age of three years, annual blood work is recommended in order to assist with early detection of disease. Early treatment of disease processes is essential to promoting a long and healthy life. Here are a few tips for proper care of your rabbit.
FEEDING: With proper care and feeding, rabbits can live 10 to 12 years. Young rabbits under eight months of age should have unlimited access to high-quality Timothy-based pellets. Adult rabbits need to have their pellet access limited to prevent obesity, diarrhea, intestinal disease, heart problems and liver disease. Newer studies suggest adult rabbits can do well without pellets as long as they are on high-quality Timothy hay and a variety of gradually introduced vegetables.
Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. Rabbits that lack fiber in their diets tend to have intestinal problems and may be more likely to chew on things in your house that can lead to a blockage. Provide unlimited Timothy or grass hay daily. Introduce fresh vegetables slowly to avoid causing intestinal problems.
HOUSING: Rabbits should be housed indoors in a cage that is at least 3 feet by 4 feet and allow them additional space for supervised play within your home. Outdoor rabbits can be prone to getting infections, including external and internal parasites. Indoor rabbits can be litterbox trained to help with cleanliness in the home. Avoid wood shavings since they can harbor dust and molds that can lead to skin and respiratory infections.
SPAYING/NEUTERING: In addition to preventing unintentional breeding of animals, spaying and neutering can have significant health and welfare benefits in pet rabbits. Although it can be performed in healthy animals of any age, it is ideally performed between four and six months. Spaying is one of the most important measures of preventative health care to be performed in female rabbits. Approximately 80% of unspayed female rabbits will develop cancer associated with their reproductive tracts as adults. Spaying reduces this risk considerably. Neutering of male rabbits helps curb aggressive and territorial behavior, such as urine spraying.
CHANGES IN APPETITE: Reduced appetite or reduced/no feces is usually considered a same-day medical emergency in rabbits. There may be a primary intestinal tract problem or an underlying disease or issue, such as molar overgrowth or an infection. If not addressed in time, GI stasis can lead to low body temperature, severe dehydration or even death.
DENTAL DISEASE: Drooling, spitting out food, pickiness and/or weight loss are signs that may indicate dental problems. Dental disease can lead to ulcers, infection/abscesses, or reduced appetite and GI stasis if not appropriately addressed. Molar overgrowth/malocclusion is often a recurrent issue requiring regular anesthetized dental trims.
The House Rabbit Society website (www.rabbit.org) has many resources available for rabbit owners on proper training and care.
The veterinarians of VCA Calvert Veterinary Center have over 35 years of combined experience helping pets stay healthy and happy. For more information about how to care for your exotic pet, call for an appointment (410-360-PAWS) or schedule online at www.vaccalvertvet.com. VCA Calvert Veterinary Center is conveniently located at 4100 Mountain Road and has been proudly serving the Pasadena community for over 16 years.