0208 979 1384   moleseyvets@hotmail.co.uk
24h Emergency Service 0208 783 2850
 

RABBITS

How to care for your rabbit

At Molesey Vets, we always welcome rabbits at our veterinary surgery. At our rabbit clinic, we provide rabbit vaccinations and surgery, along with a range of other services. We offer weight monitoring, as well as general and geriatric health checks. If you have any other questions, queries or concerns, our specially trained vets will be more than happy to help you.

Consultations

Please call our regular telephone number 0208 979 1384 during office hours and speak to one of our receptionists who will help book you for the correct consultation appointment.

When booking a consultation, please inform our receptionists on how many pets you will be bringing. Each rabbit will need to be scheduled individually for their own appointment, as this allows the vet enough time to examine each pet and discuss their problems.

Unfortunately, the staff who answer the ‘Emergency Call’ number outside of office hours are unable to book regular day time consultations.

Here is a guideline to the different types of consultations we normally provide:

  • Regular Consultation: Our normal 15-minute consultation with the vet for an animal with a new health problem. Alternatively with a problem that has recurred from some time ago, or a repeat ailment.
  • Second Opinion Consultation: If your pet has been to see another vet for an ailment (within the last year) and you would like our opinion on the outcome, we need to read the previous medical record, blood results and x-rays etc. We can then understand what medicines were used and what the original findings were. This allows us to properly understand your pets’ condition and provide you with a good second opinion. This does take time to arrange, so we recommend that the consultation must be booked at least one day in advance. This is a more complex and time-consuming procedure, so we schedule 30 minutes for you to spend with the veterinarian and we charge a higher fee.
  • Walk in Consultation: If you come in without an appointment booked we will try our best to fit you in, however during busier periods you may have to wait for an hour or more. Obviously, if your pet’s life is in danger we will assess their condition and may admit them into the hospital while making a vet free. The Walk in Consultation is generally scheduled for 15 minutes but is charged at a higher fee compared to the Regular Consultation.
  • We are often full or extremely busy, so to ensure your pet doesn’t become stressed if you have to wait for a long time, we would strongly advise booking an appointment beforehand.
  • Referral Consultation: This is when another vet who feels we have more expertise to consult on chinchillas, or with your chinchilla’s specific problem, has referred you. In these cases the other veterinarian will directly fax us a ‘Referral Letter’ and your chinchilla’s medical records. Once the appointment has finished, we will inform your original vet of the outcome of the case. This also requires our extended 30-minute consultation.

Once you have made the appointment please make sure that you, or whoever is bringing in the pet, has all the information as follow

  1. How long your rabbit has been sick, and what symptoms it’s been showing.
  2. What food your rabbit is normally fed on, including any snacks and supplements.
  3. Any medicines that may have been given to your rabbit (please bring in the packets or containers).
  4. Where you rabbit is originally from, and what other animals it has had contact with.
  5. What are the urine & faeces (poop) usually like and what are they presently like.
  6. That the owner or a decision maker will be available on the telephone if they cannot come in.

Please note that to sign a consent form (for example for an operation or if you pet needs to be admitted into hospital) legally it must be someone over the age of 18 years old to sign.

We require payment for the services provided immediately after a consultation. If your pet does unfortunately need to be admitted to hospital or for surgery you will be required to pay a deposit. To try and make it more convenient for you we do accept payments by cash, cheques, debit and credit cards.

 

At Molesey Vets, we have our HEALTHY PET CLUB which is a great way of giving your rabbit the best preventative care possible. You benefit from great savings on essential annual vaccinations, life-saving parasite prevention and many other benefits and discounts!

And don’t forget to collect your Molesey Card – our free loyalty card that let you collect points on your card, which you can redeem against any of our services or products! The card is free to all clients, and we even give you 500 points (=£5) to get you started! Simply ask at member of the reception team for more details when you next come in.

Vaccinations

Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Diarrhoea (VHD) are the currently the standard recommended vaccinations for rabbits: they now come as a combined injection, which we recommend as both initial (from 5 weeks of age) and annual or (for myxomatosis) six-monthly boosters. If you are unsure on what the right vaccination for your rabbit is, then please do book a consultation with one of our specialist rabbit vets.

Health Checks

We recommend a health check shortly after you have bought your new pet rabbit home.

Please bring in details of all foods and any supplements or medicines you may be using to the health check.

If possible, please collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning.

If you are worried or confused by any particular behaviour, then take videos and our vet will discuss them with you.

Keep your new rabbit isolated from the rest of the family. Unfortunately this does mean no play-time or introductions to other rabbits. You will be able to do this after the first check up and the vet has diagnosed your pet as healthy.

At the ‘Health Check’ our vets will perform a full physical examination. This includes assessing your new pet’s overall condition, their muscle and fat levels, hydration levels and checking for anaemia (lack of red blood cells in their body).

We will be paying particular attention for parasites on their skin and for signs of any infectious diseases they may be carrying.

We will be focusing on gut function and on the diet, including whether the foods are appropriate, and whether the amount is suitable.

We may not perform a full dental check on young animals if the incisors look normal.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet. If there is time during the consultation we will make recommendations on the training of your new rabbit, starting young is the best way to train!

 

Regular Health Checks

Once your new pet is settled in and any health problems have been solved, we generally do recommend a six-monthly general health check.

Please ensure that you know the brands and type of food they are given, including any snacks or dietary supplements.

If possible, please bring urine and faeces from that morning if you can. Our vets would also like to see a photo of the cage set up.

During their regular health check, we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and again check for anaemia.

We will again check the condition of their eyes, ears, and perform a dental examination.

We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and using a stethoscope listen to the heart and lungs.

We will search for parasites, and examine their skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet. We will also check to see whether their nails are the correct length.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.

Geriatric Health Checks

Once your rabbit is older, or ‘geriatric’ we advise moving to health checks every six months.

Did you know that every 6 months for a rabbit is roughly equal to 5 years for a human?

At Molesey Vets, we believe a rabbit over 6 years old is classed as ‘geriatric’, although as with humans, animals age at different rates!  If you are worried about your older rabbit, or want to have a health check every three months we’re happy to do that. We do understand that many of our owners worry very much.

During this ‘geriatric’ check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia.

We will again check the condition of their eyes, ears, and perform a dental examination.

We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and using a stethoscope listen to the heart and lungs.

We will search for parasites, and examine their skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet. We will also check to see whether their nails are the correct length.

As flexibility and mobility can be a problem for older rabbits, we will also be paying particular attention to the ‘gait’ or movement of the pet. They may often be very nervous coming into a new environment and won’t move around freely. If possible, please video then cleaning and moving around so our vet can see their normal behaviour at home.

We will probably suggest they undergo a blood test every 6-12 months, as this allows us to monitor their kidney and liver functions. We usually collect the blood from a vein in the back leg using a small needle. We only need to take 3 -4 drops of blood, and the test will be over in no time!

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your older rabbit.

Nutritional Advice

Diet

In the wild, rabbits live solely on a high fibre diet of grasses and leaves and have over time have developed a specialised gut which is adapted for this coarse diet. Their large intestine contains bacteria that break down the grass fibre, making it easily digestible. The guinea pig pass this fibre through the gut twice to ensure all nutrients are absorbed. As a result of this they produce and eat a special kind of faeces (poop) which many owners never see as their rabbit eats them directly from their bottom. These faeces are dark, sticky and smelly, and are called caecotrophes.

As a result of this specialised gut and the constantly growing teeth adult rabbits need a diet that’s high fibre, restricted carbohydrate, restricted protein and virtually no fat to stay healthy.

We recommend that a healthy adult rabbit should only be given a limited amount of fresh pellets twice a day. Each time the amount should be anywhere between 1/2 and a full flat soup spoon full.

We strongly recommend first-cut or high fibre Timothy hay. Suitable alternatives include orchard grass, botanical & mountain hay are also good choices as they are high fibre, low protein hays. Alfalfa hay is too rich, and contains too much protein and calcium.

Your rabbit must have unrestricted, 24 hour access to loose hay. They should not be given cubed hay.

You should always ensure that the hay is high quality. It should have a fresh sweet smell, and should not smell dusty or mouldy.

Remember, hay comes in various colours based on the weather conditions and can be cream, yellow, green or light brown. The colour is not important, as long as the hay smells fresh and nice.

An occasional insect may be found, and this is quite natural. However, if the hay is infested with hay then the remainder should be thrown away.

Be careful where you buy your rabbit food from. You should buy it from a busy, well established pet food shop. Buying from an established, busy supplier ensures that the food is always fresh. We keep all our hay in air conditioning to ensure it is fresh, so we recommend that the shop you are buying from does the same.

Any changes to their diet MUST be slow and gentle. Introducing new foods too quickly can lead to an upset gut which causes bacterial imbalances and may kill your rabbit. Please take up to 1 week to gradually introduce a new vegetable or brand of hay or a new brand of pellets.

 

Young (under 6 months), pregnant, sick or old (over 6 years) rabbits should be given a larger amount of pellets. If you are unsure on the exact amount, the it is best to seek veterinary advice. They may also be offered a proportion of alfalfa hay as it is a richer hay, with more protein and calcium.

Fresh vegetables are an extremely important source of vitamins, and most rabbits love them.

You should give them around 1-2 bowls of vegetables every day. It is best to feed at least 3 different vegetables every day and to rotate through the list. They may be your rabbits favourite, but sticking to just one or two types can lead to dietary imbalances or health problems.

Yau mak choi, Choi Sum, pak choi, broccoli leaves, chinese lettuce, romaine lettuce, bell peppers, carrots, spinach and parsley are all good choices. Before serving, make sure they are fresh and wash thoroughly. Like all new foods, introduce them gradually and slowly build up the amount.

Organic vegetables are best, but make sure they’re washed fully before being fed to your rabbit.

 

Fruit is acceptable twice a week in small amounts – perhaps 1/2 a teaspoonful. Rabbit snacks and sweeties, seeds, nuts and biscuits are very unhealthy and you should never give them to your rabbit.

Any changes to their diet MUST be slow and gentle. Introducing new foods too quickly can lead to an upset gut which causes bacterial imbalances and may kill your guinea pig. Please take up to 1 week to gradually introduce a new vegetable or brand of hay or a new brand of pellets.

Neutering (De-Sexing) Surgeries

Female rabbits: We very strongly recommend the spaying of all female rabbits as disease is so common when they get older. Spaying includes the removal of ovaries and the uterus/womb.

The best age to spay female rabbits is between 7-8 months old. Older female rabbits can still be spayed, but the surgery becomes more challenging due to increased fat tissues around the uterus. Older rabbits are also more at risk whilst under anaesthetic.

Nevertheless, we still advise spaying of all female rabbits that are in good health. If you are worried about whether to spay your rabbit or not, then bring her in for a consultation and we will give you an honest appraisal of risk.

Some of the most important reasons for spaying including:

  • It helps to prevents cancer and cystic change of the uterus.
  • It helps to reduce the risk of mammary gland (breast tissue) disease.
  • It helps to improve behaviour, stops false pregnancy, and inhibits territorial aggression.

Unfortunately, signs of uterus disease are hard to detect, and signs may not be obvious until the disease is quite advanced. Uterus diseases are frequently fatal, for example uterus cancer can spread to the lungs or liver, and other abnormalities can lead to blood loss, weakness and eventual death.

According the scientific studies, uterus cancer can affect between 50 and 80% of rabbits by the time they are 4 years old.

Rabbits that are not spayed can also suffer from mammary/breast cancer, inflammation or cysts due to the large amounts of hormones secreted from their ovaries.

During the de-sexing surgery, your rabbit will be put under general anaesthetic. The surgery involves entering the abdomen of the rabbit to remove the ovaries and uterus. This is a relatively safe procedure in our capable hands, but as always, no surgery is without risk.

To keep your rabbit as comfortable as possible, we use three different types of pain relief, one injection before, one during and one after.

To reduce the risk of dehydration in your rabbit, we always give fluids before or during the surgery. Our nursing staff will also normally give 2 meals of Critical Care after the surgery to help reduce the risk of gut stasis.

Once she goes home your girl will need a couple of days of nursing, support feeding and rest after the surgery.

 

Male rabbits

Male rabbits can be castrated anywhere between 5-6 months old, once the descent of the testicles into the scrotal sacs is obvious (i.e. you can see the testicles hanging down).

The surgery is done under general anaesthetic, is fairly quick. As with all surgery, there are some potential complications such as post-operative infection or bleeding, but is usually safe.

To keep your rabbit as comfortable as possible, we use three different types of pain relief, one injection before, one during and one after.

To reduce the risk of dehydration in your rabbit, we always give fluids before or during the surgery. Our nursing staff will also normally give 2 meals of Critical Care after the surgery to help reduce the risk of gut stasis.

Once he goes home your boy will need a couple of days of nursing, support feeding and rest after the surgery.
Some advantages of castration of a rabbit include:

  • It helps to decrease aggressive and dominance behaviour.
  • It helps to minimise urine marking and promotes litter box training.
  • There is no risk of testicle cancer.
  • Cannot breed with female rabbits

 

Rabbits that are aged 1 and over can still be castrated, but the signs of behavioural benefit will be less obvious.

If you are worried or have any queries regarding the de-sexing of your rabbit, then please do call our reception to make an appointment.

Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits do not need to fast before surgery, and routine operations are done on weekdays.

Make sure your rabbit is well fed for the morning, and is in good health – good appetite, good faecal output and is lively and energetic without breathing problems.

Preventative Care

Gut Stasis

Gut stasis is a very serious disease which can affect smaller animals including guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas.

If your rabbit has not eaten or pooped for the last 12 hours then you need to take them to a vet as soon as possible. Gut stasis is an urgent condition and cannot wait for 2 or 3 days.  To keep your rabbit hydrated you may also need to carefully syringe feed some water before the consultation.

Do not try to offer them snacks or junk food as this can make their condition worse.

Gut stasis can be caused by a number of problems that result in a lack of appetite, and if not treated can become fatal very quickly.

These problems include stress, a fast diet change, too much sugar or carbohydrates, dehydration,  grooming too much fur eating too much junk food and not eating enough fibre, as well as dental disease, liver and kidney problems.

We have seen ‘gut stasis’ after such events as owners moving house, changing the pet’s cage, hay and pellet changes, a new pet, the loss of a bonded companion and construction work taking place next door, even thunderstorms!

To reduce the risk of your rabbit suffering from gut stasis you should:

1) Follow our diet advice and provide them with a high fibre, hay based diet.

2) Do not overfeed them with pellets, oats, biscuits or junk food.

3) Always make sure they have fresh water available.

4) Groom your pet as often as possible.

5) Encourage them to exercise.

6) Keep stress levels down and reduce change in their surroundings.

7) Introduce dietary changes smoothly and gradually.

 

Dental Services

One of the most common problems we see with our guinea pig, rabbit and chinchilla patients is dental disease. It is a terrible disease as it causes them pain when they eat!

All these animals have adapted to feed on tough, fibrous grasses that take a lot of chewing. Their teeth continuously grow throughout their life and if they are not worn down properly, or if the tooth position changes in the jaw, then their teeth can overgrow or develop sharp points that cut into their cheek or mouths.

This can be extremely painful and some animals will stop eating and starve to death without proper care and attention.

The most common symptoms of dental disease include eating less, (particularly the foods that need more chewing like hay) salivation and dropping foods.  Some animals may suffer from temper changes where they becoming angry, throwing the food bowl around, biting the cage bars. On the other hand, some want more love and cuddles from their owner.

You may also hear ‘tooth grinding’ or clicking when they open and close their jaw.

You may notice some animals only losing weight or producing smaller faeces.

When you bring your rabbit in for their consultation the vet will carefully examine the jaw bone and face. They will check their incisors (front teeth) and examine the teeth within the mouth using a speculum. It can be hard for the vet to get a good view as your poor rabbit will usually chew and push the speculum away with the tongue, and there may be too much saliva and pieces of food floating around.

If we suspect there they are suffering from a dental disease then we will recommend a full inspection under anaesthetic.

During this inspection, we use a specialised dental ‘rack’ which holds the mouth open and examine with the endoscope (a kind of miniature medical camera). During the check we will take pictures and show you them once we have finished.

The vet will then use a combination of equipment to take away sharp spikes and reduce the length of any overlong crowns. If your rabbit has any rotten or loose teeth then these will be removed.

Owners often worry about the risk of anaesthetic which is understandable. It is true that there is a risk, especially with these older animals, and those that are not in the best condition.

However, leaving your rabbit in pain and starving to death is not fair to them.

Once the consultation has finished, the vet will give you advice on how best to reduce the risk in future. For example, support feeding for a few days or putting your rabbit onto an intravenous drip.

Please be assured that we want the same as you, a happy healthy pet, and we will try our best to make this happen.

Hospitalisation

We have a ward at Molesey Vets that is dedicated to our rabbit, chinchilla and guinea pig patients. It has been designed by our vets to help keep your special little animal as relaxed and comfortable as possible during their stay here.

The ward is cooled to 22 degrees to keep them comfortable. As potential predators, cats and dogs are scary for smaller animals so they are kept in separate wards out of the sight and smell of these nervous creatures.

We try to keep the ward as calm as relaxed as possible to help your rabbit settle in quickly.

We have a wide range of pellets, hays and vegetables available to tempt their appetite, but if you want to bring them a little lunch box of their favourite foods you are more than welcome. You can also bring in their own water bottle too.

We have wonderful Registered Veterinary Nurses who are very experienced with the care and handling of these nervous creatures.  This is particularly important when they are not eating and need to be support fed, as many of our sick patients do.

Husbandry Advice

Water

It is essential that your rabbit has 24-hour access to water. Most domestic rabbits are used to having a sipper bottle, but some may prefer to have a water bowl.

When your new rabbit is first bought home, offer them both at the beginning. Never abruptly change their water (i.e. from tap to bottled water) as it will taste different, and your rabbit may not want to drink it. Unfortunately, we have seen a lot of poorly rabbits suffering from dehydration or gut stasis because their sipper bottle become blocked, or they didn’t like the taste of new water.

 

Cage

Your rabbit should be able to hop 3 times from 1 end of their cage to the other. This means the cage should be 1 – 1 1/2 metres long.

The main part of the floor of the cage should be solid, as a wire base can cause ulcerations on their feet. The floor should always be kept clean and free from dirt.

Newspaper may be used to cover it as newspaper ink is soy based and non-toxic for your rabbit.

You may also use bedding such as hay or paper bedding like ‘Care Fresh’, but we would never recommend using wood-chips as a bedding source as they can be dusty, irritant and even poisonous.

You could use a piece of ‘vet bed’ for your rabbit. This is a fluffy bedding available from the clinic, although not all rabbits like to sit on this as they can overheat.

If you leave a corner with wire many rabbits will use that corner for the toilet, this means you may also put a specialised rabbit toilet in.

Always keep their toilet area clean and dry.

Make sure they feel safe and have somewhere to sleep by providing them with a hide box in one corner.

Weight Monitoring

Many rabbits that we see become overweight as they mature. They lead a comfortable, easy life, have food available every day and often do not get enough exercise.

If you feel that your rabbit is overweight (or if the vet tells you this!) you are more than welcome to make a ‘Weight Consultation’ consultation with one of our veterinarians.

During this consultation the vet may also discuss your rabbit’s weight, and recommend a weight loss diet. They will also give you advice on the right combination of foodstuff for weight loss for your pet as well as how to encourage exercise.

The vet will set a realistic target weight and a time span for them to lose their weight over.

As you know, losing weight too fast is not healthy, and as rabbits are much smaller than us, we may plan for them to lose a few grams per week.

Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks for you to follow up, usually every month or two months, and these will be with one of our British Vet nurses or our Australian trained Vet Assistants.

It can be very rewarding to see a little bundle of joy regain their mobility and flexibility thanks to their weight loss.

Enrichment

Have you ever caught your naughty little rabbit digging the carpet, chewing toys or scratching your furniture? You may see these as “bad habits” but the truth is that these are just a rabbit’s natural behaviour.

In the wild, rabbits are naturally sociable creatures and they spend a lot of time digging burrows, searching and digging for food and exploring. However, our pet rabbits are unable to take part in these activities, and you see their natural behaviour as a “bad habit”.

They are sociable animals, so they do enjoy having a companion or two. Remember, they are prey to many animals (i.e. they will be killed and eaten) so are always alert and aware of their surroundings.

If you let your rabbit display these natural behaviours, it helps them both reduce their stress levels and improve their health, especially their bones, muscles, gut function and their mental health.

Your rabbit’s living environment should be as enriched as possible, as this allows them to express their natural behaviours. Their cage should be high enough so that the rabbit can sit upright without its ears touching the top of the cage. Remember, in the wild they sit on the hind legs with their ears pricked to look around them.

In the wild, rabbits like to jump to different levels of height if they can. This lets them see what is going on in their surroundings. You can mimic this in your household simply by placing a box in the cage. When rabbits are exposed to open area without anywhere to hide they can become extremely stressed. The box also serves as both as a hiding place and an escape route from danger, meaning your rabbit will feel more secure and comfortable.

In their natural environment, rabbits will chew sticks and dig burrows. In our home environment, you can encourage these behaviours simply by providing them with chewable toys and a digging box.

Daily free roaming can also give them plenty of exercise. You could build a playground of tunnels for them, or simply let them out of the cage. This can make a great difference to your pet’s happiness.

Encourage their natural foraging behaviour by making them work for their food. In the wild they need to search for their food, and they feel rewarded when they find it.

Encourage foraging by:

  • Filling a toilet/kitchen paper roll with hay
  • Poke pieces of vegetable high up in their cage so they have to stretch to reach it.
  • Scatter pellets around when they are out having their free roaming exercise.
  • Create a forage box by filling a cardboard box with hay, and hiding pieces of vegetables inside it.

Providing an enriched environment for your rabbits is lots of fun for both you and your pets!

Learn more about your pet

You can download our PDF documents for more information.

Cushings Syndrome

Guinea Pig – Feeding

Anaesthesia

Cat – Moving House

Exotic – Critical Care

Cat & Dog – Bereavement

Our expert team is always ready to help you