Most rabbit feed is in a dried, pellet format. These supply most of the nutrients they need, however it’s recommended not to use these alone. Rabbits need flavour and variety, otherwise they may get bored of the pellets and refuse to eat them. They also need a lot of protein, due to being herbivores. You can also feed them grass hay, oats, oat meal, corn, carrots, carrot tops, wheat germ, apples cut into slices, green beans, banana and pineapple; wash these before feeding them.
They must also always have a fresh supply of water. It’s best to provide this in a water bottle, rather than a bowl. This way the water won’t get knocked over or go stagnant. Change the water bottle a few times a day during hot weather, and twice a day in regular weather.
Note: Do not feed them lettuce of any other leafy greens. Although this may seem like something a rabbit would like, they’re high in water content, which means that the rabbit won’t drink from its bottle throughout the day. These foods can then cause diarrhoea and dehydration.
Handling rabbits mainly depends on their size; smaller rabbits are, understandably, easier to handle than larger ones. You must never pick a rabbit up by their ears, or the nape of their neck. This can cause both injury and damage, as well as damaging their blood vessels.
When approaching the rabbit, approach them slowly; do not sneak up on it. Make sure the rabbit can see and hear you, and speak to it. Gently stroke it, once you’re able to be pulled up, remove it from the cage/hutch tail first. Support it with one hand under its body, if it’s a small rabbit, and with one arm with the other cradling the animal securely if it’s large. You’ll know if it feels secure in your arms if it doesn’t struggle to get free. Lastly, tuck its head under your upper arm towards the elbow of the arm that’s being used to support the rabbit.
The majority of diseases rabbits get can be prevented with regularly cleaning the cage with an animal friendly disinfectant, as well as ensuring they receive the correct diet and aren’t put under any stress. We’re going to look at the following diseases- enteritis, snuffles and weepy eye.
– Enteritis; this is the inflammation of the intestinal tract, and is the most common cause of death in rabbits. There are 4 types, this includes mucoid enteritis, enterotoxemia, tyzzer’s disease (which are all caused by bad bacteria) and coccidiosis, which is caused by an internal parasite. To prevent these diseases, ensure you sanitise and clean their cage/hutch regularly, as well as making sure the rabbit is never put under any stress. You should also feed them in rations which contain 18% fibre. You will also need some antibiotics; always see a vet if you suspect your rabbit may have any of these diseases.
– Snuffles; this is caused by an organism known as Pasteurella multocida, and is the rabbit form of a common cold. Symptoms include persistent sneezing with a white coloured discharge. The fur at the front of their paws will also be matter due to constantly pawing at their nose. To avoid the snuffles, ensure their living space is clean, that there’s no stress and that they’re in a constant temperature- not going from hot to cold.
– Weepy eye; this in an inflammation of conjunctiva, which is the mucous membrane lining the inner surface of the eyelids, which is covering the front of the rabbit’s eyeball. This is caused by a Pasteurella multocida infection, from when the rabbit rubs their eyes with their front teeth; this will then cause discharge from the eye. The fur at the corner and lower lid of the eye will also become matted. Ophthalmic ointment, which contains sulphonamides, is often prescribed for this; use this 2-3 times a day, for 4 days, or whenever the vet recommends. You may also be given antibiotics with them, or instead of.
Other diseases/illnesses rabbits can get include; mastitis, syphilis, wry neck, ringworm, pinworm, wet dewlaps, ear mites, fur chewing, hutch burn and sore hocks.
Note: It’s important to always see your vet if you suspect your rabbit to have any of these illnesses/diseases.
Throughout this module we’ve looked at understanding a rabbit’s history, the different breeds of rabbit, and how to look after a rabbit. Rabbits are friendly, loveable animals, and tend to get on with their day rather than begging for attention. Moreover, this doesn’t mean that they don’t need it. Just like a cat or dog, rabbits need daily attention, love and care.