Congratulations on your new rabbit !

Vaccinations

It is very important that your new rabbit is vaccinated against Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease). This is a highly contagious and rapidly fatal disease which is actively released in many areas of Sydney in order to help to control the wild rabbit population. Whilst Calicivirus seems to have been more easily spread in semi-arid areas than along the coast it is still important that pet rabbits in Sydney are protected against this disease as, once contracted, there is no known treatment.

Clinical signs are non specific (such as reduced appetite, inactivity etc) and many rabbits will die within less than 48 hours.

There are now 5 different strains of this virus, one is naturally occurring in wild populations and is nonpathogenic. 

The vaccination available provides effective protection against 3 of the 4 pathogenic strains of the virus (there maybe some cross protection against the 4th strain). For rabbits less than 10 weeks of age, 3 injections given 4 weeks apart are required. Older animals require 2 injections 4 weeks apart to stimulate immunity. Boosters are  needed for all rabbits in order to be sure of ongoing protection and the interval now recommended is 6 monthly.

Diet

Feeding your new rabbit the correct diet plays a very important role in their ongoing health and wellbeing. They have very specific dietary requirements which are very different from cats and dogs.

The bulk (approximately 75%) of their diet should consist of good quality grass hay (e.g. Timothy or Meadow hay) and grass. The remaining portion of their diet should be made up of commercial grass based pellets and fresh food. Pellets should ideally be of uniform size and colour (ie NOT the ‘museli’ type pellets) to prevent rabbits from choosing to eat certain pieces which they find appealing, leading to a lack of essential nutrients. As a rule of thumb, the average rabbit only needs an egg cup full of pellets per day. Fresh food should consist mainly of green leafy vegetables (e.g. kale, cabbage, endive, spinach, Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties etc) and herbs (e.g. parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil etc). Fruit and root vegetables should only be given as treats in very small quantities (1-2 tablespoons/day). Cereals, nuts and grains should not be offered at all. 

Dr David Vella and Associates at Sydney Exotics and Rabbit Vets (SERV) have very good rabbit care/feeding handouts on their website: 

https://www.exoticsvet.com.au/pet-care

If fed inappropriately this can lead to health problems such as:

  1. Dental disease – rabbits have teeth which grow continuously and which need wearing down by chewing and grinding up their food (hay) for a large portion of the day. If fed too little hay and too much pelleted food their teeth will become too long and this can cause oral pain, abscesses, loss of appetite etc. Rabbits are very delicate creatures and any pain or illness can cause serious problems;
  2. Obesity – obesity is a substantial problem in many domestic rabbits and can lead to arthritis/joint problems, skin problems (due to difficulty grooming) etc. Rabbits (like children !) will preferentially choose what tastes best i.e. pelleted food over what is nutritionally best for them i.e. hay. Therefore pellets need to be restricted and your pet should be provided with lots of opportunities to exercise.
  3. Diarrhoea/bloat – this can occur especially if your rabbit is fed too much pelleted food, fruit etc. As a hind gut fermenter, your rabbit relies on the ‘good bacteria’ in his/her guts to help to break down the food. If fed inappropriately this can lead to dysbiosis and in turn life threatening diarrhoea.

Neutering

Desexing rabbits of both sexes will often greatly reduce signs of rabbit/rabbit and rabbit/human aggression and therefore is generally recommended. It is also beneficial for female rabbits due to the relatively high risk of uterine cancer as they get older.

Fly strike

Fly strike occurs when flies are attracted to (usually) the perineal (bottom) region and lay eggs which develop into maggots. These in turn will cause severe trauma to the skin, burrowing into the deeper tissues and, if not treated very early, will lead to shock, septicaemia/toxaemia and rapid death.

Wounds anywhere on the body and diarrhoea/urine around the perineum will attract flies, especially in warmer weather therefore it is important that any of the above are treated quickly and efficiently and that your rabbit is kept in clean, dry housing to reduce the risk of fly strike.

Rabbits should be checked at least once daily for any signs of fly strike and brought to the vets ASAP if needed.

Handling/restraint

Rabbits have very powerful back legs and if allowed to kick out and twist when picked up they can break their backs and permanently paralyse their hindlimbs. Therefore it is vital their back legs are supported at all times to prevent this from occurring. If you are unsure what is the safest way to handle your new pet, please ask a member of staff to demonstrate.

Remember – NEVER pick up a rabbit by its ears!