Free rabbit health check with Avenue Vets

Published on: 10 Jun 2013

WE are finally enjoying some warmer weather which means we will soon start to see cases of flystrike in rabbits. Flies are attracted to rabbits whose back ends have become soiled with faeces or urine, and lay eggs in the fur. The eggs soon hatch out into maggots which then burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, releasing toxins that make the rabbit very unwell and can be rapidly fatal. A wriggling mass of maggots is like something out of a third-rate horror movie. 

If the condition is caught quickly and urgent veterinary attention sought it can be treated, but prevention is obviously better than cure. It’s a horrible way to go.

Rabbits have a fascinating digestive system. They need to eat large volumes of high fibre grass, hay and plant material. To keep up with the abrasive nature of this diet their teeth grow continuously throughout their life. They ferment the fibre in the diet in the hindgut, producing sticky droppings called caecotrophs, which they then eat directly from their bottom, allowing extraction of further nutrients on the second pass through the gut. Second time around any indigestible material forms the hard pellets which walkers in the countryside will be familiar with. Finding the sticky droppings, or not seeing daily production of the firm droppings are signs of ill-health and the rabbit should be seen by a vet. 

Many pet rabbits are not getting enough fibre to maintain their dental or digestive health. Too much concentrate food reduces the amount of hay/grass eaten and can lead to obesity.  As a guide the rabbit should be eating a loose handful of hay/grass about the same volume as his own body, and an eggcup full of concentrate for an average sized bunny. Many rabbits are selective or ‘choosy’ with their food and muesli type concentrates can lead to a very unbalanced diet being actually eaten. Pelleted diets avoid this problem. Getting the diet wrong can lead problems with the teeth, digestive tract, urinary tract and obesity, all of which predispose the rabbit to flystrike.

All rabbits need to be lifted and their back ends checked (to ensure they are clean, dry and there are no eggs or maggots) at least twice daily in warm weather. Extra attention needs to be paid to keeping hutches and runs clean. Products to prevent eggs from hatching are available for at-risk rabbits.

Many veterinary staff feel that pet rabbits often get a RAW deal because their welfare needs are not understood.  This is where Rabbit Awareness Week comes in. RAW is an annual event run by local vets and partner organisations like the RSPCA, PDSA and Rabbit Welfare Association to raise awareness of welfare needs and arrange free health checks for local bunnies.

For readers of Downend Voice we have decided to extend this campaign and qualified vet nurses at Avenue Veterinary Centre will offer a free rabbit health check, advice on caring for your rabbit and a RAW goody bag to rabbit owners until the end of June. For more information on rabbit welfare look at www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk or contact us.

Jenny Rawling

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