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Rabbit Veterinary Care and Husbandry

Rabbits are much more social than people think. For generations, people have pictured rabbits outside in a backyard hutch, due to their habit of defecating whenever they feel the need. On the contrary, rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, just like a cat. This new revelation has brought the rabbit from being housed outside to being an indoor pet, giving owners more time to spend with their pet. Rabbits who are housed indoors quickly become integrated into the family's day to day activities and add their own personalities into the mix.

When keeping a rabbit inside, a cage is still an essential need. Here the rabbit will find a private place to rest and call his own. It is also a place of safety for him when you leave your house. You should never leave a rabbit running loose in your house unattended. Because they are diggers and chewers, they can get into all sorts of trouble when unsupervised.

Portable pen-type cages are very popular due to the ease of cleaning and the ability to move them around. Whatever the setup you choose, remember that rabbits like to dig and chew so place the cage in a rabbit-proof area of your home. Buying a large piece of linoleum to use under the cage can eliminate digging behavior and makes for easy cleaning. As long as your bunny has access to his litter box, cleaning his cage area should not be a chore.

Rabbits also enjoy having a box to sleep and hide in as well as toys to play with. Some rabbits like tossing cardboard rolls, plastic cat toys, and even plastic soda bottles around. Each bunny is different so try different toys.

Litter Box
You should change the litter box 2-3 times a week, depending on the number of rabbits you keep. A very good litter out on the market is called Carefresh. It is a newspaper-based litter and very soft and absorbent. Carefresh is recommended over using regular cat litter as it is easily digested if the rabbit happens to eat it. A clean litter box is essential and some rabbits have been known to quit using the box if it is not cleaned regularly.

There are many false ideas about just what a rabbit should be fed. The diet we recommend here at our hospital is an unlimited quantity of fresh hay, ½ cup of pellets, and a small amount of fresh fruits and vegetables as a daily treat. The hay is essential because it is high in fiber and keeps the bunny's digestive tract moving. Timothy, alfalfa, oat, sweet grass, and meadow grass are all very good and, depending on the time of year, some if not all will be available. Rabbits, like people, have different tastes and your bunny will let you know which type of hay he enjoys. One important side note to remember: alfalfa is like the "candy bar" of hays. Rabbits will usually eat alfalfa with gusto but too much alfalfa can cause urinary problems because of the high calcium so feed alfalfa sparingly.

The most common problems we are presented with here at our hospital include lack of appetite, tooth problems, parasites, abscesses, E. cuniculi, and Pasturella.
External parasites usually present themselves on the hair coat of your pet. If you notice your bunny's fur contains dandruff-like flakes, he may have fur mites. Your vet will recommend a skin scraping to rule out these parasites but if the mites are present, a 2 dose treatment of medication given 2 weeks apart should alleviate this problem. Fleas can also be a problem for rabbits. By using either Program or Advantage, these pests can be kept in check.

By examining your pet's ears on a regular basis, you can catch any signs of ear mites. These parasites live down in the ear canal of your rabbit. A dark, crusty exudat in the ear indicates this parasite. Again, your vet will use the microscope to check for signs of this bug and treat it accordingly.

Lack of appetite can be a red flag to rabbit owners. Rabbits love to eat so any time their eating habits change, pay close attention. Drooling can indicate tooth problems so have your pet's teeth checked regularly. In some cases when Caught early, trimming of the molars will help the bunny eat again. If the teeth are not wearing evenly, they can grow points that dig into the rabbit's cheeks and tongue, making eating very painful.
Rabbits can also have digestive tract problems. Impactions caused by rug fibers or hairballs can be very serious. If your bunny stops eating or his droppings change in size, you should call your vet immediately.

Abscesses are another rabbit health problem. The most common places they can be found are on the jaw area (usually in association with a tooth problem), the legs or feet, or other areas on the body. Because rabbit pus is very thick, abscesses can be very difficult to cure. A relatively new procedure that has been found to be quite successful involves cleaning of the abscess and implanting antibiotic-impregnated beads into the wound. These beads stay inside the abscess and the antibiotics are then released over time.
E. cuniculi is a disease caused by a protozoan known as Encephalitazoon cuniculi, or E. cuniculi for short. The symptoms can include depression, head tilt, and sometimes rear leg paralysis. A blood test can be sent out for diagnosing this disease but as of yet, there is no know n treatment.

Pasturella is a bacterial disease. Pasturella multocida causes upper respiratory symptoms in rabbits including sneezing and nasal discharge. In advanced cases, the rabbits get matted front legs due to rubbing their noses. If you notice your bunny having any nasal discharge at all, a trip to the vet is a must. Your vet can take a blood sample for testing and if your pet is positive, antibiotics can be used to help control the symptoms. Pasturella is hard to cure but can be controlled with the proper medications.