BEST OF CARE: MODERN MEDICINE, TRADITIONAL VALUES

A very informative article written by Peter Murrish BVetMed MRCVS was published this month in the Mid-Cornwall Advertiser full of useful rabbit care information:

Last month saw the annual Rabbit Awareness Week which concentrates many minds upon our rabbit friends and their needs when kept as pets.

rabbit eating cabbage

This recent event prompted me to think that rabbits might prove to be a suitable subject for our monthly article- and I shall aim to deal with a few lesser known facts and misconceptions.

How serious it is if a rabbit has gone off his/ her food?

Very!

In the wild (and hopefully when kept as pets) rabbits mainly eat fibre, in the form of grass and hay. Fibrous foods need a lot of digestion and as such quite a large volume of hay and grass needs to be eaten (a rabbit should eat a handful of hay as big as they are per day!).

In order to eat this amount of food a rabbit is eating a lot of the time, and their gut must work and move a lot of the time.

If a rabbit stops eating it is possible that their gut will also stop working and this is a very serious problem. This problem is called ileus and can be fatal.

There are many reasons a rabbit may go off their food and the cause needs to be quickly identified and treated. A rabbit who is not eating is in an emergency situation and warrants a phone call to a vet, even if this is out of normal opening hours.

Do rabbits with mucky bottoms always have diarrhoea?

No.

In some rabbits a mucky bottom may be caused by diarrhoea. There are many causes of this ranging from parasites through to poor diet.

However, there is another reason that rabbits bottoms can be mucky.

Rabbits produce two different type of faeces. The first type is call caecotrophs. This is a very soft and sticky type of pellet that rabbits eat as they pass out of a rabbit’s bottom.

They eat them in order to fully extract vitamins from their food. After passing through for a second time the pellet produced is a dry firm pellet that we are used to seeing in our rabbit’s hutch.

If a rabbit does not eat their caecotrophs they can accumulate around the bottom and appear like diarrhoea. There are many causes for this with the three most common causes being dental disease (it being too painful or difficult to eat the caecotrophs), arthritis of the back legs or spine (it being too painful or difficult to get in a position to eat their caecotrophs) and obesity (too much fat reducing the rabbits ability to be able to get in a position to eat their caecotrophs).

If a rabbit has a mucky bottom it is very important that a cause is identified and dealt with, and seeing a vet early is very important.

Is a guinea pig a good companion for a rabbit?

No.

Whilst there are instances where a rabbit and guinea pig bond there is no substitute for a companion of the same species (both for the rabbit and the guinea pig). Rabbits need companionship from another rabbit.

The bonding process can be difficult, and how to do it needs careful research and handling but the benefit of a rabbit companion is huge.

The problems with a guinea pig companion are that infections can spread between them, they have slightly different dietary needs, neither species will know how to interact with the other species and injuries can occur (primarily to the guinea pig should the rabbit stamp his/her feet at the wrong time and in the wrong direction).

In summary, rabbits benefit from a rabbit companion.

Final thoughts

Rabbits are the third most popular furry pet in the UK. However, their needs and husbandry is perhaps not so well known or publicised as cats and dogs.

There are so many aspects of rabbit care that could have been dealt with in this article, but alas, space is finite.

For further information about rabbit care please contact your veterinary surgeon.

At Penmellyn Vets we try to help spread good information about animal care and we often carry out talks and visits. We often visit schools, preschools and also Newquay hospital and take some of our furry friends with us.

If any organisation would like a visit from us please feel free to contact us and we will do our very best to visit. We can be contacted on 01637 871695. Please ask to speak to Jenny who organises many of our visits.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Amber in this post who will be starting to do some visits very soon!

Peter Murrish BVetMed MRCVS

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