Rabbits are experts at hiding illness, so daily and weekly checks at home should be backed up with regular visits to see one of our nurses. Whilst the exact frequency of your furry friend’s vet visits will depend on a number of factors, we normally remind owners in spring and autumn. Ideally, we’ll get to see your rabbit at least once a year and just before winter is an ideal time to make sure they’re prepared for the colder months ahead.
Typical vet visits for your rabbit may involve annual vaccinations and dental check-ups, but it’s useful to remind owners what they should be looking for in between vet visits.
Below is a list of the essential areas we check when you bring your pet rabbit to our surgeries. We’re sharing this because rabbits are generally pretty good at keeping themselves clean, so if you spot anything mentioned in this list, it really is worth bringing them in.
Seven essential things for your rabbit health check list
- Eyes – Your rabbit’s eyes should be clear, bright, and free of discharge. Pull up the eyelid and the eye tissue should be pink. If it’s red or pale, or there is discharge from the eyes, call us.
- Ears – The inside of your rabbit’s ears should be clean and clear of wax/dirt. Check inside the ear with a penlight. Ask us to show you how to clean your rabbit’s ears on your next visit.
- Nose – This is really simple; your rabbit’s nose should be free of any discharge whatsoever. If you do see discharge from the nose, call us.
- Teeth – These are really important. Check your rabbit’s teeth by carefully pulling the upper and lower lips back. You should see the upper front teeth aligning with the lowers and a slight overbite. If the teeth are too long or the bite isn’t good, we may need to trim them, and we’ll probably need to talk to you about their diet.
- Feet – The most common problem with a rabbit’s feet is sore hocks or heels. If you see foot sores, especially open sores, call us.
- Nails – Nails shouldn’t be too long. If they are, then it’s a simple job to clip them at home. Ask us to show you how to safely clip your rabbit’s nails on your next visit.
- Fur & Skin – Your rabbit’s coat should be soft, shiny, and free of matted hair. If you back-brush the coat with your hand, the skin should be clear of dust and flakes.
As well as the essential list above, if you bring your rabbit in for a pre-winter health check-up we’ll be looking at areas such as their mobility, and talking to you about their eating and toileting behaviours. If you’re not sure when they were last seen, or, if you know it was over a year ago due to the disruption in 2020/21, then please do book an appointment.
If your rabbit stops eating or begins to eat less, it can be fatal! So, if you notice a change in their eating behaviour you should contact us immediately on 01373 452225 – time is of the essence.
As your rabbit will tend to hide health problems for as long as they can it’s important you bring them to see us at the first sign that something’s changed as by then, they may already have been suffering for a while.
Rabbits must eat regularly to keep their digestive system ticking over yet many things can cause your rabbit to suffer from reduced appetite. Dental disease and gut problems are the most common but there are others. As you should always keep rabbits in pairs, signs of one eating less can be hard to spot. Even if you do spot that there’s more food left over it can be hard to figure out which one is not eating. For that reason, we’d also recommend you look out for the following signs and behaviours that indicate your rabbit may be in distress.
- Slobbering / dribbling / wet chin
- Abnormal droppings
- Weight loss
- Grinding teeth or overgrown teeth
- Wet / dirty bottom
- Withdrawal or hiding away
- Head tilt
- Noisy breathing
- Bald areas or hair loss
- Crust or wax in the ears
What you should do if you spot a change in your rabbit’s behaviour
If you spot any change to the way or amount your rabbit is eating, or if you spot any of the ten signs above, you should call us. You’ll need tell us what’s changed and we’ll advise if you should bring your rabbit in to see one of our vets.
Flystrike (or fly strike) can quite literally be a nightmare for rabbits and rabbit owners. Our Nurse Manager Sarah answers common questions and shares her top tips on fighting flystrike below.
Call us on 01373 452225 if you suspect flystrike.
What causes flystrike in rabbits?
Flies (especially bottle flies) like to lay eggs in warm, damp places. A rabbit that smells of faeces, urine, or blood is a prime target. If you’re wondering how common flystrike is in rabbits, they are the most at-risk small pet for this deadly condition. Why? Unfortunately, flies are also drawn to a rabbit’s scent glands.
Flystrike occurs when certain types of flies lay eggs on a rabbit, or in soiled bedding. The eggs hatch into maggots, which burrow into rabbits through open sores or moist areas (like the rear), eating flesh as they go. Pets that have digestive problems and struggle to keep themselves clean (due to illness, old age, arthritis, or dental issues) are most at risk.
Why do rabbits die from flystrike?
Flystrike in rabbits is a horrible condition that is often fatal. If the shock or infection doesn’t cause death, then euthanasia can be the kindest option to end their suffering. If you suspect your rabbit has flystrike, contact our vets quickly on 01373 452225.
Symptoms: how to tell if your rabbit has flystrike?
Flystrike progresses at an alarming rate and can cause death if untreated. You may notice:
- Your rabbit is quiet and lethargic.
- Your rabbit may be refusing food and drink.
- A strong smell coming from their hutch.
- Your rabbit is digging into corners for pain relief.
- Maggots and flies around your pet and in their hutch.
Fighting flystrike in rabbits – top tips to prevent it
Keeping your pet and their bedding clean and dry is the best flystrike prevention. Here are Sarah’s top tips to help you.
We suggest adding this Summer Rabbit Checklist to your phone:
- Check your pet’s rear end and fur (incontinence can attract flies) at least twice a day.
- Feed your rabbit a fibrous diet including hay, vegetables, and fresh water. This will help to:
- Keep their digestive system working well and avoid upset tummies and soiling.
- Keep them in shape so they can reach to groom all areas.
- Avoid dental issues, which can in turn cause upset tummies and soiling.
- Ensure your rabbit is producing and eating their caecal (soft poops) – call us if not.
- Clear your rabbit’s hutch of poo pellets and soiled bedding daily.
- Give them a gentle ‘butt bath’ with pet-safe shampoo if they’re not keeping clean.
If your rabbit has a condition that is causing soiling or incontinence and they are struggling to clean themselves, there are preventative treatments you can get for flystrike. Request an appointment with our nurses to learn more.
Pottering in the garden and chewing on grass is every rabbit’s dream. It’s also excellent for their digestive system and teeth. However, not everything that grows in your garden this summer will be safe for your rabbit.
Sarah Church RVN, who manages our team of nursing staff here at Garston vets, has pulled together a list of plants that are poisonous to rabbits, and plants that are safe for them.
Feel free to pop Garston Vets’ number in your phone now, so we can help you with what to do if your rabbit eats a poisonous plant.
The link to our phone numbers is here.
Plants that could harm your rabbit this summer:
- The most poisonous plants for rabbits include Azalea, Bittersweet, Buttercups, Daffodils, Deadly Nightshade, Figwort, Foxglove, Hemlock, Meadow Saffron, Poppies, and Ragwort.
- Other poisonous garden plants for rabbits include Begonias, Chrysanthemums, Clematis, Dahlias, Delphinium, Hyacinth, Iris, Lily of the Valley, Lupins, Morning Glory, Primrose, Rhododendron, Sweet Peas (there is a rabbit-safe variety), and Tulips.
- Garden-grown human foods that rabbits shouldn’t eat include Apple Pips, Garlic, Onion, Potato Plants, Rhubarb (all of it), and Tomato Plants.
- Most evergreen leaves are poisonous to rabbits and some lighter coloured lettuces (e.g. iceberg) can harm them too.
Sarah suggests making a note of these potential signs your rabbit has eaten a poisonous plant: abdominal tenderness, bleeding, breathing difficulties, depression, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, mouth irritation, pain, seizures, vomiting, weakness, and death. Call us straight away on the number above if you’re concerned.
If your rabbit likes to dig, Sarah recommends removing dormant bulbs and filling your flower beds with rabbit-safe plants. Alternatively, how about a designated patch or digging container filled with plants & vegetables your rabbit can eat? For more rabbit enrichment tips, get in touch with our pet-loving team.
- Safe plants for rabbits include Chickweed, Clover, Daisies, Dandelion, Nasturtiums, Nettles, Roses, Pansies, Pot Marigolds, and Sunflowers.
- Safe garden vegetables for rabbits include Kale, Romaine Lettuce, Bok Choy, Carrot Tops (carrots themselves are high in sugar so give these sparingly), Basil, and Broccoli Greens.
Now you’re ready to spend a sunny afternoon inspecting your garden and ‘weeding out’ any plants that could get your rabbit in trouble. We’re here for your rabbit emergencies, just call 01373 452225.
For more rabbit care advice, you can book a consultation with one of our team.