In the last decade rabbits have become more popular as pets and this has expanded our knowledge on the veterinary side. We can do ECGs and treat heart disease, arthritis and behaviour problems, to name but a few.

Emily the rabbit

At the centre of a rabbit's well-being is their digestive system. In the wild they live mainly on grass. As it is not rich in nutrients they need to eat a lot of it, providing roughage for the guts and wearing their teeth down in the process. Rabbits' teeth grow constantly and are the cause of many of their health problems: discharge from the eyes and nose, problems with chewing and, if not recognized and treated, changes in the bones of the head that are irreversible. A good rabbit diet should mainly consist of grass and hay, some vegetables and a small portion of complete food. The pelleted varieties are better than the muesli- type ones, because rabbits can be selective feeders and pick out their favourites, leading to a lack of minerals and nutrients contained in the least popular ingredients. Being allowed to run in the sunshine helps to maintain bone health, too.

Simple carbohydrates like cereals and sugar can upset the rabbit's guts with fermentation. Best not to buy any of the 'Rabbit Treats' and give good hay and your time instead! Rabbits are clever inquisitive animals who suffer when shut away in a dark hutch without being let out. They can be trained to use a litter tray in the house, although teaching them NOT to chew on cables seems a more difficult task!

Many wild rabbits in Telford become infected by myxomatosis which is transmitted by rabbit fleas. Fortunately we can vaccinate against this deadly disease, as well as against the fatal viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).

Rabbits are sociable creatures, but not always friendly to each other. Remember Watership Down? Neutering the bucks (males) and spaying the does (females) helps to prevent their proverbial breeding as well as their fighting, and in does also the relatively common cancer of the womb (uterine adenocarcinoma).

Overall rabbits can be lovely pets, but they are not necessarily the ideal pet for children. They can be difficult to handle and often scratch when held. Some just grow too big for a child to hold, and they are often the ones who are fetched out of the hutch less often than is good for them. Even in well intentioned children the day-to-day care of pets is not always kept up. That's why it is so important that the parents are behind the idea of keeping a pet, ready and comfortable to step in to look after the animals.

We will be happy to advise you in more detail about this and any other areas of rabbit health and husbandry.

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