Did you know that there is a special law protecting animals?
It says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your rabbits have the right medical care, so they are free from pain, suffering and disease.
Just like you have a family doctor that you see when you are unwell, your rabbit needs their own doctor too - a veterinarian is an animal doctor.
It’s a good idea for your family to find out which veterinarian they plan on using before you get your rabbits. Ask your friends that are rabbit owners which veterinarians they recommend. If possible, visit the clinic beforehand and look around. Ask yourself: Is the waiting area clean? Are the staff helpful? Find out the opening hours and if they handle emergencies after hours as well.
Once you get a new rabbit(s), your family should register them with your chosen local veterinary clinic straight away. Make an appointment as soon as you can for a check-up. Your vet can then create a care programme for your rabbit(s). It is helpful to write a list of the questions you want to ask so everything can be covered.
Rabbits are prey animals and most do not like to be picked up. When you do pick up your rabbit:
Rabbits feel pain in the same way as other animals, including people, but they are not very good at showing outward signs of pain and may be suffering a great deal before you notice anything is wrong.
A change in the way your rabbit normally behaves can be an early sign he or she is ill or in pain. If your rabbit is not eating or is more quiet than usual, it is highly likely to be ill, or in pain. You should talk to your veterinarian immediately.
Rabbits are vulnerable to many infectious diseases and other illnesses, especially dental disease. They can also catch a deadly infectious diseases from wild rabbits so you should prevent your rabbits from having contact with wild rabbits or areas where wild rabbits have been.
Regular health check-ups with a vet is the best way of detecting any problems with your rabbit early, but remember - if any of your rabbits show any signs of injury or ill health, you must take them to their veterinarian immediately. If it is late at night or on the weekend and your veterinary clinic is closed, there are great after-hours clinics available for emergencies. Make sure your family know where your closest after-hours veterinary clinic is.
Rabbits shed hair year-round, particularly during the warmer months. Grooming is important for keeping your rabbits’ coats clean and healthy and is also an excellent way to bond with your rabbits.
Short haired rabbits should be groomed weekly using a soft rubber brush, stroking in the direction of the fur.
Long haired rabbits need daily grooming to prevent matts and should be groomed with a slicker brush or comb. Long haired rabbits will also need to have their coat clipped or groomed regularly. This will prevent them from swallowing too much hair when grooming themselves. Unlike cats, rabbits are not able to vomit if they have a hairball and instead, this can create a dangerous blockage in their stomach. This condition is known as woolblock and it can cause your rabbit to become very sick if left untreated. Early signs include appetite loss and the size of their droppings can become smaller than usual. If you or your family notice these signs, contact your rabbit’s veterinarian straight away.
Ask your parent or care-giver to help you handle and check your rabbits for signs of illness or injury every day. Make sure this is done by someone else if you are away. Consult your vet immediately if you suspect your rabbit is in pain, ill or injured.
SEE YOUR VET IF YOU SEE:
There is only one disease where vaccination is available for rabbits in New Zealand. This is for Rabbit Calicivirus or RCD. It is recommended that domestic (pet) rabbits should be vaccinated against Rabbit Calicivirus.
If you live in an area where it is possible that your rabbit might have contact with a wild rabbit (while wandering in your garden or nose to nose through its enclosure), then vaccination is absolutely essential. It is important to note that all hay fed to rabbits is grown on farms where wild rabbits may be living.
Some may consider this vaccination might not be considered essential. However, SPCA strongly recommends that your parent or caregiver talks with one of the SPCA small animal team or your rabbits’ veterinarian before they make a decision.
Even if the risk is low, the cost of vaccination is a very small price to pay to ensure your rabbit(s) have the best chance of not catching this disease even in low risk areas.
People often think a trip to the vet as something only needed when one of their rabbits become unwell. However, it is also important to remember that annual health checks are important for your rabbits’ wellbeing. These annual checks are a great way to detect any small problems before they become more serious.
During this 15 - 20 minute appointment, your veterinarian will carefully examine each rabbit’s entire body – from the tips of their ears, the pads on their paws, to underneath their tail! Your veterinarian will also discuss any concerns you have regarding your rabbit’s health, diet and behaviour.
All rabbits adopted from SPCA will already have been spayed or neutered. There are already more rabbits than there are good homes for them, so please don't let your rabbits have kits (baby rabbits).
If your family or friends have rabbits that are not spayed or neutered, encourage them to speak with their veterinarian about having their rabbits spayed or neutered. Explain that before they know it, they could have baby rabbits that they’ll need to find homes for. Finding a loving, responsible home for each rabbit isn’t always that easy! What’s more, if those babies don’t get spayed or neutered, they will have babies too – meaning more loving, responsible, forever homes will be needed to be found.
If any of your rabbits ever shows any signs of injury or ill health, an adult must take them to their veterinarian immediately. If it is late at night or on the weekend and your vet is closed, there are great after hour clinics available for emergencies.
If you find a rabbit that doesn’t belong to you, or that shows signs of sickness or injury, get an adult to contact your local SPCA immediately.
Remember to always find an adult before you approach any rabbit that appears sick or injured – even your own rabbit. Rabbits may respond differently because they are in pain.
At SPCA, we recommend your family take out pet insurance to save thousands of dollars should something happen to your rabbit.
While most rabbit owners will have worked out vet costs, it is the out-of-the-ordinary expenses that can catch you out. For example, you could spend thousands of dollars on treatment for a road accident or animal attack. Taking out pet insurance helps you budget for the unexpected.
It's important to check your rabbits’ droppings daily as they can be a great indication of your rabbits’ health and whether an illness is present or if there’s a problem with their diet.
Rabbits do two different types of poo:
A rabbit’s digestive system has a super awesome way of making its own rabbit vitamin pills!
Sometimes you will see your rabbit 'cleaning' themselves then they look up and they're munching on something - they have eaten a caecotrophe straight from their bum! This special type of poo is made from the nutritious bits of food that have been sent to the rabbit’s appendix, where it is made into a nutritious snack for the rabbit!
It's really important for rabbits to eat these caecotrophes as they contain vital nutrients, so don't discourage them.
As well as being smelly and uncomfortable, poo on your rabbit's bottom will attract flies - especially in the hot summer months - which can quickly lead to fly strike. This is when flies lay their eggs on the rabbit's bottom; the eggs hatch within hours and the maggots chew their way into the rabbit's skin. This can quickly become fatal, so your family must contact your rabbit’s veterinarian straight away if you notice anything like this.