Rabbits are thought to be the most misunderstood of all UK pets, so leading veterinary charity PDSA is working hard to raise awareness of their welfare needs
“Sadly, the 2018 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report found that owners continue to be unaware of rabbits’ complex needs. Vets worry that they are the nation’s most neglected pet”, explains PDSA vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan. “Despite being incredibly social animals, an astonishing 540,000 rabbits (54%) live alone, and often in hutches which are far too small, causing immense suffering.”
Nearly all (98%) of vets and vet nurses surveyed agreed that hutches that are smaller than the recommended minimum size should be banned from sale.
While there have been some improvements in their diet, 200,000 rabbits (20%) are still fed inappropriate muesli as part of their main food. This is a cause for concern as rabbits will normally pick out the sweet bits in the muesli. This ‘selective feeding’ can lead to health problems such as obesity, dental disease and potentially fatal gut problems.
“A rabbit’s diet should consist of a rabbit-sized bundle of fresh, high quality feeding hay – they really do need their body size in hay every day to get enough long fiber to wear down their teeth and keep their guts moving. But our Report found that around a third of pet rabbits get less than the recommended amount of hay, leaving them prone to painful dental issues and serious digestive problems.”
Olivia also adds that it’s important to be aware of the differences between feeding hay and bedding hay. She explains: “Bedding hay is often a yellow-brown colour and dusty in appearance when compared to fresh feeding hay, and it also has very variable nutritional value. Quality feeding hay is brighter green and will smell much more strongly. As well as constant access to feeding hay (or fresh grass) rabbits need an adult handful of fresh, leafy greens every day, and they can get a tablespoon of commercial rabbit nuggets. Rabbits also need constant access to fresh, clean water and it’s ideal to offer this from a bowl rather than a drinking bottle.”
Companionship is another factor that some rabbit owners are unaware of. Rabbits are highly sociable animals and should live with another rabbit as a friend, yet 540,000 (54%) still live on their own; this is seriously affecting their physical health and mental wellbeing.
Here are Olivia’s top tips on keeping rabbits healthy and happy this summer:
· Provide every rabbit with at least their body size in fresh feeding hay (separate from their bedding) every day
· Supplement this with a tablespoon of rabbit nuggets every day (or two tablespoons if the rabbits weighs over 3.5kg) and a handful of fresh greens every morning and evening
· Fruit and veg high in sugar, such as carrots and apples, should only be fed in small amounts as occasional treats
· Make sure they have constant access to fresh water and change this every day
· Keep rabbits in pairs or groups as they are highly sociable and need the company of their own kind – a neutered male with a neutered female is often the best pairing
· Over summer check rabbits twice daily for flystrike – clean and dry any soiled fur and if you notice any fly eggs or maggots around their bottom then call your vet immediately – flystrike is an emergency and without treatment rabbits can die within hours from shock
· Get rabbits vaccinated against deadly diseases – vaccines protect against myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (also known as RHD or VHD), two devastating diseases which are usually fatal
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