Rabbits as Pets
Rabbits are popular pets. Not far below dogs and cats in the popularity rankings, there are thought to be around 1 million domestic bunnies in the UK. The sad reality is that many are kept in unfavourable conditions. RAW is an excellent opportunity to educate your rabbit-owning clients about the basics of bunny care.
The annual event takes place this year between 27th June and 2nd July. Run by the Rabbit Awareness Action Group (RAAG), RAW brings together expertise from The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, Burgess Pet Care, the RSPCA, the PDSA, the Blue Cross and Wood Green – The Animals Charity.
Room for Rabbits
This year’s theme is ‘Room for Rabbits’. Having highlighted the need for suitable accommodation for pet rabbits via their ‘A Hutch is Not Enough’ campaign for many years, RAAG is prioritising housing and environment for this year’s RAW.
Rabbits may be small, but they run huge distances, and they need this exercise to stay healthy. We see unreasonable numbers of obese rabbits in practice. Some of this is dietary, but some bunnies are simply not burning any calories. They don’t have space to run, boing and binky. Encouraging owners to give rabbits freedom – whether outside or indoors – and how to do this safely, is one of RAW’s priorities this year.
The RAW campaign aims to educate people on rabbits’ normal behaviour and their consequent needs. Rabbits are prey species, so somewhere to hide is a big stress reliever for them. Encouraging your rabbit owners to provide plenty of hidey-holes and get-aways is an instant way to improve rabbit well-being among your patients.
The campaign will also discuss ways to enrich a rabbit’s home – which toys are safe and suitable. Rabbits love to scurry about, gnaw and climb – suitable materials for this are essential. You could even stock up your shelves in advance of RAW and run a rabbit-friendly toy promo?!
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)
An important topic surrounding rabbit husbandry is RHD and vaccination to prevent it – something about which many owners remain ill-informed. Around the time of RAW, while the focus is on rabbits, we developed a video highlighting the facts about RHD.
Also known to some of us as Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD), this rabbit calicivirus is highly contagious, has a high mortality rate, and has very few clinical signs. These factors combined make it extremely dangerous – yet many owners are unaware of the risks. The disease causes acute, necrotising hepatitis, leading to disseminated intravascular coagulation and death.
Prevention and Vaccination
Avoiding RHD infection is difficult as the virus is stable in the environment. Vaccination is the gold standard for prevention. We need to be promoting the routine vaccination of rabbits.
Vaccination against RDH-1 is easy nowadays due to the combined vaccine with myxomatosis that is required once annually. RHD-2 is a second strain of the disease which has increased in prevalence in recent years, sparking the manufacture of a second vaccine specifically to target this strain. The RHD-2 vaccine is now available as a combined vaccine with RHD-1 and myxomatosis, so it’s easy to include in a rabbit’s routine vaccinations.
Biosecurity as a lone way to prevent RHD is unlikely to be successful, due to the contagious nature and environmental stability of the virus. However, some measures in conjunction with vaccination are recommended.
Separating pet rabbits from the wild population can be of benefit. Having a double fence to a run, or a fully fenced and secure garden is best.
RHD can survive on shoes, bags, and bunny supplies like hay and toys. We could pick up the virus ourselves and bring it into our homes. Even indoor rabbits should be vaccinated.
In An Outbreak
RHD has a 3 to 9-day incubation period and spreads rapidly within that time, so companions to those affected are likely to become infected too. Sadly, the death of all the bunnies in a household is not uncommon.
Diagnosis is difficult without post-mortem examination as there are few clinical signs preceding death and sudden death in rabbits can occur for many reasons. If RHD is suspected, all other rabbits should be moved to clean housing immediately. It may already be too late.
We cannot, as a profession, push hard enough for rabbit owners to get their bunnies vaccinated against RHD-1 and -2. Our video helps inform owners and promote vaccination as the lifesaver it is.
Rabbits need our help to improve their well-being. By educating owners on all aspects of rabbit husbandry, from housing requirements to disease prevention, we can help bunnies live happier, healthier lives.
Use our videos on your www.thevetchannel.co.uk waiting room TV system to help educate your clients about this and many other animal welfare topics! To find out more or request a demo please click here.