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Holly House Vets's home page
Emergency 0113 2369030
Out of hours 0113 2369030
Holly House Vets Hospital 0113 2369030
Holly House Vets Clinic 0113 2369030
Holly House Vets Clinic, Ilkley 01943 609285
Holly House Vets - Exotics 0113 3224341

Rabbit Advice

Helping you to take care of your rabbit

Rabbit Advice

Helping you to take care of your rabbit


This is probably the most important thing to consider when looking after pet rabbits. A large proportion of the veterinary problems we see in rabbits are related to improper feeding which leads to dental disease, gut disorders, obesity and so on.

Rabbits have a very high need for dietary fibre, and have a ‘double digestion’ system, whereby food material goes through the digestive system twice. They pass two different sorts of droppings: caecotrophs (sticky faeces) which are usually eaten directly from the anus, and hard pelleted droppings. If the rabbits do not eat the first faeces (e.g. due to obesity, dental problems, arthritis etc.) then dietary issues can result.

Rabbit diets should be high in fibre, low in fat, starch and sugars with a moderate protein level, and with an abrasive action on the teeth. The ideal is grass and hay! These alone however, are not usually practical in a home setting, and so supplementary rabbit foods can be offered.

Muesli-type rabbit mixes are not recommended as these are generally low in fibre and allow selective eating, whereby the rabbit will pick and choose which bits to eat. Extruded pelleted diets, such as Burgess Excel, are better as each pellet is the same. These should still be considered ‘supplementary’ in that the majority of the diet should be fresh good quality hay plus leafy greens and vegetables. Treats such as fruit, ‘choc drops’ and other high sugar foods should be avoided. A recommended diet is unlimited hay, leafy greens and vegetables plus a small proportion of pellets.

Rabbits’ teeth (both incisors and cheek teeth) are constantly growing and need to be worn down by chewing. Wild rabbits will spend a lot of their time chewing and grinding down high fibre foods such as grass. If pet rabbits do not have the opportunity to do the same (e.g. if they are eating small amounts of muesli-type rabbit food and no hay or grass), then the teeth will wear abnormally and mouth pain will result due to sharp edges rubbing against the tongue and cheeks. Dental treatment can help, but once dental disease progresses, regular treatment is necessary and even then the problem is likely to get worse over time, shortening the rabbit’s lifespan.

Lack of dietary fibre will also lead to boredom (not spending as much time chewing) and gut problems such as gut stasis (fibre is needed to keep the guts moving). If a rabbit stops eating for as little as 24 hours, veterinary attention should be sought as serious gut issues can ensue. Rabbits’ diets should not be changed suddenly for the same reason – any changes should be made very gradually over 1 - 2 weeks.

Low fibre and high starch and sugary diets can lead to obesity – very common in pet rabbits. This will have knock-on effects with a higher risk of heart and joint disease, development of sores on the rabbit's hindpaws, difficulty in eating caecotrophs, leading to more nutritional problems and the risk of fly-strike and so on. If you are concerned about your rabbit’s weight and would like to discuss diet with the vets or nurses, please contact the surgery.

Care should be taken to avoid access to certain toxic plants such as busy lizzies, carnations, yucca and laburnum – contact us if you have any queries on which plants are considered toxic.

Fresh clean water should always be provided, either in a dropper bottle or bowl. Care should be taken to make sure that this does not freeze if outdoors during the winter. Recent research has shown that rabbits prefer to drink from bowls rather than bottles, so bowls may be better in terms of improving hydration, as long as they can be kept clean.

Join our Pet Health Club to save 10% on the cost of Excel rabbit life-stage diets and Excel hays.


There are two serious diseases that we can vaccinate rabbits against.


This is a virus spread by blood-sucking insects such as fleas and mosquitos. It causes swellings around the face, eyes, lips and ears, leading to eventual blindness, disorientation and death. There is a very low survival rate. Indoor rabbits are still at some risk.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) - also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

This is a virus spread either directly between rabbits or via indirect means such as shoes or clothing. As a result indoor and outdoor rabbits can be at risk. It causes internal bleeding and is usually rapidly fatal. There are 2 strains of VHD.

There are two serious diseases that we can vaccinate rabbits against.

There is a combined Myxo-RHD Plus vaccination available which covers both Myxomatosis and VHD strains 1 and 2 for 1 year with a single injection. This can be given from 5 weeks old.

Vaccination appointments also give the opportunity for a general health check and to discuss any other issues. As the vaccinations last a full year, we advise bringing your rabbit in for a nurse check-up after 6 months to continue regular monitoring and to discuss any dietary or care concerns that you may have.


Rabbits are intelligent animals and need space, exercise, companionship and stimulation. Many people keep them in outdoor hutches, although keeping them indoors as house rabbits is becoming more popular. Whether kept in a hutch or indoors, all rabbits will need access to an outdoor run for ideally a good proportion of the day.

The minimum size for a hutch should allow the rabbit to stand up on its hindlimbs and to make three or four hops in any direction. Obviously, the bigger the better! There should be separate eating and toileting areas, and room for privacy if there is more than one rabbit present. Bedding can be straw, hay or dust-free chippings, with a litter area in a corner. The hutch should be cleaned out regularly, but a small patch left each time to allow some scent to remain, as rabbits can become distressed if their environment is completely scent-free after cleaning. The hutch should be sited away from direct sunlight and ideally raised off the ground to avoid it becoming damp or cold. It should be well ventilated, but may need to be moved indoors or insulated in winter. Thought should be given to its security against predators such as foxes.

Rabbits are chewers and diggers and so, if keeping them indoors, the house and furniture should be rabbit-proofed – especially any electrical wires. Indoor rabbits can usually be trained to use a litter tray.

All rabbits will need access to a secure outdoor run, ideally a minimum of 8x4x2 feet – again the bigger the better. This can be a penned off area of the garden, or one of the newer modular systems giving a varied environment of tunnels, areas to hide and so on.

Companionship and Behaviour

Rabbits are very social animals and ideally should not be kept alone (apart from possibly indoor rabbits which get lots of attention and interaction from the owner). Rabbits should not be kept with guinea pigs or chinchillas as they will fight, plus the different species have different feeding requirements. The best combination is a neutered male and a neutered female rabbit. Un-neutered rabbits are likely to fight.

Rabbits are intelligent pets and require a lot of stimulation. They love toys such as tubes and pipes to run through, small boxes to climb onto and so on. Willow toys can be useful as they are safe to chew. They enjoy digging, running and jumping and it is important to allow them to express these normal behaviours.

We recommend regular, careful handling of rabbits to allow them to get used to the owner. Care should be taken to support their rear end when picking them up. Take care not to lift them too far from the ground as they can jump and injure themselves.

Rabbits require regular grooming, particularly the longer-haired breeds, and may need their claws clipping from time to time.


We recommend neutering rabbits to stop unwanted litters, reduce aggression and urine spraying in both sexes and also to prevent certain tumours, especially in females. Female rabbits are very prone to developing adenocarcinoma of the uterus – spaying will prevent this. Female rabbits can be spayed from 14 weeks old, and males castrated when their testicles have descended (usually at a similar age). Males can potentially be fertile for up to four weeks after castration, so should be separated from any entire females for this period post-op.

Pre-operative Arrangements

Making your Appointment

For routine neutering, please try to ring at least a week in advance to organise your pet's operation.

Pre-anaesthetic Preparation

Rabbits and other small mammals do not need to be starved prior to an anaesthetic so can continue to eat and drink water as normal.

On the Day

  • A vet or qualified nurse will admit your pet.
  • They will need to ask a few of the following questions:
    • Is your in good health and a suitable age?
    • Is it the sex that has been booked in?
    • Are they fully vaccinated?
    • Are they microchipped yet? (if not would you like this doing whilst your pet is asleep?)
  • There will be a health and weight check.
  • You will be asked to complete a consent form giving us a number we can contact you on if necessary during the day.
  • You will be given a direct telephone number for our inpatient nurses, enabling you to contact them easily later in the day to check progress and arrange collection of your pet.
  • Rabbits do not like stress. For this reason they have their own private ward at Holly House.

Join our Pet Health Club to save 20% on the cost of neutering.


Microchips (or identichips) are a permanent way of identifying your pet. Getting a microchip implanted into your pet rabbit is an excellent idea, as they are unable to wear a collar with a tag. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is injected under the skin on the back of the neck. Each chip carries a unique number that can be read using a special scanner.

Vets and animal rescue organisations scan all stray animals and can then contact a central database to obtain the owner’s details. Being able to contact you quickly in an emergency can sometimes be life saving for your pet.

A microchip can be implanted during a routine appointment, or while your pet is under anaesthetic for another reason.

Join our Pet Health Club to save 10% on the cost of microchipping.


Sadly, every year we see cases of fly-strike in rabbits. This is where blowflies lay their eggs on the rabbits, usually attracted by faecal matter or wounds, particularly in hot weather. These quickly (often in 12 hours or so) hatch out into maggots which burrow their way under the rabbit’s skin or internally. If not treated early, this can lead to shock and death.

Rabbits should be checked very regularly, particularly around the rear end and especially if they are prone to faecal soiling (e.g. if obese, with dental problems, arthritis etc.) or have known wounds. Hutches and enclosures should be cleaned out very regularly, especially in warm weather.

Flystrike can be prevented by using a spot-on, available from veterinary practices. This is applied to the rabbit’s neck and back, and stops fly eggs from developing for 10 weeks after dosing.

Join our Pet Health Club to save 10% on the cost of Fly-Strike prevention.

Encephalitozoan cuniculi (E. cuniculi)

This is a microscopic parasite which is carried by a large proportion of rabbits in the UK. In some individuals it can lead to disorders of the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and eyes. There is a drug called fenbendazole which can be used for treatment and prevention, although more research is required as to its efficacy. Please contact one of the vets if you wish to discuss this further.


These are not as common in pet rabbits compared to cats and dogs. If your rabbit does have fleas, there is a licensed product called Advantage which can be used. Do not use Frontline (fipronil) as this can be very toxic to rabbits.