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rabbit hay 250pxRabbits make wonderful pets, but unlike dogs and cats, they require very specific care and are not the appropriate pet for every family. It is very important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian after purchasing or adopting your new rabbit, to learn about proper diet, husbandry, and general overall care. This will hopefully help prevent any illnesses from developing with your newest addition to the family! Here are some of the most common reasons why your rabbit should be examined yearly.

What should my rabbit be eating?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that your rabbit should constantly be eating carrots all day long. Actually, carrots are not very nutritious! Your rabbit’s daily diet should consist of a small number of pellets (about a ¼ cup a day, depending on the size of your rabbit), unlimited access to hay (Timothy Hay and/or Orchard grass are recommended), and fresh vegetables. One of the biggest problems that rabbits face is a syndrome called gastrointestinal stasis. This is a condition where the GI tract of a rabbit can completely shut down, and without quick medical intervention, unfortunately, it can lead to death. This condition can occur secondary to many different illnesses in rabbits. Therefore, it is important to visit with your veterinarian yearly; to learn what is “normal vs. abnormal” behavior for your rabbit. Your rabbit should also have access to fresh water daily, using either a water bottle or water bowl. Avoid foods that are high in fat and starch and limit your rabbits’ access to fruit.

two dwarf rabbits 500pxHow often should I bring my rabbit to the doctors?

Rabbits, just like our dogs and cats, should receive a yearly examination by a veterinarian. It is important to perform routine fecal examinations on younger rabbits to make sure there are no underlying parasitic diseases present. For senior rabbits, it is essential to assess yearly blood work to monitor organ function. Your rabbit should also be spayed or neutered. Unfortunately, female rabbits that are not spayed, have a very high risk of developing uterine cancer when they are older. Your rabbit’s teeth should also be assessed yearly, as dental disease is extremely common in rabbits since their teeth continually grow throughout their entire life! Dental disease can be prevented with proper diet, so schedule a consultation with your veterinarian to discuss your rabbits diet in detail.

What are some common signs of illness in rabbits?

rabbit nicki 350pxRabbits, unlike our dogs and cats, do not show signs of illness until they are very sick, as they are inherently prey species. Many owners are unaware of certain behavior changes that can be an early sign of illness in a rabbit, such as hiding more often in their enclosure or changes in their fecal ball size. Rabbits are also very prone to developing pododermatitis (sores on the bottom of their feet), which are commonly found incidentally on examination by your veterinarian. These sores are usually secondary to poor husbandry (improper or infrequent bedding changes) but can also develop secondary to obesity and arthritis. Therefore, veterinarians recommend examinations every 6 months, especially with senior rabbits, to hopefully prevent these illnesses from occurring or progressing.

If you notice any change in your rabbit’s daily routine, please contact your veterinarian immediately to determine if they should be examined! Overall, rabbits make amazing pets and would be a great addition to many families.

Courtney Zinna, DVM, earned her degree from Ross University. Her special interests include exotics and internal medicine.