The first thing you need to know is whether or not your pet is nocturnal, diurnal, or both. Rodents need routine to reduce stress, so you will need to plan your lifestyle around theirs before you bring the little guys into your home.
Rodents need daily exercise, both inside and outside of their cage. They are active throughout most of their waking hours, which is both good for their bodies and helps to stimulate their minds. You can help them out with the use of toys.
A running wheel is a fundamental toy for nearly every species of rodent. They love it and it helps them stay in shape. You can also give your pet anything you have that they can use to play with. As an example, cardboard rolls (toilet paper or paper towel tubes) allow your pets to create their own tunnel system. The toys you use should be easy to clean and disinfect. If not, you’ll need to replace them.
Feeding frequency is also pretty important. Generally we advise that rodents are fed either once or twice a day. Small animals that are active during the day need to be fed before their most active time. Give them food before you leave the house in the morning and, if needed, a second meal in the evening. Nocturnal animals should be awakened in the evening for feeding, play time, and a cage cleaning. If necessary, feed them again when you wake up in the morning.
Rodents should have fresh water at least 3-4 times a day. Their food and water dishes need to be cleaned out every time you change them. The cage should be cleaned of any soiled substrate or faeces. Once a week, it is important to disinfect the whole cage and all their toys. Make sure all the disinfectant is washed out, as the residue can be harmful to your little pets.
A good adult rabbit diet consists of fresh hay and water, quality pellets and fresh vegetables. The amount varies with the age of the rabbit. Rabbits should have fresh hay available 24 hours a day. Hay is essential to a rabbit's health. The roughage helps reduce the danger of hairballs and other blockages. Rabbits less than 7 months old may have alfalfa hay, but older rabbits should have grass hays such as timothy or oat hay. Fresh water should always be available, and should be changed daily. The water dish/bottle should be cleaned weekly with a sanitizer, and should be washed thoroughly before refilling.
Pellets are most important in the younger stages of rabbit development because they are highly concentrated in nutrients, helping to ensure proper weight gain. A quality pelleted food should be high in fiber (18% minimum) and nutritionally balanced. When a rabbit reaches maturity, pellets should make up less of the diet. At that point, a higher quantity of vegetables and hay should be introduced.
Vegetables provide valuable roughage, as well as essential vitamins. As early as 3 months of age, you can begin to offer fresh vegetables to your rabbit. Eliminate old vegetables that cause soft stools or diarrhoea. Continue to add new varieties (including dark leafy vegetables and root vegetables) and serve vegetables of different colours. Feed your rabbit with at least three different kinds of vegetables daily for a mix of nutrients.
Toys and Activities
Because rodents' teeth are always growing, they need to chew to keep their jaws and teeth strong. Giving your small animal chew toys helps to prevent it from chewing on other things (the cage walls, for example). You can use small blocks of wood or twigs as long as they have never been painted, varnished or exposed to pesticides. Dog chew toys are also effective. Just be sure they are a small size and weight that your pet can manage.
Neutering or Spaying
Neutering male and female pet rabbits is generally recommended. In addition to avoiding pregnancy, female rabbits are susceptible to uterine cancer and other uterine diseases. In fact, in some rabbit populations, incidents of malignant uterine cancer have been documented as high as 80%. Neutering also prevents breast disease, which is far less prevalent, but spreads quickly when it does occur.
For male rabbits, neutering is recommended to prevent aggressive behaviour and urine spraying.
Rabbits should be neutered around the time they reach sexual maturity. This ranges between four and six months for small to medium-sized rabbits and up to nine months for the bigger breeds. Neutering should not be done before four months of age.
Examinations and Vaccinations
To keep your rabbit healthy it is necessary to take it for its first vet examination and check up as soon possibly. After that, your rabbit should see the vet at least once a year. While there are no standards for vaccinating rabbits, there may be reasons of doing it for certain infections.
Common Health Problems
The most common health problems for small animals tend to be dental and gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections, cancers, hair loss and diseases of the feet and tails.
General symptoms of illness are loss of appetite, lethargy, diarrhoea, tearing of the eyes, slobbering or drooling, difficulty breathing, shaking the head, hunching, remaining still, sneezing, breathing problems and lesions on the feet.
Chewing is a vital way that rabbits relate to their world. They use their teeth to eat and for the exercise and mental stimulation associated with chewing. Unfortunately, the most common source of health problems among rabbits stems from their teeth. Rabbits wear down their teeth at a rate of about 3 mm per week.
Dental disease can be caused from a variety of reasons. Sometimes teeth come in overgrown, other times they grow in crooked and affect the bite. Overgrown roots in upper teeth can block the tear ducts and cause lumps behind the eyes. Trauma to the face may result in lost or damaged teeth or malocclusion (misalignment of teeth). Some rabbits are prone to dental infections. Others don’t get enough calcium, which weakens the jaw and surrounding bones.
When rabbits suffer from dental disease, they eat less to avoid pain and then their general health starts to deteriorate. To catch dental disease early, watch for signs of lack of appetite, being selective about foods or food falling from the mouth. Excessive tearing or salivating, nasal discharge, tooth grinding or bulging of an eye can also show teeth problems. To remain healthy, your rabbit's teeth may need to be trimmed periodically.
Gastrointestinal problems Another common health problem for rabbits is gastrointestinal disease. When rabbits don't get enough exercise, eat unbalanced diets or don't get enough water, gastrointestinal problems can occur. Usually the symptoms appear when rabbits show signs of loss of appetite, picky eating or lethargy.
Pneumonia, colds and other respiratory ailments are commonly experienced by rodents. Bacterial infections, like salmonella, often lead to respiratory problems.
Disease isn't always the reason though; keeping your pet's cage in a drafty, cold or humid area can also lead to respiratory problems. Be sure you maintain the environment that small animals need for healthy living to reduce the incidence of respiratory diseases.
Watery, running eyes among rodents is often a symptom of a respiratory problem, like a cold. But because of the proximity of molars to nasal passages and the eyes, it may be a sign of dental problems as well. Whenever this symptom appears, it indicates some kind of health problem, so get your pet to the vet as quickly as you can.
This is a common disease in wild rabbits. It is very contagious and spreads between rabbits via insect vectors such as fleas and mosquitoes. An infection can therefore occur without direct contact between rabbits and with contact by fluids from an infected rabbit such as discharge from the eyes, nose or lesions on the skin.
The first symptoms are generally discharge from the eyes and swelling around head, ears and sometimes genitals. Within a few days the eyes may be swollen shut. The swelling can make eating, drinking and breathing difficult. Lumps or nodules may also develop. Secondary infections such as pastrella (snuffles) are common. Death can occur within a few days to several weeks. Those that recover may take weeks or even months to do so fully.
We recommend the first vaccination at 6 weeks of age. After that, regular boosters are required. Boosters should be given every 6 months. While being the best protection available, this vaccination is not 100% effective and some vaccinated individuals may still contract the disease. However, vaccinated rabbits that do get infected will develop a milder form of the disease and have a greater chance of recovery. Vaccination is contraindicated in pregnant or sick rabbits, which is why a check up is recommended before the shot.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD)
This is also known as RHD (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease), RCV (Rabbit Calicivirus), and RCD (Rabbit Calicivirus Disease). It is a highly contagious disease caused by a calicivirus. Rabbits of the Oryctolagus Cuniculus species (including wild and domesticated European rabbits) are the only rabbits affected.
Symptoms of VHD include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, spasms, and sudden death; some rabbits may die without showing any symptoms. Up to 90% of affected rabbits die from the disease which progresses rapidly (death occurs approximately 1-3 days after infection). The virus is very hardy (remaining viable in the environment for 105 days) and can be transmitted by contact with infected rabbits or their excreta, rabbit products, insects and rodents (mechanical transmission) and contaminated objects. Rabbits that survive the disease may become carriers and spread it to others. Both indoor and outdoor rabbits are at risk.
Vaccination as prevention is very successful; it can be done from 12-14 weeks of age. The vaccine is also safe for pregnant rabbits. A booster needs to be given every 12 months to ensure continued protection. To keep your own rabbits safe, don't handle rabbits in pet shops or other environments, or, if you do, wash your hands thoroughly before handling your own rabbits. Take precautions to minimise insects coming into contact with your rabbits (see also Myxomatosis prevention).
This disease unleashes bacteria that infect living cells in some rodents and can affect the heart, liver, lymph nodes and digestive tract. Tyzzer's disease is highly contagious. If you have more than one pet, it's likely to spread to all of them. The most common symptoms are poor appetite, lethargy, ruffled fur or a hunched posture.
Prevention is the best strategy. Tyzzer's Disease is caused by unsanitary living conditions and high levels of stress. That's why daily and weekly cleaning protocols must be strictly observed: daily cleaning of food and water dishes, daily removing substrates and faeces, weekly cleaning and disinfection of the cage and placement of completely fresh substrate layers. Although it can be treated with tetracycline antibiotics, if not caught early enough it can be fatal.
Sore Hock (pododermatitis)
This is a skin problem that occurs on the underside of rabbits’ feet. When rabbits are obese, or are exposed to damp flooring, the bottom of their feet can become inflames. To prevent this, keep the rabbit’s cage dry and soft. Make sure there is enough space in your pet’s cage. Keep an eye on your rabbit’s weight, and make sure not to let him become overweight.
Much like humans, rabbits need exercise to tone their muscles and to handle stress. Stressful situations can lead to cardiac failure. Many rabbits also have bigger hearts than normal, a condition referred to as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).
A rabbit's normal daily activity should keep its bones strong. However, rabbits that don’t exercise daily, and those that are confined in cages that are too small for them can lose bone density. An active lifestyle is key to maintain healthy bones.
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