Rabbit Factsheet & Diet Advice


There are two diseases to consider when vaccinating rabbits –

Myxomatosis and Viral Heamorrhagic Disease (VHD).

Myxomatosis is a virus spread by fleas and mosquitoes causing puffy, fluid swelling around the head and face. In time, these are then seen on the lips, anus and genitals. It is very debilitating and most infected animals either die or require anaesthesia.

VHD is caused by another virus, mainly affecting the liver and eventually causing clotting within small vessels of major organs and bleeding from the body orifices. Death is common and can be very sudden.

Rabbits can be vaccinated against both Myxomatosis and VHD with one annual injection from 5 weeks of age.


Routine worming and flea treatment is not necessary for rabbits, although it is possible that they could catch fleas from other pets such as cats and dogs – so it is important to treat these members of the household. IT IS IMPERATIVE NOT TO USE FRONTLINE ON RABBITS.

The most common problem for rabbits is “Walking Dandruff” caused by mites, this can result in mild itching. Large flakes of white scale are easily observed in the coat where this condition is present.

If you notice this problem this please bring your rabbit to see us and we will be able to treat/advise accordingly.

Fly Strike can be a common problem in the spring and summer, especially if your rabbit is suffering from other problems (see below). Flies lay eggs in any soiled fur of the rabbit; these hatch into maggots which then burrow into the flesh causing severe injury and distress.

During the spring and summer months we can provide you with products to help repel the flies, checking your rabbit twice daily is also advised even if you are using repellents.


E. Cuniculi

This is a protozoa parasite which is very common. All rabbits should receive treatment for this infection as it is estimated that 50% of domestic rabbits are carriers. This single-celled organism can cause neurological problems such as head tilt, kidney failure, paralysis and death. It is easily transmitted from one rabbit to another via contaminated food or bedding. Rabbits should also be re-treated whenever a new rabbit is introduced.


If you are not planning to breed from your rabbit then it is a good idea to arrange for a castration or spay. This can be done from 5 months of age.


As well as preventing unwanted mating, this can help with behavioural problems such as aggression and fighting.


Apart from preventing unwanted pregnancy and territorial aggression, it is also recommended to prevent certain age related problems with the uterus, such as cancer.


Your rabbit could be susceptible to weight gain after neutering – regular checks are recommended.

Micro-Chipping & Pet Tags

Micro-chipping involves implanting a small chip under the skin between the shoulder blades. It provides a unique identity number which is stored on a national database along with all of your details, allowing your pet to be return to you if it goes missing and is collected as a stray.

Remember to inform the relevant authority if you change address!

The chip is implanted through a needle and the procedure can be performed during a routine consultation. The needle is quite large so we wouldn’t recommend having this done during your pet’s first consultation/vaccination but any time after should be fine.

Preventative Dental Care

Dental disease is an extremely common problem and a very frustrating one to treat, it’s also very complex and can be linked to nutrition and diet. Problems with pet’s teeth can also cause a number of secondary problems such as; anorexia, poor grooming, facial abscesses, eye infections, colic pneumonia and Cheyletiellosis (Walking Dandruff).

Very simply, there are 3 contributory factors to dental disease, the first being that it is generic or inherited. The second is poor nutrition, which relates to growth and development of the teeth as well as the supporting bones of the skull. The third is due to failure to provide enough roughage for your rabbit to naturally wear down their growing teeth. The first reason can be easily prevented by careful breeding, whilst the second and third can be avoided with responsible pet ownership.

Is it best to feed pelleted food (e.g Supa-rabbit, rather than a coarse mix of cereals? Rabbits tend to leave the parts of the cereal that they aren’t particularly fond of – a bit like when you leave the coffee creams in the bottom of the Quality Street box. A pelleted feed ensures they are receiving a truly balanced diet

Allowing your pet daily access to sunlight is also a good idea as it provides Vitamin D absorption through the skin, enhancing the strength of both teeth and bones.

Fibrous food such as good quality grass and hay should be fed ad lib to provide dental wear and also improve happiness and welfare by decreasing boredom, (ask us about the “Oxbow” range of rabbit foods.) It is best to think of a rabbit as a child – the fibrous food is greens and the pellets are sweets, although these particular sweets are good for you.

No more than small bowl of pellets is all that is required each day and this should be consumed within 2 hours – the majority of your rabbit’s diet should be fibrous. This can also be supplemented with non-poisonous weeds and plants such as; dandelions, brambles, tree leaves (good sources of calcium and fibre). Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and spinach can also be a good addition to you rabbits diet, root vegetables such as carrots are not a great source of calcium.

Rabbit Diet

Feeding an appropriate diet to a rabbit is probably the single most important factor in maintaining its health. Rabbits are now the third most popular mammalian domestic pet in the UK. Many of the diseases commonly seen in pet rabbits can be directly attributed to, or associated with, the feeding of an inappropriate diet and could be largely preventable.

When considering the diet of a pet rabbit it is important to be aware of the dietary habits of the wild rabbit. Rabbits are adapted in terms of their teeth and digestive system to eat a herbaceous diet that is high in fibre, low in fat, and low in starchy carbohydrates. Wild rabbits in a natural setting select the most tender succulent plant parts that are most nutrient dense. They are referred to as concentrate selectors, allowing them to meet their dietary requirements in the minimum time above ground when they are prone to predation. However, the natural diet is not “concentrated” to the same degree as commercial diets and is still naturally high in fibre.

Pet rabbits will generally eat a Wide variety of foods but generally show a preference for fibre and often eat hay or straw in preference to a Concentrate ration. However, it can be difficult to persuade a rabbit to eat a new food item once it has become accustomed to a particular diet. In the wild, rabbits eat at dusk and dawn, and this is reflected in pet rabbits, that are most likely to eat in the early evening or overnight, and may not appear hungry during the day.

The other source of nutrients is the caecotrophs, which are packets of partially digested food and bacterial products, including vitamins, eaten directly from the anus.

Sweet foods are generally palatable and molasses is used in some commercial foods to improve palatability. Bitter tastes are also well tolerated, such as alfalfa.

- Feeding the correct diet to rabbits is fundamental to maintaining health, particularly of the dental and digestive systems.

- The best diet for rabbits is one that mimics as closely as possible their natural grass-based diet in the wild. The bulk of the diet of the pet rabbit should consist of grass (fresh or freeze-dried) and/or good quality meadow/Timothy hay, and this should be available at all times. Hay can be fed from racks or net: to minimise contamination and increase the time spent feeding.

- Green foods are also important and a variety should be fed daily to rabbits of all ages. They should be introduced gradually to weanling rabbits. Examples are broccoli, cabbage, chicory, chard, parsley, watercress, celery leaves, endive, raddichio, bok choy, dock, basil, kale, carrot and beet tops. Wild plants can be given if available, e.g bramble, groundsel, chickweed, dandelion. All green foods should be washed before feeding.

- Commercial concentrate rabbit diets are not essential in adult rabbits if ad lib hay, grass, and greens are available. Commercial rabbit diets can be too low in fibre and too high in protein, fat and carbohydrate However, many owners like to feed these diets for convenience. They should not be fed exclusively or ad lib, and it must be emphasised that hay or grass should always be available and make up the bulk of the diet. A good general rule is to feed a maximum of 1 tablespoon food for rabbits under 2kg and 2 tablespoon for rabbits over 2 kg daily Overfeeding of concentrated diets is a significant factor in gut disease and dental disease, and also leads to obesity and boredom. However, concentrate diets have a role in the feeding of growing, pregnant and lactating and diseased rabbis, and can be used to ensure nutrient requirements are fulfilled in rabbis that are unwilling to consume significant amounts of hay or green vegetables.

- Obesity can predispose to serious health problems including arthritis, osteoporosis, faecal retention around the perineum, urine scalding, flystrike and metabolic disease.

- High fat or high carbohydrate/starchy treats should be avoided completely. These include commercial “treas” such as honey sticks, beans, peas, corn, bread, breakfast cereal, biscuits, nus, seeds, crisps and chocolate.

- The best treats to feed are hay treas, which are commercially available, or some favourite herbs or greens. Be very careful with feeding other treats as they can lead to obesity and digestive upsets. For some tooth wear and mental stimulation you may provide your rabbit with twigs or tree branches. They will enjoy gnawing and stripping the bark. A general rule is that you can offer branches from any tree that we eat the fruit from. Examples are apple, pear, plum, hawthorn, whitethorn and wild rose. Make sure the tree has not been sprayed with chemicals.

- Fruit should be regarded as a treat item and fed in very limited quantities only as it is high in simple sugars and can lead to gastrointestinal disturbance and dental caries.

- Sudden changes in diet must be avoided. Any change in diet should be made gradually over several days to weeks, starting with small amounts of the new item and gradually increasing them, whilst making a corresponding decrease in the unwanted item if necessary. Ad lib hay should always be available, and it is especially important to ensure that weanling rabbits eat plenty of hay. A sudden change in diet and lack of fibre combined with the stress of movement is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in young rabbits over the period of weaing and moving to a pet shop or new owner. When purchasing a rabbit It Is important for a new owner to be informed of the rabbit’s diet so that any changes can be introduced gradually.

- Frosted or mouldy food, and lawnmower clippings should not be fed as these an lead to severe digestive disturbances.

- Dietary supplements consisting of vitamins and minerals are not generally necessary if the correct diet is fed. They should be used only under direction of a veterinary surgeon.

- Fresh drinking water must be available at all times. Drinking bottles are easier to keep clean than water bowls, and avoid we mg the dewlap, which can lead to a moist dermatitis.