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In the wild rabbits are prey animals and life in a domestic household has potential to be quite stressful for them. In the wild rabbits spend a large part of their time grazing. In a domestic home where high energy food is available rabbits have a lot of unexpected free time. It is important to ensure that rabbits have ways to occupy this time otherwise there is the potential that they will redirect their energies to unwanted behaviours. Rabbits are always on their guard for the first sign of danger and can react adversely when threatened. If you are worried about any aspect of your rabbit’s behaviour you should contact your vet for advice. Many behavioural issues can be easily managed and all are most easily resolved if they are dealt with as soon as they arise.

In the wild rabbits live on a grass-based diet, which is naturally abrasive. Rabbits’ teeth grow continually and normally the continual chewing wears the teeth down.  Some dental disease can be inherited. Rabbits that are dropped and bang their mouth or those that pull on the wire of their hutch/enclosure are prone to traumatic dental disease. Common signs of dental disease include reduced appetite , excessive dribbling or a wet chin or matted fur at the front paws where they have been wiping their mouth. Weight loss may occur if the problem develops slowly and your rabbit may become depressed. Discharge from the eyes may be evident if the upper tooth roots grow and block the tear ducts. If you suspect any problems with your rabbits teeth make an appointment to visit your vet and have them checked. If your rabbit will allow it then the teeth are checked at every annual check up with the booster vaccine.

Myxomatosis Myxomatosis is a disease caused by a virus that affects both wild and pet rabbits. The virus causes severe swelling of the lips, eyelids and genitals. Pet rabbits can sometimes recover from the condition with very intensive nursing, but but often it is kindest to euthanise the rabbit. The myxomatosis virus is transmitted by insects, particularly rabbit fleas, but also by flies. Cats often become infected by rabbit fleas and will bring these into your garden or inside your house. Therefore, even if your rabbit lives indoors or if you live in a city centre, far from places where wild rabbits live, your pet rabbit could still be at risk. Viral haemorrhagic disease Viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) is a viral disease that only affects rabbits. It is caused by a highly contagious virus which is transmitted between rabbits, or on contaminated equipment, clothing and feed. Insects, rodents and birds may also be able to carry the virus and infect pet rabbits. VHD is nearly always fatal – it causes bleeding (haemorrhage) from the internal organs and the animals die as a result of the overwhelming blood loss.

Rabbits are prone to infectious diseases like any other pet. They may be infected from wild rabbits or other small pets which can transmit some infections. There are 2 important viral diseases in rabbits in the UK: myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD). We can vaccinate against these with yearly vaccines. Rabbits can be vaccinated against myxomatosis and VHD from 5 weeks of age. The vaccination provides immunity for one year against both myxomatosis and VHD. The vaccination is given by injection into the scruff at the back of the neck.

Rabbits can suffer from a number of skin diseases and infections with parasites. Some of these parasites can be caught or given to other pets. Luckily most infections can be easily treated by our vets. If your rabbit is scratching or losing their fur then you should make an appointment to see your vet for a check up.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs come from Central and South America and live in extended family groups in areas of long grass.

It is crucial to feed guinea pigs a diet that is high in fibre, as it would be in the wild. In practice this means making sure that they have an unlimited supply of hay whenever they can’t be outside grazing on grass. Because hay doesn’t contain all the nutrients they need, guinea pigs also need to be fed a specially formulated concentrate food as well. Guinea pigs have a high vitamin C requirement. Vitamin C doesn’t last long in manufactured food, so makepackets are within the sell-by date, and don’t buy too much at a time, as once the pack is opened, vitamin C levels will decrease even faster. Ideally you should keep opened packetss in an airtight box. Signs of vitamin C deficiency start to show within two weeks if the diet is not adequate. Young guinea pigs become unwilling to move and may go off their food, this is because of pain in their joints and around their teeth. Adult animals also get joint and tooth pain, but it is important to remember that  vitamin C deficiency will also make them more susceptible to many other diseases such as chest infections and skin disease.