Creating better tomorrows for all pet rabbits

CAMPAIGN UPDATE – Summer 2020

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Work In progress

We have asked Dr Laura Dixon to put another document together for us, which will look at the legislation available for pet dogs and cats compared to pet rabbits. Rabbits have less protection and less legislation. Obviously we expected any change in legislation to be a hard sell with Brexit going on, and now with what seems like the end of time, in the midst of Covid-19, it is even more unlikely, but at least we will have the ground work done in preparation.

We are also still working with the RSPCA on a general Strategy document and Best Practice guidelines, and seeking input from our colleagues in other relevant organisations. These have been a long time coming and we really do hope that we can publish both of them this year. We will let you know when we do.

We decided that with rabbits often being an afterthought, we would put on a day dedicated to highlighting some of the issues they face, and inviting other stakeholders along to raise awareness, and see what ideas we could come up with together. At the time of writing, it looks like this day will need to be rearranged.

The need for more information on rabbit pairings

We get more calls to the helpline about young males fighting and having to be split up than anything else. This isn’t a surprise, as in the wild rabbits live in groups which contain one male and several females. However, we are always seeing advice online about ‘stress bonding’ (which we do not advocate) and pairing up males, and even some advice that any rabbits can live together (not in our experience of almost 100 years between us!). We want to make sure that we are giving the best advice and that it is correct. So, we decided to conduct three surveys to see what is actually going on. Well actually, we asked our Rabbiting On Vet Adviser, Guen Bradbury, who is a Vet, Behaviourist and Consultant, to do it for us. Guen gathered data as follows:

Vets – Were surveyed to ask what problems they were seeing as a result of bond breakdowns.

Owners – Were surveyed to ask what experience they have had with bond breakdowns.

Rescues – Were surveyed to ask what pairings they would try first, and for information about rabbits admitted to them because of a failed bond.
a really brilliant snap shot of what is happening out in homes and gardens, vet practices and rescue centres. Thank you to everyone who completed a survey. The intention was to present this at the conference in June, which at the time of writing (mid-March), looks highly likely to be cancelled; however, we won’t give any spoilers yet, as Guen will be writing this up for us to appear in Rabbiting On soon. We will also be including this data on our website to help people make decisions before they try to pair up their rabbit. It has also thrown up areas that we would like to investigate further if we can get some funding. A huge thank you to Guen for putting the surveys together for us and analysing the data.

COVID-19

We have been asked by rabbit owners whether our pets can be infected by COVID-19, so as always we turned to our Specialist Veterinary adviser, Dr Richard Saunders, for advice.

This is his response:

“At the moment, COVID-19 is too new, and not enough work has been done on it in a full range of species, for us to be able to give absolutely definitive advice, but from what we know about previous respiratory coronaviruses (https://jvi.asm.org/content/89/11/6131) it seems hopeful that rabbits and rodents are resistant to it, although it is worth pointing out that they could carry it on their fur etc.

“This site also likens COVID-19 to previous SARS/coronavirus infections, specifically looking at the similarities between them and this exact virus –
https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2020/02/articles/animals/cats/covid-2-and-potential-animal-hosts/.

“It would appear that rabbits are much, much less at risk than pigs, ferrets and cats, and so our advice would be to be sensible, wash hands in soap and water before and after handling any animal, and contact your vet if you have any concerns.

If you notice any of these signs, you must call your vet straight away

“We are aware that, due to COVID-19, many people are understandably restricting where they go and what they do, to minimise the risk of spread. Also many veterinary practices are, quite reasonably, trying to limit visits for non-urgent procedures, again to minimise spread, and also because of limited staff due to self-isolation or childcare commitments.

“On the other hand, the health, and preventative health, of your pet is important, and so the risks and benefits of visiting the vets should be carefully considered. We have put together the following advice, but if in doubt, visit your vet’s website, or contact them to discuss individual animals”.

Emergencies (see our poster):

Contact your vet on the phone or emergency out of hours practice, and discuss directly with your practice if you suspect an emergency condition, such as open mouth breathing, difficulty breathing, severe blood loss, collapse, loss of consciousness, paralysis, eye injury, refusing food, not passing faeces or urine, significant wounds or broken limb.

Urgent but not emergencies:

Contact your practice for advice on when best to be seen i.e. within the next 24-48 hours for respiratory or eye/ear discharge, altered food preferences, lameness, less serious wounds, etc.

Non-urgent and routine events: e.g. vaccinations, neutering, regular scheduled health checks for ongoing conditions.

Depending on the individual rabbit, veterinary practices and owner’s own health status, some checks may be possible over the phone or via remote viewing, e.g. for medication refills and prescriptions. Neutering may be delayed, but with young rabbits kept together, definitely contact the practice, or, if left too long, the result may be an unplanned litter, or fighting. Vaccinations are a particularly tricky one, as the duration of immunity is not as fully known for rabbits as dogs and cats, and may be only just 12 months. Again, it’s best to discuss your particular rabbit with your vet.

Richard Saunders BVSc DZooMed MRCVS European Veterinary Specialist in Zoo Health Management

Please note – this advice was correct at the time of writing (March 2020)

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