We have heard from several worried owners whose rabbits’ vaccinations are due now or soon.
We are sorry you are in this unfortunate position and we do understand your very valid concerns
The BVA/RCVS have advised veterinary practices not to carry out routine procedures, but only to be available for emergency medicine. This is to conserve essential supplies, protect the health of veterinary staff, and avoid further spread of the disease.
Please, in the first instance, check your practice website, to see what protocols they are following, and what they recommend that you do. Contact them by phone to discuss your specific situation if it is not totally clear. Whilst vaccination is not usually an urgent procedure, if they are overdue, or have not had first vaccines yet, they will be at higher risk of developing diseases. Discuss your individual situation with your vet to find the best option.
In the meantime you need to give your rabbits the best protection you can from disease.
If your rabbits live indoors:
• If you have open windows, have mosquito screens over them because biting insects are a known vector of both myxomatosis and RVHD1 and 2
• Practice barrier care – when you come into the house from outside change your shoes, remove outer clothing and thoroughly wash hands before handling your rabbits or any of their food, toys, etc.
• Have a footbath at the door as well, and dip outdoor shoes in that. Use Anigene HLD4V or Virkon disinfectant in the footbath
• Thoroughly wash and dry any wild or garden forage before feeding to your rabbits
If your rabbits live outdoors:
• Buy mosquito nets to completely cover windows and doors in sheds and also runs. These can be bought online and large nets are available.
• Only handle your rabbits and their toys or food after you have thoroughly washed your hands
• If you have walk-in accommodation for your rabbits, you should change footwear at the door in case you have picked up any virus on your shoes while walking across the garden.
• Thoroughly wash and dry any wild or garden forage you have picked for them
While these measures aren’t as effective as vaccination, in the current crisis, they are all we have. Full advice on appropriate disinfectants and how to clean effectively can be found here https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/disinfectants/
Our very best wishes, we hope you and your rabbits stay well
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. And that 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, or 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 phone, 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, broken limb.
Urgent but not emergencies: Contact your practice for advice on when best to be seen, within the next 24-48 hours: respiratory or eye/ear discharge, altered food preferences, lameness, less serious wounds, etc.
Non-urgent and routine events: eg vaccination, neutering, regular scheduled health checks for ongoing conditions. Depending on the individual rabbit, and practices and owners own health status, some checks may be possible over the phone or via remote viewing, eg 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, its best to discuss your particular rabbit with your vet.
Richard Saunders BVSc DZooMed MRCVS European Veterinary Specialist in Zoo Health Management
We have been asked whether it is safe to keep rabbits in the same area as poultry, primarily chickens. We don’t advise this for several reasons
Dietary needs are different. Poultry birds need grain feeds. This is high calorie and low on fibre. It’s a completely unsuitable diet for rabbits, will cause obesity and doesn’t provide the dietary fibre they need to keep teeth worn correctly nor to keep the gut moving properly
Water is generally fouled by birds. Rabbits need to have a constant supply of fresh water and if they are sharing living quarters with chickens etc that will not be possible as it will become contaminated with faecal matter
Salmonella is a major problem with poultry. Whilst rabbits are reasonable resistant to it, it is nevertheless an unacceptable risk
Hens and particularly ducks turn grass into bare earth or mud quickly. This is removing a valuable food source from rabbits and turning the area they live on into something potentially harmful
There is potential for injury and there are anecdotal tales of this happening
For these reasons we recommend that rabbits are not housed with poultry species
There is further information on this topic in the BSAVA Rabbit Manual. It states that where birds and rabbits are housed together, large psittacines (parrot species) may cause trauma to rabbits, although in most cases where rabbits share an aviary with birds the birds are more commonly smaller members of the parrot group and also other perching birds.
It is not common for micro-organisms to be able to transfer directly between avian and mammalian species, but if it does happen in one bird or mammal, the others in the group should be suspected of being infected also. This is particularly the case with intestinal diseases and fungal skin conditions.
Where hens and rabbits are kept together, the coccidian affecting each animal are different and should not cause problems to the other species but the main health problems are as mentioned above.
A message from our Specialist Veterinary Adviser, Richard Saunders
We are aware of lots of comments regarding cardboard at the moment.
Cardboard toilet and paper towel roll inners can be very useful as an enrichment tool, and many many rabbit owners use boxes filled with hay and with holes cut inside, or toilet roll inners stuffed with hay etc without problem, and have done for years, because we didn’t have the vast array of toys to chose from that we have now. Cardboard boxes filled with bedding are useful for extra insulation in the winter. Cardboard boxes with 2 holes cut in them are useful as a bolt hole for the rabbits to feel safe.
Obviously as rabbit owners, if you see your rabbits eating a lot of the cardboard, rather than just enjoying destroying it, then remove any cardboard items, and consider seeking veterinary advice.
As a Specialist Vet, I see rabbits eating both appropriate and inappropriate fibrous and indigestible materials when they have GI problems, and this may be a sign of such issues. As with “hairballs” it’s often that the fur, hair, cardboard etc is in the gut in large amounts BECAUSE the GI tract is moving slowly, not causing the problem. What I am saying here is that when the rabbit starts to become ill, they often eat things that are not appropriate, and the cardboard or hairball is in the gut because of the gut slowdown, and is not the cause of it. Of course, there are certainly rabbits out there (as with dogs etc), who definitely eat things to excess, inappropriately, and in such cases, in any species, it’s sensible to prevent a problem by not allowing access to the material in question.
So let your rabbits enjoy their cardboard toys, but as with any toy, be sensible and monitor them. There are lots of things that you can give your rabbits to actually chew and eat that are safe such as apple branches, willow branches, hazel branches and forage trays.
Richard Saunders BSc (Hons) BVSc FRSB CBiol DZooMed (Mammalian) DipECZM(ZHM) MRCVS; RCVS Specialist in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine (Mammalian); European Specialist in Zoological Medicine (ZHM); RWAF Veterinary Specialist Adviser
We are sometimes asked about letting houserabbits play in the garden, especially in cold or wet weather.
Our Specialist Veterinary Adviser Dr Richard Saunders has provided this advice
“General: I would say that all rabbits outside in runs should have a hide box area with at least 2 exits, to retreat into if feeling insecure, as well as for protection from extremes of cold or wind.
Low temperatures: assuming they are healthy rabbits in social groups or pairings, with no significant areas of missing fur etc, if they are able to move around freely and are protected from rain and wind, they should be OK in runs down to about 5C. Below that, access to a well insulated indoor area, whether attached to or within the run, or both, must be provided. Rabbits in poor body condition, or with missing fur, or sole animals, must be provided with shelter before temperatures get down to 5C.
High temperatures: OK, assuming the rabbits are not obese, and do not have respiratory disease, and have shade and plenty of places to keep cool.”
We are often asked about neutering and if it is worth paying a bit more for a rabbit friendly vet, or driving a bit further to get to one. Our answer is always yes. If your rabbit is ill, with something like a dental spur and you need to have dental surgery quickly, you don’t want to be ringing around for a savvy rabbit vet then, you already want a savvy rabbit vet on speed dial, know how to get there, where to park, and what to expect.
So we thought we would share this story and then you can make up your own mind!
“I use a rabbit savvy vet, travel a bit further to see her, but I don’t think she is more expensive than other vets. I know that my rabbits have the best care possible with her, with her nursing staff, and with her facilities, which include an ‘exotic’ ward so there are no barking dogs nearby.
About 11 years ago and before we used this vet, I took a mum and litter of babies into the rescue. I adopted 3 of the babies myself, 2 males and 1 female, Eric, Ernie and Erin, and took them all to a local vet to be neutered when they were 16 weeks old.
That morning I made sure they had eaten. I had everything ready for them at home to spend a few days indoors so that I could keep an eye on them, keep them warm, and make sure they were all eating. I drove them the short distance to the vet together in their carrier, with a picnic of their favourite foods for when they came round from the anaesthetic. I did everything right.
Ernie died very shortly after I dropped them off, before they even started to do any pre-meds with him. When I asked what had happened I was told there was a very noisy dog in the kennel next to him. So at 16 weeks old, and to the best of my knowledge fit and well, he died of stress shortly after he arrived. This was preventable, and something that still horrifies me now.
As far as I was aware however for Eric and Erin things went much more smoothly and I picked them up and brought them home. Kept them indoors, checked their wounds, made sure they were eating, took them for their post op checks and then returned them to their lovely shed and run outside a few days later.
Erin used to nest throughout her life, she was often carrying hay around in her mouth, but I took her to be sapayed, I saw the spay wound so I didn’t take too much notice.
When Erin was 11 years old I found her hiding in her enclosure; she didn’t approach me for food as she usually would, and refused the dandelion I placed in front of her. Oh dear. Obviously we rushed straight to our rabbit savvy vet, there was a lot of blood in her wee, so we started on antibiotics, pain medication, gut motility drugs and syringe feeding. I brought her and Vanilla (her new companion, as Eric had very sadly passed away the previous year) inside and administered the medications at regular intervals, provided her with all her favourite foods and it was a huge relief when she was eating and pooing normally again, and well enough to return to her enclosure. It was puzzling what might have caused this but at 11 she was becoming an old bunny. A few weeks later it happened again, but she had to be admitted, and after 2 days was not really improving. You know when you get a phone call at 7am from the night vet that it is not good news, and despite everyone’s valiant efforts she was struggling to breathe. I had to let her go.
Later that day, when our usual rabbit savvy vet was finished consulting she called me and we agreed that we would do a PM to see what had gone wrong for Erin. This is always a difficult decision, but I have found that it usually gives me peace of mind as there is nothing I could have done to prevent it. When my rabbit savvy vet called she told me that Erin had tumours and that they had spread to her lungs. The tumours were most likely because she was not spayed and the uterus had developed a suspected adenocarcinoma, and that had explained the blood in her wee previously and also her difficulty in breathing. “Hang on, what do you mean not spayed, she is spayed” I said. The rabbit savvy vet repeated her findings, she was not spayed!.
I remember taking them to be neutered, I remember Ernie dying, I remember nursing her spay wound so how could she not be spayed?
When we got the history from the practice that ‘spayed’ Erin, sure enough they could not find her uterus, decided she was a hermaphrodite, so stitched her up and sent her home. I presume because they had already had to break bad news to me about Ernie that they did not want to address the fact that they she had not been spayed, but I was totally unaware of this until I saw the history 11 years later. I can not explain how shocked I was, and in all honesty still am.
The uterus of a 16 week female will look quite different from that of a 6 month female, and had I known that she was not spayed I would have had this checked when she was older.
Erin lived a good long life and would have died of something, but she died of a disease that more than likely could have been prevented.
The vet that operated is no longer at that practice and so I am not going to raise it with them, I think this letter is more useful.
So, when I am asked, is it worth paying extra for a rabbit savvy vet, or travelling a bit further, the answer is always yes. And this is a really good example of why.”
On the ever topical subject of RVHD2, we are frequently asked about the four month quarantine period that seems to be accepted. This advice did not come from the RWAF but in response to the questions regarding it we have released the following statement. It is not possible for the RWAF to issue blanket advice that covers all situations here as a lot will depend on the biosecurity and vaccination status of individual rescue centres for example. It is up to the rabbit owners to discuss this and agree what is best for them with their own vet. Sensible biosecurity measures should be employed
“Here at the RWAF we are getting a lot of questions about the survival of RVHD1 and 2 in the rabbit and the environment. There are a number of questions to answer, and the conditions in the wild vary, well, wildly. And also it’s good to have some safety margin, but it’s unhelpful to add a safety margin on top of an existing one, at each stage the issue is discussed!
“It’s very important to note that this is one of the few conditions in domestic pets where we have a large reservoir of infection in the wild, maintaining the disease and keeping it in play. This can make the idea of achieving “herd immunity” near impossible, and muddies the waters regarding whether an infection is a new outbreak from the same wild source, or re-infection in a group not given sufficient time for the virus to die away.
• The virus can survive for nine days in flies
• That whilst theoretically, rabbits who have survived infection can continue to spread it beyond the immediate period (i.e. that at times of stress they can start to shed virus again), in practice they could not make this happen
• The virus spreads at a minimum speed of 15 – 60km/week (too fast to simply be from rabbit to rabbit)
• It can cross 20 – 100km of water via birds or insects
• It can survive over the summer months before flaring up again (note that these are Australian summer months, and therefore much hotter and drier than the UK)
• Viable virus can persist for some months in tissues within a cool burrow (McColl et al. 2002; Henning et al. 2005).
The results of this study suggest that RVHD in animal tissues such as rabbit carcasses can survive for at least 3 months in the field, while virus exposed directly to environmental conditions, such as dried excreted virus, is viable for a period of less than one month. Survival of RVHD in the tissues of dead animals could, therefore, provide a persistent reservoir of virus, which could initiate new outbreaks of disease after extended delays.
“Another study showed that while viral antigen could be detected for at least 30 days post death in a decomposing liver, infectious RVHD virus survived for only 20 to 26 days (McColl, K; Morrissy, C; Collins, B; and Westbury, H. (2002), Persistence of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease virus in decomposing rabbit carcasses. Australian Veterinary Journal, 80: 298-299. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.2002.tb10848.x).
“The eight month (225 days) figure reflects the longest it is possible for the virus to survive under optimal conditions i.e. held at 4C in a viral nutrient broth. This is a theoretical situation, but the experiment was stopped at 225 days, and so this longevity could be even longer in this situation (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease: an investigation of some properties of the virus and evaluation of an inactivated vaccine (Smid et al Veterinary Microbiology, 26 (1991) 77-85).
“A four month figure has been proposed in the UK and is widely used, probably consisting of three months plus a month for the delay from infection to death, and a safety margin on top”.
We have been contacted by a concerned member who found ‘rabbit treats’ for sale and contacted us. Our Specialist Veterinary Adviser, Richard Saunders has written as follows to the manufacturer Happy Pets and the retailer which has already withdrawn them from sale.
‘We are writing to you to express concerns regarding a number of products sold in your stores, with regard to the ingredients of fruit, yogurt and, particularly, chocolate. (eg the Critters’ choice chocolate drops). It’s worth noting that rabbits have both very low requirements for simple carbohydrates, and can develop potentially life threatening caecal dysbiosis if they ingest too much sugar, but that they do select sweet food items. Selling these is therefore a rather cynical case of feeding something that is popular with the animal, but very much not good for it. In a risk:benefit analysis there would appear to be no benefit whatsoever to feeding such items, and a potential risk of severe and expensive GI stasis, and potentially even death.
However, chocolate has far greater potential to cause health issues in rabbits, as it contains the alkaloid theobromine which can cause diarrhoea and death by heart failure in a number of species, notably dogs, but also rabbits. It is proving rather difficult to obtain a nutritional breakdown of this brand, but if this contains theobromine, it is quite a risk selling a product with a known toxin to a susceptible species and we would strongly recommend that you discontinue stocking it as soon as possible. A similar risk:benefit analysis clearly identifies no benefit and a very significant and well known risk of death, which would be indefensible should such morbidity or mortality result.’
Richard Saunders BVSc DZooMed MRCVS European Veterinary Specialist in Zoo Health Management
Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.
Richard’s new qualification
As if Richard Saunders was not already fantastic enough, he has added another qualification to his name. He now has the European College of Zoological Medicine, Diploma Specialist in Zoo Health Management to add to his accolades. This gives him more letters after his name, and he is now on the Scientific Committee for EBVS.
RVHD2 HIPRA webinar
Richard has recorded a webinar with HIPRA, who are the manufacturer of Eravac, on the ever-popular subject of RVHD2. As soon as it is available we will share the link to it on social media, so keep your eyes peeled.
We now have over 110 rabbit friendly vets on the rabbit friendly vet list! This is free to access to anyone via our website. Due to huge demand we have had to close applications for the rest of 2018, because we have such a backlog to get through, but we will be opening it up again in the New Year. This is great news as it shows that practices are keen to be considered rabbit savvy, and realise the rising status of rabbits in the UK. Anyone who is looking for a rabbit savvy vet can find our list here: https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/rabbit-friendly-vets/rabbit-friendly-vet-list/
Save the dates
We are finalising the conference dates for 2019 so you might like to save these dates: 1st June– Non clinical day (owners, rescue workers) in Birmingham. 1st June– Clinical͚Rabbit Essentials͛ day, in Birmingham. This is for vets and vet nurses. It is lecture based and will cover subjects that we think are essential for every small animal practice. 22nd June– Advanced Rabbit Practice, at The Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead. Lecture based, but covering more advanced rabbit care and investigation using the fantastic team at the RVC. 23rd June– Rabbit Interactive Roadshow – 2 x 3-hour workshops covering dentistry and airway management, also at the RVC, with the fabulous Craig Hunt. Small group so be sure to book early. 1st December– Rabbit Interactive Roadshow – 2 x 3-hour workshops covering dentistry and airway management, in Newcastle Upon Tyne, using the awesome Kevin Eatwell. Small group so book early to grab a place.
Full details will follow shortly. Please keep an eye on our website, and social media, or sign up to our First Alert service. You will be able to book via our shop website shortly.
Consultations and new legislation
Despite the amount of work and debate that Brexit has generated, there is still some progress with animal welfare legislation. There have been consultations for the UK for animal sentience and for Scotland with regards to breeding and licencing. This is obviously an area we are very keen on, given our Capone Campaign work, and something we can respond to with a lot of confidence. There have also been consultations on licencing of pet shops, riding schools etc., and on the 1st October 2018 the English government launched new regulations for the sale of puppies in the UK. This is great news, and we will be looking into the possibility of this legislation applying to rabbits also.
BBC Radio Shropshire – The rabbit and guinea pig debate
BBC Radio Shropshire phoned the helpline in October after an on air discussion between listeners who were discussing keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together, which caused some contention. We were invited on the next day to put the record straight, which is exactly what Richard did!
For interest, this is our official stance:
We are often asked about keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together. This is not advisable for the following reasons: ͞Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract of a number of species, including dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs, related to B pertussis, which causes whooping cough in humans. It is often described as commensal in rabbits (i.e. found in this species without causing harm), however, it can be a primary disease-causing organism, and can complicate other infections such as Pasteurella. It can, though, be fatal in guinea pigs, and so keeping them in the same airspace as rabbits is not advised.
͞Rabbits and guinea pigs have different dietary requirements, particularly guinea pigs’ need for Vitamin C. ͞Rabbits and guinea pigs are not the same species, and cannot respond appropriately to one another’s behaviours. This may result in inadequate social behaviours, up to and including severe bullying. ͞
The main reason these species used to be kept together was for companionship without the risk of pregnancy. With improvements in anaesthetic safety and more widespread neutering of both species, this is less of a problem now. Whilst we would not recommend putting them together in the first place in this day and age, we would not advocate splitting up a stable sole rabbit:sole guinea pig pairing͟.
New vaccination poster
We are still hearing of owners who do not know about RVHD2 and the need for a second vaccine. Feedback suggested that our vaccination poster did not get the message across so we have a new vaccination poster which we hope will be more effective. If you are on social media please share. You can find it on our own social media pages and website. Just to clarify, this is our advice on vaccinations: ͞You will need to give your rabbits two vaccines every year to protect them. The most common are Nobivac (protects against myxomatosis and RVHD1) and Filavac (protects against RVHD1&2), or Eravac (protects against RVHD2)͟.
A full size version of the poster is on our Campaign page, under Resources
Latest on RVHD2
In addition to the confusion over the vaccines there seem to be rumours surfacing about more diseases. Just to put the record straight we have released this statement:
͞”Here at the RWAF we are aware of 3 significant fatal viral diseases of rabbits in the UK. ͞
Myxomatosis (covered by the vaccine Nobivac Myxo-RHD); Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 (covered by Nobivac Myxo-RHD), and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (covered by the vaccines Filavac KC and V, or Eravac).
͞We are not aware of any further versions of RVHD present in the UK, although the variant K5 has been discovered in Asia and Australasia. ͞
We are not aware of any viral infections that are acutely fatal to rabbits and rodents recently arriving in the UK. ͞
If anyone has documentary evidence of any exotic diseases arriving in the UK in future please inform us and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)͟.
Myxomatosis in hares
Just as we were going to press there was an article in the news about a hare being diagnosed with myxomatosis in the UK.
Here at the RWAF we have been asked, over the past week or so, about myxomatosis in native wild brown hares in the UK. It’s important to be aware that this information is subject to change as the investigating continues, but is correct at time of posting.
Sporadic cases have been reported in the past, of suspected or confirmed myxomatosis in hares, including one which was written up in the veterinary press in 2014. However, this appears to be different in that multiple cases, from a wide geographical spread, are being reported to Dr Diana Bell, University of East Anglia and, whilst some have obvious external symptoms of myxomatosis, other dead hares look fine/in good condition or are seen dying with unusual neurological symptoms including an inability to move and seizures. A number of possible causes are being explored, including a change in virulence of myxomatosis virus, infection with Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RVHD2), or European Brown Hare Syndrome, individually or as co-infections, and it’s possible that other factors are involved.
What would really help the ongoing study into the large scale deaths of this iconic species would be for any members of the public finding a dead or ill hare to contact Dr Bell on: email@example.com. Please try and keep the body refrigerated whilst contacting Diana to arrange for a full post-mortem analysis.
Filming for RWAF YouTube channel
We are aware that our YouTube channel is in need of more content so we have recently spent the day with the lovely people at Vets4Pets Emmerson Green, Bristol, to film standard procedures and best practice. We hope that this will be accessible and useful to a wide range of people. Huge thanks to Sylvie Bolioli for giving up her time to do this
for us. We hope to have a lot of content for vets and owners in 2019. Again, watch this space for an update.
New RWAF Team member!
We are excited to announce the newest member of the RWAF Team – please welcome baby Eden. Emma (Boyd) gave birth to gorgeous little Eden on 15th September. It will be no surprise to read that Eden is already a rabbit fan and has a good collection of rabbit themed clothes and toys. Emma is on maternity leave until the New Year but she will soon be back in the swing of things and working alongside Rae to organise the CPD for 2019. If Eden is anything like her amazing mum then animal welfare is going to have a fantastic new advocate.
We are often asked about keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together. This is not advisable for the following reasons:
Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract of a number of species, including dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs, related to B pertussis, which causes whooping cough in humans. It is often described as commensal in rabbits (ie found in this species without causing harm), however, it can be a primary disease causing organism, and can complicate other infections such as Pasteurella. It can, though, be fatal in guinea pigs, and so keeping them in the same airspace as rabbits is not advised.
Rabbits and Guinea pigs have different dietary requirements, particularly guinea pigs’ need for Vitamin C.
Rabbits and Guinea pigs are not the same species, and cannot respond appropriately to one another’s behaviours. This may result in inadequate social behaviours, up to and including severe bullying.
The main reason these species used to be kept together was for companionship without the risk of pregnancy. With improvements in anaesthetic safety and more widespread neutering of both species, this is less of a problem now. Whilst we would not recommend putting them together in the first place in this day and age, we would not advocate splitting up a stable sole rabbit:sole guinea pig pairing