By Richard Saunders, RWAF Veterinary Adviser

(First published in Rabbiting On Magazine, Winter 2014)

Photo: C Burley

The dangers of passive smoking are now well understood in humans. And those dangers are worst of all in those who cannot evade it. And whilst smoking in enclosed public spaces is now illegal, smoking in the home still occurs, and children continue to be exposed to it. The same threat exists to our pets, including rabbits, if they share that airspace.

Only 15% of cigarette smoke is actually inhaled by the smoker

Exposure to smoke

When owners smoke, they expose their pets to over 4,000 different toxins including 40 known cancer-causing substances and carbon monoxide. Only 15% of cigarette smoke is actually inhaled by the smoker – the rest ends up in the air exposing people and pets to the dangers of passive smoking. Obviously, pets, including houserabbits, inhale the toxic air. However, they potentially absorb dangerous chemicals through the mouth and gut when they groom themselves because the toxins land on their fur.

There are three main risk issues:

  • Irritation to the airways (and damage to the mechanisms that protect the airways from other problems)
  • Cancers
  • Effects on the heart.

To these we can also add the potential for skin, mouth or gut irritation from residues collecting on the coat. In addition, I am always asked about inhaled allergens in rabbits, and the idea of ‘hay fever’ or asthma occurring, and this article is a good point to discuss it.

Airway effects

Houserabbits with little or no access to fresh air are likely to be at greater risk from effects on the airways and lungs, and associated illness through passive smoking, than outdoor rabbits. This is simply because of limited fresh air. The potent mix of irritant and toxic chemicals in inhaled air full of cigarette smoke can irritate and inflame any part of the respiratory tract from the nose to the furthermost point in the lungs (the alveoli, where oxygen is taken up into the bloodstream). At the nose end, this may cause upsetting but not life-threatening sneezing. At the alveoli end it may seriously affect the rabbit’s ability to take up oxygen and get rid of waste carbon dioxide. And in the middle, it can irritate the airways. This can cause severe difficulty breathing, and can, by damaging the lining of the airways, impair the rabbit’s natural defences against infection. Given the high incidence of bacterial infection in rabbit respiratory tracts, they need all their defences intact!

Photo: R Lamb


Houserabbits with little or no access to fresh air are likely to be at greater risk from effects on the airways

Secondary Pasteurella or other bacteria may cause pneumonia or other bacterial infections. Similar problems occur in hutch rabbits due to irritation to the airways from dusty or resinous bedding and ammonia from their urine. The tiny hairs that help waft mucus and foreign material up and out of the lungs can be killed by tobacco smoke and ammonia. The mucus layer which exists to protect the airways can become thick, less easily moved out, and prone to accumulating, affecting oxygen uptake. These effects are due to the other chemicals present in cigarettes, not the nicotine, and therefore should not be an issue with e-cigarettes. However, the latter often have assorted flavourings and scents present, and those may be potentially irritant. Similar problems may potentially occur with air fresheners, incense, or other environmental contamination. It’s probably worth mentioning that birds are exquisitely sensitive to inhaled chemicals (hence canaries in the coal mine!), and can die rapidly from exposure to a number of household chemicals. Rabbits are not as potentially sensitive to such things.

Effects on the heart and arteries

Photo: S Brough


Smokers need to be made aware that passive smoking is as dangerous to pets as it is to people

One paper (Torok et al, 2000) showed that passive smoking affected the ability of rabbit arteries to relax, which, particularly in conjunction with thickening of arteries, could be fatal. Rabbits with kidney failure may develop stiff, thickened arteries as a result of calcium being laid down in their walls, and the extra effects of the smoke could tip them over the edge. This effect is mainly due to nicotine, as opposed to the assorted other chemicals present, and is therefore an issue in the use of e-cigarettes.


Studies have been carried out in America on birds, dogs and cats where it was found that all three are susceptible to cancers. Rod Straw, a pet oncology (cancer) expert from the University of Queensland, said an earlier study had found that passive smoking could be linked to lung cancer in dogs. “It is interesting that they have found this link and it could be a good impetus for people not to smoke,” he said. Although no specific work has been carried out on rabbits (other than as a laboratory model) passive smoking has been proved to affect birds, dogs and cats and there is no reason why houserabbits should not also suffer the consequences of their owners’ habits. The generally greater life expectancy of large parrots, cats, and some dogs means that rabbits are perhaps at less risk of this, and the main cause of lung cancers in rabbits is the secondary spread from uterine tumours in unneutered females.

Photo: J O’Callaghan


Some rabbits struggle to eat hay due to dental issues, but all rabbits should have ample good quality hay at all times


As Judith Brown said on behalf of the RWAF in 2006, “Smokers need to be made aware that passive smoking is as dangerous to pets as it is to people. By not exposing rabbits to the dangers of passive smoking, owners can insure that they keep vets bills down. Not to mention that it makes for a happier rabbit.” Whilst I can’t better that comment, there is one additional subject that has arisen since 2006, and that is “vaping” or e-cigarettes. Whilst these are possibly better than cigarettes for human health, and their ‘cleaner’ content means that many harmful chemicals are absent from e-cigarettes, they still contain nicotine, which has effects on the heart. In addition, one e-cigarette unit contains the equivalent amount of nicotine to more than a whole packet of traditional cigarettes. This is only a problem if an inquisitive rabbit decides to chew one and ingest some of the liquid, but it would be VERY wise to keep them out of the range of rabbits, as there have been deaths in dogs from this situation.


Whilst on the general topic of respiratory health, we vets often get queries about the possibility of a rabbit having allergic respiratory tract disease: ‘hay fever’ or asthma, for example. This is not impossible, of course, and we see the occasional lower respiratory allergic disease, similar to human or other animal ‘asthma’. Upper respiratory allergic disease appears extremely unusual indeed, and it is far more likely that any problem with nasal discharge or sneezing is due to infection in the nasal cavity/sinuses (although there is some debate about the exact anatomical distinctions here). ‘Hay fever’ is such an unfortunate term, as it can lead to rabbits being inappropriately deprived of hay in the belief that they may react to it badly. Whilst there are some rabbits who struggle to eat hay due to dental issues, there is no other justification for not providing ample, good quality hay at all times. Any problems with hay and the respiratory tract are more likely to be due to moulds and dust present in poor quality hays than to allergies.


Physiol Res. 2000;49(1):135-41.
Passive smoking impairs endothelium-dependent relaxation of isolated rabbit arteries.
Török J,Gvozdjáková A, Kucharská J, Balazovjech I, Kyselá S, Simko F, Gvozdják J.


Introducing a new rabbit after an outbreak of RVHD2

“How long should I leave it before introducing a new rabbit after an outbreak of RHD2”

We are getting asked this question, or a variation of it very regularly. This is a really difficult question to answer, for several reasons.

The science:

Firstly, the virus is incredibly resilient in the environment, at least in ideal experimental conditions eg in organ suspensions held at 4C, where it can survive for greater than 7 months. In less artificial conditions eg cool, not dry, protected from UV light, and in/on organic material, eg carcasses, it has been shown to survive for at least 3 months (as the experiment stopped at that point, it could survive for longer than this). Less optimal conditions, where the virus is cooled but kept dry, give survival times of less than one month.

Another study showed excretion of virus for 2 months in rabbits which recovered from the virus.

As a result, quarantine periods of between a month and 7 months have commonly been suggested before exposing a new rabbit to previously infected or in contact rabbits, or environments where the virus has been shed, and it is difficult to propose a one size fits all exact period of time to guarantee biosecurity without suggesting a potentially significantly excessive duration.

In practice:

We would suggest at least 2 months before bringing a rabbit into contact with the survivors of an outbreak.

We would suggest thorough cleaning and disinfection of any non-porous inanimate objects or surfaces in contact with infected animals, and either disposal of or cleaning following soaking in disinfectant for porous objects. Cleaning of cracks and corners of hutches etc is vital. Anigene and Virkon are both considered suitable for this type of cleaning, but make sure you follow their instructions.

Grass and earth are difficult to disinfect, but exposure to high temperatures and UV light in sunlight should inactivate it within approximately a month (although particular care should be taken if there are microclimates of moist cool conditions with organic material present: faeces, food, hay etc should be removed to allow exposure of the surfaces).

A period of at least 3 months is probably sufficient to eliminate the virus in bodies or protected suitable organic material (eg parts of bodies) in all but experimentally perfect conditions, and so a widely used period of 4 months is understandable.

However, this needs to be balanced against the welfare issues of sole or unsuitably housed rabbits, and the risk can be reduced (although never to zero, as no vaccine is 100% protective) by vaccination with a suitable RHD2 vaccine.


It is impossible to give a reply that is suitable for everyone and you should discuss your own situation with your vet. However, our general advice is:
Make sure all rabbits are vaccinated against RVHD2

Thorughly clean the area

Wait at least 2 months before introducing another (vaccinated) rabbit


One of the biggest dangers of the summer for rabbits is flystrike.

Generally we think of it happening when rabbits have dirty bottoms, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Blowflies (bluebottles and greenbottles) can lay their eggs anywhere on a rabbit’s body. The eggs are tiny and hard to spot and they are laid deep in the fur so that makes it even trickier! Owners should examine their rabbits at least once a day, especially in warm weather.

The flies will lay eggs anywhere they smell blood or dirt, so wounds are a target, but dirty or wet bottoms are the usual place to find the problem. Rabbits with a poor diet, that are overweight or have mobility problems are most often at risk. .

What you need to do

  • Check your rabbits daily throughout the year and twice daily in warm weather.
  • Check your rabbits’ diet is high in fibre and low in carbohydrates. This means the main food should be hay or grass and they should eat about their own size in this every day. They should also get a small amount of leafy greens and an eggcup full per rabbit per day of nuggets.
  • If any of your rabbits are overweight their health is in danger for many reasons and flystrike is one of these, so talk to your vet about a healthy diet so that your rabbits can lose weight.
  • If any of your rabbits seem to be having problems with movement see your vet. There are medicines that can be given that will help them to be more mobile and better able to keep themselves clean
  • Clean out your rabbits’ home every day. Remove wet or dirty bedding and replace it with fresh. Once a week give your rabbits’ home a really thorough clean and disinfect. Dry it thoroughly before refilling with clean bedding
  • If your rabbits are at risk then treat them with Rearguard. This is applied to your rabbit’s body every couple of months. It inhibits the development of maggots from fly eggs. Insect repellents/insecticides containing Permethrins can be used, to deter and kill flies, but always take your vet’s advice on such treatments, to avoid using those which contain Fipronil, which is toxic to rabbits You can’t rely on this alone, you still need to check your rabbits daily.
  • Look into planting things that repel flies around your rabbits’ hutch and run.
  • Buy a mosquito net from a camping shop and drape that over your rabbits’ hutch and run.

Indoor rabbits are at risk too, so don’t be complacent.

What to do if your rabbit has fly eggs or maggots

This is an emergency your rabbit needs to see the vet immediately, evening, weekend, holiday, it doesn’t matter, you cannot wait

Don’t wash your rabbit. Your vet will need to clip the fur and wet fur is almost impossible to clip.
Pick off any maggots you can see but don’t let that delay you getting your rabbit to your vet.
If you’re very lucky and treatment takes place in time it’s possible your rabbit may be saved, but unfortunately in some cases it’s kinder to let them go. Take your vet’s advice on this

Remember, prevention is always better than cure

Brachy breeds – not just dogs! Rabbits too.

We see a range of common problems in rabbits which have been bred for shorter, “cuter” faces, such as the Netherland Dwarf and Lionhead, due to the shortening of the upper jaw relative to the lower, giving a slightly undershot appearance. In rabbits, with their continuously growing teeth, which need to grind against their opposing number to maintain their length and shape, the consequences are more severe than in dogs. The front teeth grow in an uncontrolled fashion, jutting out of the mouth, and preventing them from eating. And their roots become elongated and distorted at the same time, causing problems below the gum line, such as blocking the nasolachrimal duct. That short top jaw means that this duct, the tube carrying tears from the eye to the back of the nose, is already tortuous and easily blocked. This is one of the reasons (along with the effects of front tooth dental disease), why rabbits may have tears or even pus overflowing from their eyes, an unpleasant and potentially painful condition. The effective “crowding” of the back teeth inside the mouth may also be a factor in the huge number of rabbits which go on to develop dental disease there.

2 new signings to the retailer charter – please welcome them and support them if you can. Handmade-Hutches-4u Please welcome Handmade- Hutches-4U to the retailer charter. This is what Beverley told us: Rabbits need to be able to have plenty enough room to be able to exercise, play, sleep, relax and go to the toilet but most of all they need to be able to feel safe. Rabbits need to be able to rest, sleep, eat and drink in comfort. Exercise, play and feel safe. Shelter from all types of bad weather and the hot sun too. Having a good size Hutch and run and having lots of love and time for your rabbits is the first stage on making a suitable health happy environment for your Rabbit. We support ‘A Hutch is not enough’ campaign because their priority is to make sure rabbits are treated the same as their owners would expect to be treated. Afterall a human would not like to be left in a small box and just thrown food and drink once a day so why should rabbits and every other animal too be treated like that. Beverley Lees They can make anything bespoke so get in touch if you have something in mind! They are based in York and can only offer local delivery at present. Manor Pet Housing

The latest signing is Manor Pet Housing, who offer a range of delightful hide outs and enrichment items. There is sure to be something that you love! This is what Liz told us: Manor pet housing specialise in bespoke craftsmanship to create good quality products that are built to last as pet homes. We have many of our own designs, but are also happy to work with you to create an exact made to measure home/setup/enclosure to fit into the space you have. We currently do not keep rabbits ourselves, however when I was a child I was guilty to owning a rabbit that was kept in just a hutch!……. If only I knew then what I know now, that rabbits life, could have been so If only I knew then what I know now, that rabbits life, could have been so much more!! With that in mind we are now building these rabbit hideouts and enrichments to help you as rabbit owners create a more suitable environment for your pet, one that promotes the rabbit to have the ability to perform natural movements such as hopping, jumping and stretching out, foraging behaviours such as digging, and places to hide from things that scare them. We want to work with existing owners, perspective owners and the RWAF organisation to increase awareness that rabbit welfare is extremely important. To be able to educate people that if you do not fully research a rabbits requirements they will be indirectly causing pain, suffering, injury and disease through poor husbandry skills and lack of knowledge. Rabbits are intelligent animals, therefore if allowed to get bored and lonely with nothing to do, their health will suffer. That is simply the reason as to why Manor Pet Housing chooses to support ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough Campaign’ A website is coming, but in the mean time please check out their facebook page!

Time to Make Your Rabbit Resolutions!

We can all be a bit critical of New Year’s resolutions but some do stick, so here are some resolutions for anyone who wants to help pet rabbits – amongst the most neglected and misunderstood pets. Please take a look at the below and make some rabbit resolutions! And yes, some resolutions do only last a month, so we’ve included some January specific ideas too! Please share! 1. Order a ‘Hop To It’ booklet and give it to someone you know who has a bunny, they could use some extra advice and information. 2. Raise money for the RWAF’s “A Hutch is Not Enough” campaign at no cost to you by using Give as You Live when you shop on-line. Or use Easy Fundraising, which does exactly the same thing: Or The Giving Machine: 3. Adopt a bunny! If you have a single rabbit then think about adopting another. Sociability is a huge part of a rabbit’s make-up so every bunny needs some bunny to love. Rescues have been inundated this winter and most are full and not able to help any more. Please check out or to find a rescue local to you, and talk to them about adopting a friend for your bun. 4. If you can not adopt, then you can support your local rescue by offering to help clean out, or donate hay and food. 5. Spread the word – during January please pledge to share one of our posters or messages every week. Help us educate lots of other rabbit owners about good diet, housing, companionship and health issues because sadly, many owners don’t know what their rabbits need to live happy and healthy lives. Please share this post for starters and keep an eye out for future postings and get busy with that share button! If and when we share a poster, please print it off and ask a local pet shop, garden centre, school or place of work to display it. 6. Change your cover photo to our ‘A Hutch is Not Enough’ image (attached to this posting) for a month. 7. Order one of our “A Hutch is Not Enough” car stickers for only £2 and help spread the word! If you don’t have a car then any window will do! 8. Look for the leaping bunny logo: and make sure any cosmetics and household products you buy are not tested on bunnies (or any other animals). M&S, Superdrug, Co-op, Sainsbury and Barry M are among the brands that all offer cruelty free options. 9. If you are not already a member then please join us! You will love Rabbiting On Magazine. We do our best to keep our members up to date on the latest health, behaviour and welfare issues and use recognised experts, so you can trust us. And of course there are plenty of pictures of our favourite pets too! Why not check out our Winter issue, which has been our most popular yet: Or Join up on a subscription and get all 4 issues as they come out each year. Please note these links are for UK delivery only, for outside of the UK please contact us at 10. Last but by no means not least – please remember to always give your bunnies the lives they deserve. They need plenty of space, the right diet, companionship, health checks and an enriching environment to allow them to display their natural behaviours. Let them be rabbits! Thank you everybody, have a fantastic new year!

Think Run!

Think Run! Sadly, we’re close to the last knockings of summer and before we know it, the winter months will be upon us For pet rabbits that are kept in a hutch with no attached running enclosure, that’s when their exercise time goes down to virtually zero. The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) are the UK’s largest charity with the sole aim of improving the health and welfare of domestic rabbits, a pet that all too often are kept in conditions that fall well short of the needs of the species. They are advising rabbit owners to take advantage of the few remaining weeks of summer to attach a permanent exercise run to their rabbits’ hutch in time for the weather to turn. “In the summer, owners will often lift their rabbits from the hutch to the run, or give them supervised exercise time in a walled garden,” said Richard Saunders, Expert Veterinary Advisor to the RWAF, “even this isn’t ideal because the time is still limited to well below their natural requirement, but in the winter it is a great deal worse because owners don’t want to put their rabbits out into the rain or snow.” As the charity points out in its literature and on its website, Rabbits keep different hours to humans so shouldn’t be reliant on their owners to be lifted from their hutch into the run, and they should be able exercise in all weathers. Having a hutch inside or connected to a large secure enclosure is vital to allow them to display their natural behaviours. The exercise area should be at least partially covered with tarpaulin which is inexpensive from garden centres and DIY stores. There has been a recent increase in the availability of better quality products that meet rabbits’ needs and it is now much easier for people to get hold of 6 foot hutches and large exercise runs. The RWAF recommend a minimum floor space of 10ft x 6ft for a pair of rabbits (rabbits should be kept in netuered pairs or compatible groups). The RWAF urges owners to use their imagination when providing accommodation for their rabbits. As Richard Saunders explained, “There are several manufacturers that stock good quality runs that fall short of the minimum recommended size but that doesn’t mean they can’t be combined to double the space!” Check out for more information about the importance of an attached exercise area for your rabbits.

To burr or not to burr? When is a dental required?

We have been contacted by several people regarding something very interesting they have read on another page so here are our thoughts on dental issues in rabbits: 1) Incisor teeth should always be burred and not clipped. Clipping causes further damage to the tooth roots and should be avoided. It is also painful and should not ever be attempted as a DIY measure at home. We consider this to be barbaric. 2) Have regular dental checks with a rabbit savvy vet. (Don’t forget we hold a rabbit friendly vet list e-mail us at 3) Weigh your rabbits at home every week. 4) If your rabbits are eating normally, not loosing weight, not slobbering, , and have no abscesses that you can feel along the jaw then there is generally no need for the rabbit to under go a dental. The main reasons for a rabbit to require a dental are: A) A molar spur or significantly elongated molar tooth which is pressing in to the tongue or cheek and causing discomfort,change in food preference, ie avoiding hard foods, loss of appetite, slobbering. B) Misaligned teeth are sadly very common, and very few rabbit mouths will look good under inspection, however this does not mean that a dental is required. If in doubt, then have a check the following week or so to make sure that the problem has not worsened and that weight has been maintained. C) Abscesses or bone infection developing around teeth. This may not be detected with the naked eye, and is one reason why your vet may recommend xrays of your rabbit’s skull