Rabbits are prey animals, and often kept outside, and so its worth seeing what you can do to prevent stress, fear and worse occurring as a result of thunder and lightning during storms, as well as fireworks and other loud noises etc. Their behaviour is often to huddle up and get through it, without drawing attention to themselves, rather than the way dogs tend to respond by showing overt fear and excitement, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t scared.
Options to reduce stress may include:
1. Bringing them inside into the house or at least a shed, the thicker and more sound insulated, the better. This may or may not be a possibility, and it may be more dangerous to them to radically change their environmental temperature by bringing them in, and more unsettling to them to change their environment.
2. Providing as much sound deadening insulation as possible, such as lots of straw and hay to burrow into.
3. Providing boxes within their enclosure to hide in, particularly those with more than one exit, to give them the feeling of having escape options
4. Pre-emptively habittuating them to scary noises. However, both summer and winter storms occur, and fireworks may be let off all year round, making this tricky. Starting with low volume noises, reassuring them throughout, and building the volume up MIGHT reduce the eventual stress, but at the cost of some stress during the desensitisation process, which must therefore be gradual, and be kept below the fear threshold throughout.
5. Inhaled anti-stress products. Pet Remedy may be helpful in reducing stress, although more work is needed.
6. Medications to reduce stress may be used on the advice of your vet, should your rabbits respond badly to stressful storms etc.
7. Having companion rabbits to huddle up to, another reason why it is always best to keep rabbits in social groupings.
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
Here at RWAF we are often asked our opinion on things like harnesses, clothes for rabbits and this week taking rabbits out in pushchairs!
It is impossible to cover every eventuality that owners might think up for their pet rabbits, but to try and cover as many as possible we would say that rabbits should be neutered and vaccinated, fed a hay based diet, and kept in compatible pairs and with 24/7 access to a large safe exercise area with a shelter. We recommend a minimum area of 3mx 2m x 2m high for two average sized rabbits, regardless of them being kept inside or outside. Supervised free range time in a safe garden or bunny proofed areas of the house are good in addition to this but should not be instead of.
There is no benefit at all to a rabbit, as a prey animal, to be dressed up in clothes, to wear a harness, to be pushed in a push chair, or taken on an unnecessary car ride at all, in fact they can be detrimental to their welfare by causing them stress, so we do not approve of these things.
There are so many considerations. Rescue work can be an emotional roller-coaster of highs and lows – our helpful thoughts list may help you decide if running a rescue is right for you.
Time & Emotional Support
It’s important to understand that the Rescue is “YOU” – even with reliable volunteers the “buck” really does stop with you.
There may be times when you feel completely alone with the burden that running a rescue can bring and emotional burnout is sadly common in rescue work.
It really is essential you have the time to devote and support from family and volunteers as it can be easy to underestimate the impact rescue work can have on your life quality and all those around you. Even when the best outcome comes along of re-homing a rabbit to a new home, there is a wealth of work involved such as home checks and support for the new owners which very often goes on beyond the initial rabbit re-homing.
Consider a disaster recovery plan – what would happen if you were suddenly taken away from the rescue for any reason – do you have family or reliable volunteers you could call on for help to feed and medicate in your absence.
The requirement to multi-skill whilst keeping emotions in check in highly challenging situations can be very hard and emotially draining. Take some time to think about areas you may need extra help with, are you comfortable training
volunteers? Can you delegate tasks easily? Can you give direction? Can you give emotional support to those giving up their pets? Can you make the decision to put an animal to sleep if needed? Can you be non-judgemental?
When finances are tight, can you choose between financing expensive treatments for an animal with a chronic condition or offering a rescue place to a healthy one?
Are you going to provide additional services such as bonding, boarding, education?
A well thought-out plan will help to increase the chance of success for your rescue. In offering these services it will be necessary to have strong administrative skills or someone to do this for you in creating supportive documents such as boarding contracts, general education and advice literature.
Do you have access to a neutral bonding area and time for additional ongoing support which is very often required for both successful and unsuccessful rabbit bondings.
Finances and funding require thought and planning.
The list of expenditure is endless. Essentials such as adequate welfare housing, food, regular vaccinations & general veterinary care, Insurances are just the starting point of escalating costs involved in running a rescue.
Investigate how you might manage fundraising – it’s unlikely you will have the time to do this yourself – are you able to have a responsible, trustworthy person to manage this on your behalf.
Local Planning Permissions may apply depending on your rescue location. Also keep in mind that neighbour disputes & complaints can arise from increased car parking, aviary sheds/hutches. Local Authorities have power of closure. Unfortunately should this happen the animals can then become an increased pressure in attempting to find alternative rescue placements.
Investigate your nearest rabbit savvy vets. Arrange a visit to establish their services. It may be worth researching nearest specialist referral vets in case more challenging vet care is needed. Talk to your vets about their payment policy – is it pay as you go or are account facilities available.
With increasing outbreaks of rabbit viruses it will be essential to have a biohazard plan in place. Consider how you would implement this if the worst happens.
What is your rescue policy regarding boarding rabbits and quarantine areas for new arrival rescue rabbits?
A waste management licence is normally required for regular tipping of rabbit waste and you may need to invest in a dedicated laundry area for washing of bedding for special needs rabbits and reduce cross contamination of disease.
Know your Limits
You will need the emotional strength to be able say “No room at the Rabbit Inn”
It’s very hard to try not to see yourself as the only solution and continue to take in rabbits regardless of the impact on your finances and resources as well as the impact on rabbits already in your care. Do not wait until you are in a crisis situation to ask for help.
Utilise social community to get to know other rescues where you can share information and offer each other support. Social communities can also be a great way of keeping up to date with news, changes to legislation, veterinary/medical information.
Rescues are always in need of dedicated volunteers – why not try some regular volunteer work, it’s a great way to learn about all the highs and lows of rescue work and how much of a committed lifestyle is required in running a rescue. You wlll also have access to a wealth of experience and guidance to help you in your decision of running a rescue.
Although the RWAF is not a rescue, at times we are made aware of a situation that we cannot ignore. Last month we were involved in such a situation in Scotland which involved the closure of a large commercial breeding facility. We worked closely with all involved and were able to get the remaining 37 rabbits to safety. They were mainly mums and babies.
As always a successful rescue relies on team work, so a huge thanks goes to the brilliant team at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Hospital for Small Animals exotics team. Special thanks going to vets Jenna Richardson and Kevin Eatwell for allowing us to fill their wards and for health checking all of the rabbits and starting them off on a vaccination and neutering programme.
Huge thanks also to the incredible volunteers we rallied locally who offered short term foster homes to acclimatise the rabbits to love and comfort and to the rescues that have offered them spaces, in particular our friends at Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care who took a whopping 13 rabbits for us.
RWAF are funding all the health checking, treatments, vaccinating and neutering cost of all the rabbits and so we are asking for your help!
If you can donate anything at all to help with these costs we would be very grateful.
Please tick for Gift Aid too if you are eligible. Both fundraising sites will process it and it adds a further 25% to your donation from HMRC at no extra cost to you
We expect this rescue to cost into the thousands, however if there are any surplus funds from this fundraiser over and above our costs, we will add it to our campaign funds which you can read about here https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/campaigns/
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.
With the heat wave continuing, please remember any outdoor rabbits. Here is some advice from Richard Saunders BSc(Hons) BVSc MSB CBiol DZooMed (Mammalian) MRCVS
RCVS Specialist in Zoo And Wild Animal Medicine
Offer a water bowl so that they can get a better drink; they will drink more efficiently and faster this way, and that’s important in the heat. Cool water will help to cool them down a bit. Don’t chill the water, but make sure it’s not boiling in the sun
Do not give your rabbits to ice cubes as they can cause problems with their digestion system.
Sun tan lotion is a no. They are likely to lick it off, and we have yet to see a rabbit with ear skin cancer. Instead, make sure you offer them plenty of shade, but if you are draping something over a run, make sure the air can circulate. Use of a battery operated fan on runs or enclosures can help.
Frozen water bottles or cool pods are helpful. ,
No need to change diet at all just, to stick to usual diet and make sure they drink lots by following the tips above.
Access to a safe shady exercise area 24/7 is even more important in this heat as they will want to exercise when it cools down am and pm.
If you’re on Pinterest please help discourage people from posting pins of trancing. We’ve been notified today that there’s a growing number of pins there from people who genuinely believe it’s okay which we as knowledgeable owners know it isn’t.
We’ve posted our Trancing posters on our own Health and Welfare board today with very clear messages, so if you’re a Pinteresteer (just made that up, you can probably tell!) please share our pins to help people understand that it’s a major welfare concern.
Please everybody share this poster and message in your emails and on social media, and on any rabbit or pet group you might be on.
Rabbits need vaccination every year to protect them against RVHD2 as well as against Myxomatosis and RVHD1. Unfortunately that can’t be given in one jab. There are two. For Myxi/RVHD1 they need the Nobivac combined jab and then for RVHD2 there is a choice of either Filavac or Eravac. There should be at least 2 weeks between the jabs.