Most of us humans cant wait for the weather to brighten up and bask in the glow of Mr Sunshine. However, imagine doing that whilst wearing a fur coat and not being able to cool down via sweating…doesn’t sound like much fun does it?
Rabbits can easily suffer from heatstroke and this can be fatal. Ideally they need to be kept in an area with a constant temperature of between 10 – 20 degrees celcius (50 – 68 degrees Fahrenheit). They do not cope well with sudden temperature changes and anything above 22 degrees celcius can cause heatstroke.
It is highly recommended that all owners purchase a thermometer that records the maximum and minimum temperatures. Place this in the rabbits main living / sleeping area (make sure its up high safely away from inquisitive bunny teeth!) and check it throughout the day. You will soon see that hutches and closed in areas become significantly hotter than the outside air.
Hutch temperatures can become dangerously high and one recent study shows that they can easily reach highs of 40 degrees celcius within just a few hours – this is like cooking your rabbit 🙁 It can even become far too hot for them when they are in the shade or on a cloudy day.
PLEASE SEEK VETERINARY ADVICE URGENTLY IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR RABBIT IS SUFFERING FROM HEATSTROKE.
Its vital that you understand the signs of distress and heatstroke in rabbits as this is an emergency condition that needs veterinary attention. If your rabbit seems lethargic, off food, is panting, wobbly when moving, dribbling or generally acting weird then CALL THE VETS! Warmer weather also brings a higher risk of Flystrike so make sure you are extra vigilant about checking your bunnies bottoms and cleaning out the enclosure more than usual.
There are quite a few ways of making sure your rabbits (and guinea pigs) stay nice and cool in warmer weather (see the poster for some top tips). The MOST important is that their whole area is in complete shade and that they have constant access to their run from their hutch / shed / cage etc. This allows them to move around and seek out cooler areas. It also allows much better ventilation of their living space.
Icepods made by Scratch and Newton are fab and provide a nice, safe way of keeping small furries cool. Simply pop them in the freezer overnight and then wrap in a tea towel. Place inside the bunnies area and it will release cold air around it. The bunnies dont tend to lay on it directly, but it helps keep the temperature a little lower in that area. You can achieve the same effect by 3/4 filling a large bottle with water and freezing. This still needs wrapping in a tea towel (to prevent any frost burns) but will defrost a lot quicker than the icepods. It is also more of a chew risk once thawed.
You can also get specialist cage fans that are battery operated and can really help keep the air flowing through the enclosure. They can be used indoors and outdoors and just need something to hang on. Never point these directly at the rabbit if it has no way of getting away from it. many rabbits will choose to come and sit in front of it for some time if they feel hot. Never place cooling items in front of, or pointing at their food, hay or water as this could prevent them wanting to eat and drink.
It is not recommended to freeze fruit or veg and feed as it is thought that the very cold temperatures of this can upset the gut by causing a mild tummy ache that in turn, can lead to stasis.
Marble / granite & Glass ceramic tiles can be placed inside the rabbits enclosures (make sure there are no sharp edges) as these stay cool for some time and the bunnies can lay on them. These can also be popped in the freezer for a couple of hours before use for an extra blast of coldness (no longer though as they may crack). And an old towel can be misted with water and frozen for another chill out mat.
Be sure to offer more water sources than usual and try to offer a water bowl as well as a bottle. Rabbits often prefer to drink from a bowl and bottles can leak / break / get stuck and then the rabbit is denied access to vital water. Always offer more than one water source as a back up and refresh twice a day.
A covered pop up tent filled with children’s play sand or untreated top soil makes a great cool area for them to dig in. make sure they are fully supervised at all times when using this & do not give them any chew toys or scattered food to avoid the risk of ingesting the sand / soil. Also make sure you check the bunny thoroughly once the playtime is over and remove all traces of sand / soil from the underside of the rabbit including genitals.
For more tips on keeping bunnies cool, check out the following website links:
Owners, rescues and companies can help share welfare posters from reputable organisations via social media and hold awareness events.
and everyone can take a few minutes to report any potential welfare problems to pet stores, zoo’s, farms and shops that they may come across (by informing the companies manager, head office, via their social media or if more serious, by reporting to the RSPCA, Trading Standards and the Local Council).
So lets come together to make this the best RAW yet AND continue to share good, factual rabbit advice all year long.
I have previously written about the fact that good, rabbit savvy vets can be very hard to find (see here) So now I’m going to focus on a new company that has been formed to bridge the knowledge gap.
LagoLearn Ltd is unique because it is currently the only company that focuses on rabbit only training. They provide a range of teaching events that are suitable for all student and qualified veterinary professionals including animal support staff (ANA’s and VCA’s) who often get overlooked and are not allowed to attend some training because they are not a vet or a nurse. LagoLearn know how important it is for all practice staff to be aware of rabbits welfare and care needs so are happy to welcome them to their training days.
All of the teaching is carried out by experts in their field. Dr Ivan Crotaz BVetMed is one of the company directors and teachers. He has a special interest in anaesthesia, airway management and surgery and is an accomplished teacher having provided lectures throughout the UK, Europe and the USA. A selection of well known rabbit specialist vets and nurses will also be lecturing at some of the events along with other expert individuals.
Rabbit Roundup CPD on 13th Oct at Easthampstead Park, Berkshire
The day course format consists of main lectures and small group teaching where delegates are split into vet and nurse groups to work through case studies, problem solving and practical skills that are most relevant to their job. Topics covered will include anaesthesia, surgery, dentistry, husbandry, nurse clinics and making your practice more rabbit friendly and much more!
These events will be running throughout the UK and also Internationally too. The next event is on the 13th Oct 2016 at the beautiful Easthampstead Park. It is one of the ‘Rabbit Roundup’ events that provide a useful overview of the most common issued faced by general practice vets and how to treat them. This day also has a special lecture that highlights the current RVHD2 crisis. See here for more information about this course.
LagoLearn are sponsored by Supreme Petfoods and are proud to be working with them as they both share a passion for improving rabbit welfare. They are the only company to currently provide a range of ethically sourced extruded and monoforage rabbit feeds that have the highest percentage of crude fibre available (Science Selective Adult contains 25%, Fibafirst contains <30% and the VetCare Plus products range from 28% to 34%) and no added sugar.
So make sure to mention LagoLearn to your vets and get them to sign up to their mailing list by emailing [email protected] as well as following them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and even YouTube! Feel free to also send them photos of your happy healthy bunnies and use the hashtags #lagolearn and #rabbitcpd
This article will provide a concise overview of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Viral Disease, its characteristics, locations, testing methods and some of the preventative steps that can be taken.
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 is a type of Calicivirus, has been in Europe for many decades or even centuries and affects both wild and domestic rabbits. There are a few different pathogenic strains of the virus but until recently, RVHD1 was thought to be the only type in the UK.
RVHD2 differs in a few key ways as it is unaffected by age and has a longer illness phase with different clinical symptoms. It is also thought to have a lower mortality rate. Little research has been done on RVHD2 and it is highly likely that cases are under reported.
Both viruses are potentially very easily spread and can live in the environment for a long time (RVHD2 up to 200 days in laboratory conditions) Insects, wildlife and scavengers can spread it as well as direct contact with an infected rabbit. Fomites such as bedding, wild plants, shoes and clothing can also carry the virus to new areas. It is currently unknown if biting insects can spread RVHD2.
Due to it being so easily transported, the spread of RVHD can be very quick and strict biosecurity is recommended as well as vaccination.
The current UK vaccine, Nobivac Myxo-RHD offers protection against RVHD1 but is unlikely to offer any for RVHD2 as this virus is antigenically and genetically different from RVHD1. It is recommended that a second vaccination be given to cover RVHD2 and there are a few options:
Eravac has been licensed in the UK for use in ‘fattening’ rabbits. This is an oil based drug with no research showing the possible long term effects and there is currently no recommended vaccination schedule.
Cunivak RHD is currently out of stock and Cunipravac can be ordered via a special import certificate however it is only available in large multi dose bottles.
Filavac RHD K C+Vis available to order from most UK wholesalers and is administered annually or 6 monthly (if considered to be a high risk patient or area). It is vital that the rabbits are still vaccinated with the Nobivac Myxo-RHD as the Filavac vaccine does not give any protection against myxomatosis, however standard immunology advice is to leave at least a 2 week gap between the different vaccinations.
It is important to research all options and discuss with your vet / client. The safety and efficacy of using any other vaccine alongside the Nobivac Myxo RHD has not been studied.
It is not recommended to carry out en-mass vaccination clinics as this could potentially increase the risk of disease spread due to the way RVHD is transmitted.
Testing and Reporting
Its important to consider RVHD2 as a differential diagnosis when dealing with a sick rabbit that doesnt seem to respond to treatment and no obvious reason for the illness is found. PCR testing is now available for live rabbits via the Batt Laboratories in Coventry. For sudden deaths, post mortem liver samples can also be sent here or to the Moredun Research Institute.
Wherever possible, please send samples to either laboratory via the methods outlined on their websites. Please also consider reporting all suspicious deaths to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund as their Veterinary Advisor is monitoring the spread of this disease.
Good husbandry is paramount and sick rabbits should be barrier nursed. Enhanced cleaning, disinfection and quarantine protocols can be implemented in practice and with owners. Anigene HLD4V is a veterinary grade product that is believed to be effective against RVHD when used at a concentration of 1:50 for soiled conditions.
It is vital to be aware of the risks associated with attending events such as rabbit shows, petting zoos and even rescues. Environmental insect controls should also be in place as it is still unknown if RVHD2 can be spread via insects. Care should also be taken when considering feeding handpicked wild plants.
Keeping Up To Date
There is a great group on Facebook where people can report suspected and confirmed cases of RVHD1 & RVHD2. This links to a UK map and it also holds a wealth of information and support – I recommend everyone to join.
Be wary of other reports and anecdotal stories doing the rounds as they may not be factually accurate. Also, please contact your own vet asap so they are fully aware of the new RVHD2 strain and that they are stocking and advertising the new vaccine to help fight this. We need owners to insist all their vets order in the vaccine to get as many rabbits as possible protected against this fatal disease.
Please know how to keep your rabbits safe and spread the word!
Widely promoted as ‘the UK’s biggest small animal show’, the Burgess Premier Small Animal show has been held in Harrogate since 1921. It is a meet up for breeders of rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, chinchillas and more who enjoy showing the best of their stock and hope to come away as winners. As my expertise is in rabbits – this will be the species I focus on here. The Guardian has posted an interesting article on the most recent 2016 show.
BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
Rabbit handling at the 2007 Excel show in Harrogate. CC:BY-NC-ND.
Photos from the event and those from previous events (see above), show some common handling techniques used at shows. For example, rabbits being held on their backs. This is called ‘trancing’ or ‘tonic immobility’. This has been proven to be very stressful for rabbits (as well as increasing the risk of a back injury). As they are prey species, this is an auto response they enter when tipped over. See here for more info on trancing. Many people use this method of handling for checking, grooming and judging rabbits and many refuse to change their ways and disregard the scientific facts. Many top organizations and specialists do not agree with trancing, including The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) who are the UK’s largest organization dealing with domestic rabbit welfare.
The British Rabbit Council (BRC) are the UK governing body for fur and fancy rabbits. When previously questioned about trancing, they were adamant that this was NOT a part of their routine handling – yet it seems, this happens all too often AND at BRC approved events by BRC approved judges.
Also some of these photos show that the judge is grasping the ears as part of the support / restraint. This method can easily cause damage and pain to the rabbit and is not recommended as a standard form of acceptable and safe handling.
BUT SURELY THE ENCLOSURES ARE OK?
Example of show cages in 2007
Sadly not – as you can see they are tiny, one rabbit per cage, wood shavings for bedding, some don’t even have food and / or hay (hay and fresh water should be available to a rabbit 24/7). Thankfully no cages were observed that did not have a water available. Each rabbit can be stuck in these cages for many hours, some will spend the entire day there. Surely this doesn’t meet the Five Freedoms welfare standards? Is this even legal if you consider the Animal Welfare Act 2006?
Wire floor show cage
The photo above (taken by me in 2007) shows the types of cages that the long haired rabbits have to sit in. They have wire bottoms as clearly shown in the picture. Wire floors are not recommended by welfare organizations and rabbit specialists as they can cause pain and damage to the feet. See this RSPCA factsheet for more information on rabbit accommodation.
Next question… where do they stay overnight? That’s another thing I urge you to ask the show organizers. At this particular event a message was shared publicly to the exhibitors explaining that the animals would have to spend the whole of the first evening in their travel boxes as the venue was not safe due to weather problems. Yes the weather is not under anyone’s control, but is it fair to keep an animal in a traveling box overnight? What size are these boxes and where were they placed? When staying at a secure venue with no weather problems, where do the rabbits spend the night – in these show cages? or somewhere else.
Many of the rabbits that do have food in with them, are being fed on a muesli diet – again this has been scientifically proven to contribute to dental and digestive problems. If these people care SO much about their live stock – why are they not adhering to basic welfare guidelines and following the most up to date veterinary advice?
The RWAF state that rabbits should live in bonded, neutered pairs, be fed on a good quality diet (not muesli style mixes) and be housed in spacious accommodation that allows at least 3 full hops in any direction. Clearly – show accommodation is NOT adhering to any of these guidelines. What message is this sending the general public who flock to this event? Charities and veterinary professionals work tirelessly to promote good husbandry, handling and welfare – then for a bit of fun and entertainment (for the humans not the animals), these animal shows can do untold damage to the welfare messages in just a few hours.
WHAT ABOUT DISEASE RISKS?
Some diseases are very easily spread between rabbits and other small animals. I’m focusing on one – Viral Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). This is a rapid and often fatal disease that is easily spread from rabbit to rabbit and from human to rabbit too. It has also recently mutated into a second strain that is currently not routinely vaccinated against in the UK. The disease can live in the environment for many weeks and is easily spread on shoes, car tyres, clothes, hands etc. The following statement is displayed on the BRC’s own website with regards to RVHD:
“Clothes should be changed between handling rabbits from different places. Newly arrived rabbits should be quarantined for at least a week before mixing with others, and different clothing worn between established and new groups of rabbits.”
So – take a look at the image of the rabbit show cages again… These rabbits are side by side, above and below many other rabbits from other breeders. The judges wear their ‘coats’ for the whole show and do not change them in-between each rabbit. The judging tables have tablecloths on that are not changed between each rabbit. Do the judges wear gloves? Oh and the public have full access in and out the building, can get right up to the show cages and touch them too. Final question: Why are there no apparent disease risk controls in place?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
I advise anyone who agrees that these types of shows DO NOT promote animal welfare, to contact the companies involved. Burgess are the main sponsor and the BRC are heavily involved.
Thankfully I have seen that Burgess have responded to a tweet today and are “reviewing their involvement with the show” (EDIT: and have WITHDRAWN their support for the show. PLEASE contact Burgess to thank them for putting welfare first).
Please do consider contacting Burgess, the show and the BRC directly (via email, Facebook, Twitter, letter etc) to see if you can get answers to some of the questions raised and show your displeasure with the event.
Finally a thank you AGAIN to Burgess for putting welfare first.
RVHD and Myxomatosis are diseases found throughout the UK and can be fatal to un-vaccinated rabbits. Both outdoor AND indoor rabbits are at risk. RVHD in particular is highly infectious and contagious. It is an air borne virus that can be spread by direct and indirect contact with infected rabbits, food bowls, hutches and even the soles of your shoes. For example – if you, your dog or cat has walked on ground where a VHD infected rabbit has been, you can carry it on your clothes or shoes, your other pets can carry it on fur or feet. The virus can survive in the environment for a long time and can survive cold temperatures far better than you might expect.
“As you may know, over the past year there has been an increasing concern regarding RVHD “new variant 2” becoming a cause of deaths in several outbreaks in the UK. Whilst it has been noted in the UK in research papers (Westcott and Choudhury) for at least 2 years, it has clearly become a significant clinical entity in the past few months.
We (RWAF) have now successfully established an SIC (Special Import Certificate) for a suitable EU member state vaccine, Cunivak RHD, and placed an order for a small number of vaccines to establish an ordering system into the UK.
Vets can order their own supplies from VMD. If they require any further information, they should contact the RWAF at [email protected] and we will pass on any veterinary queries to our vet, Mr Saunders, but they should be aware that he may be dealing with a high volume of email. A more detailed explanation of the above should be available in Vet Times and Vet Record soon.”
What This Means For Owners.
Firstly – please note that NO emails from owners about this topic will be passed to Dr Saunders. he will be dealing with Vet emails only due to the high volume of contact.
So for owners – this means you will need to ask your vets to order in the new vaccine which will take a few weeks for them to sort out. The new Cunivak vaccine is NOT a replacement for the current combo vaccine and will need to be given AS WELL AS the Nobivak one. Its important to note that these vaccines CANNOT be given at the same time and need at least a 2 week gap between them.
In total, your rabbit will now require 2 vaccinations (comprising of 3 injections) per year:
1) Nobivak combo – Just one injection covers them for myxomatosis and RHVD1.
2) Cunivak RHVD – 2 injections 3 weeks apart. This covers them against RHVD2.
You need to leave AT LEAST 2 weeks gap between the different types of vaccines. If you can manage to schedule it so that there is a gap of 4-6 months between vaccines then this would mean your rabbit would have a veterinary health check up approx every 6 months. BUT you don’t HAVE to work to this schedule, just make sure there is at least 2 weeks between vaccines.
Please contact your vets and ask them to start the process of ordering in the new Cunivak RHD vaccine. Most vets will not be aware that they can do this as the information has only just been released. But the quicker you contact them, the quicker they can get up to speed and get the vaccines in stock. If your vets are unsure, please advise them to email [email protected] for more info. As per the RWAF first alert above, this information will be released in veterinary publications in the coming weeks.
If your rabbit is vaccinated with the Nobivac combi vaccine AND the Cunivak vaccine, they will have been vaccinated against Myxo, RHVD1 and RHVD2. As always, no vaccination is 100% effective and it does not mean your pet will not contract the disease. However, it does mean they have a chance to be treated and survive these normally fatal illnesses.
You may be shocked to find out that not all Vets are well trained in rabbits 🙁 Many can have as little as a 2 week slot for exotics as a whole (including reptiles, birds and small furries). This means that the majority of Vets out there have very little knowledge of rabbits needs, behaviours, ailments and how to treat them correctly.
For those in the USA then you can contact the House Rabbit Association as they hold a USA wide list. This forum, Bunny Lovers Unite, has a list of good rabbit vets worldwide that has been complied by its members experiences.
It is important that you as an owner, understand what makes a good rabbit vet. This will help you to find out if your current vet knows as much as they should to help treat your pet.
1) The most important aspect in my opinion is pain relief. Rabbits are prey species and hide their pain very well. Many, un savvy vets will believe that rabbits do not routinely need pain relief. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! In most cases a sick rabbit will be experiencing pain and will need a good non steriodal anti inflammatory drug to help control this (Meloxicam is the drug of choice for pain control in rabbits and can be found under the brand names of Metacam, Loxicom, Meloxidyl and others). Although it is not technically licesnsed for rabbits – it can be used under the cascade system and the vet may ask you to sign an ‘off license’ agreement form. Bear in mind that there are hardly any drugs licensed for rabbits (even though almost all of our human and Veterinary medicines have been tested on rabbits at some point). Adequate pain relief should be given routinely after rabbit neutering as well for at least 3 days post op.
2) Never starve your rabbit before an operation. Walk away from any Vet who recommends this! Generally, mammals are starved before an operation (humans included). This is to reduce the risk of the patient vomiting whilst under general anaesthetic. Rabbits cannot vomit so do not have this risk. Also, a rabbits metabolism is high and their guts are sensitive – it is imperative they continue to eat frequently (up to approx 1 hour) before their operation. Also, the Vet should not discharge the rabbit after an operation until it is eating and passing faeces.
3) All rabbits (that are not being used for breeding) should be neutered. Any Vet that disagrees with this fact (especially for female rabbits) is questionable. Female rabbits have an 80% risk of uterine cancer. This is the main reason to neuter (more so than accidental litters). Add to this the fact that un neutered rabbits can display unwanted behaviour changes such as becoming more aggressive and territorial, spraying urine, humping and generally being more stressed. So always spey the females and castrate the males to give them the best chance at a happy healthy life.
Lastly, if you really like your current vet and do not want to change – you can always ask them to contact rabbit specialists if ever your rabbit gets sick. The RWAF offer a Veterinary Membership which practices can sign up to. This give them lots of benefits – one of which is direct access to Richard Saunders who is one of the UK’s top rabbit specialists. Even if your Vet will not sign up to this scheme, many rabbit specialists will offer advice to other Veterinarians for a small fee.
Did you know they also hold a conference every year? This day comprises of 2 streams: one is for the Veterinary profession and the other is for rabbit owners and rescue workers. These are fabulous days filled with lectures and activities from some of the UK’s top rabbit specialists. You can find out more and book your place at the RWAF shop 🙂
Trancing / hypnotising / tonic immobility are all terms used for this act. Tonic immobility (TI) is a transitory and reversible state of profound motor inhibition that can be induced in susceptible species (Klemm 1976).
Unfortunately the internet is full of ‘cute’ photos of rabbits being made to lay on their backs. Many people in the showing and exhibiting world will also do this. Sometimes people will do this to groom a rabbit. Some people think the rabbit enjoys it and is relaxed…This just is not true 🙁
Roll out the red carpet and put out the bunting – a fabulous rabbit clinic has opened in Scotland!
Image courtesy of Rabbits Require Rights Scotland
Glasgow’s Small Animal Hospital, at Glasgow University Vet School, has opened a Rabbit Wellness Clinic set up by Veterinarian Livia Benato. She aims to raise awareness of rabbit welfare both before and after a pet has been purchased. She will also be working with student Vets in their final year – educating them on the real needs of rabbits and how to examine, house and treat them.
This is a great leap forward for rabbit healthcare. The clinic will be offering plenty of up to date advice including husbandry, diet and training as well as running regular appointments for preventative healthcare and other veterinary needs.
Unfortunately, not all vets are rabbit savvy. The ‘exotics’ training they receive can differ greatly depending on which university they attend. Often, many vets get taught a very brief and basic overview of the rabbit and have to undertake extra learning after graduation if they choose to learn more about lagomorphs – but this is not mandatory. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund hold a list of vets which have answered a questionnaire about their rabbit services and experience. This is available to the public at no cost. Just contact the RWAF for more info.
I sincerely hope this model of rabbit clinics will spread throughout the whole of the UK.