Rabbit consultation part one

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1 Vet Times The website for the veterinary profession Rabbit consultation part one Author : JENNA RICHARDSON Categories : Vets Date : January 13, 2014 JENNA RICHARDSON in the first of a two-part article explains the initial rabbit consultation process, including waiting room environment advice and the importance of history IN the UK, rabbits are the third most popular pet after dogs and cats. After many years of their pets often being overlooked by the veterinary profession, rabbit owners are starting to demand the same high level of care expected for our canine and feline patients. With a greater number of rabbits being insured and owner awareness of welfare increasing expectation with regards to handling, examining, diagnosing and treating rabbits is at an all-time high. Rabbits have different needs and requirements compared to other domestic pets and it is our responsibility as veterinary surgeons to advise owners, guiding them towards the correct diet, environment and health care to satisfy their pets needs. Many of the diseases rabbits develop are preventable for example, acquired dental disease, gastrointestinal stasis, sludgy bladder, fly strike and so on. Undoubtedly, rabbit owners should take responsibility for their own pets; however, it is our duty to ensure we have taken the time to educate clients in the new improved art of rabbit keeping. Gone should be the days of the single rabbit with an ad libitum muesli diet, kept in a small hutch at the bottom of the garden (Figure 1). 1 / 15

2 Waiting room The rabbit s needs should be considered even before the consultation begins. Being prey animals, a rabbit in a waiting room next to a yowling cat or barking dog will be very stressed. In an ideal world, a separate waiting area should be available for prey animals, away from the predatory species. This quiet zone should help make the trip to the practice less of an ordeal (Table 1). Rabbit owners should always be encouraged to transport their pets in a secure, well-ventilated box. Owners should be strongly dissuaded from carrying their rabbits loose. If the rabbit lives with a companion, it too should be brought along to help reduce the stress levels of the individual patient. If the rabbit then needs to be hospitalised, the companion animal can also stay. This should also lessen the chance of breaking bonds between rabbits after a period of separation (Figure 2). Taking a history Once in the consulting room, it is initially important to ascertain if this is a new or pre-existing client and whether the rabbit is a new addition or a previously examined patient. If the client is new to the practice, assuming the rabbit is not critically ill, obtaining a general background history before focusing on the current complaint is often most rewarding. A general history sheet can be useful for this purpose and can either be given to the client to complete prior to the consultation, or can be used or added to by the veterinary surgeon in the consultation to ensure a thorough history is obtained (Figure 3). Among the most important points to review include diet information, vaccination status, neutering status, companionship, exercise provisions, enclosure type, faecal outputs, endoparasite treatment and frequency of enclosure cleaning. Diet To promote both dental and gastrointestinal health, the importance of an appropriate diet cannot be overemphasised. As we all know, rabbits have continually growing teeth that require frequent wear to prevent them becoming overgrown. When rabbits ingest diets high in fibre for example, hay or grass the action of mastication is lateral, with side-to-side jaw motions. This ensures there is equal force applied and wear achieved to the cheek teeth. 2 / 15

3 With concentrate diets particularly muesli-based not only do rabbits reach their calorific requirement quickly, therefore spending less time chewing, but the jaw movement is more vertical, with shortened up and down motions. This mastication pattern increases the risk of spurs forming on the teeth and subsequent dental disease developing. Rabbits on low fibre diets are also at an increased risk of develop- ing gut stasis, among other gastrointestinal problems. The recommended diet for rabbits is ad libitum hay and grass, with a handful of leafy greens and small amount of complete pellets (not muesli) per day. For an average 2.5kg rabbit, one tablespoon of pellets twice daily is an adequate amount (Figure 4). Vaccination The available rabbit vaccine combines protection against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. It can be given from five to six weeks of age and immunity lasts for 12 months. Although this is an annual booster, clients should still be advised to book a six-monthly health check for their pet. Companionship In the wild, rabbits live in large social groups. Keeping pet rabbits in solitary confinement has welfare implications and should be avoided, where at all possible. Owners should always be encouraged to keep rabbits in pairs or small groups. Siblings are often the easiest to keep together; however, non-related rabbits can bond if introduced to one another correctly. Neutered rabbits are most likely to live harmoniously and opposite sexes can make good companions. Neutering If not used for breeding, owners should be encouraged to neuter their pet. Depending on the size of rabbit, spaying and castrating can occur from four to six months of age. Neutered bucks will be less likely to fight or show unwanted sexual behaviour (urine spraying, mounting and so on). Castration also prevents testicular cancer. Due to the high risk of developing uterine adenocarcinoma, neutering of female rabbits is a very important procedure. Studies have shown as many as 50 to 80 per cent of does more than four years of age develop this potentially fatal condition (Meredith, 2006). Spaying while the animal is young and disease-free prevents this (Figure 5). Enclosure type 3 / 15

4 The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) advises hutches to be a minimum of 6ft by 2ft by 2ft, with a run area of 8ft by 4ft. These are advisory minimum sizes, with bigger always being better. A rabbit s environment should allow it to display natural behaviours, permitting exploring, hopping, jumping, running, digging and sleeping. Hide areas should be provided, as well as adequate food and water provisions. All enclosures should be secure from predators and sheltered from environmental extremes (Figure 6). Exercise Rabbits should be permitted to spend periods of the day active, replicating the behaviour of their wild counterparts. As well as promoting mental well-being, exercise also helps to stimulate gastrointestinal motility, counteracts the risk of obesity and promotes muscle and bone strength. Ideally, free access to an exercise area should be available as part of its home environment. If not, the rabbit should be given access for at least several hours a day. Defecation Faecal outputs are an important sign of gastrointestinal health, with small, misshapen faecal pellets often being an early indicator of gastroin testinal hypomotility issues. The presence of caecotrophs would suggest the rabbit is unable to eat these nutritious outputs and this may be an indication of dental disease, spinal pain, arthritis, obesity or general ill health. Internal parasites Routine endoparasite treatment of rabbits is still a much-debated subject. If there is a suspicion of internal parasites, faecal parasitology should be carried out to confirm the diagnosis. The protozoal parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi is transmitted in infected urine and primarily affects the nervous system and kidneys. Advice is for owners to treat all new rabbits (and previously untreated rabbits) with a 28-day course of daily oral fenbendazole. This treatment is based on the theory that if the rabbit is carrying E cuniculi, the fenbendazole will kill the parasite before it causes further damage to the rabbit s organs. This, in turn, may prevent clinical signs from developing. It is worth remembering that the treatment has no lasting effect and does not confer immunity to the protozoa, so a rabbit exposed to an infected source after completion of the 28-day course is still at risk of developing the disease. Aniseed-flavoured, rabbit-specific fenbendazole solutions are 4 / 15

5 available commercially and are better tolerated in rabbits, compared to dog and cat preparations. Hygiene Rabbits are naturally clean animals and will often toilet in one area of their enclosure; this makes them very easy to litter train. A rabbit in an unclean environment particularly in the warmer summer months is at an increased risk of developing fly strike. If a rabbit presents with urine staining or faecal accumulation around the perineum then the frequency of environment cleaning is likely to be too infrequent, or the rabbit is suffering from a disease problem. It would also be worth discussing fly strike precautions with the owner for example, fly repellents and fly paper (Figure 7). Next steps Once a complete background history is ascertained, the presenting problem can be tackled. It should be remembered that levels of attentiveness can vary greatly between owners. Some clients will be able to tell you how many droppings their rabbit passed that morning, while others won t have cleaned their pet out all week (Table 2). As rabbits are excellent at masking signs of disease, their clinical signs are often very subtle. It should be remembered, therefore, that although unintentional, sometimes the information provided by owners can be misleading or inaccurate. The clinical examination is, therefore, extremely important for helping to identify the cause of the presenting complaint and directing further diagnostic tests and treatments. Clinical examination will be covered in part two of this article. References and further reading Ballard B and Cheek R (2003). Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician (1st edn), Wiley-Blackwell. Carpenter J W (2013). Exotic Animal Formulary (4th edn), Elsevier Saunders, St Louis. Flecknell P A (2000). BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Medicine and Surgery, British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), Gloucester. Harcourt-Brown F M (2002). Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford. Keeble E and Meredith A (2006). Rabbit Medicine and Surgery, Manson Publishing. Meredith A and Flecknell P (2006). BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Medicine and Surgery (2nd edn), British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), Gloucester. 5 / 15

6 Oglesbee B L (2006). The Five- Minute Veterinary Consult: Ferret and Rabbit, Blackwell Publishing, Ames. Oglesbee B L (2011). Blackwell s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammal (2nd edn), Wiley- Blackwell, Oxford. O Malley B (2005). Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species, Elsevier Saunders, Philadelphia. 6 / 15

7 Figure 1. Rabbits kept in hutches is no longer an accepted practice. Figure 2. Two hospitalised rabbit companions allowed nose-to-nose contact, while still allowing individual monitoring. 7 / 15

8 8 / 15

9 9 / 15

10 Figure 3. Rabbit history sheet. Figure 4. The correct rations for an average 2.5kg rabbit ad libitum hay, a handful of leafy greens 10 / 15

11 and a very small amount of concentrates. Figure 5. Early stage uterine adenocarcinoma in a two-year-old rabbit. 11 / 15

12 Figure 6. Three rabbits enjoying outdoor space. 12 / 15

13 Figure 7. Faecal accumulation around the perineum makes this rabbit a high risk for fly strike. 13 / 15

14 TABLE 1. The waiting room 14 / 15

15 TABLE 2. Faecal accumulation around the perineum makes this rabbit a high risk for fly strike. 15 / 15 Powered by TCPDF (

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