Rabbits make wonderful pets for the right owners. We generally try to avoid situations where very young children (under 5 years of age) are involved, unless parents are present for supervision. Rabbits are much more intelligent and interactive than most people realize, and make for great animal companionship.
There is a substantial personal time involvement with rabbit ownership. Cleaning, feeding and interaction time is not insignificant, and these creatures should not be acquired unless that time is available. Exercise "out of the cage" seems to be a major shortcoming for many, and is vitally important to a rabbit's mental and physical well-being.
At All Creatures Pet Hospital, we recommend feeding Timothy based hay and pellets in most instances. Other options are available, but this works for most bunnies. A sipper bottle is often superior to a bowl for water, since bowls are often turned. Solid flooring surfaces are recommended for foot and musculoskeletal health. Most bunnies can be trained to a litter box-often this is not a "100% use", but it helps with cleaning the cage and keeps bunnies out of their mess.
Primary health issues we see at All Creatures Pet Hospital include gastrointestinal problems, dental disease, overgrown nails and arthritic conditions. Gastrointestinal maladies are very common, and often include a history of poor exercise opportunities and a lack (or minimal use) of hay in the diet. These can be most serious, and it is wise to contact us immediately if there is lethargy and poor appetite. These symptoms are non-specific, but are often related to the stomach and intestinal tract. Rabbits that eat carpet or are long-haired are prone to obstructive conditions of the stomach on a more frequent basis.
Dental disease can involve overgrown incisors or sometimes be related to the "cheek teeth" in the back of the mouth. Inability or unwillingness to eat are often seen. Sometimes dental abscesses arise under the skin on the side of the face. Once again, relatively urgent treatment is required here. The incisors can often be checked at home by the pet owner, but the cheek teeth require a veterinarian to evaluate them properly.
Arthritis is common in older rabbits, and can result in a filthy rear end and substantial skin irritation. Often these bunnies are "poor-doers" and need pain relief on a regular basis by home administration of oral products. Ask us for recommendations. These medications are often life-saving for the older pet.
So, the basic message is to practice good husbandry and call us immediately if there are potential problems. Rabbits do not do well with protracted, untreated illnesses. They need veterinary attention as soon as practical. Also, feel free to call us regarding your cage set-up and feeding practices. Many issues can be avoided with a simple phone call.
Ralph Pope, DVM