Spring is in the air, the days are getting longer, and hopefully you and your pets will be getting outside more! I know I’m looking forward to more dog walks across the meadows. With Easter in mind, this month I thought I would give you some facts about our favourite Easter animal, the rabbit.
Did you know that rabbits are not rodents? They are actually a type of animal called a lagomorph. Rodents have 4 incisors (front teeth), 2 at the top and 2 at the bottom. Rabbits actually have 6 incisors, having an extra pair of tiny “peg” teeth behind the main incisors at the top.
Rabbits are social creatures and live in family groups in warrens in the wild. Captive rabbits should be kept in pairs if possible; if their companion dies another rabbit should be introduced very slowly (sometimes rabbits do not bond and an alternative partner is required). Rabbits of the same sex, preferably neutered, are the easiest pairing. Some house rabbits can live on their own, seeing their owners as their family.
Female rabbits can become reproductively active at 4 months old, so do separate does (females) and bucks (males) from this age, or get them neutered, if you don’t want any babies! Rabbits are pregnant for approximately 1 month, and their babies are called kittens. They are born blind and helpless. Does hide them in a nest for 3 weeks, during which time they only feed them once daily. If the nest is disturbed by a human or other predator the doe will either abandon her babies or sometimes will eat them! If they survive the three weeks the kittens will venture out and start to eat grass, and grow very quickly.
Rabbit teeth continually grow! When they eat grass or hay the act of chewing keeps the tooth crowns ground down to the correct level. Another amazing fact- rabbits eat their own poo! Rabbits have evolved to eat very poor quality food, basically very dry weeds and grasses. In order to get the goodness out of this food they need a very large amount of gastrointestinal tract for their size, hence their big tummies. Their guts are like a massive fermenting machine, full of microbes. To break down the plant matter they have to digest the food twice. The first pass through the guts produces softer larger faeces called caecotrophs. Bunnies normally eat these as they come out; they normally do this in private and you won’t see these droppings. The hard pellets or “bumbles” are the product of the 2nd cycle of digestion.
Most of the issues that we see with pet bunnies are due to the wrong diet; as you can see from the information above they are adapted to poorer food. If we as owners feed higher energy, richer food they can get overgrown teeth as less chewing is required to break down the food before swallowing. This in turn can cause pain, discomfort, mouth ulcers and eye problems. The rich food also requires less digestion, with bunnies becoming overweight which affects their mobility and their ability to clean themselves. They then stop eating their caecotrophs, leading to a “dirty bottom” which can cause discomfort, and in the summer can lead to blow fly strike, a distressing and horrible disease caused by blow fly maggots.
I hope these facts have been interesting and also helpful for all rabit owners out there. As always we at Henlow Vets are always happy to answer any rabbit questions. Please also visit the website https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk for more information on this fascinating species, their husbandry, common diseases and their prevention.