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Providing advice and guidance for rabbit owners

01 January 2013, at 12:00am

VETERINARY PRACTICE visits a practice which has taken steps to improve the standard of rabbit care – and knowledge of the species – among its clients

THERE is, it seems, a common misconception that rabbits are easy pets, giving an opportunity for breeders to sell them onto eager pet owners thinking they don’t require much looking after.

Elands Veterinary Clinic in Kent became aware that clients had bought pet rabbits but had been given incorrect advice about their needs and how to look after them.

Georgie Wilkinson, a vet at the Kemsing branch of the practice, had found that pet owners were completely unaware of the threat of myxomatosis and RHD amongst rabbits and some were even told that vaccinations weren’t necessary.

Commenting on her experience with rabbit owners, Georgie said, “At our clinic, we were seeing rabbits bought from pet shops that were unused to being picked up. This can often lead to very nervous animals not suitable for family ownership. We also found they had not been started on a good diet and had not been vaccinated.”

Education programme

As a result, the practice has been instrumental in improving rabbit care amongst pet owners by linking in with local rabbit breeders to provide a comprehensive education programme for owners.

Elands has joined forces with two local rabbit breeders in the Sevenoaks area and helps out in educating them about correct rabbit husbandry, so they can in turn provide sound advice to new rabbit owners.

They ensure the breeding stock have regular health checks and annual vaccines. The kits are started on an appropriate diet from birth and handled from a young age so they are used to people. All young rabbits also all have a health check with a vet before being sold.

Elands has produced literature for the breeders to hand out and the owners are actively encouraged to then bring their rabbits into the practice for their first health check and vaccination at a reduced rate.

At their first appointment, the rabbit is checked over, and owners can talk to the vet about general rabbit welfare and care and, above all, the importance of regular vaccinations against myxomatosis and RHD. Clients are also given a welcome pack to take away with a checklist of how to look after their rabbit. 

Once clients have made their first visit to the practice, they become much more engaged in the importance of rabbit care and have really valued Elands’ advice. Moreover, they have learned about rabbit illnesses which can be prevented.

Currently only about 15% of the 1.6 million pet rabbits in the UK are protected by vaccination. Georgie always encourages owners to ensure that their rabbits are vaccinated, which is now easier than previously, with an annual single dose of the new combined vaccine being all that is required to protect against both myxomatosis and RHD.

Increased demand

The practice reports that it required 42% more of the vaccine to meet the additional demand during 2012.

In the leafy rural area of Sevenoaks, locals and visitors are used to seeing wild rabbits hopping around in the countryside; however, with the wild rabbits comes an increased threat of the diseases. Georgie continues: “People think that myxomatosis only infects wild rabbits but of course pet rabbits can become infected too. We often find that people don’t know much about rabbits compared to cats and dogs, and sadly rabbit husbandry is not discussed as much between friends or in the media.

“However, it looks like we are now turning a corner and owners are very keen to learn about neutering, dentistry, controlling parasites and many other aspects of rabbit health.

“Many new rabbit owners underestimate the level of veterinary costs (as do many vets!), and a knowledge of the broad health issues helps understanding and justification of the various steps needed in maintaining good health and welfare.”

To support its on-going campaign, Elands runs client evenings for rabbit owners, stays in regular contact with rabbit owners by e-mail, places posters locally and in its reception, and also features regularly in the local newsletter and papers – a good example of how veterinary practices can improve rabbit care amongst pet owners, grow their client base and get lapsed owners back into the surgeries again.