Stepping up our care for the UK rabbit population: How can veterinary practice play a role in ensuring rabbits’ basic needs are being met?
Do you regularly see rabbits in your practice? As the UK’s third most popular pet 1 (setting fish aside), we’d imagine that you do, and probably on a daily basis. As a veterinary professional (whether you’re a vet, nurse, student or ANA) how confident are you in dealing with this species – in advising on the key aspects of their care, in performing a clinical examination, and in talking to owners about the preventative measures that can be taken to ensure their ongoing health?
As we have all no doubt seen first hand, rabbit’s husbandry needs are notoriously under-addressed.
All too often rabbits are presented in a veterinary consultation with health issues that are directly caused by incorrect diet, inappropriate environment and lack of understanding for their needs.
The most common of these issues is probably dental problems, often directly caused by underestimating the amount of roughage that rabbits need in their diet, but behavioural issues, obesity and more acute conditions such as miasis are all too often seen too.
Role of practice
So what is the role of the veterinary practice? Well clearly the immediate onus lies with the owner of the rabbit to ensure that they understand the species’ needs before they obtain a rabbit (2), but we are all aware that rabbits are often thought of as an ‘easy’ pet – that they can just be popped into a hutch and given a bowl of muesli once a day, and just got out for the children to play with when they wish, and rabbit owners are often aghast that they have underestimated the needs of their pet when advised correctly. What can we do to mitigate this situation? Well the answer lies in pre-emptive measures. In ensuring that your practice provides clear information on what caring for a rabbit entails, and in offering easy-access advice to rabbit owners so that they know that they have somewhere they can come to gain information and support in caring for their rabbit(s).
How many practices provide rabbit clinics?
The easiest methods for achieving this are by clear practice literature (3) and waiting room signage that states that you will provide this support, and the most effective way of providing that support is by providing ‘rabbit clinics’ for your rabbit clients. Nurse-led clinics are prevalent in areas such as puppy/kitten care, senior patient support and weight management, but how many practices provide rabbit clinics? Are we letting rabbits and their owners down by not stepping in and offering this service?
What is needed to run clinics?
If practices are to provide these clinics, it is of course imperative that the nurses (or one dedicated nurse if that has a better fit with the practice) have the knowledge to offer the correct information, understand what is ‘normal’ in a clinical examination, and appreciate when a rabbit requires referral to a veterinary surgeon. Basic equipment will also be needed such as a suitable otoscope for scoping the mouth and ears, small weighing scales, appropriate literature, parasiticides, other drugs and diets to support any recommendations, and a suitably quiet consult room, preferably away from other predators!
A rabbit consultation could consist of:
– Advice on housing and environment, including hutch size, run size, co-rabbits and environmental enrichment and exercise
– Advice on dietary needs – and dealing with the disparity that may exist between needs and what is currently being provided to the rabbit
– A clinical examination, including a bodily examination, plus specific examination of the dentition
– Assessment of body condition score, and management of any weight issues
– Advice on neutering, vaccination and parasitic control
The practice can provide specific clinics, offering support on rabbit care during summer and winter months (the needs of the rabbit at these times can be very different), behavioural advice clinics, and rabbit weight management clinics (especially if you are seeing a lot of overweight rabbits in your practice).
So, ask yourself whether your practice is providing the support and guidance needed to inform your rabbit client base effectively, and consider the steps you can take to be a rich and accessible source of information for these clients.
1. Pet Food Manufacturer’ Association (2016) Pet Population 2016. [Online] Available at: http://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-population-2016
UK Government, 2006. The Animal Welfare Act 2006. Animal welfare legislation – protecting pets. [Online] Available at: < https://www.gov.uk/guidance/animal-welfare-legislation-protecting-pets> (last updated 18th April 2013)
2. UK Government, 2006. The Animal Welfare Act 2006. Animal welfare legislation – protecting pets. [Online] Available at: < https://www.gov.uk/guidance/animal-welfare-legislation-protecting-pets> (last updated 18th April 2013)
3. Animal Welfare Foundation (n.d.) Pet Care advice – Rabbits. [Online} Available at: https://www.bva-awf.org.uk/pet-care-advice/rabbits
(useful leaflet available on rabbit care that can be downloaded, or copies can be requested from the AWF)