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Vet's Clinic with Liam Moriarty

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Vet Liam Moriarty

Vet Nurse Gillian Lynch

Rabbits can make a great pet. They are cute and usually quite friendly especially if handled well from a young age. They can live for up to 8 or 10 years of age and bond well with their owners. Rabbits can live outside in a hutch, however they can also be trained to use a litter tray and live indoors. Be warned though - they tend to chew through cables so you need a rabbit proof house before you let one loose.
Important Healthcare information.


One of the main reasons vets see rabbits is due to dental problems. Rabbits' teeth grow continuously; therefore they need to spend lots of time grazing to keep their teeth worn down. Wild rabbits eat hay and grass - so this is a good place to start with our pet rabbits. Avoid lots of carrots and lettuce. This can be too rich and means they will not spend enough time eating. Also be careful about mixed pellets - rabbits will select the tastiest morsels and leave the rest behind. This can results in your bunny becoming overweight and often they can get teeth problems.

Dental problems in rabbits can be very difficult to resolve - they often result in eye problems or abscesses.

It is a good idea to have a block of wood or an apple tree branch in your rabbit's hutch - this gives him something to gnaw on.

Fresh water is essential - bowls or bottles are fine. If you are using water bottles check every day to make sure the nipple is not blocked.

Outdoor rabbits can graze the grass - it is possible to get hutches that sit directly on the grass. This allows your rabbit to graze without becoming prey for a dog or cat. Rabbits are tougher than you think and can defend themselves well. We have lots of clients whose rabbits live in harmony with their dogs and cats.

Clipping Teeth and Nails:-

Rabbits are a burrowing animal so they tend to have quite long nails. Be very careful clipping them as it is easy to clip the "quick" and make their toes bleed.
Rabbits with normal teeth do not need their teeth clipped. However if your rabbit develops dental problems he may need his teeth clipped regularly.


Rabbits can be affected by myxomatosis , a deadly virus that is spread by fleas and other insects. Signs include swelling on the skin particularly the eyes, mouth and genitalia. It is frequently fatal. We recommend annual vaccinations to help prevent this disease in our rabbits.

We also recommend vaccination against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease of Rabbits (VHD), this virus typically results in sudden death in rabbits. It is endemic in Ireland.
Get them as soon as they're born.

Fly Strike:-

Rabbits are in danger of getting "fly strike". Fly strike occurs when flies lay their eggs on rabbits. The eggs hatch into maggots which then eat away at the rabbits flesh. In warm weather this process can happen in hours.

Flies are attracted to dirty or damaged skin. Rabbits with obesity, poor hygiene, dental problems, urine scald or diarrohea are at high risk. Also rabbits with arthritis who cannot groom themselves are at risk.

Prevention is achieved through the use of fly repellants, careful checking of your rabbits bottom daily. There are prescription medications available also. Some of these are not licensed in Ireland - however your vet may be able to source them for you.


Rabbits can get fleas - they are often implicated in the spread of myxomatosis. Preventative treatments are available from your vet. We use advantage (a spot on remedy from Bayer) - it is licensed for use in rabbits in the UK but not in Ireland. (This is because the market is too small for the pharma co. to spend money getting a license for rabbit use.)

Female Rabbits:-

A huge percentage of female rabbits aged over four will get uterine adenocarcinoma (cancer of the womb). Therefore it is a good idea to get them spayed while they are young.

Male Rabbits:-

Male rabbits can be neutered too. Neutered males are easier to handle and they tend to be less aggressive.

Older Rabbits:-

Like dogs and cats rabbits can suffer from arthritis. Feet problems are common too - especially sore hocks. Ensuring a soft surface underfoot and clean dry bedding helps to prevent this problem.

Handling your Rabbit:-

Rabbits have a very light skeleton and powerful back legs. They can easily injure their spine if they jump from your arms to it is important to handle them correctly. Never pick them up by the ears!. Pick the up gently, cradling them in your arms and supporting the back. If you have a nervous rabbit keep a grip on the scruff of the neck - this will not hurt him, however he may find it stressful so do not hold on to him for longer than necessary.
Rabbits that are well handled when they are young will make the best pets.

Liam Moriarty MVB

Here is a link to a blog on our website regarding rabbits. /

Hermitage Veterinary Clinic
Old Bawn Veterinary Clinic

ISPCA - 22/02/2010 Be a Buddy to the Easter Bunny
Be a Buddy to the Easter Bunny! Instead of buying a rabbit impulsively or by adding to the pile of chocolate eggs, why not support a rabbit in our care as a meaningful gift this Easter.

Prices / Stockists / Relevant Information

Rabbits kindly supplied by Purrfect Pets on the Long Mile Road, Dublin Tel. 01 4299938

For Further information:

Rabbit Fact File - Myxomatosis:

What causes Myxomatosis?

The disease myxomatosis in rabbits is caused by a virus. This virus is a type of pox virus which grows best in the skin of rabbits. Like all viruses the organism is minute and can only be seen under the electron microscope.

What are the signs of Myxomatosis?

The very first signs we can see are puffy, fluid swellings around the head and face. 'Sleepy eyes' are a classic sign along with swollen lips, tiny swellings on the inside of the ear and puffy swellings around the anus and genitalia. Within a day or so, these swellings can become so severe as to cause blindness and there may be some distortion around the face, mouth, ears and nose.

Which rabbits are susceptible to Myxomatosis?

In Ireland, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus) is highly susceptible to the disease. The European brown hair is sometimes, but rarely, affected with Myxomatosis.

What breeds of rabbit are affected?

All breeds of rabbit are affected, including our wild rabbits found in countryside, all breeds of pet and show rabbits ranging from Dwarf, Lop Eared rabbits and exotics. There is little evidence at present to show one breed is more susceptible than another.

Where did Myxomatosis come from?

Originally, Myxomatosis was imported from Brazil (where it was first discovered in the 1930's) to Australia in 1950. This was to control the massive populations of rabbits in the sub continent. In Brazil, the Cotton Tail rabbit (Sylvilagus) is affected by the disease to a minor degree as only tiny lumps are produced by this self-limiting disease. However, in Australia the disease was devastating and markedly reduced the rabbit population.

How did Myxomatosis get to Ireland?

The disease was transmitted from Australia by a French physician, Dr. A. Delille, who wished to control the rabbit population on his country estate near Paris. The disease rapidly spread into the wild population in France and then was brought, entirely by accident, from France in 1953. There is no evidence to show the disease was brought to Ireland intentionally but there is no doubt that many famers moved the disease around using infected rabbits to control the population of the rabbits locally.

How is the disease spread?

Myxomatosis is spread by blood sucking insects. A major parasite insect that passes the disease on in this country is the rabbit flea which is frequently found on wild rabbits but far less common on pet rabbits. In other countries and some other European countries it is known that mosquitoes are a major insect vector of Myxomatosis.

Although this has never been proved in Ireland there is strong circumstantial evidence that mosquitoes transmit the disease in the United Kingdom.

Incidentally, Myxomatosis is not easily spread by simple contact from one rabbit to another. For instance, if a Myxomatosis-infected rabbit is placed in the same hutch as a non infected rabbit and neither animal is parasitised by fleas or mostuitoes, then the disease is virtually never transmitted by contact.

Myxomatosis virus can remain alive in the blood of fleas for many months and it is probably by over wintering of fleas in rabbit burrows that the disease is transmitted year after year.

What happens when a Myxomatosis infected flea bite a susceptible rabbit?
As the flea or mosquitoe bites the rabbit a small amount of the live virus is placed in the skin of the rabbit as the insect sucks the blood. Within a few days the virus is transmitted to a local Lymph Node and then passes into the blood of the rabbit which allows it to be passed around to other sites in the body. The virus mainly multiplies in the skin around the eyes, nose, face, the soft skin inside the ears and also the skin around the anus and genitalia.

What is the incubation period on Myxomatosis?

The incubation period seems to vary slightly from one animal to another but can be as short as 5days and as long as 14 (so 5-14 day incubation period. The incubation period is the time from the point of introduction of the virus into the animals to the first time that clinical signs of illness are seen.)

After infection how long do rabbits usually survive?
This also varies. Some animals may survive for weeks or months after infection but, in general, if an infection is sever in a susceptible rabbit, death ocurs within 12 days.

How does Myxomatosis progress?

Within a short space of time, affected rabbits become blind because of the swelling around the eyes and for this reason feeding and drinking is often difficult. However, one can sometimes see wild rabbits suffering from Myxomatosis quietly grazing. Of course, at this stage many rabbits become pry to animals such as foxes and other predators.

Other rabbits may well become injuried or killed on roads but the common cause of death is a secondary lung infection which often occurs around day 8 after the initial incubation of the disease. In pet rabbits the disease often progresses more slowly and death is not so rapid because of the care which the owner gives the rabbit.

Do all affected rabbits die?

Not all affected rabbits die. Although recovery is rare in the wild (probably less then 10% of wild rabbits eventually recover from Myxomatosis) recovery may be more common in pet rabbits with intensive nursing. (If care is taken with feeding, making sure that water is available and medical care to combat pneumonia is given, then recovery rates in pet rabbits are higher then in the wild but are variable depending on the severity of the disease.)

However, a word or warning - Myxomatosis can be a very protracted (meaning drawn-out) disease and affected animals may take weeks or months to recover. Even then there may be severe scaling, scabbing and scaring on the head and body.

How can the disease be controlled?

The disease can be controlled by two main methods:
1. Control on insect parasites
2. Use of vaccines.

Controlling insects:

Flea control is important and may involve not only keeping wild rabbits away from pet animals but also positive use of flea control measures such as sprays, dips, insect repellent strips. Incidentally, there is some evidence that the domestic cat, which can often be affected with rabbit fleas, may be a secondary transmitter of the rabbit flea.

Obviously, isolating pet rabbits from possible close contact with wild rabbits is sensible. Do not forget to control mosquitoes; it may be possible to use mosquito nets and insect repellent strips. Care should be taken that the bedding of animals is kept dry and that pet rabbits are not kept in moist conditions which favour mosquito activity. Veterinary surgeons will be able to give advice on flea and mosquito chemical control.