VET’S DIARY: Rabbiting away about the humble bunny

OVER the last few years, I may have been a little guilty of giving one of our ever-increasingly popular patients less coverage than they deserve, writes Dominic Plumley.

There may be several reasons for this. As our pets go, these fellows may not be prone to some of the more exciting conditions that warrant a mention.

What is more, their appeal is not truly universal, particularly with our farmers or rural gardeners.

I am, of course, referring to bunny rabbits, which coincidentally make excellent pets and with a wide range of exotic breeds can be a million miles away from their wild cousins.

That said, we occasionally see the odd one that would be pretty difficult to pull out of an identity line-up from Farmer Brown’s field. Who said you can’t breed tame rabbits from wild ones?

Probably the most common problems we see in rabbits are associated with their teeth.

Like many herbivores, their teeth continually grow, maintaining opposing grinding surfaces throughout a life-time of chewing grass. When all is well, this is the perfect adaptation, however, if their diet doesn’t contain sufficient fibre to warrant plenty of chewing, things can quickly go awry.

Although the front incisors may be affected, it is the hidden molars at the back that are of more concern. As the teeth continue to grow and are not evenly ground down, sharp spurs develop, cutting into the tongue and cheeks, quite literally a mouth-wateringly painful process.

The result is that the poor bunny either stops eating altogether or just selectively eats softer foods that only go to make the problem worse.

In some cases, the lack of dietary fibre and associated inappropriate mastication can cause gastro-intestinal problems, resulting in diarrhoea and a consequently dramatically higher risk of fly strike, another one of poor bunny’s increasing list of potential hazards.

Talking of hazards, we are all, no doubt, aware of the horrendous nature of the disease myxomatosis, caused by the Myxoma virus and spread either by direct contact or by fleas.

Historically introduced into wild rabbit colonies to control population size, myxomatosis still remains a real threat to domesticated rabbits. Fortunately there is a good vaccine that provides excellent protection, as there is for another potential killer, Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) which was similarly introduced to wild rabbits to keep numbers down.

Over the last few weeks we have been treating a wonderful bunny that rather ironically goes by the name of Vixen. However, weighing in at nearly 20lbs this English Giant rabbit would be quite a good match for your average fox.

Vixen’s owners became concerned when she developed strings of dramatic lumps throughout her mammary glands and fearing something sinister brought her in for us to examine.

Much to everyone’s relief, a biopsy of the abnormal tissue revealed that the changes were not in fact cancerous, but a hormonal cystic hyperplasia.

We have subsequently removed her ovaries and uterus, a rather unenviable task in such a plump individual, to good effect, the lumps already receding nicely.

I have to admit that these more specifically medical cases, even though the treatment was ultimately surgical, are not that common in our long-eared friends.

However, when they do occur, they are generally interesting to deal with and especially rewarding if the outcome is successful.