We are extremely proud of our clinic and of our team of caring and experienced staff. We are committed to excellence in care for our patients and their families. We also are very involved in our community through our popular Junior Vet Program, our Be a Tree program, and our pro bono treatment of injured wildlife.
Please feel free to call in any time to our knowledgeable staff with any questions or concerns you may have.
We look forward to being your "other family doctor"!
Bowmanville Veterinary Clinic
Rabbits make a nice alternative to a dog or cat. They are usually not aggressive, don't have to be walked, and usually learn to use a litter box quite easily. Their average life span is 5-10 years old, and they reach breeding age at 6 months of age. Early spaying and neutering at 4-6 months of age are recommended to decrease both medical and behavioral problems. Rabbits are known for their easy breeding abilities; pregnancy lasts about 30 days and the average size litter is 4-10 bunnies.
Proper handling of rabbits is important. Rabbits have a lightweight skeleton compared to most animals. Their powerful back legs allow them to kick with a large amount of strength. If held improperly, a swift kick can easily cause a rabbit to break its back, resulting in euthanasia for the now paralyzed rabbit. When carrying your pet, always support its rear end. If the rabbit struggles, it should be placed down immediately, given time to quiet itself, and picked up a few minutes later. NEVER pick up your rabbit by its ears. Have your veterinarian show you the proper way to restrain and carry your rabbit.
Rabbits have large ears, which give them an excellent sense of hearing. The ears also serve as a way for the rabbit to regulate its body temperature. The ears contain large veins, which are often used for drawing blood for diagnostic testing.
Rabbits have a digestive tract that is adapted for digesting a large amount of fiber that is required in their diets.
Compared to other pets, the skeleton of a rabbit is very light in relation to the rest of its body. This means that their bones fracture (break) more easily; carrying a rabbit improperly can predispose it to bone fractures.
Rabbits have two pairs of upper incisor teeth (the second pair is hidden behind the first).
Like rodents, rabbit teeth grow throughout the pet's life and may need periodic trimming by your veterinarian. Providing your rabbit with blocks of wood to chew often prevents overgrown incisors, a common condition in pet rabbits.
Rabbits can often be purchased at pet stores or through breeders. Ideally, select a young bunny. The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. It should be curious and inquisitive. The rabbit should not be thin and emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. Also, check for the presence of parasites such as fleas and ear mites (ear mites cause the production of waxy black exudate in the ears). If possible, examine the rabbit's mouth for broken or overgrown incisors (front teeth), discolored gums (they should be light pink), and any obvious sores. Inquire as to whether the rabbit has been spayed or neutered; most have not been at the time of purchase. These operations should be performed by 4-6 months of age. Finally, inquire as to any guarantee of health the seller is offering.
Your rabbit should be examined by a qualified veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase (this examination is often required by the seller or any guarantee is voided). Make sure the veterinarian has experience in treating rabbits. The doctor should discuss housing, proper diet, and appropriate toys for the rabbit. A fecal sample should be examined for parasites. Rabbits require annual physical examinations and fecal tests to check for parasites, although no annual vaccinations are required.
Rabbits do not require vaccinations.
Rabbits should never be allowed to run loose in the house. They love to chew and can be very destructive to the house and furniture. There is always a chance of injury, such as chewing on an electrical cord. Your rabbit can be let out of its cage when you're in the room and can supervise and play with it. Like cats, they quickly learn to use a litterbox. Most owners use a portable dog or cat carrier as a cage and use a towel as bedding. Wire rabbit cages are also fine, but to decrease foot trauma (which results in a condition called "sore hocks"), it is recommended to cover at least half of the wire floor with toweling, plexiglass, or wood. A concealed "hiding" area in the cage allows the rabbit to feel secure.
A soft towel is appreciated by many rabbits and may help decrease the incidence of "sore hocks". Just make sure your rabbit doesn't chew the towel, which could be swallowed and contribute to an intestinal foreign body.
Place the litterbox and ceramic or steel food and water bowls in the carrier (bowls are preferable to droppers for water, which must be inspected daily for clogging of the nipple).
Rabbits are very sensitive to heatstroke. It is critical to keep their environmental temperature at or below 80 degrees and make sure their "house" is well ventilated. If you choose to house your rabbit outdoors, discuss this with your veterinarian first.
© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. February 22, 2018.
High-quality rabbit pellets, dark salad greens, and good quality hay make up the rabbit’s diet. For rabbits, less than 4 months old, alfalfa pellets and alfalfa hay should be available free choice, which means the rabbit is free to eat as much of each as it wishes. Fresh salad greens should be introduced slowly and work towards offering 1 cup per 2 kg of body weight daily. For animals over 4 months old, Timothy grass and hay that provide fiber should be available free choice and make up most of the diet. Pellets can be offered in small amounts as treats <1 tsp per day. Giving pellets that have dried fruits and vegetables in the mix adds unwanted calories and sugar to the diet. Over-feeding pellets in adult rabbits is a common cause of disease. Fresh salad greens should be offered twice daily, not exceeding 1 cup per 2 kg body weight. While rabbits can eat any type of hay, alfalfa hay is too rich and too high in calcium; other grass hays are preferred (timothy, botanical, Oat hay, and orchard grass).
Rabbits should be fed daily; hay should be available at all times. Fresh salad green should be offered twice daily.
No, rabbits do not require extra vitamins.
Yes, but be sure to check with your veterinarian first about what treats he or she might recommend. While obesity is not a common problem with rabbits, they certainly can become overweight if fed an abundance of high-calorie treats. Items such as vegetables can be offered twice daily as well. Fresh produce is best; make sure it's thoroughly washed prior to feeding. As with many pets, variety is the key; so offer small amounts of several items. Iceberg lettuce and celery are of little nutritional value. Anything green and leafy is loaded with vitamins and is a good supplement. Please see our Food Guide Pyramid for details
Freshwater is offered 24 hours a day. If you offer your rabbit water in a bowl, make sure the rabbit does not spill it in its cage.
Many owners offer their rabbits wood sticks to chew, which helps control overgrown incisors; Untreated or pesticide-free, apple or pear branches work well.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM. © Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc.
Used with permission under license. 01/16/13.
Common conditions of pet rabbits include snuffles, hairballs, parasites, overgrown incisors, uterine infections or cancer, and sore hocks.
"Snuffles" is the lay term given to infection with Pasteurella bacterium. Most commonly, clinical signs are related to the eyes (discharge, redness, squinting) or nose (sneezing, discharge). Often the eyes and nose are affected at the same time. Pasteurella can infect other areas of the body as well. Ear infections (resulting in a head tilt), abscesses (seen as lumps on the body), and uterine infections, and cancer (often only diagnosed during exploratory surgery) are also seen. Sudden death from septicemia (infection in the blood) is rare but can occur.
Hairballs (trichobezoars) are relatively common in rabbits. Like cats and ferrets, rabbits are very clean animals and love to groom themselves. Occasionally, a lot of hair is swallowed during the grooming procedure and forms a ball in the stomach. Rabbits can't vomit, and if the hair doesn't pass through their intestinal tract they will develop an obstruction. Hairballs are so common that they should always be considered as a problem in any rabbit that is lethargic and not eating. Diagnosis can be made by taking radiographs (X-rays) of the stomach. If the owner is sure the rabbit has not eaten within 24 hours and the radiographs reveal food in the stomach, we can be pretty sure something is causing an obstruction, and it is often a hairball. Sometimes, the diagnosis is only made during exploratory surgery.
Like dogs and cats, rabbits can contract various intestinal parasites, as well as external parasites such as fleas. Yearly microscopic fecal examinations will allow easy diagnosis and treatment. External parasites, such as fleas, ticks, mange, and ear mites, can also infect rabbits.
Like rodents, a rabbit's front teeth, the incisors, grow continuously throughout life. Usually, chewing on food, wood blocks and toys keeps them a normal length. Occasionally, this is not sufficient and the incisors will overgrow. Rabbits with overgrown incisors may stop eating or drool excessively. Looking into the mouth allows you to easily detect the problem.
Like dogs and cats, female rabbits should be spayed early in life (by 4-6 months of age). Whereas un-spayed female dogs and cats often develop malignant breast cancer, and un-spayed female ferrets die of fatal anemia, un-spayed female rabbits often develop uterine cancer. This type of cancer is called uterine adenocarcinoma and is a relatively common condition of older female rabbits. It should be suspected anytime an un-spayed female rabbit becomes sick. Diagnosis is difficult and often only made during exploratory surgery.
"Sore hocks" is a condition that is fairly unique to rabbits. The hocks are essentially the ankles of rabbits. When a rabbit is sitting, which does most of the time, its hocks are in contact with the floor of its cage. Often, wire-floored cages put too much pressure on the hocks, causing them to lose hair, turn red, and become ulcerated and painful. The condition is usually prevented by supplying rabbits that live in wire cages with another surface to sit on, such as a piece of wood, plexiglass, or a towel covering at least half of the wire cage.
Signs of disease in rabbits may be specific for a certain disease. Most commonly, however, signs are vague and non-specific, such as a rabbit with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases including hairballs, uterine cancer, and even kidney or liver failure. ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian. For example, if a rabbit misses even one meal this is a cause for concern and should be promptly investigated.
Most cases of snuffles are mild. Treatment involves antibiotics. Due to potential problems with many oral antibiotics (especially oral penicillin and similar drugs which can be fatal to rabbits and some rodents,) injections are often preferred. Eye drops and nose drops, prescribed by your veterinarian, may be needed in selected cases.
Pasteurella is easy to treat but hard, if not impossible, to cure. Like the kennel cough bacterium in dogs, most, if not all, rabbits have Pasteurella, but only some show signs. Many rabbits are chronically infected, just like some children always seem to have a cold. The disease is easily transmitted by close contact between rabbits; new rabbits should be isolated (for about one month) before introducing them to existing pets. Stressful situations, such as the introduction of a new pet, new diet, or overcrowding, can cause relapses. when possible, as the mortality rate from hairball surgery is very high. For very early, mild cases, litter should be changed regularly to prevent ammonia accumulation from the urine, which can irritate the eyes and nasal tissue.
Hairballs are best treated medically injections of drugs that alter intestinal motility may allow the obstruction to pass. Your doctor may also use fluid therapy and force-feeding to help encourage the hairball to pass through the intestinal tract. Otherwise, surgery is needed to remove the hairball. The earlier surgery is performed the better; mortality (death) from surgery is often 50% or higher!
Many doctors feel that giving rabbits cat hairball medicine on a regular basis helps prevent the problem. Feeding rabbits a diet high in hay (fiber) also helps prevent hairballs and other intestinal problems. Daily brushing is also essential for removing excess dead hair.
External and internal parasites are usually easily treated. Which medication your veterinarian will prescribe depends upon his findings after an examination and necessary ancillary tests, such as a fecal examination for intestinal parasites or microscopic examination of an ear swab for ear mites.
Overgrown incisors can be treated by filling the incisors under anesthesia. Clipping the teeth with nail trimmers or wire cutters, once a popular treatment is no longer recommended due to the ease with which the incisors can fracture (break), resulting in pain and infection.
Uterine adenocarcinoma is treated surgically by spaying the rabbit. Because the cost of the procedure is higher when the rabbit is sick (rabbits with uterine cancer may need hospitalization, fluid therapy, and force-feeding), early spaying to prevent the problem is recommended. Uterine infections may also require spaying in addition to antibiotics.
Treatment of sore hocks can be difficult and challenging, especially in the later stages of the condition. Treatment requires antibacterial medications to clean the infected hocks. Providing soft bedding is essential to allow the sores to heal. When caught early, the hocks can usually be treated without much effort. However, this can easily become a chronic, difficult-to-treat condition.
Genetics and diet are the most common causes of dental disease in a pet rabbit. Trauma or infection may less commonly cause this problem.
(not all signs will be present in every rabbit with dental diseases)
Anorexia (loss of appetite)
Avoiding certain types of food
Dropping food out of the mouth
Excessive tear production
Bulging of the eye
At the Bowmanville Veterinary Clinic, we will examine the mouth as a part of your rabbit’s annual exam. The earlier we can detect dental disease, the greater the chances for success of treatment. The examination is usually performed without anesthesia. In cases where the pet is difficult to handle or where dental disease is difficult to see due to its position, it will be necessary to use sedation for the mouth examination. A complete physical examination is vital to determine any other disease problems that might be present.
Radiographs of the skull can determine the extent of the disease and will guide our treatment approach. Several views of the head need to be taken in order to see all the teeth. It is necessary and also much less stressful for the rabbit to use anesthesia for this diagnostic procedure.
Bloodwork will enable us to evaluate the health of internal organs, such as the liver and kidneys, and can also indicate other problems such as infection. This test can help assess anesthetic risk if sedation or anesthesia is needed.
Overgrown incisors (front teeth) are shortened with a dental burr. In this way, teeth can be trimmed without fear of breakage. It is generally performed painlessly and quickly while your pet is awake. If the rabbit is nervous or difficult to handle, they may have to be sedated for this procedure. Overgrown molars (cheek teeth) are more difficult to trim in the conscious pet. Anesthesia is usually necessary to assess and treat these teeth. In early cases, this treatment may be curative. In chronic or more severe disease, the procedure will need to be repeated.
Extraction of abnormal teeth may be an option. In these cases, diet modifications may have to be made.
Dental diseases must be considered anytime a rabbit develops an abscess on the face or jaw and x-rays are needed to assess the problem. There are many options now available for the treatment of dental abscesses including complete surgical excision, antibiotic bead impregnation, and various injections into the wall of the abscess.
Diet plays an important role in wearing down the teeth. A healthy diet, which is high in fiber, is necessary for the treatment of dental disease to minimize further damage and to attempt to prevent reoccurrence. Please refer to our diet handout for more detail.
Please refer to our diet handout for recommendations. In addition offer other items for chewing such as fresh tree branches (from trees that are NOT sprayed with chemicals), untreated wood pieces, and unvarnished, unpainted wicker baskets.
Yearly physical examinations are recommended for all pet rabbits. A dental exam is a part of a thorough physical examination.
During the summer months, pet rabbits allowed to run outdoors might be affected by maggot infestation. Different terms are used for this but fly strike is a common one. Another is to say that the rabbit is fly blown. The technical term your veterinarian might use is myiasis. Healthy rabbits are generally not affected by the flystrike. There are three main problems that lead to the condition. First, a wound to which the flies are attracted and on which they lay their eggs is an obvious site where maggots can cause damage. More commonly, a rabbit that cannot, or does not feel like turning round to groom itself will quickly have matted and soiled fur around its anus. This, from the fly's point of view, is an ideal opportunity to lay eggs. When the maggots hatch and if the rabbit cannot groom itself, these fly larvae survive, spread, and may cause a tremendous amount of damage as they eat through the tissues. Thirdly, damp bedding is an ideal environment for egg-laying and maggot growth and development.
The key factors in preventing flystrike are to ensure that bedding is dry, that the rabbit does not have any wounds or ulcerated areas of skin, and that there are no problems to prevent him from grooming. What are these likely to be?
Dental disease can cause inability to groom. An animal that has sharp hooks on its molar or cheek teeth will not want to groom since these hooks cause pain when the rabbit extends its tongue to groom in the normal manner. Similarly, overgrown incisor teeth (at the front of the mouth) will impede grooming. Your rabbit's teeth should be checked regularly by your veterinarian and appropriate treatment is given if necessary.
Rabbits with back problems may not be able to turn around to groom properly. Any rabbit with diarrhea will be especially prone to flystrike and will have many other problems associated with diarrhea.
The animal will need to be sedated or anesthetized so that all the maggots can be removed and the whole area well disinfected with an antiseptic solution. Your rabbit will need antibiotics since there is a major probability of secondary bacterial involvement. In severe cases, intravenous fluids and steroids may be needed. In such cases, your rabbit will be hospitalized and kept warm and comfortable, probably with a heating pad or an overhead infrared light. Such intensive care may cure your rabbit of the maggot infestation but in severe cases, extensive surgery may be needed to remove all the dead maggot-ridden tissue. This can be a long, quite risky, and often expensive treatment and after all that, it will still be necessary to overcome the original problems which led to the flystrike.
The preferable option is to take your rabbit to your veterinarian twice yearly for a routine health check, to ensure that dental disease or back problems are not predisposing your rabbit to this dangerous condition. Giving your rabbit dry and well-aired housing is an ideal, cheap, and easy way to minimize the possibility of flystrike.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM..
This is caused by the myxoma virus, which is widely distributed in the wild rabbit population. You might argue that your rabbit never comes into direct contact with animals from the wild. The problem is that the virus is carried by rabbit fleas and mosquitoes so the disease can be passed on without direct contact. The incubation period is two days to a week and the first sign is the development of puffy eyelids and a purulent (pus-producing) conjunctivitis. Swelling under the skin extends around the eyes, ears, and genital region. Death is usually 18 days to three weeks after infection but occasionally animals will survive and signs regress over three months.
Pregnant animals should not be vaccinated, nor rabbits less than six weeks old. Occasionally there is a local reaction at the injection site but compared with the lethal infection seen of many unvaccinated animals this is insignificant.
This disease was first noticed in China many years ago but now has an almost worldwide distribution. Viral hemorrhagic disease is caused by a calicivirus and, although the incubation period is up to three days, animals may die suddenly without any clinical signs. If there are signs they include anorexia (not eating), pyrexia (fever) apathy, and prostration. There may be convulsions and coma, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), mucoid foaming at the mouth, or a bloody nasal discharge. Some animals survive this acute phase but die a few weeks later of liver disease and jaundice.
Given the horrendous death experienced by affected rabbits, every rabbit should be vaccinated annually or even every six months in areas where the disease is rampant.
Two other infectious diseases of rabbits are Encephalitozoan cuniculi and Pasteurella multocida.
This disease, also known as Nosema cuniculi, causes a chronic latent condition in rabbits, with the active disease being characterized by neurological signs such as seizures, paralysis, and eventually coma. There are no particularly effective drugs to treat the disease although sulphonamide antibiotics may be useful. Encephalitozoonosis has been described in a few cases in people but its significance is not really known. This underlines the importance of always washing your hands after handling any animal and particularly before eating or preparing food.
Pasteurella is a bacterium that commonly causes abscesses and inflammatory disease in rabbits. It can infect the nasolacrimal (tear) duct and can cause abscesses of tooth roots, skin, or internal organs. A very common problem associated with the organism is upper respiratory tract infection causing snuffles. Indeed it may be that most rabbits have this organism in their noses but the immune system keeps it at bay. Only when the rabbit is under stress can the bacterium start to cause overt clinical problems. Treatment may include antibiotics but these do not penetrate well into the pus produced by Pasteurella infection. Also, rabbits do not take kindly to antibiotics since they upset the delicate balance of normal bacteria in their gut, so vital for digestion. Surgery is possible if the abscess is in or under the skin, but abscesses in the middle ear (causing balance problems), in the eyeball (causing blindness), or in the internal organs, are less easy to treat. Because some form of stress probably triggers the clinical disease, it is important to keep your rabbit as healthy as possible and this will mean taking him or her to your veterinarian at least once a year for a thorough general examination.
Rabbits have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.
Diarrhea is often seen in rabbits. While it can be due to coccidia (a one-cell protozoan) or incorrect usage of oral antibiotics, often the cause can't be determined. Rabbits eating a diet that is too high in carbohydrates (pellets or alfalfa hay) are more prone to develop intestinal problems than rabbits eating a high fiber (grass hay) diet.
Mucoid enteropathy is by definition a diarrheal disease of young rabbits that can be fatal. Diarrhea has a mucoid or gelatinous consistency.
Treatment for diarrheal conditions of rabbits is controversial and varies among veterinarians. As a rule, the fiber in the diet is increased (often nothing but hay is offered for several weeks). Fluid and vitamin therapy are used as needed.
Rabbits, like many pets, can develop bladder stones. Signs include urinating frequently, straining to urinate, and blood in the urine. Often the stones can be palpated (felt) by your veterinarian during the examination. Radiographs (X-rays) can confirm the diagnosis. Surgical removal of the stones cures the problem. Rabbits that have been eating a diet high in pellets (this may contribute to stone formation) can be weaned onto a diet lower in pellets and higher in the hay, which may prevent stone recurrence.
Rabbits have sharp nails, and owners are easily scratched when handling their pets. The back feet, which are the most powerful, are usually the culprits. Scratches to owners most commonly occur when placing the rabbit back into its cage or down onto the floor. Supporting the rear end of the rabbit during the entire lifting, carrying, and replacing regimen will usually eliminate the problem. Periodic nail trimming (have your doctor show you the proper technique) is important. RABBITS SHOULD NOT BE DECLAWED EXCEPT IN EXTREME CASES!
Several references in the literature discuss antibiotic toxicities in rabbits. Some of the reports warn against using ANY oral antibiotics in rabbits, whereas others mention specific problems with oral drugs such as penicillin or lincomycin. Antibiotic toxicity is one reason to make sure that your veterinarian is trained to properly treat pet rabbits. Feel free to discuss any concerns you have with your veterinarian about antibiotics for your pet. And if your rabbit develops diarrhea while being treated with any medication, STOP the medication and call your veterinarian at once!
Rabbits engage in coprophagy, which means they eat their own feces. This occurs at night, and these fecal pellets are different from the ones normally excreted and seen by the owners. These pellets serve as a source of nutrients, specifically vitamins, for the rabbit. Most owners never observe this behavior; if you do, remember that it is normal and necessary for the health of your rabbit.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.
© Copyright 2002 LIfelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. November 18, 2002
Poisonous plants may vary between different species. Do not assume if one animal can eat a certain plant without problems that another animal can. Restrict your pets access to any questionable plants. Never hesitate to seek medical attention if a person or animal has ingested a poisonous substance. This may not be a complete list but it is a list of the most common known toxic plants. If you have any concerns, please contact the clinic.
Bird of Paradise (seeds)
Black Locust (seeds)
Castor Bean (seed)
Crown of Thorns
Elderberry (unripe berries)
Ivy, Boston and English (berries)
Morning Glory (seeds)
Rhubarb (leaf blade)
Rosary Pea (seeds)
Sweet Pea (seeds)
Virginia Creeper (berries)