ABSTRACT: Rabbits are the third most popular pet within the UK and rabbit clinics are an ideal way to educate owners on the correct care required for their pet and also to bond the client to the practice.

This article looks at setting up rabbit clinics, what rabbit health and care topics should be discussed with clients, and what should be checked during the physical examination of the rabbit.

Puppy parties and six-month/junior health checks for kittens and puppies are a long established and beneficial concept for both owners and the veterinary practice.These appointments or parties help to ensure that owners are given the correct advice on a variety of important topics and, in the case of puppy parties, with socialising.

This helps to form an early bond between the client and the practice, so they are much more likely to return for routine booster vaccinations, neutering, flea and worm management or treatment when the animal is in need of veterinary attention.

Rabbits have long been regarded as ‘childrens pets’, or simply not worth putting in the time and effort to treat as owners are unlikely to want to pay for expensive treatment. This school of thought has now (thankfully!) become much less prevalent and is more the exception rather than the rule within veterinary practices.

Vets and veterinary nurses are much more knowledgeable with regards to rabbit health and owners are frequently more willing to pay for the treatment required or they have taken out insurance for this eventuality.

With this in mind, it is important to educate rabbit owners on the correct care for their pets at an early stage and try to encourage them to vaccinate, neuter and offer the correct diet to their rabbit. Offering your clients rabbit clinics is an ideal way to get your message across and to help to prevent many of the common rabbit ailments related to poor diet and lack of knowledge.

Setting up rabbit clinics

Begin by putting up a large display in your waiting room (Figure 1). Companies that supply rabbit food and products designed for rabbits are often able to offer posters and leaflets, and the Rabbit Welfare Fund has a range of very useful leaflets on a variety of rabbit topics, which can be given out to clients, placed in your waiting room or used on a display.

Figure 1: Begin by putting up a large display in your waiting room

Your display should state:

   with whom the appointment will be (vet or nurse)

   times and days when they will take place

   what topics will be discussed

   whether literature will be given out

   what the health check on the rabbit will include

   if a charge is being made for the consultation (and if so how much)

   how clients can book an appointment. 

Make the display as eye-catching as possible and use plenty of rabbit images to draw clients’ attention to it.

You could also arrange for a ‘mail-shot’ to be sent to all your rabbit clients. To reach potential clients who don’t use your practice, you could advertise the service by contacting your local newspaper/radio station, or putting signs up in local pet shops.

The rabbit consultation

The rabbit consultation can be with a veterinary surgeon or with a registered or listed veterinary nurse. This will be decided in conjunction with the practice principal or manager. I would suggest allowing a 20-minute appointment for one rabbit, or half an hour if the client is bringing two, because there is far too much information to gather and explore in just a 10-minute consultation.

You should aim to cover a variety of rabbit- related health and welfare topics during the consultation, as well as checking the rabbits general health and its sex – you would be surprised just how many owners have owned their rabbit for several years and have wrongly assumed its gender!

I always ensure that I check the following during the consultation:

   Eyes and ears for any discharge, and ask the owner if the rabbit has been shaking its head excessively

   The incisor and molar teeth and look at the chin and inside of the forelegs for evidence of dribbling Auscultate the abdomen to ensure that gut sounds are present and feel the abdomen to make sure there is no bloating

Listen to the heart and lungs The claws – clip them if necessary Ensure the anus and perineum is clean

The hocks for pododermatitis

   The skin for signs or flaking and/or mites.

Discussion should be encouraged and advice given on the following aspects of rabbit management and care.


It should be advised that all rabbits – house rabbits included – must be vaccinated annually against viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD/HVD) and every six months against myxomatosis.

Owners may tell you that their rabbit had a myxomatosis or VHD vaccine three years ago and they believe that their pet is still protected; so you should discuss how long vaccinations last and emphasise that boosters are imperative to keep up the protection.

The myxomatosis vaccine can be given from six weeks of age, with the VHD vaccine being given from 10 weeks. It is recommended that the myxomatosis and VHD vaccines be given at least two weeks apart. The Rabbit Welfare Fund has a very good leaflet which explains the vaccination protocol.


Rabbits should be fed grass, grass and more grass! Advise owners on the need for a high-fibre diet and that good quality hay/grass and water must be available at all times (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Rabbits should have access to grass so they can graze

Many owners still feed poor quality muesli type foods which allow the rabbits to feed selectively. These owners should be advised on the potential dental and digestive problems that can result from selected feeding, and told about the benefits of feeding a good quality extruded nugget type food.

If selective feeding is already a problem, then offering them a free sample of an extruded nugget type food (for example, Supa Rabbit Excel, Supreme Selective or Vet Pet Rabbit) is helpful. Make sure you tell owners that if they are changing the rabbit’s food, then to do it slowly over two to three weeks.

Owners often overfeed dry food to their rabbits. It should be emphasised to them that the commercial rabbit food should be fed in small amounts with the bulk of the rabbit’s diet being made up of ad lib hay, and then a daily portion of fresh vegetables – greens, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower, for example.

Chocolate and other human foods must not be offered, and pet shop-bought treats – which are often laden with sugar
and honey – should be avoided, even if they state they are suitable for rabbits.

Exercise and housing

Rabbits should not spend their entire life shut up in a hutch. Hutches should be looked upon as resting places only. Rabbits should have the opportunity to exercise for several hours a day, be this in a secure run, designated rooms of the house or an escape-proof and safe garden.

If owners opt to allow their rabbit free range access in their garden, then they must make sure that there are no poisonous plants, recently applied pesticides or escape routes; and that predators, such as foxes, cannot gain entry to the area.

If access is to be allowed in the house, then all electricity cables must be moved out of the rabbit’s reach or made safe by covering them up. Again no poisonous plants should be accessible and warn owners to watch out for their rabbit by taking care with where they stand and when they shut a door.

Neutering and keeping rabbits in pairs

Owners are often under the impression that unless they have one rabbit of each sex then neutering isn’t necessary. Whilst this may be true from the point of breeding, the other benefits of neutering should be discussed.

These include the benefits of eliminating the risk of reproductive neoplasia of female rabbits (affecting up to 80 per cent of entire does by the age of five years), cessation of pseudo-pregnancies in does, cessation of spraying (especially in males), reducing aggressive tendencies (especially in female rabbits), and lessening/cessation of amorous behaviour in both sexes.

All practices will have a policy on what ages they will neuter rabbits, but generally speaking, bucks can be neutered from three to four months of age and does from four to five months of age, depending upon the breed (Figure 3).

Figure 3: All buck rabbits should be castrated

The best combination for a rabbit pairing is one male and a female with both rabbits having been neutered. Same-sex combinations can work if both animals are neutered, but will have a higher failure rate, and owners should be told never to separate a bonded pair, even for a short time such as a vet visit, as this can lead to a permanent and irreversible fall out between the two rabbits. When visiting the vet or travelling, owners should be advised to take both rabbits with them (Figure 4).

Figure 4: If one rabbit needs to visit the veterinary practice, then its companion should also be taken

Never advise that guinea pigs are suitable companions for rabbits.

Fly strike

Clients should always be warned about the risk of fly strike (myiasis) and be advised to check their rabbits for this – vigilantly in the milder months (April- September). Rabbits should be checked two or three times a day to ensure that there are no fly eggs or maggots present around their anus or rump.

If the owner notices any maggots, then he or she must telephone the veterinary practice, day or night, as this is an emergency. Cyromazine (Rearguard – Novartis Animal Health) can be recommended as a preventive measure for use on rabbits that frequently have a dirty back end. Cyromazine which is an insect growth inhibitor licensed for prevention of fly strike in rabbits. It does not repel flies but prevents the larvae moulting from LI to L2.

Pet insurance

Pet insurance should be recommended for all rabbits – quoting bills for common problems can encourage owners to follow this recommendation.


Offering the client a ‘goody bag’ is a useful method of reinforcing advice given during a rabbit consultation and adding value to the appointment. The bag can include explanatory leaflets on the subjects covered during the consultation, a food sample and information about the practice. No matter how interesting you make consultations, clients are unlikely to remember everything that you have explained.

I find that clients are very grateful for the advice they are given and by using ‘goody bags’ I know that they have gone away with the correct information on how to look after their rabbit properly. 


Claire King RVN A1 MBVNA

Claire qualified as a veterinary nurse in 2007, gained her City and Guilds Exotic Nursing Certificate in 2009 and A1 assessors certificate in 2010.

She set up and has run rabbit clinics at her practice for the past two years, which have proved very successful and popular with clients.

To cite this article use either

DOI 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2010.00007.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 26 pp 25-27


MEREDITH. A. 12006] Dermatoses (chapter 13). in BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Medicine and Surgery, Second Edition. BSAVA, Gloucester.

MEREDITH. A 12006) General biology and husbandry Ichapter II. in BSAVA Manual ol Rabbit Medicine and Surgery, Second Edition. BSAVA, Gloucester HARCOURT-BROWN. F. (20021 The rabbit consultation and clinical techniques Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. Butterworth-Hememann.

Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 11 • January 2011 •