Rabbits & guinea pigs

Here’s a quick guide all about rabbit & guinea pig care. If you have any concerns about the health of your pet, please call us.

Here at St Helens Vets will advise you on what, how much and when best to feed your rabbit or guinea pig to keep them fit and healthy. Rabbits and guinea pigs have very individual needs. We have a range of nutritious, specially formulated foods. Being overweight can increase the risk of other health conditions developing such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and breathing problems. Diet is an important factor in keeping teeth and gums healthy.

What causes rabbits and guinea pigs to gain weight?

Weight gain is the result of an increase in body fat. Eating too much usually causes this, especially when combined with lack of exercise. But there can be other contributing factors such as:

  • age: older pets are usually less active so require fewer calories
  • breed: some breeds are more prone to weight gain
  • medical problems: weight gain can be associated with a medical disorder that may require specific treatment.

How can I tell if my rabbit or guinea pig is overweight?

  • the ribs cannot be easily felt when running your hands along the side of their body
  • difficulty in walking and exercising
  • slow movements
  • loss of an obvious waist

How can I help my rabbit or guinea pig to lose weight?

Weight problems are very common and these can be successfully managed through changes in diet and lifestyle. Combining a change in diet with increased exercise is the most effective way of achieving a healthy weight. All pets need exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. Lack of exercise can also cause behavioural issues as well as weight gain. Allow your pet time out of the cage to wander freely in a specially built run or an enclosed space. Call St Helens Vets to book a weight check or to attend our veterinary nurse clinic for help and advice.

All rabbits, even indoor ones, need to be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and VHD (Viral Haemorrhage Disease). Myxomatosis can be vaccinated against from six weeks old and then every six months to keep up immunity. Myxomatosis is spread mainly by blood sucking insects, such as fleas and mosquitoes.

Some signs of Myxomatosis – puffy swellings on the head and face (severe swelling can cause blindness), swollen lips, swellings on the inside of the ears and under the tail, difficulty in breathing, eating and drinking.

VHD is spread by direct contact between rabbits, (both wild and domesticated) and also through indirect contact with people, clothing, other objects and fleas. VHD can be vaccinated against from eight weeks old and then yearly boosters will keep up their immunity. VHD can be fatal and once infected there is as yet no cure. Some symptoms of VHD include loss of appetite, bleeding from the nose, difficulty breathing, high fever and paralysis.

Join our St Helens Vets Pet Health Club to make savings and spread the cost of your pet’s vaccinations.

Call St Helens Vets to arrange a vaccination programme.

When you are looking at buying a rabbit or guinea pig remember that long-haired breeds need time and attention to keep their coats from matting. Regular grooming is essential for these breeds as matted fur can be painful and pull on the skin. Grooming is also an opportunity to examine your pet, to check their fur, skin, nails, ears and teeth.

St Helens Vets can show you how to groom your pet.

Fleas can undermine the health of your pet. The warm weather brings an increase in flea numbers. You may notice your pet scratching more than usual and may see a flea, or small specks of black flea droppings if you part the hair.

As well as treating your rabbit or guinea pig, you will need to treat their bedding. Treatment products are available from us here at the surgery.

Ask about the St Helens Vets Pet Health Club for savings and to help spread the cost of routine flea control treatments.

Worms are internal parasites that infect rabbits throughout their lives. E.cuniculi is a parasite in the UK and causes serious health issues in rabbits. Prevention with a paste given twice a year is vital for all rabbits.

Please call St Helens Vets to book an appointment for worming and parasite control.

Join the St Helens Vets Pet Health Club to make savings and spread the cost of routine veterinary care.

The signs of dental disease can be subtle. Watch for signs of difficulty in chewing, or in eating hard food. Sometimes pain stops proper eating and they become subdued. Foods that need a lot of chewing (like hay and carrots) are needed in addition to pellets to keep teeth trimmed and short.

Make sure you feed your rabbit and guinea pig large quantities of fresh hay on a daily basis (at least 70% of their total diet). Their teeth are fast growing and need to be worn down by fibrous materials. If neglected teeth can become overgrown and curl, causing pain, difficulty eating and abscesses.

Rabbits are good at hiding pain as in the wild weak animals are hunted by predators. Healthy rabbits and guinea pigs generally need a dental check up twice a year. Our veterinary nurses at St Helens Vets will give you advice on how diet can help rectify overgrown teeth and prevent this condition from continuing, as well as arranging for clipping to take place. There is a small fee for this service. Severe cases will be referred to the vet as a surgical procedure will be required.

Call Petcare to book a dental check.

The bacteria associated with dental disease can also cause other serious health problems as they can gain entrance to the blood system and travel to other organs, most notably the liver, kidney and heart valves. Signs of dental disease in your pet can include

• Bad breath
• Bleeding and inflamed gums
• Build-up of yellow or brown tartar on the teeth
• Difficulty chewing food
• Loss of interest in food
• Clawing at the mouth or drooling
• Tooth loss
• Overgrown teeth
• Subdued behaviour
• Not wanting to be touched on the head

Rabbits with large droopy ears are more susceptible to ear problems. Symptoms of ear problems include shaking of the head and scratching at the ears. There can be a discharge or odour from the ear, or redness of the ear flap or entrance to the ear canal.

We do not advise that you clean your pet’s ears other than around the entrance, as cleaning further inside can cause pain and damage, as the ear canal tissue is delicate. If a foreign body is in the ear canal do not try to remove it yourself, please contact us as anaesthesia may be needed to remove the object.

Infections can be due to ear mites. Some bacterial infections can perforate the eardrum so call us straight away.

Call St Helens Vets for an appointment to have your rabbit’s ears checked.

Sometimes rabbits may need their nails trimmed, our vet nurses will be happy to do this for you for a modest charge. Trimming black coloured claws yourself with nail trimmers can be tricky as the ‘quick’ (nerve and blood vessel) cannot be seen. If this is accidentally cut, the nail will bleed.

Call St Helens Vets to book nail trimming for your pet.

Neutering prevents unwanted rabbits and guinea pigs and can also reduce aggressive behaviour. We can advise on the best time for this.

Please call St Helens Vets to discuss.

Summer – Keep your pets in cool shade. Do not leave your pet locked in a hutch outside or in a conservatory on warm days, and never in direct sun. The temperature inside can rise very quickly. During the summer months you will need to protect against fly strike to prevent maggots. Call St Helens Vets to arrange this.

Winter – Watch for any limps or difficulties getting up after rest, these are signs that your pet may have some joint stiffness, often made worse by cold or damp weather. Winter can be a very difficult time for animals that live outside, especially pet rabbits and guinea pigs. Ensure hutches are in a sheltered position and they are warm and dry. Small animals find it harder to keep warm and conserve body heat. Even if it’s cold and you would prefer to stay inside your warm house, please make the effort to visit them every day to give them fresh food and water and check their water bottle is not frozen!