The RWAF works with UK vets to promote better veterinary care for both houserabbits and outdoor rabbits. There has been huge progress with respect to our knowledge in rabbit health in the years since the RWAF (formerly the BHRA) was set up. For example, spaying is now widely accepted as a routine operation; more and more vets appreciate that our houserabbits are beloved companions rather than low-status children's pets; and most rabbit owners are within 25 miles of a really good rabbit vet. Even the Americans struggle to match that in some states! Our present Veterinary Executive, Judith Brown, is a full time practising veterinary surgeon and heads up the 'health liaison team' which comprises of other vets in practice, including university specialists as well as nutritionists and qualified behaviouralists. All are rabbit lovers and are as committed to promoting rabbit health and welfare as the rest of the RWAF team. They advise the organisation on health and welfare matters; veterinary politics; and how to out-reach to veterinary surgeons and nurses. We are also proud to to jointly fund (with Bristol Zoo Gardens) a veterinary resident, who helps to run the UK's first rabbit only clinic. This service offers specialist consultations and advice at Langford, Bristol Veterinary School, including providing a facility for vets to a faxback referral.
Finding a good rabbit vet
As soon as you get a bunny, you need to find a good rabbit vet. The early vaccinations and health checks (bunnies in the UK need vaccinating against both VHD and myxomatosis) provide the perfect opportunity to check out a promising local practice. Don't leave it until your bunny gets sick one day to find out where to go! The RWAF has compiled a list of "rabbit friendly" vets available to members struggling to locate a suitable vet to treat their pet. This list comprises of vets that have shown an interest in rabbits and have been nominated by other RWAF members.. Information on the RWAF vet list. Please let us know if you can recommend your vet! Before resigning yourself to travelling miles to use a rabbit vet, do have a good look locally - get out the Yellow Pages speak to other local rabbit owners! There will be loads of really good rabbit vets in Britain that we just don't know about yet. In the next sections, we'll look at what you should be looking for when you choose a vet for your bunny.
Choosing a vet for your rabbit
It is very important to find the right vet to look after your pet rabbit in sickness and in health, some only offer a vaccination or neutering service and don't provide all round health care. Not all vets are experienced with rabbits, and even within a group practice you will find that some of the vets are more knowledgeable and interested in rabbits than others. The ideal situation is to find an expert rabbit vet with good facilities near to your home. Realistically, though, unless you live in an urban area with a good selection of veterinary practices within reach, you will probably have to settle for a perfectly competent vet with a good grasp of the basics of rabbit medicine, an attitude you can work with and a willingness to seek further advice should it become necessary. It is no good finding the best rabbit vet in the country if your bunny gets desperately unwell you have to set off on a three hour drive up the motorway! When choosing a vet for your bunny, here are some things to consider.
Obviously it is nice to find a really experienced rabbit vet. But quite often we find it is acceptable in many circumstances to find a vet open minded about rabbits that is willing to go away and find information if they don't know the answer off hand. Finding a balance to get the best for you bun is very important.
Rabbits need TLC. If your bunny ever needs hospitalising, you need to know he/she is getting the best possible care. Ideally, rabbit hospital cages should be in a quiet place away from predators. It is nice if there is someone on the premises 24 hours a day, but this is not always the case in the UK. If your rabbit needs surgery (and most will, because they need to be neutered) then attention to detail is very important. Warming pads (although not too warm so as to cause heat stroke), the ability to administer fluids via different routes (eg intravenously/subcutaneously) as required, alongside experienced rabbit friendly nurses are all important. Equipment such as a drip pump, pulse oximeter or capnograph aren't essential but can be useful in monitoring patients. The actual anaesthetic used is far, far less important than the experience of the vet in using that technique. Injectable anaesthetics are much more widely used in Britain compared to America, although maintaining a good depth of anaesthesia with gaseous anaesthetics is also important. One commonly used gaseous agent is Isoflurane and this has advantages over Halothane which is now less widely used (for example, a lower risk of cardiac arrhythmias in a stressed animal) but it is not the be all and end all. Newer agents still have been developed for inducing anaesthesia but often patients are maintained on Isoflurane. The ability to intubate rabbits is very important and very much reduces the risk of anaesthetic deaths - this is whereby a tube is passed down the windpipe to maintain an airway and efficiently deliver the right levels of anaesthetic gas or oxygen directly to the lungs – many vets still don't do this. Proper attention to post operative analgesia (pain relief) is paramount.
Rabbits are beloved companion animals - not "livestock". You need a vet whom you trust to do the best for your rabbit. You are looking for someone who will put as much effort into your rabbit as he/she would for a dog or cat. Of course you must also be willing to pay the appropriate rate - at least the same as consultation fees as dogs or cats and in some cases more. Expertise can be very expensive. We HIGHLY recommend you insure your rabbit for vets fees. Petplan offer a very good policy at reasonable cost although as with other suppliers preventative treatment is not covered as part of the policy.
Taking your rabbit a long distance for routine surgery or second opinions is fine - few of us are lucky enough to have an expert in the same town. But you *must* locate a good local vet - for emergency care, routine stuff like vaccinations and teeth checks, and basically to be your rabbit's GP. If your own vet is not a totally rabbit whizz-kid, fine. So long as he/she is willing to work with you; admit limitations and assist you seeking a second opinion if any difficulties arise.
Your bunny is a patient of your vet. It is very, very important to respect that relationship with your vet. Never chop and change vets without discussing the situation with the first vet. Using different vets without advising anyone deprives your pet of the best care because the second vet needs to communicate with the first to find out vital history and chopping and changing purely for your convenience is not fair on your rabbit or either vets concerned. If you want a second opinion, a referral or to change vets, for whatever reason that is fine, but you must be totally open with everyone concerned. Remember, you are looking for someone to work for you and your pet.
If you think your rabbit is ill, you MUST take it to a vet as soon as possible. Time is often vital when considering health issues in rabbits and contacting people via e-mails may be time that can't be afforded, so first hand veterinary advice is paramount. Even out of hours, your local veterinary practice should offer a contact number to get advice from or go to if an examination is required. As rabbits are prey animals, they tend to hide any sign of illness until they can hide it no longer - by the time this happens, the rabbit is usually very poorly indeed! The suggested first aid kit is useful to have in case of emergencies, but the RWAF cannot stress enough, the need to locate a good rabbit vet well in advance of your rabbit actually needing one.
A hutch is not enough...