Myths & Misconceptions
Snippets of 'rabbit' information (and scare mongering) perpetuate and travel around
the globe, but these do not necessarily have to be taken on board as categorically true.
Of course, some cases
are based on valid elements but keep in mind it doesn't mean they are applicable in every respect. For instance rabbits
with health problems are often put down without trying alternative methods. Or we are at fault by simply not having commonsense
or unknowingly cause grief and misery to rabbits.
Some Food Myths
feed lettuce and cabbage as they cause diarrhoea, bloat etc"
Countless owners refute this because they know that their rabbits love to eat lettuce and cabbage and have survived
to prove the myth otherwise! As an example go to Adorable Baby Lops page and open YouTube video link see a 6 week old bub happily eating cos lettuce leaf without suffering any
dire consequences whatsoever!
Keep in mind though that many varieties of vegetable leaves should be offered
in sensible portions and be as appetizingly fresh as you would judge edible.
"Don't feed grass because it causes
bloat, diarrhoea etc."
It's amazing people are led to
believe or actually fear their rabbits eating something, which is wholesome and natural rabbit food. It's an indisputable
fact that our domesticated buns are the same species as the wild rabbit. Therefore they biologically have the same digestive
system and nutritional needs.
Click here to read handy tip about growing your own grass.
"Don't feed grass because it could be contaminated with calicivirus or other bugs"
– sure this could be true but many other possible risk factors are just as viable. Calicivirus
may be transmitted by any living creature (human, animal, bird, insect) or foodstuff (hay, pellets, vegetation) as well as
innate materials such as clothing, vehicles or utensils. I know this is not exactly busting a 'myth' – it's
more like busting a lame excuse!
feed any fruit or 'sweet' vegetables (i.e. carrots) as the sugar content detrimentally affects gut bacteria"
– refuted by numerous people that feed fruit and veggies and their rabbits are perfectly
fine. This warning is presumed on the basis that any form of sugar encourages the growth of harmful bad bacteria.
It is understandable to be wary of refined sugar (sucrose), however there's a natural type of sugar (fructose),
which is found in all manner of vegetation – including grass and hay. As outlined below due to their 'richness'
feeding fruit and vegetables is okay, as long as they are offered in small, sensible portions, as you would with
"Pellets are nutritionally
balanced, provide a complete diet & rabbits need anything else"
pellets are a good source of protein and convenient to use they do not produce normal droppings typically produced by wild
rabbits. This fact indicates that pellets do not contain sufficient fibre.
Owners may think their rabbits produce
normal droppings but would be surprised if they compared the disparity regarding colour, size and texture.
should be given in rationed portions, otherwise regular overfeeding eventually causes bunnies to become overweight. Living
a life as a fat rabbit is not conducive to good health and their well being! Pellet rationing however limits the necessary
process of wearing down rabbit's teeth. Not enough grinding action may lead to teeth problems such as molar spurs. L
Another thing unlikely to be
taken into account is the fact that all living creatures need to consume living enzymes. Enzymes are an essential life element
and have a vital important role for every bodily function. In human studies, decreased enzyme levels are associated with ailments
such as diabetes, cancer, allergies and skin disease. For rabbits to regularly receive living enzymes in their diet
– they need to eat fresh vegetation!
above food issues . . .
In contrast to a wild rabbit's bland, high fibre diet we
tend to provide a concentrated 'rich' diet. By bland I mean the forage has minimal nutrition and likewise rabbit's
digestive system is suited to consume vegetation in bulk.
Their stomach receives food, which is difficult
to digest and the process is gradual/slow in comparison to gulping down one meal a day of pellets and or rich supplements.
We should keep in mind that the types of food we give our rabbits are treats and when supplied in treat proportions these
shouldn't cause harm.
When a wild rabbit hops out of his burrow he does not find a bowl of pellets or an over
abundance of any other kind of rich food. He might enjoy it at the time but like his domesticated relatives he could suffer
the consequences – indigestion or a number of other health problems.
Ideally, it would be great if we were able to offer our rabbits pasture grazing and then we would know their diet
is balanced and perfectly suitable for their complex digestive system. We wouldn't have to worry about obesity, molar
spurs, poor immunity, diarrhoea, bladder sludge, bloat, flop bunny syndrome, gastric intestinal statis (constipation) and
neck (Head tilt) is incurable or fatal"
There are various reasons
why rabbits suffer this problem, these being: middle or inner ear infection, foreign body in the ear, tumour or abscess in
the brain or ear, neurological trauma or brain damage, spinal injury, vitamin deficiency/s, toxic poisoning or maybe E. cuniculi
protozoa parasite. Symptoms of wry neck are: The head tilts sideways either occasionally or constantly, lack of balance and
body rolling, darting or rolling eye movement, pus or fluid in the middle or inner ear.
The following is a case history story about 'Nibbles' a pet rabbit of no particular heritage. It is from factual examples
like this one that we can question or re think about our attitudes and methods of treatment. Instead of automatically presuming
rabbits with wry neck need to be put down we could give them the opportunity to recuperate. Nibble's owners remembered hearing thumping noises during the night after which they found their pet was in a
really bad way. He looked weird and pathetic with his head hanging down as if having a broken neck. And when he tried to move
he was ungainly and would roll around as if completely uncoordinated. The vet's prognosis was not good and diagnosed concussion
with spinal damage. Antibiotics were prescribed just in case the symptoms were caused by some kind of infection.
Nibbles is living proof that wry neck does not necessarily have to be a death sentence. In photo above you can see when he's
picked up he has a problem – a bit of a head tilt. Also if his body is not fully supported he may start to lose a bit
For several weeks Nibbles was kept confined in a pet carrier to prevent being
distressed or causing further damage. His owners ensured he was well fed and cared for with frequent bedding changes. Gradually
his condition improved so much so that he could return to his outdoor hutch. To see him today you can hardly notice that he's
any different from any other healthy rabbit. Sometimes after frolicking in the backyard the extra activity causes him to revert
to having a slight head tilt – just for a few days though.
Wry Neck – Treatment is Possible!
Hi Christine, I have just been looking at your website, in particular
the article about wry neck.
a rabbit breeder and have recently given four young does to my mum. Six weeks ago I got a phone call with
mum in a panic over her black & white butterfly - Halle - having her head tilted. Immediately I told my mum to take her out of the hutch and put her in the travel carrier to confine her. I advised
her to administer some VAM and Vitamin C (this is information I have been given as a first thing to do in most cases of a
bunny being sick). I also told her to administer some Ivermectin (sheep dip that my dad has).
We administered 1 dose of ivermectin and the following
day 1 dose of Baycox. She had VAM (a vitamin and mineral injection by Nature Vet Pty Ltd, which we get from
our local fodder store), at 1 dose per day for 3 days. Followed by another 1 dose of Ivermectin, 10 days after the first
and she had another dose of Baycox 7 days after the first dose.
We are still unsure as to what caused Halle's wryneck as it could have been anything. Within a couple of days of administering the first doses of medicine, she was getting really bad.
This is when my mum became creative. Each day she would make a small neck brace
for Halle. She would take it off in the morning, give her 30 mins of free time (of which at the end of the 30 mins her
head was severely tilted again) then she would re-do her brace.
The Brace: Mum cut down a toilet roll holder to sit comfortably around her neck and split it down the
back. She would slot this into an old sock which had the top cut off it to use. This would comfortably go over
Halle's head and act as a neck brace keeping her head still. Mum also made a little sleeve that would fit over her
ear of which had a small weight in it to counter balance her tilting (her weight was a Warratah fencing gripple). After a week of making sure she was clean, healthy and not suffering under her brace she started to
show some improvement.
after her first symptom she has nearly fully recovered. She has been without her brace for two weeks and has just
the slightest tilt now (and did not immediately tilt the last time her brace was removed). My
mum was very relieved and excited about the work she has done with Halle, especially after we were told she would not
get better and we should have her put down.
To date, we are still not sure what happened, parasite, ear infection or it could have been the grandchildren
(who are no longer allowed unsupervised with the rabbits). I thought you may like this
as a story against the myth that nothing could be done when a rabbit gets wry neck (as another breeder told me to simply snap
her neck and not even try anything).
PS. even though it sounds weird, at no time did Halle suffer with the neck brace or counter weights
that mum made. We were very careful to ensure she was ok as we can not stand animal cruelty. Regards,
Similar to wry neck . . .
"Snuffles is incurable and affected rabbits should be put down"
Since snuffles is reported as highly contagious and rabbitries
fear others will be infected the general consensus of dealing with it is to euthanase. Symptoms are: a creamy discharge from
nostril/s, frequent sneezing, sometimes heavy/laboured breathing and if they wipe their nose the front paws are wet, tacky
or matted. Possible causes could be: low immunity, stress, poor husbandry/sanitation methods, poor ventilation, inadequate
diet or various strains of bacteria infection etc.
Unless diagnosis is
confirmed (via nasal swab and pathology testing) as pasteurella muticida you cannot categorically point the finger at 'snuffles'.
Rabbits sneeze (sometimes with an accompanying discharge) when they have allergies, foreign bodies stuck up their nose, living
in dusty or high humidity conditions or if eating dusty pellets etc. Even without seeking medical opinion/treatment some cases
of 'snuffles' either permanently or temporarily disappears. If it does reoccur it seems to correspond with stressful
conditions such as during pregnancy or extreme (especially humid) weather conditions.
People trying various home treatments such as improving the diet and living circumstances have proven to effectively
eradicate the problem. One of the reasons why snuffles is renowned as being contagious is I believe because populations of
rabbits happen to live in the same environment. Consequently when immunity levels are questionable, so too are their levels
of resistance and susceptibility to infections. Take for example when we visit shopping centres we are usually exposed to
'bugs' circulating in air-conditioning. Some people go down with the flu and yet others are blissfully unaware since
their robust immunity had provided protection.
* Miscellaneous Myths/Misconceptions *
your doe to prevent uterine cancer"
This one started in America and has spread
far and wide. The statement is mainly promoted by house rabbit societies, those with anti breeding principles, vets cashing
in on it and anyone that knows no better. From my research it appears that the conclusion is based on a study where a number
of New Zealand rabbits were autopsied after euthanasia. The rabbits did not literally die from cancer. The study found that
a high percentage of female rabbits had uterine cancer by the age of six. Cancer could be caused by many factors and one of
them, as we know in human studies, is that it can be genetically inherited.
problem (if there actually is one) must be American based, as cancer doesn't seem to be relevant in Australia. Nor it
seems to be a problem in England. When the question came up in a UK yahoo rabbit group one of the answers was particularly
interesting. Marion who is married to a vet and a long time breeder of rabbits said, "I would say a definite NO to spaying,
totally unnecessary, no more chance of cancer than any other problem. In fact I always think that an animal with all its proper
bits keeps a lot healthier and lives a better life". (Received Marion's consent to quote)
"De-sexing prevents testicular cancer"
There's no study/proof to back up the assumption that male rabbits are prone to testicular cancer.
It seems to have been thrown in seemingly just for the sake of it. De-sexing is advisable to prevent reproduction, modify
behaviour (sexual, spraying urine, aggressiveness) or for genuine medical reasons. Personally I think all rabbits (and their
owners) are individuals and for this reason it's not up to us to judge them in specific black and white categories.
Take for example that not all entire rabbits are highly sexed or that de-sexing will guarantee to resolve all behaviour
problems – of which in some instances much can depend on people's expectations. But trying to extend a rabbit's
life on the off chance it might get cancer seems a bit over the top.
In reality there's more chance of rabbits dying from dog/predator attacks or suffer health problems from being overweight,
which ironically is a common side affect of de-sexing.
of a de-sexed doe with rolls of excess fat and tipping the scales at 3.370 kg! The maximum weight of a dwarf lop should
be no more than 2.381 kg.
Or maybe cancer occurs in some rabbits or breeds later in life anyway. Then
again perhaps we have high expectations for our pet bunnies to survive beyond their natural life span.
Postscript: I've received a couple emails (from rabbit rescuers) and although not
having read my book they presume I am against de sexing – not true! The section here is just a small part of a larger
subject and hopes to encourage visitors to question whether such warnings are valid or wonder if we are being subjected to
yet another ambiguous cancer scare. In the neutering section of my book I bring up various pros and cons and then the reader
can make their own informed decision.
One respondent quoted 'other' studies where breeds such as Dutch,
Tan, Californian and Havana are noted to be susceptible to uterine cancer. Well that's strange indeed and highly unlikely
to be applicable in our country. Why? Because we've never had the Havana breed in Australia, not to mention having a minimal
number of Dutch, let alone rare, endangered Tan and Californian. So how could anyone have acquired a substantial number of
these breeds as an integral part of a study? Another point made was that uterine carcinomas are common in these breeds over
3 years old and without treatment is usually fatal within 24 months. So therefore these rabbits are around five years old,
which is generally accepted as an additional year or the maximum life span of a wild rabbit . . . ? One could argue that pet
rabbits are known to live a good deal longer. With domestic rabbits though there are varying opinions and ranges about their
average life span, consequently it is not clear if these are based on conjecture, word of mouth or via statistical research.
"Pet rabbits essentially need
or crave companionship of their own kind"
A subject matter that
keeps cropping up is about people feeling guilty or sorry for their solitary pets. From what I gather, they’re visiting
certain websites with strongly pushed recommendations for rabbits to have a companion of its own kind. A lot of pet owners
become concerned about their bunny being lonely and consequently wonder if it would be kinder to find another little friend
Unfortunately, for owners (and their rabbits) these types of websites have an objective to push –
their one-sided, idealistic pictures. For some strange reason such sources fail to also caution you about various negative
aspects. Any animal rights/welfare advocates are supposed to place utmost priority on rabbit’s health and safety and
therefore have a duty of care to warn you about potential hazards you are likely to experience.
Moping or worrying about being ‘lonely’ is a human trait (if you ask me – more of a problem or
weakness!) that is not an integral part of rabbit’s consciousness. If they’re on their own their main priorities
are to eat, sleep, hop around looking for more food or source the opposite sex for breeding purposes. If de-sexed their motivation
to procreate tends to be surgically removed, though some occasionally get it into their heads to mount another rabbit.
You’ve probably heard the argument that rabbits are social animals because
wild rabbits are a ‘colony’ species. If you study and observe the behaviour of wild rabbits however, you’ll
soon realize they have a hierarchy system, which must be adhered to, otherwise individuals place themselves in a precarious
position. For example if a rabbit’s status is subservient and grazes near the territory of any with higher ranking,
what would be the consequence? First, the dominant one will give a warning chase though if the other is not quick enough,
doesn’t have an escape route or retaliates by challenging the ‘boss’ rabbit’s position – then
a battle ensures.
Another noteworthy example of such inherent behaviour is when live wild rabbits (contaminated
with myxomatosis or calicivirus) are released within a colony, this method proves to be ineffective. Why? Well, simply because
wild rabbits have established their home/territory, intruders are regarded as a threat and so therefore, they do not willingly
accept foreign rabbits in their colony!
When we introduce domestic pet rabbits
as potential friends, the likely scenario is the same as when wild rabbits come across another. This typically entails a warning
signal (via body language), which either party has the option of fight or flight. Alternatively, one or both may react with
sexual behaviour (mounting), though if not consented to, can be distressing and involve fur pulling/biting et cetera. Such
reactions can occur with any pet rabbits that are generally over eight weeks of age, of all gender combinations and whether
they happen to be entire or de-sexed.
Have you observed a rabbit chasing another
and thought it was just a bit of fun? Well quite the contrary, chasing indicates an aggravated rabbit is trying to say, “GET
OUT OF MY SPACE!” If the other cannot escape (i.e. stuck in a hutch), he or she may end up relentlessly hounded or wounded.
Then again chasing could be motivated by sexual intent though nonetheless may result in likewise consequences.
Some also allege, “one lone rabbit may not thrive”. This is unfounded fear mongering, likely to cause
you to worry whether bunny will actually survive on its own! Owners striving to be responsible and ‘do right’
by their rabbit could easily take on board such a misleading forewarning. We can categorically prove such a statement otherwise,
given the fact that countless thousands of rabbits thrive without another rabbit in sight. Some may even have a longer, more
peaceful lifespan, due to not having to put up with the daily stress of sharing accommodation with a bully. Rabbits bond with
other species (human, dog, cat, guinea pig etc), so if they are content with this arrangement what is the problem with substitute
Before anyone jumps up and down in protest, yes, numerous ‘bonded’
rabbits genuinely enjoy each other's company. No doubt, they appreciate grooming sessions and this is wonderfully satisfying
for us to see. Chances are by sheer luck the owners managed to choose a pair (or more) of rabbits that have easygoing, submissive
personalities. However contrary to these, please take into account that some are quite capable (if not bound and determined)
of causing harm to any species – including humans! These obstreperous rabbits believe they have utmost superiority to
all others in their domain/territory.
I can relay numerous cases of so called
‘rabbit companions’ having to tolerate negative relationships, though these are variable regarding the degree
of intent and injury. Unfortunately, we are unable to pick out which rabbits will get on – even when choosing youngsters
from the same litter. A major influencing factor is when upon reaching adulthood whether they become dominant or submissive.
It is also hard to predict or evaluate what rabbits will do (especially when you’re not looking!) and so we have
to use common sense to gauge if their squabbles are minor or could potentially cause injury. Minor bullying could entail
hogging the food bowl (one ends up fat while the other is under normal weight) to excessive intimidation via aggressive chasing
to inflict serious damage.
Take for example the case story about a doe whose mother/companion died and hoping to compensate for
her loss the owner found advice on the Internet (house rabbit and rescue extremists) on the process of bonding rabbits. Apparently,
one of the recommendations was if the adult chased the little one, it would be sprightly enough to get away etc.
Well long story short . . . the owner purchased a lovely kitten doe who ended up with large chunks removed from her ears (left
photo example) and is now fearful of other rabbits.
The bunny on the right has the nastiest case of severed ears I have ever seen – she has her sister to thank for
that. These photos are just a small testimony of what unwary owners and their pets could experience . . .
Oh but of course, if humans traumatized and wounded these bunnies, they’d be liable to a criminal
charge for cruelty. A rabbit behaving so viciously (due to natural behaviour/instinct) just gets away with it. Needless to
say, I’m totally against leaving rabbits together to sort out their differences, it is stressful to the infuriated rabbit
and the poor losers end up bullied, timid, miserable or injured. Many pet owners (who learnt the hard way) end up with the
decision of having to re home one or keep them apart by investing in separate accommodation. This obviously defeats the purpose
of having ‘companionship of their own kind’, doesn’t it?
Fortunately these two have a safety barrier between them!
As you can see
the doe on the left is in charge and attack mode. Typically, she crouches with her head down, ears back and bottom up!
Photos of 'Molly' and 'Damsel' were taken by their owner
Sarah Fisher of Gumnuts Stud.
I’ve provided various
tips in my book to help rabbits bond and accept a companion, however if they tell us they would rather be on their own, we
have no other option but to respect their wishes.
Copyright © Christine Carter. All Rights Reserved.