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Q Do you have a vet or vets that are particularly interested in rabbits?

A Yes!

Q How often do you see rabbits? Daily? Weekly?

A Ideally the numbers should be fairly high, but will possibly depend on where you live (rural/urban). An example would be that the vets will probably see at least a couple of rabbits every day.  If it is much less  they may not get enough exposure to the more complex cases or indeed see enough to get a good working knowledge of even the most basic illnesses.

Q Do my rabbits need vaccinating? (UK)

A The answer should be a resounding YES for Myxomatosis and VHD but with the qualification that the rabbit needs to be in good health to receive it and therefore will get a full health check prior to administration. Myxomatosis and VHD are now being administered a single vaccine in the UK (known as RHD - as of 2012) rather than three each year for the rabbits involved.

A vet that tells you that a house rabbit does not need vaccination probably does not understand how both diseases are transmitted and should be avoided at all costs. Myxomatosis and VHD are transmitted by biting insects and so being indoors is no protection as flies can get inside.VHD is transmitted by the wind, in hay, by direct contact so you can carry it on your clothes, footwear and hands.

Q Should I neuter my rabbits?  

A The answers again should be a YES.  Every vet should recommend this procedure for both male and female healthy rabbits.  There are many positives from neutering, both in health and behavioural terms and a good rabbit vet will know this. Un-neutered rabbits are at risk from pregnancy, behaviour traits that can make them undesireable, un-manageable, un-bondable and of course it can also save them from suffering  from cancers of the uterus or testes. Avoid a vet who is unable or unwilling to carry out this very basic procedure, as it doesn't bode well if a more invasive or complicated  procedure is required for your rabbits in the future.

Q Do you regularly perform rabbit spays/neuters?  

A This can be a good measure of the vets' interest and ability. A vet who carries out successful spays frequently will  generally be able to perform them more efficiently and therefore have the rabbit under anaesthetic for less time and therefore be better for the rabbit. Rabbit spays by nature are not a cheap procedure due to the drugs/time/staff involved so cheap isn't necessarily good and expensive bad or the other way around.

Whilst it might seem a difficult question to ask, now would be a good time to ask if the vet has lost any rabbits under anaesthetic during spaying or castration, and if so, how many and why. Any procedure carried out under anaesthetic is always a risk, but generally healthy rabbits should do very well in experienced hands.

Q Does your exotics vet cover emergency hours?

A Many vets use an out of hours locum service rather than covering 24 hours a day themselves. You need to know in advance where your rabbits would have to travel to should you need care in the middle of the night or on a bank holiday.  Time is of the essence with rabbits as they generally only show you they are ill when they are already really ill, so travelling long distances may when your own vet is closed may not be a suitable option and should play a part in choosing your vet practice. The rewards of a very good 'normal hours' vet might outweigh the fact that they use locum cover that may not be close by or as good.

Questions to ask a vet

Q What are the things you see most often in rabbits that are unwell?

A The most common things a vet will see will be infection (eyes/nasal,wound), wounds, dental issues, flystrike, abscesses, bloat, gut stasis (where the gut stops moving, rabbit may have stopped eating/pooing).

Q Do you know about Encephalitzoon Cuniculi? (E.C)

A This is thought to be carried by the majority of the UK rabbit population but is still not widely understood or known about by rabbit owners and vets alike. A good rabbit vet will have heard about it and will know basic treatments for a symptomatic bunny.

Q What treatment do you recommend for dental problems?

A Rabbits that have a good diet will often not require any dental treatment unless it's due to old age issues or those from poor breeding and a predisposition to poor tooth alignment etc.  Your knowledgeable vet should be able to suggest changes to diet that will help with the early signs of dental problems.  Often if spotted soon enough this might be all that is required  to prevent any invasive dental treatment.  If the vet just says they will need 'clipping', you should clarify what they mean by clipping.  Clipping is not a suitable treatment for dental issues in rabbits, however, filing or trimming with a burr is.  Sometimes a vet will be able to diagnose dental issues early on and suggest pain relief ahead of hands on dental work.

Q When would you use pain relief in rabbits?

A Pain relief is key for many rabbit ailments, but should only be prescribed for known or suspected conditions.  A good vet will work with you and use pain relief when necessary - a rabbit in pain will hide it initially as prey species will hide issues until they can hide them no longer.  if the vet says they don't often suggest pain relief for rabbits, they may not appreciate the importance and it may give you a clue as to their general rabbit knowledge. A vet who refuses to give pain relief to a rabbit in pain, would not be recommended.  Some vets question the use of some kinds of pain relief due to the possibility of upsetting the gut function, but there are different methods and types to administer so this is not really a satisfactory response.

Q What treatment would you give for a rabbit who has stopped eating?

A A rabbit who has stopped eating (known as gut stasis) is a very ill rabbit.  Gut stasis is not itself a condition, but a symptom of something else.  A good vet will often treat the symptoms before trying to ascertain the cause, as it can be life threatening to ignore and so time is crucially important. Once stable a good vet will try and find out why the rabbit is not eating. It can be for many reasons and each cause will require different treatments; a good vet will be able to explain a basic care plan that might be used.

There are many other questions that you might want to ask a new vet, to gauge if they are experienced and knowledgeable, and it's unlikely that you will be able to get good answers to all of the above when you ring the practice for the first time.  Most reception staff will not be medically trained and would not be able to give you an immediate response.  Its a good idea to book with the vet for a health check and use that time to ask some questions of the vet during your appointment.  If you are not happy with the answers, you may wish to consider finding another vet before you need one in a hurry.  It's true to say of course that not all vets necessarily start out being great rabbit experts, but one that shows a high level of interest and one who will listen to you as the owner is worth encouraging and definitely worth sticking with.