Rabbit Care


Like the Easter Bunny, real live rabbits are cute and cuddly, however, they do require special care to look after them. Here are a few tips to keep your rabbit happy and healthy:

  • Rabbits are social creatures. In the wild they live in groups, so they can get very lonely living alone. Consider getting a second rabbit for company.
  • Rabbits have continuously growing teeth so need to chew a lot to wear these down. Hay and grass are perfect for this and should constitute 80% of their diet. Concentrated food pellets fill rabbits up too quickly, so they don’t do extra chewing. You should only feed a maximum of 1/8 of a cup of pellets per kg of rabbit.
  • Lettuce with high water content such as iceberg lettuce is not good for rabbits. Darker more fibrous lettuces like Romaine can be OK in small amounts.
  • Foods such as root vegetables like carrots and fruits contain high levels of sugars so should only be fed in small amounts as a treat. It is better giving them leafy greens such as kale, spinach and silverbeet.
  • Rabbits can get lice and fleas. Talk to your vet about suitable treatments from these as some flea treatments can be toxic to rabbits.
  • Rabbits can get diarrhoea if the food they are eating has a high water content such as fresh spring grass. Rabbits should be checked daily for evidence of faecal build up and this cleaned off, so flies aren’t attracted to it.
  • Rabbits should be desexed to prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce the risk of reproductive cancers. It can also make the boys a bit quieter for handling.
  • Rabbits can be litter box trained so they can be indoors but be careful of electrical cords as they do like to chew.
  • Rabbits can get lice and fleas.  We recommend Revolution Puppy & Kitten spot-on (selamectin)
    • Targets fleas, roundworms, ear mites, flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)
    • Lasts 1 month
    • CAN’T use on rabbits under 8 weeks.
rabbit vaccination


Rabbit calicivirus, RVHDV1 (also known as rabbit haemorrhagic disease or RHDV) has been present in New Zealand for decades and is in the Franklin area, we currently use Cylap® to vaccinate against this.

A new strain of the rabbit calicivirus RHDV2 was confirmed in New Zealand in May last year. The strain has been confirmed present in the North Island but not in the Franklin area yet (as far as we know) but because the virus is highly contagious, it is only a matter of time before it spreads here.

A vaccine called Filavac® is now being imported into NZ and will protect against both strains of RHDV.  It can be given from 10 weeks of age with an annual booster and we have limited stock at Franklin Vets.

Cylap is still available and will protect against the strain known to be in our area.

However, due to its inability to protect against RHDV2, we recommend using Filavac whenever possible. 

The Rabbit Breeder Associations in NZ and the UK recommended both rabbit vaccines should not be administered at the time of de-sexing. Administration at the time of post-op check or during a general vaccine consult is preferred.

Other information about Calicivirus:

  • Rabbit calicivirus has a short incubation period of 3-4 days and a high mortality rate. It causes massive internal bleeding which kills the infected rabbit within 1-2 days. Sometimes there are no signs of illness, other times, there is bleeding from the nose. Some rabbits are found dead within hours of eating and acting normally.
  • Rabbit calicivirus is highly contagious and can survive several months in the environment which means that it spreads very easily. It can be blown in the wind or transported by people or birds. Rabbits can also be infected by contact with contaminated hay.


We recommend desexing rabbits from 12 weeks old. Female rabbits should be de-sexed to prevent uterine cancer, which is so common that it occurs in 60% of rabbits over the age of 4 (with the rate increasing further as the rabbit ages). Speying a female rabbit also enables her to be successfully bonded with a de-sexed male rabbit (known as a husbun).


Franklin Vets

Franklin Vets - excellence in veterinary care for dairy, farming, lifestyle, equine and household pets. BESTPRACTICE ACCREDITED NZ.