Exotic medicine is an area of veterinary medicine that has become quite popular in recent years. When I was studying at least, exotic medicine courses were not a strong subject, but exotic species have become so popular in our basic routine, especially rabbits, that we must have a basic knowledge of this subject.  

This webinar was delivered on the 14th of June 2022 and can be watched for free thanks to the sponsorship of Burgess Petcare. In honour of Rabbit Awareness Week, I have chosen this webinar as the webinar of the month.  

In this webinar Guen Bradbury focuses on these 5 learning objectives:  

  1. Understand what rabbits need from their environment  
  2. Recognise behavioural problems that occur when the environment is deficient 
  3. Recognise the challenges presented by different types of rabbit enclosures  
  4. Know how to diagnose problems with a rabbit’s environment  
  5. Be able to advise on how to improve a rabbit’s environment  

To better understand a rabbit’s behaviour, we must understand its environment. If we go back to their natural state, wild rabbits have a home range of between 4,000 and 20,000 square metres in grassland. They live in complex social groups, typically spending 11-13 hours a day underground in a large burrow and, when above ground, spending 30-70% of this time grazing. Knowing this, we can think about how to reproduce this within our domestic environment, which is incredibly important as rabbits can develop physical and emotional health problems, should their environment not be correct. Therefore, Dr Guen’s main objective is to give practical advice so that we, as veterinary doctors, can best inform owners about not only the importance of a suitable environment, but what a suitable environment looks like.   

Dr Guen starts the webinar by giving explicit data for a good rabbit environment, the sleeping quarters are supposed to have a minimum size of 1.8mx0.6m connected to an enclosure of 3mx2mx1m giving the rabbit some freedom to move around and to have separate feeding, sleeping and bathing areas. It is also recommended that they should have supervised exercise space outside this area too. 

What do rabbits need from their environment?

In a diagram, Dr Guen listed the basic factors that exist in a rabbit environment, such as space, floor, odours, and air quality, among others. She explains how rabbits, unable to carry out their activities as they normally would in the wild, begin to stop moving and feel inactive. It does not cause suffering as such, but it does bring a variation in their behaviour that would normally bring pleasure and stimulation, in a natural situation

What problems do we see when the environment is deficient?

These problems are divided into 3 groups, physical problems, stereotyped behaviours and boredom and stress signs.  

The physical signs are easy to spot and the webinar gives a detailed list of them and how to associate them with environmental problems. Signs of boredom can be suspected when the patient spends more time sitting or lying down than interacting.  

What problems do different environments present?

Rabbits living in hutches do not have enough space to move around, the air quality is poor and owners tend to change bedding and flooring less frequently than required.  

Rabbits that have intermittent run access, cannot behave as they wish. They have to be lifted up in order to be placed in their open space, creating stress and biting, thus deteriorating the relationship with the owner.  

Rabbits in multi-storey accommodation are only able to hop, but not run, which is detrimental to their health as running is important and necessary for their behaviour.  

The webinar also gives information about house rabbits, their problems and what we don’t see in the rabbits living inside a house.  

How do you diagnose problems with a rabbit’s environment?

During the consultation, we should ask and question everything that Guen has discussed during the webinar to come to an assertive conclusion about the patient’s welfare.  

The second half of the webinar focuses on giving detailed information about housing, the right environment, positive conditions that can be applied such as connectors that enrich the environment and how owners can improve their pet’s environment.  

It is a webinar that I highly recommend because it gives us a general but detailed idea of what we should communicate to the owners, and how we can improve the rabbit’s environment at home and during consultation and therefore their health.