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Rabbits Bite Off More Than They Can Chew [10/04/2003]

Rabbits are the latest pets to suffer weight problems as they become the nation’s ‘new cats’.

New statistics from the PDSA, veterinary charity, show that health problems in rabbits have increased dramatically as the popularity of these pets has grown rapidly over the past five years, making them the nation’s ‘new cats’. The knock-on effect however is that they are the latest pets to suffer from severe weight and dental problems as pet owners ‘kill them with kindness’.

Rabbits have now become the third most popular pet* and in recent years have become the ‘new cat’ for time-poor pet owners believing them to be a low maintenance pet. According to the survey carried out amongst the charity’s vets, who treat over 4,500 pets free ever working day, this new pet ownership trend has led to a rise in the number of rabbits enduring an unnatural lifestyle. Rabbits are frequently kept in small spaces, which decreases exercise and leads to boredom eating. They are also often deprived of essential grass-grazing, high fibre diet, sunlight and sometimes fed inappropriate high calorie treats.

These factors have contributed to about one in three rabbits now being overweight leading to severe problems. Fat rabbits have an inability to control their body temperature, so can develop heat stroke in warm weather leading to respiratory problems. Female rabbits that are too fat may fail to breed, and as well have an increased susceptibility to pregnancy toxaemia, which can be fatal. The worst problem, however, is the rabbit’s inability to clean itself properly which can result in maggot infestation during the summer.

This new rabbit lifestyle trend has also led to worrying dental problems for over one in ten rabbits. Of these, 69% are dwarf breeds suffering from gruesome tooth overgrowth and spikes on their back teeth. This can cause a rabbit to starve to death, as they cannot eat. Dry mix feeds and unhealthy treats do not offer rabbit teeth the chewing exercise required. This means that they are only used for crushing instead of grinding as nature intended.

Additionally, keeping rabbits indoors deprives them of sunlight necessary to help them to make vitamin D, which is used to absorb calcium, essential for keeping bones healthy.

These warnings come as PDSA launches its annual PetCheck Programme to promote responsible pet ownership across Britain from a purpose built mobile vehicle. With nearly half of all British households owning a pet, PDSA is educating and encouraging people to think carefully about the best way to care for their pets to prevent unnecessary illness.

Despite health warnings from PDSA last year, the nation’s dogs and cats are still suffering from severe weight problems; nearly 50% of dogs and 20% of cats in the UK are overweight.

Elaine Pendlebury, PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon, comments: "Weight and dental problems are an increasingly common ailment, particularly for rabbits. Oral disease is one of the most prevalent conditions in veterinary medicine, which is worrying when a healthy mouth is of paramount importance to an animal’s general well-being and quality of life. Feeding rabbits a grass-grazing, high fibre diet will not only help their teeth but also will aid their digestion and help to keep their weight down. Make any dietary changes gradually, under veterinary supervision, and you will be helping your rabbit have a happier and healthier life. "

Marilyn Rydström, PDSA Director General comments: "The results of our survey reveal some very worrying trends in the welfare of our pets and these issues must be addressed and acted upon immediately. We believe the PDSA PetCheck Programme will help us to reduce the number of avoidable conditions that vets see every day, freeing up our precious resources so that PDSA veterinary surgeons and

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