Building a rabbit friendly practice

There has been a steady increase in the development of rabbit friendly vets and practices around the country for a number of years, helped and promoted by Rabbit Awareness Week, which is now in its 14th year. All of this ensures that when a rabbit is taken to a veterinary practice, they receive the highest level of service that is possible at the time.

Posted: 19 August 2020

Building a rabbit friendly practice


Nowadays, owners are more informed and knowledgeable and are consequently more demanding of both quality and service from their vets. By being a rabbit friendly practice, you’ll not only boost your clients' confidence in you and the practice, but you’ll also help improve their ability to look after their pet to perfection.

How to create a rabbit friendly practice

It’s a sad fact that most owners still don’t go to their local vets for routine advice or for medical attention for their rabbit. Some of the results published in the most recent PAWS report are really quite shocking;

Negative findings of the PAWS Report

  • 49% of pet rabbits live alone without the company of another rabbit.
  • 25% of rabbits are kept in inadequate living and housing conditions.
  • 26% of owners don’t provide any hay as one of the main foods for their rabbit.
  • 21% of owners feed muesli as part of their rabbit’s main diet.
  • 13% of rabbits get no preventive healthcare.
  • 29% of pet rabbits aren’t registered with a vet.

Positive findings of the PAWS Report

There are still a considerable number of people who actively choose to take their pet rabbit to a vet for a multitude of reasons. Here are some positives that can be taken from the PAWS Report, showing the reasons rabbit owners registered with a vet.

  • 41% of rabbit owners chose their vet on reputation
  • 71% registered to get regular health checks to ensure their pet is healthy
  • 63% went to get them vaccinated
  • 60% wanted reassurance that they could access help if needed
  • Just 19% registered with a vet because their pet had been ill

All this goes to show that the rabbit savvy owners want to register and be seen by vets who have a good reputation and are willing to offer health checks and vaccinations as routine. The opportunities in the 21st Century are almost endless, and with the technology, social media and CPD available at the moment, there is really no reason why any practice with the right amount of determination and vision can’t develop a team to stand above the competition and offer the very best service possible.

Rabbit Clinics

One of the opportunities for every practice lies with running specialist rabbit clinics. It’s the most obvious place for the clinical team to offer health checks and advice. By educating and involving your clients you’re going to help rabbits live longer healthier lives. These clinics will allow you to discuss good husbandry minimises, optimal nutrition, vaccinations, obesity and dental disease. The time spent with your clients and their pets will help them form a lifelong bond with your practice.

Check list for owners – taking their pet rabbit to your clinic

For an owner to be able to bring their rabbit to the clinic safely, it’s most important they do it as carefully as possible. Below is a brief checklist of what to advise them before they set off.

  • Safety – use a safe, solid carrier. They should be rigid well ventilated and secure.
  • Comfort – provide fresh hay, straw or shredded paper bedding to absorb urine. The size should allow the rabbit to enter easily, lie comfortably in any direction and turn around unhindered. It should also be small enough to provide a feeling of security.
  • Food – ask the owner to bring a sample of their normal food.
  • Cover – encourage them to use a pet carrier which provides seclusion. A towel can be draped over the top to restrict their vision and recreate the feeling of a secure burrow.
  • Companions - consider bringing a bonded companion for company.
  • Familiarity – ask them to use a familiar toy or used bedding to allow continuity of smells.

The rabbit waiting room – 5 top tips

Waiting for an appointment can sometimes be quite a stressful time for both owner and patient. You can improve the situation by;

  1. Peace and quiet – make the appointments at a quiet time of day
  2. Rabbit clinics - group rabbit appointments together, and avoid mixing time slots with dogs and cats
  3. Isolated wating room – if you can create a separate waiting area away from predators
  4. Minimise time in the clinic – if possible, ask the owner to wait in their car until their appointment time.
  5. Rabbit receptionists – make sure your reception team is ‘up to speed’ with rabbit problems. That way they’ll be informed and aware, being able to ask all the right appropriate questions, and will also be able to triage cases appropriately.

The rabbit consultation – 10 ways to keep them content

In this section we’ve got a list of actions you can take during the consultation to ensure your rabbit patient remains as stress free as possible.

  1. Clean the consulting room – reduce stress to your rabbit patients by cleaning all smells and evidence of predator species before you invite them in to be seen.
  2. Use the floor – from the beginning, try to leave the pet carrier on the floor.
  3. Give them some time – rather than rushing to pull the rabbit out of the carrier, allow them to come out on their own and explore the consulting room.
  4. Non slip surface – a rabbit can become easily frightened if it doesn’t have a grip on the examining surface. You could use a large towel to cover the table or floor to allow it traction.
  5. Lift with support – when holding the rabbit, always provide support to the rear end, and hold them firmly against your body. A finger between the front legs can help prevent the rabbit from wriggling and trying to escape.
  6. Avoid sudden movements – work slowly with a quiet, calm and confident manner.
  7. Quiet - avoid loud noises at all times.
  8. Never cover their nostrils - rabbits are nasal breathers and will panic if they can’t breathe.
  9. Use a towel – with some animals, you can help control them and minimise stress by wrapping them in a towel.
  10. Once the examination is complete – at this stage, place the rabbit back on the floor and allow them to return to their pet carrier.

Happy in hospital – 13 ways to keep your rabbit patients safe

It’s best to keep the time a rabbit stays away from their home as short as possible, but if you do need to admit them into your practice for treatment or surgery, there are a number of things you can do to keep them safe.

  1. Minimise stress - rabbits are prey animals and get stressed if they ‘re in close proximity to dogs, cats, ferrets and birds of prey. Keep hospitalised rabbits away from the sight, sound and smell of all predators.
  2. Bring a friend - rabbits are social creatures, so encourage your clients to bring along a companion for their pet.
  3. Only offer quality food – never compromise on food. Use plenty of good, fresh smelling dust free hay and herbs. At Burgess Pet Care we have an extensive range of the finest fibrevore foods. See our range of fibrevore rabbit food >
  4. Fresh greens – cultivate a practice herb garden producing plenty of leaves. Parsley, rocket and dandelions are ideal, but make sure they are clean.
  5. Avoid overnight stays - the less time spent in the clinic the better.
  6. Beware infectious diseases – E. cuniculi is easily spread from contaminated urine. Ensure you don’t house rabbits on top of each other and so avoid urine dribbling into the lower cage.
  7. Cleanliness – remove soiled urine and faeces as soon as possible, and always make sure the cages are thoroughly cleaned after every use.
  8. Zoonotic awareness – always provide your staff with correct procedures and facilities to avoid infection.
  9. Climatic control - monitor your ward temperature and humidity as many clinics can become too hot and humid during the summer and too cold in the winter. 
  10. Appropriate anaesthesia - only use the recommended anaesthetics and always work with a veterinary nurse who is experienced with the special requirements of the rabbit.
  11. Analgesia – ignore pain at your peril. Rabbits won’t necessarily show the typical signs of pain. They may just go quiet. The use of NSAID’s such as meloxicam, fentanyl, buprenorphine and butorphenol is widespread and very effective. 
  12. Invite a lunchbox – whenever you admit a rabbit for a hospital appointment, why not ask your clients to bring in a lunchbox of food they use at home. This way you’ll have a chance to check what their pet is being offered, but you’ll also find the rabbit will be more likely to eat the food.
  13. Cable care – never leave a rabbit in a cage unattended if there are electric cables. Rabbits love to chew and will easily bite their way through a heat pad power supply.