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WHEN TO SEE THE VET

Looking after your new rabbit's health is an important part of her first days with you, including an initial visit to the veterinarian. Other visits to the veterinarian may be necessary early on if your rabbit's health calls for them. Fortunately, rabbits rarely get sick, so unless your rabbit shows signs of illness or your veterinarian suggests a booster shot, your rabbit will not require much veterinary care.

Finding a Veterinarian

If you don't already have a veterinarian, you'll need to find one and establish a relationship so you have someone to call in case of an emergency illness or injury. To find a veterinarian who treats rabbits, you can ask your rabbit-owning friends for a referral to their veterinarian. It can be helpful to visit any potential veterinarian's office or hospital to find out if the staff is friendly and if the facilities are clean, and to learn more about the types of services offered.

First Visit: Establishing a Clean Bill of Health and a Firm Foundation

When you first adopt or purchase your rabbit you should take her to the veterinarian for a checkup. In some cases, an adoption organization may give you a certificate for a free veterinary examination that can be redeemed by your local veterinarian or a large veterinary organization. Even if you don't have a "freebie" you should take your rabbit to a veterinarian for an initial checkup, especially if you have other animals at home, because only your veterinarian can give your new pet a clean bill of health from disease and parasites.

A veterinary checkup may also be required by the terms of your pet store guarantee, breeder's contract or shelter adoption contract. The contract or agreement will often specify a time limit during which you must get your new pet an initial health checkup or you will be unable to return your pet should a health problem later be discovered.

During the checkup, your veterinarian will examine your rabbit from head to toe. He or she will also ask you whether you have observed any signs of illness, such as sneezing, coughing, runny eyes or nose, loss of appetite, red urine or lethargy. These are symptoms you should watch for throughout your rabbit's life as well as prior to the initial veterinary visit. Also during your initial visit, your veterinarian should discuss the basic care of rabbits, such as nutrition, health concerns and hygiene. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable in your new role as your rabbit's parent.

Vaccinations

Rabbits do contract fatal diseases such as Myxomatosis, a viral disease spread by insects and by another viral disease, Tularemia, which is spread by ticks and biting insects. Your veterinarian will discuss with you the pros and cons of vaccinating your rabbit to prevent these diseases. Since rabbits do not display symptoms of illness right away, your veterinarian will also discuss lab tests to check for diseases.

Getting Your Rabbit Spayed or Neutered

Everyone knows the reputation of rabbits when it comes to reproduction, so unless you want and are able to care for lots of rabbits, it is your responsibility as a pet owner to see that your rabbit does not have unwanted offspring. If you do not intend to breed, show and sell your animals, you should have your female spayed or your male neutered (otherwise known as getting your male or female pet "fixed"). Many veterinarians recommend that you have your female rabbit spayed at six months of age and your male rabbit neutered at five months of age.

"Fixed" pets enjoy a longer life span and a decreased chance of contracting several illnesses compared to non-sterilized rabbits. Approximately 80 to 95 percent of unspayed female rabbits will get uterine or ovarian cancer before the age of five; spayed females are not subject to health problems related to the reproductive organs. Fixed females will no longer go into heat and will desist from undesirable behaviors as well. Male rabbits will cease, or won't even begin, their territorial spraying behavior if neutered at a young age.

Unlike the procedure for dog and cat surgeries, do not withhold food or water from your rabbit the night before surgery. Rabbits cannot vomit, which is the reason food is withheld from cats and dogs before surgery.