The effects of routine veterinary appointments on rabbit welfare

Daisy Parr, Susan Holt

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A large proportion of pet rabbits do not receive regular preventative veterinary healthcare. The impact this lack of care has on rabbit welfare has not been studied. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of owners not attending routine appointments on the condition of rabbits when subsequently they were presented for non-routine appointments. A review of deceased rabbits during 2018 was also conducted.

A retrospective study was performed at a 1st opinion, small animal veterinary practice, in the South West of England. Full clinical histories of all rabbits seen during October 2018 to November 2018 (identified via the practice management system), were reviewed. Only those rabbits seen for non-routine appointments (± previously seen for routine appointments) were included. Routine appointments were classified as those requiring preventative health care e.g. routine vaccination or nail clipping. Non routine appointments were classified as those at which the owner reported clinical signs of disease. Rabbits attending for a non-routine appointment were given an American Association of Anaesthesiologists (ASA) grade (1-5) based on the clinical notes recorded by the attending veterinary surgeon. Only the first non-routine appointment that a rabbit attended was analysed, and the ASA grade noted. The rabbits were placed into one of two groups; those who had not attended routine appointments within the last 18 months (Group 1) and those who had, prior to the non-routine presentation (Group 2). The age and sex of the groups were compared using a Mann Whitney U test (sex data were numerically coded). The ASA grades between the groups were compared using the Mann Whitney U test. Significance was set at p≤0.05.

One hundred and eleven records were reviewed, with 40 meeting the inclusion criteria (attendance for a non-routine appointment). Of these, 15 had not previously attended for routine care, and 25 had done so. No statistically significant differences in age, or sex of rabbits existed between the two groups (P≥0.05).
The ASA grades of rabbits in Group one were significantly higher than those in Group two (p=0.001). The median±IQR ASA grade of rabbits in Group one was 3±1; with only 6.66% (n=1) graded lower than a three, 60.00% (n=9) graded at 3 and 33.33% (n=5) graded at 4. In group two, the median ASA score was 2±1; with 60.00% (n=15) graded lower than 3, 32.00% (n=8) graded 3 and 8.00% (n=2) graded at 4.
Thirty eight rabbits were recorded as deceased in 2018. The mean±SD of age at time of death was 1530±1036 days. Of these, 42.10% (n=16) were less than 3 years old and 65.80% (n=25) had never received routine or preventative veterinary treatment.

This study suggests that pet rabbits are living a shorter lifespan than expected. When rabbits attend routine appointments regularly in veterinary practice, the severity of non-routine presentations are less than those rabbits not presented for routine healthcare. This may indicate that owners who seek routine care are more proactive and invested in their rabbit’s health and will present sooner if concerns arise. It is vital to educate owners in appropriate rabbit husbandry at every opportunity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
EventBritish Veterinary Nursing Association Congress 2019 - Telford International Centre, Telford, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Oct 201913 Oct 2019


ConferenceBritish Veterinary Nursing Association Congress 2019
Abbreviated titleBVNA 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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