Hollygate Vets's home page
  • Call our surgery02890 817109
  • Out of hours02890 651729

Rabbits & Small Furries

Guidance for smaller furry pets


Information on choosing and caring for rabbits.

Choosing your Rabbit

Rabbits can make very good pets, but they have some important husbandry needs that must be addressed in order to provide adequately for their health and welfare. As well as social interaction with other rabbits, they also enjoy being friendly with humans too. They need to be given attention every day and require regular gentle handling to establish and maintain that human:rabbit social bond, although this must be on their terms. The daily contact also allows an opportunity to check them for any health problems. Like all pets, they require proper health care and attention including occasional visits to the vet for essential vaccinations. Also, given that a well cared for rabbit may live for around eight years, a decision to buy must be viewed as a long-term commitment.

There are many different breed of rabbits offering a wide range of colours and sizes from big Lops and Flemish Giants to compact Chinchillas and Dwarfs. Whichever breed you choose, make sure your rabbit comes from a well-run shop or reputable breeder, is in first class health, and has been properly weaned. Key health points to look for include freedom from runny noses or weeping eyes, clean ears with no build up or foul smells, teeth which are not overgrown or abnormal in appearance, a clean perineum (the area around the reproductive organs and bottom) and a healthy coat. If in any doubt about any of these points, don’t buy.

All pet owners have a responsibility to provide suitable care for their pets, and you can find some examples of such requirements for rabbits below:

A suitable environment and housing

Your rabbit will need good housing in which to live. If you choose a hutch, it should be large enough to allow your rabbit to move around freely and high enough to allow it to stand upright on its hind legs. They should have a secure, well insulated and ventilated hutch providing plenty of room to move around and stretch out, ideally a minimum size of 6ft long by 2ft wide and 2ft high. It should be strong enough to withstand unwanted attention from cats, dogs, foxes etc. Raising the hutch off the ground will reduce the risk of diseases being brought in by rodents. Check that there are no sharp wire mesh ends or any other part of the structure which could harm your rabbit.

The hutch should contain a nest box in which your rabbit can feel secure. It should always contain clean, fresh bedding. In addition, your rabbit may choose to improve its comfort by lining it with fur, plucked from its own chest. Don’t be alarmed at this behaviour.

It is a good idea for your rabbit to have some exposure to direct sunlight as, like any animal which lives off plants, it needs UV light from the sun to manufacture its own vitamin D3 which helps to build healthy teeth and bones. However, don’t over expose your rabbit to the sun as it could suffer heatstroke.


Straw is a safe and effective bedding for your rabbit. Shredded paper is a cheaper option but is a poor absorber of urine and would need to be changed more often than straw. Wood shavings are also commonly used but care must be taken to avoid any sharp pieces which may cause injury or irritation. Bedding should be changed twice per week and the entire hutch should be emptied and cleaned once a week (except when breeding). A disinfectant solution should be used to prevent the build-up of potentially harmful bacteria.

Many rabbits will make their toilet in a selected part of the hutch and will normally use only that one area. This make it easy to remove droppings on a daily basis. Although cleaning out your rabbit’s hutch frequently may seem like an unrewarding chore, it is one of the most important contributory factors to your pet’s good health.


A suitable hutch provides a sheltered space for rabbits to use as their base, and they should ideally have constant access to a grass run area which is a minimum size of 8 feet by 4 feet, alternatively a minimum access of 4 hours per day. Indoor rabbits need the same space allocation and may be enclosed within a pen or run, alternatively they may have free run of a room as space to run around helps to provide exercise.

Don’t let your rabbit become overweight. As it will spend the bulk of its time in its hutch you will need to create some opportunities for it to exercise. The easiest option is to allow your rabbit to exercise in your garden, if you have one. Any exercise area must be thoroughly fenced and your rabbit will need to be supervised during exercise. As an alternative to fencing you could use a harness. Many rabbits are quite happy with this. Cat harnesses are usually adequate, but make sure it fits snugly. Don’t use a collar. It’s also vital that you don’t let your rabbit onto areas of lawn which have been treated with pesticides or chemicals that may be harmful.

To exhibit normal behaviour

To do this, they require adequate space, opportunities to run, jump, dig and forage. Try to make their environment interesting with tubes, hides, cardboard boxes, and objects to stand on and look around. Beware that rabbits burrow so an outdoor run area should have buried wire sides, or be checked or moved frequently. Neutered rabbits are less prone to digging deep burrows, but, being part of their normal behaviour, digging should be accommodated, even indoors. Trays or earth, shavings, hay, cardboard chips etc provide good digging boxes.

Interaction with other rabbits, in compatible pairings or small groups. Rabbits are social animals, and solitary confinement is unnatural to them. To avoid rabbits breeding like, well, rabbits, and to prevent potentially fatal uterine cancer in the females, both sexes should be neutered.


The more frequently your rabbit is handled and stroked, the tamer it will become. Use both hands when you pick it up and hold it firmly, but gently. Always support your rabbit’s weight with a hand under its hind quarters and keep it close to your body.


Rabbits are natural vegetarians and should never be offered dairy or animal products to eat. Also, avoid supposed ‘treats’ such as sweets and chocolate. Most pet rabbits are fed a commercial rabbit pellet and cereal grain mixture, mainly for convenience. While this is fine, you should make the diet more interesting and natural by adding plants such as dandelions and clovers. When selecting a pellet, choose one which is fresh and green looking, avoiding excessive amounts of coloured additives. Unfortunately, rabbits don’t always know what’s best for them. If given a choice they will select tasty flakes and cereal grains, leaving fibre and calcium rich pellets uneaten in their bowl. For this reason, don’t give your rabbit new feed until the bowl is nearly empty.

Vegetables can be added but only on a limited basis and not to very young rabbits. Once your rabbit can cope with vegetables, a good choice would include carrots, clover, parsley, peas and green peppers. Don’t feed excessive amounts on an occasional basis as they can cause stomach upsets.
The best item to add to your rabbit’s diet is a good quality hay, the type available from a supplier of horse feed. Hay is rich in natural fibre and calcium. Make sure any hay you buy is clean and dry, however, as dust, mould and moisture can cause problems.

Don’t worry if your rabbit also eats some of its own droppings, this is perfectly normal. Make sure fresh water is always available, ideally via a drinking bottle.


To be protected from pain, injury or disease means that they should be vaccinated, treated for any parasites as directed by your veterinary surgeon, and regularly (daily), checked for any signs of ill health by their owners. Regularly checking the teeth, ears, skin, claws and underside, around the back end, in particular, are vital.

Myxomatosis and Haemorrhagic Viral Disease are two serious infectious diseases which affect pet rabbits, almost always resulting in death.
Myxomatosis is spread by blood sucking insects, such as fleas. The disease causes puffy swellings around the eyes and genitals and death usually occurs about 12 days later.

Vaccines exist for both conditions and are the main means of providing your rabbit with protection. Vaccinations are usually recommended annually, but may be required more often. In addition to getting your rabbit vaccinated it is an opportunity for our vets to give your rabbit a full health check.
Other health problems to be aware of include dental disease, eye problems and stomach upsets. There are several signs that your rabbit may be ill and require veterinary attention. Among these are:

  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • looking depressed
  • skin trouble
  • runny faeces and/or urine soaking into the back legs
  • discharges from the nose, eyes or mouth
  • difficulty breathing

As before, rabbits are excellent pets and if you look after yours carefully they should bring you a lot of enjoyment.

Please contact the clinic to make an appointment for vaccinations and a health check.

Guinea pigs

Information on choosing and caring for guinea pigs.

Caring for your Guinea Pig

The Guinea pig is a sociable and companionable animal and relish attention. It is a very vocal animal with several different sounds. They enjoy the company of people when they are used to them, but also need companionship of other guinea pigs. When choosing a guinea pig you will find they come in a wide variety of coat colours and types, from the smooth coated British to the long coated Peruvian, but all are of a similar size. All of these animals need grooming to help keep their coat healthy. Guinea pigs do not like to live alone so, if possible it is best to have 2 females and introduce them together when young. If male guinea pigs are preferred then it is wise to have them neutered to prevent fighting.

Handling your Guinea Pig

When you first bring your guinea pig home they will be nervous and apprehensive, so it is important that they are allowed to get used to their surroundings before you try to handle them. Once your guinea pig seems happy with its home you can then start getting them used to you. This is done by – placing your hand in the hutch, perhaps wiggling your fingers a little and letting them get used to your smell and your presence in its home territory. When they seem happy for you to do this, then gently stroke them. Only then when they are used to this can you pick your guinea pig up. In order to pick them up correctly you must always approach your guinea pig from the front so they don’t get frightened and can see what’s going on, then pick them up using both hands – one under the chest and tummy, the other supporting the hind quarters – then hold them close against your body so they feel safe and secure. If you are patient you will find they enjoy having you around and will start squeaking excitedly whenever they see you. However, there is one word of warning, your guine pig has very sensitive hearing and will be scared by loud or sudden noises. It is important that young children are always supervised when playing with their pet.

Housing your Guinea Pig

Before getting your guinea pig you need to decide where to house it. Do you want it in the house itself, in a shed or outside? In all cases the accommodation has to be large enough to provide both living and sleeping areas. For 2 guinea pigs this should be at least 120cm long x 60cm wide and 60cm high with separate sleeping compartments for each animal. If housed outside the hutch needs to be raised about 3 feet off the ground, insulated, weatherproof, draught proof and predator proof. They need plenty of bedding to allow them to burrow and hide if they want to. If possible an outside enclosure should also be provided to enable your pet to exercise and graze. Bedding should be plentiful but dust free. If may consist of shavings, hay or shredded clean paper. Pine or cedar wood shavings should be avoided, as should printed paper, as they can be toxic to your pet. The hutch and feeding bowls should be cleaned out every day and the bedding changed at least once or twice a week. Ceramic or stainless steel feeding dishes, which are shallow enough for your pet to feed from but difficult to tip over, should be used. Clean water, in a gravity bottle attached to the side of the cage, should always be available.

Feeding your Guinea Pigs

They need to be fed a special diet in order to keep them healthy and strong. A specifically tailored diet fed together with a plentiful supply of good quality hay and small quantities of fresh vegetables will supply sufficient vitamins, minerals and plant fibre to your pet. Do not feed grass cuttings or lettuce as these may cause stomach upsets.

Because guinea pigs are grazing animals their teeth continue to grow throughout life. It is therefore important to give your guinea pig sufficient plant fibre to keep the teeth from becoming too long. Our vets can advise on a suitable diet to feed your guinea pig when you are visiting us for a health check.

Guinea pigs cannot produce their own Vitamin C so need to obtain it from their diet. This vitamin is essential to your guinea pig’s well-being. They need a good range of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids to help promote a strong immune system, health and vitality. It is important that they have the correct balance of calcium and phosphorus to help ensure healthy bones and teeth as well as vitamin D and methionine to aid in calcium absorption.

When introducing a new diet it is important for this to be done gradually over a few days. This is done by adding small amounts of the new foodstuff to their existing food and gradually reducing the level of the old food.
Finally, a happy healthy guinea pig will have bright eyes and a shiny coat, its appetite will be good and it will be active and sociable.

Signs of illness can include runny nose and eyes, excessive salivating, diarrhoea, skin disease and loss of appetite, they are also prone to shock and dehydration. They should also be bathed weekly, before their bath they should be groomed, long hair should be trimmed and its nails should be clipped. If you think your guinea pig may be unwell then please do not hesitate to make an appointment for us to see him or her as soon as possible.

Rats and Mice

Both rats and mice are relatively short-lived animals but provide good companionship during their lives.

They should be kept in a large cage with plenty of room. An area for them to retreat to and a place for exercise should be provided. Rats, in particular like to burrow so bedding should be plentiful. It should be changed 2 to 3 times a week. The cage should be kept in area that is well light, ventilated, away from excessive noise and stresses.

Specialist food can be bought from pet stores for your rats or mice though this can be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables, non-fat yoghurt and whole-wheat bread. Grass hay or hay block should always be available along with fresh water, which should be changed daily.

A general note is that small animals are expensive to treat so an early visit to a vet is best to avoid any complications at the first sign of a problem.


Chinchillas are squirrel like rodents, available in 2 varieties. They are clean animals with no body odour, their thick coat means that they do not get parasites like fleas and ticks.

They should be kept in a wire cage away from sunlight and noise, plastic should not be kept in the cage as they will gnaw at anything to exercise their constantly growing teeth. Only place hard materials such as wood and pumice stone in the cage for it to chew on. Also in the cage should be some bedding (white pine shavings), sleeping quarters, some branches for climbing, a hayrack, water bottle and a dust container. As chinchillas hate water they take dry baths to remove excess oils from the fur. Dust should be available from your pet shop.

Chinchillas are vegetarians, surviving on special food pellets, hay and fresh water. They can be very frightened by noise or rough handling, and when frightened emit a pungent odour like skunks.


Gerbils are intelligent, sociable animals that are best kept in pairs. They should be handled daily and they will be affectionate to you, make sure you wash your hand before handling them to avoid passing germs to them, also keep an eye on any other pets you have.
They like to keep themselves occupied in a large wire cage. This should be lined with bedding and cleaned twice a week. To keep them busy and stimulated their cage should be full of toys and challenges. They also love tubes to run through and chew on.

You will be able to find pre-mixed food for your gerbil in pet stores for a well balanced diet. This can also be supplemented with sunflower seeds, vegetables and nuts. Fresh water should be provided with daily. A sterilized bone or twig should be provided for them to chew on.