Jersey Wooly - breed information and advice

The Jersey Wooly Rabbit is gentle and cuddly, and makes a great pet for children because it’s not known to kick or bite. The breed was created by crossing a French Angora with a Netherland Dwarf, resulting in an extra-small rabbit with a luxuriously soft, woolly coat.

Breed information

Essentials

Size: Small, weighing about 1.36kg (3lb)

Coat: The Jersey Wooly’s coat requires minimal grooming, but will need to be detangled once a week during non-shedding season and more often in the spring.

Temperament: Playful and even-tempered, Jersey Woolys love cuddles and lots of attention, and will always enjoy snuggling on a lap.

Special requirements: These bunnies should be kept indoors, but still need lots of space to stretch out and play, either in a bunny-safe room or in a supervised rabbit run outside.

Lifespan: 7-10 years.

Dental disease

Many rabbits suffer from dental problems. Because rabbits’ teeth are constantly growing, they need a good, balanced diet with plenty of hay to help wear down teeth at an even rate. Jersey Woolys are particularly prone to dental disorders because of their smaller heads and slightly longer jaw, which can create misalignment problems.

They can suffer from mandibular prognathism, which leads to abnormal patterns of dental wear, causing elongated teeth or altered teeth positions. Symptoms include weight loss, dribbling or gut problems.

Vets can burr down teeth under anaesthetic to help improve misalignment and remove sharp spikes, which might dig into the sensitive tissues of the tongue and cheeks.

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Parasites

Parasites are a common problem among all breeds of rabbit. Cheyletiella mites in particular can cause itching and hair loss, but can be easily treated with anti-mite preparations in the form of an injection or spot-on treatment.

The E cuniculi parasite can be more difficult to treat. It’s spread by spores in the urine and can be passed on to other rabbits. Although some rabbits with the parasite are symptomless, others are more sensitive. Symptoms include excessive thirst and urination, cataracts, head tilt and paralysis in the back legs. Although the parasite can’t be removed entirely, symptoms can be managed with worming treatments.

In warm weather, rabbits may be prone to flystrike – where flies lay eggs in their fur, leading to a maggot infestation. Jersey Wooly Rabbits may be more at risk of flystrike, as eggs can easily stick to their long fur or any tangles. Rabbits that are already unwell and aren’t grooming themselves properly are particularly at risk. With prompt intervention, treatment can be effective, but it’s important to address the reasons why flystrike occurred in the first place. For example, an inability to groom properly due to a pre-existing condition such as dental issues, obesity, diarrhoea or prolonged periods of inactivity.

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Viral infections

Viral infections can be spread between rabbits, either by spores in the urine, or by insects or animals contaminated by the virus. Viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD), sometimes also known as rabbit haemorrhagic disease, which has symptoms such as fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and spasms, and myxomatosis (symptoms include swelling and lesions around the rabbit’s head, face, ears, lips, anus and genitalia) are two such diseases, and can be spread by flies, fleas or mosquitoes.

While there is no known cure for these viral infections, they can be prevented with a vaccine. As the peak season for myxomatosis is between late summer and autumn, it’s advisable to vaccinate in spring or early summer. In the case of VHD, a new vaccination that targets newer strains of the virus is now widely available in the UK.

Once your rabbit has had the initial vaccination, speak to your vet about staying up to date with boosters each year.

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Uterine cancer

Cancer of the uterus is the most common form of cancer in female rabbits, including the Jersey Wooly Rabbit.

Symptoms include fertility problems and stillbirths, loss of appetite and blood in the urine. In some cases, the cancer can spread to the lungs and cause breathing difficulties. If caught early enough to ensure that the cancer hasn’t spread to other tissues, removal of the uterus can mean the rabbit may continue to live a healthy life. Ultimately, prevention is better than cure, so ask your vet for their recommendations on spaying female rabbits.

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Bladder problems

Most animals only take in the calcium they need from their food and expel it through their guts, whereas rabbits absorb all the calcium they eat and expel it through their bladders. This can sometimes result in an excessive build-up of calcium, known as bladder sludge. Some rabbits, including the Jersey Wooly, may develop bladder stones.

Symptoms include squealing or squeaking when passing urine, the presence of blood in the urine, or urine scald – where urine has been in contact with the rabbit’s skin for prolonged periods of time, causing a rash.

Luckily, these conditions are relatively straightforward to treat if caught early. Bladder stones can be surgically removed, while sludge can be treated with fluids to help flush out the bladder. If the rabbit also has cystitis (a bladder infection), a course of antibiotics will help to clear it up. Dietary changes, such as feeding good-quality pellets that ensure your rabbit gets just the right amount of calcium, can help prevent problems from occurring, too.

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