New Zealand White - breed information and advice

The highly intelligent, snow-white New Zealand White Rabbit with upstanding ears is the inspiration behind depictions of the Easter Bunny. The breed’s distinctive characteristics – red eyes and dense white fur – are due to a lack of melatonin pigment, which gives animals and humans their hair and eye colour.

Breed information

Essentials

Size: Large, weighing around 4-5kg (9-12lb)

Coat: Thick, snowy fur with minimal grooming needed.

Temperament: New Zealand Whites make ideal pets for children because of their docile, calm nature. They’re easy to train and can be taught tricks. Due to their size, they are a particularly strong breed and care should be taken when handling them.

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.

Some rabbits develop problems with overgrown teeth, which can change the alignment of the mouth and lead to infection and abscesses. Abscesses will need to be surgically removed by your vet, as they do not respond to antibiotic treatment and are too thick to lance, while overgrown teeth may need to be regularly filed.

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Spinal injury

Rabbits’ spines are extremely delicate and easily damaged. A frightened or startled rabbit may suddenly kick out with its hind legs, which can cause spinal damage from the force of the movement. This is a particular problem for New Zealand White Rabbits, as they have especially strong hind legs. Injuries can also occur if a rabbit is incorrectly handled or even dropped. Symptoms include paralysis of the hind legs, incontinence and lethargy.

Treatment depends on the severity of the fracture and the general wellbeing of the rabbit. If the injury has resulted in total paralysis of the hind legs and bladder incontinence, a vet may advise that putting the rabbit to sleep is the kindest option. Although spinal trauma cannot be cured, there are some procedures that can help correct an injury, as well as anti-inflammatory medication to address pain. Usually though, rabbits who have suffered a severe spinal fracture do not feel any pain at all.

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Uterine cancer

Cancer of the uterus is the most common form of cancer in female rabbits, and New Zealand White Rabbits have an increased risk of developing it.

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 New Zealand White, 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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Arthritis

Larger rabbit breeds, such as the New Zealand White, are prone to arthritis – a painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Symptoms can be difficult to spot, as any resulting changes in a rabbit’s behaviour tend to be gradual. A rabbit with arthritis may become less active and might spend more time lying in one place or in hunched, awkward positions, rather than stretching out.

Arthritis can occur naturally with age, known as osteoarthritis, or as a result of a bacterial infection leading to septic arthritis of the joints. Both can be treated with anti-inflammatory medicines prescribed by your vet.

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