picture of Litter

TLC for English Angoras

by
Betty Chu

What is this, a dog? Oh, no, a rabbit, I've never seen a rabbit like that!

This is the typical reaction I receive when people see my English Angora Rabbit. A good English Angora rabbit does not look very much like a rabbit, mainly because of his head furnishings: long tassels on the ears, abundant head bangs and side trimmings with the eyes hidden under all of the furnishings. The face should be short, flat and wide. With these kind of facial characteristics, no wonder people are confused about whether they are seeing a rabbit or a Pekinese dog!

In addition to a good face, an English Angora rabbit's body should be short and cobby; legs and feet should have good wool coverage. Last, but not least, the wool quality should be dense, silky and long. According to The Standards of Perfection of the American Rabbit Breeders Association, 57 percent of the points in judging English Angora rabbits are allocated to wool. Of these 57 points, 25 points are on density, 20 points are on texture and 12 points are on length. Though one does not want to keep an English Angora rabbit in show coat at all times, a good quality rabbit should be capable of putting on a good coat.

An English Angora in top condition is one of the most beautiful animals in the world. A neglected one, however, is the saddest thing one can ever see. Due to the time, knowledge, love and discipline required to care for them, English Angora rabbits are not for everyone. It is necessary to understand that taking on the task of raising English Angoras is a long term commitment of feeding, watering, grooming, and prevention of woolblock. In return, English Angora rabbits will give you back love, affection, companionship and luxurious fiber for spinning.

Equipment:

  1. Cage: A 30"x30"xl8" or larger cage with l"x1/2" wire bottom, preferably with a pan so that the owner can examine the rabbit's droppings. The cage should be placed in an area with cover on the top and sides, good ventilation but no drafts. A sitting board or a rag in the cage will help prevent sore hocks. The board or rag should be cleaned at least every other day.
  2. Feeder: "J" feeders is convenient, but may damage the head furnishings. An inside feeder of at least 4"x4" is nice, but it requires to open each cage door at feeding time.
  3. Water: Use a water bottle, not a crock. An English Angora rabbit's trimmings are easily matted if he has to drink water out of a crock or a dish.
  4. A outdoor thermometer to be placed on or near the rabbit cages.

Feeding English Angoras:

English Angora rabbits require a high protein high fiber diet. The protein is necessary for wool growth and the fiber is necessary for lessening the problem of woolblock. The following mixture works very well:

The above grains are available in feed stores , not grocery stores. Due to the weight limit placed on the English Angora rabbits in the A.R.B.A. Standard, you also should control the diet. In addition, by feeding the same amount in each feeding, the owner will have a good idea whether the rabbit is in a normal state or not. If the dish is empty before the next feeding, generally speaking, the rabbit is doing fine. If there are leftovers in the dish for a couple of feedings, the owner better carefully check on the rabbit to see whether the water bottle is functioning well; whether the rabbit is suffering from diarrhea, woolblock or even maggot infestation.

I feed each rabbit l/3 cup of the above mixture in the morning and l/3 cup in the evening. Nursing does require 2/3 to l cup per feeding. I also feed a large handful of hay at night and a piece of treat in the afternoon. Sometimes I give wild bird seed to help clean up the rabbits' digestive tract. It is available in grocery stores as well as in feed stores. Angoras enjoy alfafa hay, grass hay and oat hay. Alfafa hay is rich in protein but quite messy to use. When buying Alfafa hay, select the bale which looks green and fresh from the outside, preferably with the dried leaves attached to the stems. The yellowish ones are too dry and leaves will fall out in the rabbits cage. The rabbit enjoy alfafa but the grass and oat hay are the ones which provide the roughrage necessary to prevent wool block.

Treats:

picture of Litter Most English Angora rabbits enjoy almost all possible treats: dry bread (especially dry french bread), grass (fresh wild weed grass, not lawn clippings since they mostly contain residues of fertilizer and spray), greens, oranges, apples, carrots, melons, plums, grapefruits, peaches, corn, corn stalks, etc. A variety of food can give them different nutrients. Never overdo it, however. Small portions give them enjoyment; large quantities give them diarrhea. When giving treats, if the rabbit does not consume them right away, make sure that wool does not stick to the treat. If there is wool on the treat, remove the wool or discard the treat to lessen the chance of woolblock.

Woolblock:

Angora rabbits can die from woolblock. The dying process is slow and painful - when the rabbit's stomach is full of wool, the rabbit cannot eat, and he starves to death. Cats and dogs can vomit when there is a hairball; rabbits cannot. For short haired rabbits, hairballs are a problem, but not nearly as great of a problem as with Angora rabbits. For Angora rabbits, hairball, or woolblock, is the No. l killer. Many Angora rabbits die unnecessarily young.

For woolblock, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The following practice may prevent woolblock from ever starting:

  1. Enzyme Pills : The enzyme in the pill is Bromelain or Papain, which is also found in meat tenderizers . Bromelain or Papain helps to break down the wool ball in the rabbit's stomach. Hay and fiber help to carry the wool away . If the rabbit is not blocked at all, I give him 6-7 pills once a week for maintenance . If there is any sign of blockage, I may give the same dosage of pills two or three times a week.
  2. Hay: I give a large handful of hay each day. The rabbit receives grass hay and/or oat hay everyday.
  3. Wildbird seed mix: Some rabbits love this mix. Once or twice a month, I withhold the regular rabbit feed and give 1/4 cup of this mix as a substitute. There was a case many years ago in which one of my rabbits became blocked and went off feed. She would not eat anything for several days. When I offered her this mix, she nibbled some. I decided to give her this mix solely. After one week she passed the wool mass and has been normal.
  4. "Marble watching" : Droppings tell you the condition of the rabbit's health. Watching these marbles is another task for a conscientious breeder. If the droppings are round, moist, dark-brown and evenly large, the rabbit is in good health. If the droppings start to look like a "necklace", droppings being connected by strings of wool, you should pay more attention to the rabbit. If he is still eating the normal amount of feed and drinking normal amount of water, he probably is still healthy. If not, he may be blocked. If the droppings start to be of uneven size, some big and some small, irregularly shaped, with light color and a dry look, this is a sign of wool in the system. If the rabbit is not eating well, that provides further evidence he is blocked. If the rabbit stops eating, excretes few droppings, and these droppings look oily and gluey or totally dry, he may be near the end of the rope.

What do you do if the rabbit is blocked? First, remove all of the wool. It may also be wise to use a superstrength enzyme instead of the maintenance-oriented enzyme used weekly. One possible enzyme is called "Prozyme". I'd use the mixture of Prozyme with banana or Prozyme with Ensure to help add enzyme and nutrients to the rabbit. Use a syringe to administer the mixture into the rabbits mouth. At this time, since the rabbit probably has stopped eating, Ensure also helps to prevent dehydration. If one follows the above method closely, the rabbit usually comes out of the woolblock in about a week. If the blockage is too large to be pushed out, some veterinarians are able to surgically removed the woolball.

Woolblock, however, is not totally reversible unless the woolball is removed by surgery. Once the rabbit is blocked, he is likely to become blocked again, because some of the woolball in the system cannot be totally forced out. Keep an eye on this rabbit to detect reoccurrences of the problem.

Weather:

English Angoras as well as other rabbits, are susceptible to heat, drafts and wetness. In the winter time, make sure they are well protected from wind, rain and snow. In the summer time if the temperature is over 85F, put an ice bottle in the cage. An ice bottle is a two-liter soda pop bottle filled with water and frozen solid. When the temperature is over 92F rabbits can easily die from heat exhaustion if they are not cooled.

Exercise:

Rabbits need exercise just like people. Since an English Angora rabbit's coat can pick up dirt, leaves and stickers from the ground, it is necessary to confine him in a clean area.

If you choose in-house exercise, you should rabbit-proof the areas your rabbit is allowed to visit. Rabbits can do great damage to electrical cords of all types. If the power happens to be on when the rabbit is chewing, he can die from electrocution.

If you choose an outdoor exercise area, the ideal set up will have a solid fence, large lawn, no predators, no swimming pool, a little sun with lots of shade and some tasty greens available for digging and munching. Not all yards satisfy these requirements. One possible way to come close to this is to construct an exercise pen and move it to areas on the lawn or patio under a tree.

picture of Playpen Here is a satisfactory method for constructing a playpen from lx2" welded cage wire. Panels approximately 30" long can be cut from a roll of 24 - 36" in width. (Be sure to cut off all the short bits of protruding wire after cutting.) These panels can be joined with J clips or hog rings, which are also used in cage construction. (Hog rings tend to be more durable.) Make sure that the panels are all the same size so that the finished playpen can be folded up accordian style when not in use. The playpen will be easier to work with if you make two sets of six or seven panel sections and clamp them together when in use. This will make an area approximately ten feet in diameter. The wire should be as heavy as possible to prevent the rabbit from prying the pen up in order to escape. Be sure that there will be adequate shade in the pen area when the rabbit is exercising in it. If the rabbit cannot escape from the direct sun on a hot day he could die in the pen.

In most cases, does can run together, young bunnies can also run together, but not bucks. Since bucks are aggressive by nature, each buck should run by himself.

When exercise time is over, you should check to see how much stickers, twigs and other debris are attached to the coat of the English Angora rabbit. Make sure they are all removed before putting the rabbit back into the cage. If not done, the rabbit is likely to try to lick them off himself and ingest wool in the process and cause woolblock. In addition, if there are any foxtails and burrs, they could cause injuries to the rabbits' skin and eyes.


Copyright © 1998 by Betty Chu. All rights reserved
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