Wendover Heights is a large, first opinion, small animal, exotics and equine practice in Buckinghamshire.
With a team of 10 small vets, 18 registered veterinary nurses and 3 student nurses, they have a diverse range of patients, providing veterinary care from everything to dogs, cats and rabbits to more unusual pets such as snakes, lizards and chickens. We spoke to Louise Scott RVN, who shared her top tips on getting the most out of RAW, the benefits of being involved and the impact it has on improving the lives of rabbits.
For the 2017 Hop to Hay campaign, Wendover Heights ran free health check events and discounted all of their rabbit-specific products and vaccinations. This involved nurse health
checks, weight checks, dental checks and reduced fees on neutering and microchips too.
To accompany this, Wendover Heights also ran a big social media campaign with advice on correct care and husbandry of rabbits, as well as featuring lots of the bunnies that were brought in for free health checks.
This year, they’ll be doing the same again, and have made the decision to make all vet checks free.
“In previous years our nursing team did the health checks. However, for checking rabbits’ teeth, especially visualising the back teeth, we decided this was more important for vets to do. Dental checks should be right at the top of the priority list.”
Wendover Heights created an advertising display using posters and materials from the RAW packs to promote the campaign at their on-site pet shop. Louise also created a variety of promotional images and posters using the official RAW assets such as logos to promote their activity through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Using social media channels to reach rabbit owners was really important for the practice. During RAW, Wendover Heights took photos of all their rabbit patients to share online, using hashtags such as #RAW and #RabbitAwareness to reach a wider audience. Louise found it much easier to target the right groups on Instagram compared to Facebook. Try experimenting with a variety of social media platforms to see what works best for your practice.
“We find owners LOVE being on our social media pages; very few decline for their pet to be shared. A lot of owners are now also making Instagram pages for their rabbits and will tag us when they come in – meaning all of their friends get to see our practice too and learn about the RAW campaign!”
As Louise says herself, education is key. Whilst RAW raises awareness around a specific theme each year, it also raises wider awareness around the five welfare needs of rabbits. Veterinary practices play a really important part in helping to ensure owners are aware of ALL of their rabbits needs. Many of the rabbit owners attending the Wendover Heights Veterinary Centre are usually bunny-obsessed – which Louise admits they absolutely love – but explains that the hope is rabbit owners who only provide the ‘minimum’ are inspired to make changes and improve the quality of their rabbits’ lives as a result.
“It’s important to ensure owners are aware of all of their rabbits’ needs. We had one owner who admitted conditions they were keeping their rabbits in were not adequate, and that they were going to make changes. Hearing stuff like that is really positive. It’s also a really good time to encourage owners who do not vaccinate to vaccinate, by raising awareness of the diseases and offering significant discounts. Education is key!”
Rabbits are one of the most misunderstood animals in the UK, and Louise notes that there are many misconceptions they regularly hear from rabbit owners when it comes to the nutrition of their pets. Owners are feeding too many pellets and not enough hay, and many think vegetables such as carrots are healthy treats for rabbits. They may be low calorie to humans but are sugar dense and should only be fed to rabbits as a treat.
“Ignorance is bliss! Rabbits are very good at hiding if they are unwell. Regular health checks are important to make sure their teeth are growing correctly and not causing problems. Constantly read and review what you do as a practice – are you doing enough?”
Louise’s top tips for a successful Rabbit Awareness Week
Being involved with RAW positively impacted the number of rabbit owners visiting Wendover Heights Veterinary Centre, who attended to over 30 rabbits during the week and registered 5 new bunnies. Feedback was consistently positive from all of their clients, with more and more bunnies becoming house bunnies each year too. We asked Louise if she had any advice for practices looking to get involved with RAW for the first time.
“DO IT! The only way rabbit welfare is going to improve is by educating owners. As veterinary professionals, we are the most qualified to do it, so why are we not ALL doing it? We find it a really rewarding week. We also find the majority of owners bring their children with them who are always as keen to learn too. It’s a positive week all-round.”