Rabbits are a popular pet option for people of all ages and, since the modern wave of many critter lovers keeping their fluffy friend inside as house pets, bunny-fever has become more widespread. Sadly, however, rabbits are now being noted as the most neglected pet. Rabbits are very sensitive animals and time and care must be spent of their welfare and care. Whether a bunny fanatic or considering if a rabbit would be an ideal addition to the family, the information below will provide a great guide on how to raise a happy and healthy rabbit.
A hutch is not enough
Rabbits like to run, hop and investigate, so a life solely spent in a hutch is cruel. Rabbits can never have too much living space and ideally a large hutch with connected run that is situated across a grassy area is ideal. However, Mr Fox can often like to pay our furry friends a visit and a hutch alone is often the safest option for most over-night, and ensuring the dwelling is predator proof is a must.
However, it is imperative that your rabbit is allowed to roam a grassy run that provides enough room for exercise and obligatory bunny hops. It is important that this run has a shaded area for the height of summer and that you do not forget to adorn the run with toys and fresh water so that your miniature companion is kept entertained and hydrated during their outdoor expeditions.
Many house rabbits rule the roost until bedtime and are continuously active, aside from some well-deserved snoozes. However, it is important that house rabbits get to go outside and feel the earth between their nails.
Rabbits have complex digestive systems that are constantly working; essentially a fermentation chamber that relies on intestinal bacterial to produce the nutrients their body requires. A complete and balanced coarse diet, high in indigestible cellulose is ideal and remember – rabbits love to graze! In the wild, rabbits eat mainly grass and are perfectly healthy. Rabbit’s teeth are designed specifically for a pure grass diet so getting Bugsy out on the grass or chomping on hay is ideal for dental wellbeing.
The general rule (but this can be adapted to suit all bunnies’ unique needs) is a hay based diet – 80% hay, 10% pellets and 10% vegetables or fruits. However, it is best to keep tabs on your rabbit’s fruit consumption due to the high sugar content, and be sure not to feed them any stones, pips or seeds, as these can often be poisonous.
Rabbits love company
In the wild, rabbits live in large networks and they are highly social creatures. Domestic rabbits crave this companionship and having another rabbit cohort is ideal. It was once popular to house one rabbit and one guinea pig together, but rabbits really need a hutch-mate of their own species. Sometimes, rabbits look for this connected relationship elsewhere and can become so attached to their owners that they can become jealous if another rabbit is introduced, so it is best to raise pairs from a young age.
In general, it is fair to say that most rabbits will be happiest in the company of another rabbit and the ideal pairing is a neutered male and a spayed female. The bond between the pair is often unbreakable and they will often groom each other, comically compete for your affection, and sleep together.
Breeding like rabbits
The gestation period for rabbits is only four weeks, which can equate to several litters in a year. Wild rabbits need these numbers to balance the high amount of deaths due to predators and domestic bunnies should only be bred by experience breeders. The phrase ‘breeding like rabbits’ was coined for a good reason and homing a female and male rabbit together will inevitably result in kittens that may be hard to re-home or accommodate if a surprise pregnancy arises.
Spaying or neutering your rabbit at an appropriate time for the sex can decrease the risks of uterine or testicular cancer and the likelihood of other health and behavioural issues. The ideal time for neutering male rabbits is 5 or 6 months old, whereas female rabbits can be spayed as young as 3 months.
Keep your rabbit clean
Cleaning your rabbit’s hutch once a week is not enough. As well as the weekly deep clean, droppings, old food, and soiled bedding should be removed on a daily basis and you must ensure that all toys and equipment are cleaned and maintained.
Keeping an extra hygienic eye on your furry friend in the summer is particularly important as rabbits can often be at risk of fly strike during the warmer months. Fly strike is caused by the green bottle fly and target rabbits who have wet and dirty groin areas, as well as obese rabbits, and females with large dewlaps. The flies lay their eggs around the rabbit’s rear and the maggots that hatch can eat the rabbit’s flesh and release dangerous toxins. Immediate veterinary action must be taken and it is most appropriate to ring ahead so that your poorly bunny can receive specialised care upon arrival.
Rabbit MOT and vaccinations
Rabbits are susceptible to a range of potentially life-threatening conditions, but many of these can be avoided with the appropriate preventative care and vaccinations.
Fleas contracted from other pets such as dogs or cats can be a problem for rabbits, especially when some fleas can carry deadly diseases such as myxomatosis. Getting your pet rabbit vaccinated against this fatal disease is very important and if your companion does contract fleas, it is imperative that a flea treatment specifically designed for rabbits is used. Your bunny has a very delicate immune system which means that flea treatments intended for dogs or cats can kill them, as well as flea collars.
Rabbits should be health checked twice a year and this may just include a tooth trim by your veterinary surgeon, but it is best to regularly check your rabbit and attend the bi-annual bunny MOT for the happiness and well-being of your pet.
Handle with care
It should go without saying, but never pick your rabbit up by the ears! Rabbits are very sociable and inquisitive creatures and developing a good relationship can be extremely rewarding.
Moving slowly and talking quietly is the best approach when handling your rabbit and will help keep them calm. It is best to handle your furry friend around ground level as it is less likely to scare them and prevent any falling from height.
Rabbits should be held firmly, with one hand supporting their back and hindquarters at all times, as their spines are fragile. It can also help the rabbit to feel secure and safe by holding their four feet in contact with your body.
If your bunny is ever in distress whilst being handled, placing a towel over their eyes (ensuring their nostrils aren’t obstructed) can be very calming and help bunny relax.
Plan ahead for a healthy and happy life
The life span of rabbits has seen some reaching the ripe old age of 10 if in good health and well taken care of. Do not plan on getting a rabbit as a temporary pet for a couple of years for yourself or young children; plan for your rabbits to live to old age, and ensure that you can take care of them adequately for the duration of their lives if they do.