Rabbit Care

 

1. Cage and Equipment

Rabbits are very active animals and need a lot of space to move around in. We recommend a cage of at least 6' x 2' x 2' for permanent housing. The cage should include an enclosed sleeping area, (shielded from draughts and rain if outside), as well as an open area.

Rabbits needs lots of exercise - the best way to make sure they get enough is to provide a large, escape-proof run for them during the day. Remember that rabbits are natural diggers, and can often escape from improperly secured runs on grass. The run should have a covered area to provide shade from the sun and shelter from the rain.

Stimulation is vital to preventing boredom - bored rabbits tend to be destructive and messy. We have found that hiding food in cardboard boxes and tubes helps keep them entertained. Hay racks and wire balls will also help make your rabbit work and think a little bit harder for its food.

There are many choices available for bedding. We use a mixture of chopped straw, woodshavings and newspaper, along with a good quality hay to eat and nestle into at night. Bedding should be inspected and cleaned daily to keep your rabbit hygienic and healthy.

Rabbits do best with a heavy food dish - bored or frustrated rabbits are liable to try to throw their food dishes around the cage, creating a mess and making the food harder for them to find. A water bottle is vital - the vast majority of rabbits will learn to drink from a bottle rather than a bowl. A bottle ensures that the water will stay clear of woodshavings and waste, giving your rabbit a constant supply of fresh drinking water. Out in the run either a waterbottle or a water bowl can be used.

2. Buying a Rabbit

Rabbits typically live for 7-10 years, so are a long term commitment.

Around the UK there are many rescue centres which can provide a large selection of rabbits for rehoming. Why not consider looking around rescue centres rather than buying a rabbit from a pet shop? Some of our most enjoyable and rewarding animals have come from rescue centres.

Rabbits are naturally social animals, and most do best when housed in pairs. A neutered male and female rabbit are best, although two neutered males or females will also often get along.

Rabbits should not be sold at less than 8 weeks of age. When looking for rabbits, check their eyes, ears, noses, teeth and bottom. Eyes, ears and noses should be clear and free from discharge. The rabbits bottom should be clean and not show any signs of soreness. Teeth should not be overly long, and there should be no sign of dribbling. It's usually best to choose an active-looking rabbit that seems curious about you, rather than the quiet one sat on its own at the back of the cage.

3. Feeding

Rabbits have a complex digestive system, similar in many ways to that of a horse. Rabbits exhibit "caecotrophy" - the ingestion of special "faecal pellets". These are larger than the normal droppings, and are soft and mucus-covered. Many components of a rabbit's diet can't be broken down with just a single trip through the gut, so they reingest them to get the most out of their food. Caecotrophy is a perfectly normal behaviour for a rabbit - don't be surprised if you see yours eating its own soft poo in the morning!

Rabbits need a diet that is very high in fibre - we recommend feeding a high-quality hay, as well large amounts of grass and non-toxic weeds. Their digestive system is pretty sensitive to change, so any dietary alterations should be done gradually to avoid upsetting the balance of their gut. A small dish of pellets should be given daily, with mixed dried food being given as a treat only. Greens and fruits can be offered occasionally, but too much may upset a rabbit's digestive system.

Rabbits will readily gnaw on twigs and branches. Here at Bobbytails we give our rabbits willow and apple branches to let them strip the bark off and to help keep their teeth in good condition.

4. Vaccinations

It is recommended that in the UK rabbits are vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). The Myxomatosis vaccine should be given every 6 months, and the VHD vaccine annually. Speak to your vet for more details about both vaccines.

5. Health

Rabbits are prone to respiratory diseases, so good ventilation is a must. They should not be kept in damp conditions, and should be protected from excessive dust. Avoid dusty hay. If your rabbit develops a runny nose, breathing difficulties or runny eyes, consult a vet for treatment.

Stress can be harmful to rabbits - keep them away from natural predators (even if they are "safe" behind a screen of mesh) and watch for signs of bullying - including by their companions. They should have somewhere safe and secure to retreat to if desired.

Many captive rabbits become overweight due to the richer foods available in captivity. Signs include a podgy tummy, and a large dewlap under the chin. Excess weight can be combated by providing a proper diet, limiting the number of treats, and allowing plenty of time and space for exercise. If your rabbit is losing weight (you may notice an obvious, protruding backbone), it could be a sign of a problem such as dental disease and may require treatment from a vet. It's a good idea to weigh your rabbit monthly.

Rabbit claws grow continuously, much like our fingernails. If they are not worm down through digging and walking on rough surfaces, they may become too long and curvy. Claws can be cut, but be sure to avoid the pink bit in the middle (called the "quick"). If you are unsure, ask your vet to show you how to cut your rabbit's claws. We offer a claw trimming service at Bobbytails - please enquire for details.

6. Useful Links

RSPCA Rabbit Care Page

Rabbit Welfare Association