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Information about Rabbits for potential rabbit owners
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Information about Rabbits for potential rabbit owners

Rabbits are one of the most popular pets in the UK, and are often considered an easy alternative to dogs and cats, particularly if you are looking for a first pet for your children. However, rabbits should by no means be considered to be an easy pet, and in particular, you should not expect a child to be able to provide all of the care and attention that a rabbit needs, nor plan on having your children function as the primary caregivers for your potential new rabbits. Despite their significant numbers, popularity, and how easy it is to buy a rabbit, caring appropriately for  rabbits is not a casual undertaking, and many rabbit owners inadvertently end up keeping their rabbits in unsuitable conditions or with inappropriate care, greatly shortening the potential lifespan of their pets and impacting on their quality of life.

As a responsible pet lover, you will of course be anxious to make sure that you get everything right, and care for your potential new pets both to the best of your ability, and to the standard that they require and deserve. Part of this process means ensuring that you do enough research to be able to make an informed decision about whether or not  rabbits are  suitable pets for you, and being objective enough to rule them out during the early stages if it turns out that you might be biting off more than you can chew.

If you want to find out more about rabbits and keeping them as pets, and are looking for some advice on how to buy a rabbit and take them home, we can help. Read on to learn more about buying and owning rabbits.

Are rabbits the right pet for you?

Rabbits are relatively cheap to buy unless you are looking for a particular pedigree or show-standard rabbit, which is usually not the obvious choice for the first-time owner. This often leads people to think of rabbits as easy to keep pets, which like many other small caged animals, do not require a significant amount of time and attention to be paid to them on a daily basis. However, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Rabbits require interaction and attention from their owners on a daily basis, a large safe enclosure 24/7, as well as feeding once or twice a day, a constant supply of hay or grass, and runtime to clean out their litter trays daily and do a health check to check for fly strike, dental problems etc.

They can also suffer badly from a range of health problems if kept in dirty or unhygienic conditions, and so you should clean any waste and uneaten food from your rabbit’s hutch on a daily basis, and make provision for a thorough clean out and change of bedding at least once a week. Also, people often think of rabbits as having a fairly short lifespan of around five years, and for poorly cared for rabbits that are neglected or not adequately provided for, this is certainly true. However, as a responsible pet owner and animal lover, you will find that a well cared for rabbit may live for over ten years, which requires a significant long-term commitment to be made to their care and wellbeing.

It is important to think about several important considerations when deciding if a rabbit might make a good pet for you and your family:

  • Do you have enough space for a large hutch and a run, and a suitably safe place to put them? Or even better a garden shed? Rabbits should never be shut in a hutch or cage and lack of space is not a reason to keep a rabbit alone. 

  • Are you allowed to have pets if you live in a rented property, and will you still be able to keep your rabbits if you need to move home?

  • Are you prepared to care for your rabbits long term, especially if they live for over a decade?

  • Do you have time every single day to spend caring for and checking on your rabbits?

  • Are you financially stable enough to be able to provide for all of your rabbits’ needs, now and in the future?
     
  • How would it affect your ability to care for your rabbits if you separated from your partner, found a new one, or your family got bigger?

  • Will you be able to find someone to care for your rabbits if you go on holiday or are ill?

These are just some of the questions you will need to answer before going ahead.

House rabbits or outside rabbits?

While the vast majority of pet rabbits kept in the UK live in hutches or sheds and runs out of doors, keeping rabbits inside of the home as a house pet is also becoming increasingly more popular. Deciding to keep your rabbits inside can mean that you can spend more time with them and socialise with them more, but it can also provide challenges of its own, such as rabbit-proofing your home and providing enough space to meet their needs.

Most of the information contained in this article is relevant to both rabbits kept indoors and outside, but for more information on care of the house rabbit and considerations to bear in mind, read this article too.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit...

Rabbits are sociable animals that do not thrive when kept on their own, no matter how much attention that you as their owner are able to give them. It used to be popular to keep one rabbit with one guinea pig, but rabbits really do need the company of their own kind, and so keeping two or more rabbits together is a good idea. One male and one female is the perfect combination; rabbits of the same sex may fight. And of course, it is vitally important to have your rabbits neutered, or your rabbit pair will soon become a rabbit family...

How much does it cost to buy and keep rabbits?

Unless you are looking for a pedigree show-standard rabbit, rabbits are relatively inexpensive to buy; many pet shops and private individuals sell rabbits for around £30, although this can vary greatly from area to area.

The real cost involved in keeping rabbits, however, comes from buying all of the equipment and provisions that they will need, plus their veterinary care and vaccinations. As well as all of the equipment you will need to keep your rabbit, which is listed further down the page, you will also need to factor in the cost of:

  • Setting the rabbits up with suitable housing, such as a shed and run.

  • Microchipping.

  • Spaying or castrating, known as neutering.

  • Vaccinations and annual boosters.

  • Dental examinations and potential tooth trimming.

  • Ad-hoc veterinary care for any illnesses or problems.

  • Insurance, should you choose to take out a policy to help to cover the cost of your.

  • rabbit’s veterinary care.

  • Flea treatments and other preventative care.

  • Grooming tools such as a brush and nail clippers.

  • Hay, food litter and bedding.

  • Enrichment and toys.

What kind of time commitment is needed to buy and care for rabbits?

You should budget some time every day to take care of your rabbits’ needs, such as feeding, health checking and cleaning out the litter tray. If the weather is particularly hot, you may need to pay particular attention to your rabbits’ comfort and wellness, and check on them several times a day to ensure that they are ok. Whilst they need regular checking, they are happiest with their own species, and enjoy living in social pairs or groups far more than being handled by people.

What do rabbits eat?

Rabbits are vegetarians, and require a complete and balanced diet in order to thrive. They also need to graze and eat constantly, and if their digestive system blocks up or stops, this can be very dangerous and even potentially life threatening. It is important to ensure that you have fresh, suitable food available to your rabbit at all times, and that you keep an eye on what they are eating to be sure that you can spot any problems early on. Rabbits need to eat a high fibre diet, and this means feeding plenty of hay or grass. If your rabbit is able to eat grass on your lawn this is ideal, but they also enjoy grass and safe weeds that you can pick for them. Lawnmower trimmings are not suitable for rabbits to eat and could be fatal.

Rabbits also need to be fed supplemental complete food such as special pre-packaged rabbit pellets in order to provide for their nutritional requirements. It is also possible to buy a mixed food for rabbits that looks a little bit like granola or muesli, but rabbits have a tendency to pick out their favourite parts of the mixture and leave the things they do not like, so complete all in one pellets are a better pick.

Rabbits also enjoy a range of fresh vegetables and green leaves, although these should not form the bulk of your rabbit’s diet. Some of their favourites include herbs, broccoli and carrot tops. They do like carrots too, but these should be fed in small chunks and should be fed sparingly and as treats only. Fresh water should be available to your rabbit at all times. More information on how to feed your rabbit and the options available to you can be found here.

Health and wellness

Despite their popularity as pets, rabbits are very delicate creatures that need careful handling and a lot of care and attention to be paid to their care and welfare. Healthy rabbits should have an active digestive system, a clean, soft coat, a clean back end and clear unobstructed eyes, nose and mouth. They should be bright, alert and active and not dull or listless. As prey animals, rabbits are not used to being held and handled, and you should take great pains to tame your rabbits gradually and get them used to being picked up so that they can be health checked and groomed. 

Rabbits should be vaccinated against the main transmissible rabbit diseases, such as myxomatosis and haemorrhagic disease, and will require boosters on an annual basis. Rabbits can also be prone to a range of potentially dangerous health conditions and complications, such as problems with their teethfly strike, and various other conditions that crop up now and again in even well cared for pet rabbits. If you are considering taking on pet rabbits, it is important to learn all that you can about normal rabbit health and wellness, and potential signs of ill health. Our article on how to tell if your rabbit needs to see a vet can help, as well as these tips on keeping your rabbit healthy.

Caring for a rabbit in summer and caring for a rabbit in winter both have their challenges; make sure you are prepared for these and know what you need to do to provide for your rabbits and keep them safe. Finally, while pet insurance is most commonly associated with cats and dogs, insurance for rabbits of all types is also readily available today as well. For more information on how insurance can help you to cover the cost of emergency or unexpected veterinary procedures and treatments, check out this in-depth article.

What kind of equipment do you need to keep rabbits?

Whether your rabbit will live indoors or out, you will need to provide a significant amount of equipment and housing for them; any hutch, no matter how large, is not enough! As well as a suitably large  accommodation (both for indoor and outdoor rabbits), you will need to provide a range of additional equipment too. To get you started, you will need:

  • A large shelter that is well located, secure, warm and dry. Garden sheds make good shelters.

  • A run or other safe enclosed space for use in the garden attached to the shelter so that the rabbits can exercise or rest and shelter whenever they want.

  • You may decide to use a litter tray and train your rabbits to use it.

  • Food and water bowls.

  • Brushes and grooming equipment.

  • Nail clippers.

  • Toys.

  • A suitable carrier.

  • Bedding.
  • Appropriate food.

  • Hay.

Where to get rabbits

Rabbits are relatively easy to buy from a range of outlets, including pet shops, rabbit welfare and rescue organisations, other animal rehoming charities, breeders and private sellers.

  • Rabbit welfare organisations always need good, caring homes for rabbits in need, and these can be a good option for the first time rabbit owner to look at, whether you are looking for a baby rabbit (a kit) or an adult. Rabbit charities and welfare organisations also sometimes rehome pedigree rabbits too, although these are almost always adult bunnies.

  • If you wish to buy a pedigree rabbit, a professional breeder is the best place to look, and a breeder will be able to provide you with lots of advice on rabbit care and how to keep your rabbit happy and healthy in the long term.

  • Many pet shops sell rabbits, although the moral and welfare issues of whether or not this is appropriate is open to some debate. It is certainly fair to say that when buying from a pet shop of any kind, be it a small private shop or a large chain organisation, there are several limitations to bear in mind. Pet shop staff will not necessarily be knowledgeable about the care of rabbits specifically, nor able to give you comprehensive and accurate information on their care. Also, you will not be able to find out the provenance of the rabbits offered for sale, their prior health, how well handled they are, or where they came from.
  • Many private individuals find themselves with a planned or unplanned litter of rabbits on their hands, and so there are often a wide range of options available to buy or rehome a rabbit from a private rabbit owner. This has its benefits, as you will be able to see the rabbit in their own home and talk to the owner in depth about the pets that they own. But it also has its limitations, in that you will have little comeback if something later goes wrong or you find that the rabbit you buy is not quite how it was advertised in terms of temperament or condition.

Search for rabbits for sale and rabbits for adoption from breeders, rehoming centres and private individuals all over the country, here on Pets4Homes.

How to buy a rabbit

When buying  rabbits, it is important to research the signs of wellness and ill health in rabbits and be able to make an educated assessment of the health and condition of any rabbit that is offered to you. If you are buying an expensive rabbit or are in any doubt, you may also wish to get the rabbit examined by a vet as part of the sale before any money changes hands. It is also a good idea to take your new rabbit to be checked over by your own vet as soon as possible after the sale, to identify any potential problems within a reasonable timescale so that you can address them or contact the seller to resolve the issue.

Never buy rabbit that is sickly, seems unwell, or appears to be too young to be going out into the world on their own. If you have any concerns about the care or condition of any rabbits that you view, contact the RSPCA for advice. When making your purchase, make sure that you get a receipt for your payment and that your receipt clearly delineates the terms of sale and any rights you might have as part of it. Also, remember to ask for your rabbit’s veterinary records, and details of any treatments they have had previously, including vaccinations and spaying or neutering.

How to transport your new rabbits home and settle them in

Before you go to collect your new rabbits, make sure that you have everything set up and ready for them to move in! Have their accommodation all set up for them and with hay, food and water. If you are bringing home a pair they can go straight into their new accommodation, If you have obtained a new rabbit to keep an existing one company then make sure you have a neutral area to put them both in to. You should never put a new rabbit in the area your existing rabbit lives in. 

  • Prepare your carrier with suitable bedding in it, and hay and water for the journey. Rabbits need to graze at all times, so ensure that they have hay available for them between their old home and their new abode.

  • Use a carrier with a lid on the top for safety, lift them inside making sure you support their back and legs against your chest. 

  • When you get the rabbits home, Ideally put the carrier in the new area, open the door,  and let the rabbits come out and explore then they are ready. If you need to lift the rabbits out, a carrier with a lid on the top is best for this. 

  • Secure the rabbit carrier carefully into your car using a seatbelt or other restraint.

  • Drive carefully and slowly, with your rabbits’ welfare in mind.

  • Make sure your new rabbits have everything they need in terms of food, hay, bedding and water, but otherwise, leave them alone! They will need plenty of time to settle in and get used to their new surroundings, and you should not try to play with them or show them off right away.

  • Over the ensuing days, let your rabbits get used to you gradually. Don’t push contact, but spend plenty of time with your rabbits, talking to them and feeding them the occasional treat, and try to encourage your rabbit to come to you.

  • Consider popping your new rabbits along to the vet soon after they settle, to get their initial health check , vaccinations and any advice you might need.

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