Lots of us had a pet rabbit when we were children, or at least knew someone who did- rabbits are by no means an uncommon pet, and the volume of them kept domestically in the UK often leads people to believe that they are low maintenance, self sufficient animals who don't have any special requirements nor need much attention- when really, nothing could be further from the truth. In the last ten years, the RSPCA and various rabbit welfare organisations have made great efforts to educate the public on the correct care and conditions for keeping these adorable fur balls, and to encourage prospective owners to take an in depth look at what caring for a rabbit entails before moving forwards with a purchase. Rabbits are delicate, quiet animals that do not stand up well to a poor housing, insufficient care or rough handling, but reward the careful keeper handsomely for their time and effort. Not sure if keeping rabbits is for you? Then read on.
Rabbits are social animals that live together in large colonies in their natural state. A lone rabbit is a lonely rabbit- so you should not keep just one rabbit on their own. A pair or small group is perfectly fine. When un-neutered, same sex rabbits will fight, and male/ female mixes will breed- so neutering your rabbits is an important responsibility of ownership. Rabbits can live for up to eight years in captivity.It used to be common to see rabbits and guinea pigs housed together, but this is not recommended as the different species will often fight, and guinea pigs can easily become hurt or injured in the course of rabbits' normal rough and tumble play.
Traditionally, rabbits were generally kept in hutches in the garden, although keeping indoor rabbits within the home has also become popular in recent years. Wherever you decide to keep your rabbits, you will need to make sure that they are protected from the coldest of the British weather, making provision to bring any outside hutches into a shed or garage when it gets cold. For keeping a rabbit outdoors, you will need a sturdy hutch as big as you can provide, with a separate compartment for sleeping in. Your rabbits should be able to stand up to their full height within the hutch, move about freely and stretch their legs. The roof of the hutch should be waterproof, and raised off the ground to allow air circulation and avoid damp. The doors and lid of the hutch should be sturdy and secure, to protect your pets from predatory foxes and other wild animals. You should provide toys and other sources of amusement, warm bedding, and perhaps a litter tray which rabbits can generally be trained to use. You will also need to provide a larger enclosed area such as a pen or a run for your rabbit to be let out into on a daily basis, where they can graze fresh grass, play and run. The enclosure or run should be mobile to prevent any areas becoming over grazed, and also to prevent your rabbits from building a network of burrows via which they may escape.
Rabbits are vegetarian, and graze constantly in the wild. Your rabbits should have access to fresh pesticide- free grass as often as possible, supplemented with hay in the winter and when the rabbits are enclosed in their hutch. A high fibre diet is important to help grind down rabbits' teeth, which continue to grow throughout their lives and can quickly become unmanageable if not controlled by their diet.Rabbits also require a complete food such as rabbit nuggets, pellets or muesli, which all contain the variety and essential nutrients rabbits need. Snacks such as apple chunks, carrots, green leaves and fresh vegetables can also be fed as a supplemental treat.
Rabbits are delicate animals, and can be shy or nervous until they are used to being handled. Always allow them time to settle into their new home before you attempt to release them into their run or handle them for the first time. Never lift a rabbit by its ears, as this can cause permanent damage to their head, neck and back. Lift your rabbits by supporting their bodies from underneath, and hold them lightly but firmly at all times. Rabbits have very powerful hind leg muscles, and may kick or struggle to jump out of your grasp if distressed, so never hold them too far from the ground. When placing your rabbit back into their hutch, rabbits often have a tendency to jump for the ground, so if possible, place them in backwards with their head facing out to try and discourage them making a last minute leap for home.
Rabbits are very clean animals, and you should remove any droppings and soiled bedding from the cage on a daily basis, and clean the hutch out thoroughly every week. Some rabbits also enjoy being groomed, and so brushing your rabbit, particularly long haired breeds, is something you should consider.To keep them in good health, you should have your rabbits vaccinated against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease, and keep their boosters up to date. Regular health checks from your vet should be factored into your plans for your pets' care. It is also strongly recommended to have your rabbits spayed and neutered- both to stop infighting, and also because the phrase 'breeding like rabbits' did not come about for no reason!Keep a check on your rabbits' teeth to make sure that they are not growing too long, affecting how they open their mouths, or causing difficulty eating. Generally, teeth can be kept at a reasonable length through diet alone, but in some instances you may need to have their teeth trimmed by the vet.
Rabbits need daily care and attention, and when you factor in the cost of veterinary treatment, vaccinations and neutering, may not turn out to be the cheap, easy to keep pets you initially thought they were. As with any animal, research thoroughly and talk to other owners and breeders before you make a commitment to buying, and make sure that you are willing and able to take care of your rabbits for the entire duration of their lives.