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So You Want To Keep Rabbits?

Rabbits are lovely animals and fluffy baby bunnies are always appealing. They are intelligent, friendly , clean and can make great family pets. However, rabbits do require daily care and they generally need more attention and dedication than many other small pets to ensure they live happy and healthy lives. Plus rabbits are not cheap to keep, the costs of housing, feed, bedding, and vets bills soon mount up. Rabbits can live between five and 10 years making owning them a long term financial and time commitment. Therefore please think hard about the decision to keep rabbits as pets before making that choice, and ensure that you will be devoted to their daily care.

Rabbits are sociable creatures loving human company if treated properly, but they are generally considered unsuitable for young children. In truth, bunnies may look cuddly but they do not like being handled and may struggle when picked up and held sometimes biting, scratching or kicking out with the hind legs to escape which can injure both the child and the rabbit. However, for older children rabbits can make a wonderful addition to the family, especially the medium to larger sized breeds who tend to be calmer in temperament and more amenable to handling. It is recommended that an adult should always be primarily responsible for the rabbits care and teach the child how to handle the rabbit correctly under supervision.

So after much careful thought, you have decided to get a rabbit. But which is the right rabbit for you? There are over 50 breeds of rabbits with many varieties of size, shape and colour, each with their own characteristics and temperament but here are some general tips:

  • Male Rabbits tend to be more docile and predictable being easier to handle.
  • Female rabbits once reaching sexual maturity can become hormonal and in some cases aggressive.
  • Breeds such as Dutch, English, Dwarf Lop Eared and Netherland Dwarf tend to be more even tempered and amenable. However, some of the dwarf and mini breeds can be temperamental and skittish so are less suitable as family pets where children are handling them.
  • Giant breeds will require more space, feed and attention to daily hygiene.
  • Longhaired rabbits will require daily grooming whilst short haired varieties will need grooming once a week.

The best age to buy a rabbit is when they have been weaned from their mother at six to eight weeks old. You should check that its eyes are bright with no discharge and that its nose is not runny - never buy a bunny that has snuffles or sneezes! The teeth should be straight with no misalignment, ears clean and free from any scabs and no sores on the feet. The rabbits coat should be shiny and sleek with no patches of missing fur. Check the rabbit's bottom for any signs of staining which can indicate stomach problems such as diarrhoea or the potentially fatal condition of GI stasis.

It is highly recommended that you buy your rabbit from a reputable breeder ideally British Rabbit Council (BRC) registered or another reliable source. If possible ask to see the rabbit's mother and father to check for likely size, temperament and health. Breeders are generally dedicated to rabbit welfare and highly knowledgeable so can offer valuable tips and advice on your new pet, and in the animals best interests, some will assess the home you can offer the rabbit for suitability.

If you decide to buy a rabbit from a pet shop or superstore then please be cautious. Many shop bought rabbits are from inter bred parentage and may have been weaned at too early an age, been travelled, lived in crowded cages in a noisy environment, had many dietary changes and excessive handling. Rabbits, particularly young bunnies are sensitive creatures and all of these factors can contribute to them developing illnesses and longer term health issues which could cause death at an early age. In addition many pet shops do not correctly 'sex' bunnies which can cause future problems in both mixed and same sex pairs!

If you are happy to consider a slightly older bunny then consider adoption from a rabbit rescue centre or animal shelter. There are many benefits to adoption and adult rabbits can make better pets as they have passed the temperamental hormonal adolescent stage, have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and health checked and may have been litter trained. Most importantly you are giving a home to an abandoned animal that may just save its life!

Bunnies are sociable creatures and can become very lonely if kept on their own. It is recommended that you keep a compatible pair as they enjoy mutual grooming, snuggling up together for warmth and to sleep and for play interaction. The best pairing is that of a male (buck) and female (doe) as same sex rabbits can be prone to aggression, although if they are born from the same litter and raised together this can be less likely. If keeping a male and female together at least one of the rabbits must be neutered as they breed from 4 months old and this will prevent unwanted pregnancies and also fighting. If keeping two males then both must be neutered as they will become aggressive as they reach sexual maturity. Vets recommend neutering or spaying for all rabbits as with females this will avoid the common problem of uterine cancer, and for males will make them more docile and non-aggressive. Rabbits can live quite happily alongside other domestic pets such as cats and dogs if introduced gradually, but it is not recommended that rabbits and guinea pigs are kept together as their care requirements are quite different.

Like humans, rabbits all have their own characters and they are intelligent so in choosing the right bunny his/her personality must be an important factor. If you can, try and visit a rabbit rescue or friends who keep rabbits so that you can interact with the bunnies and get used to handling them and how they react to you. Some rabbits are very friendly and will lie flat out for you to stroke them or nuzzle your hand for nose rubs; others can be skittish and nervous or may growl or thump their back paw as a warning sign that they are not happy with your company. By spending time with different rabbits before choosing your own this will help you decide exactly what type of personality you are looking for in your pet bunny. But be aware, they are endearing animals and once you get to love rabbits and all their quirks and funny ways, like chocolates, one is never enough and you will soon find yourself with an ever growing family of new bunny additions!


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