Rabbits or bunnies are highly intelligent, social, interactive and fun creatures that are extremely clean and can even be litter trained. They have very individual and distinct personalities, and often live over ten years of age – making them every bit as worthwhile investing in as dogs and cats!
Despite all this there are still a lot of myths and misinformation around the best care for pet rabbits, and their welfare needs. It’s actually very easy when you know how! Read the information in this section before you consider getting a rabbit/bunny.
As a potential rabbit owner it’s worth considering the following points so you know what a rabbit needs, even if you can’t provide a lot of room or many bunny friends, but there is still a lot you can do to imitate their natural habitat.
- Time – rabbits can live up to 10 years of age, so they will need daily care, regular checks, vaccinations and a home.
- Allergies – rabbits need to eat a lot of hay, which may create an allergic reaction, you can try a different type of hay to find the one suitable for you.
- Rabbit’s character – you need to be aware of the different breeds to make sure you get the right one for you. It important to remember that most rabbits prefer to be sit on the floor than be carried around.
- Costs of keeping a pet – factor into account check-ups, vaccinations and necessary accessories as well as food and hay.
- Nutrition – make sure you give your rabbit hay, nuggets and water as soon as you get it home. A rapid change can affect a rabbit, so any changes in their diet need to be introduced gradually. Understanding the important of hay is crucial to the rabbit’s digestive system.
- Rabbit housing – having a place for the rabbit to live is important, as well as rabbit proofing your home if it will be living indoor. Enough space should be provided so that the rabbit can exercise, a hutch is never enough!
- Forever friends – rabbits are incredibly social creatures and need company to feel safe, otherwise they can suffer from loneliness when caged up alone. Make sure you understand the conditions under which they should have a bunny friend.
- ‘Babysitting’ – if you are planning on going away then you need to arrange care for your rabbits.
- Children – young children should not be left to look after rabbits without adult supervision, sudden movements can distress a rabbit, being a prey animal an adult rabbit can will resist, or fight back if they are frightened or in pain. If they are handled poorly then that can result in injuries, leading to stress and illness.
- Daily care – rabbits are clean animals by nature, regardless of an indoor or outdoor rabbit, a litter tray must be made available and cleaned a couple of times a week. For a rabbit plenty of good quality hay and grass can help avoid dental problems, with water being replaced daily.
- Exercise – rabbits need up to 4 hours of exercise per day, especially when they are most active.
- Regular checks – daily inspections means you’re more likely to spot anything that needs intervention and it can be dealt with sooner. A few things to watch out for is any wounds, running eyes, sudden abscesses, wetness around the nose or the inside of the front paws, urine stains and smelly droppings that are stuck to the fur around the tail.
Choosing a Rabbit
- Baby or adult
Rabbit kits are friendly, cuddly and easy to handle, but are very energetic from one day to the next. The ideal age to consider a rabbit it is a few months old, or possibly over 1 year old.
- Male or female
Like us rabbits are unique and the personality is not determined by their gender! Hormones will affect how they behave, but these hormones will settle once the rabbit has been neutered. They need to be neutered though, to avoid fighting between same sex pairs or unwanted litters, females especially as they are prone to getting diseases.
- How many rabbits?
Something else to consider is that rabbits are naturally sociable so it is highly recommended to keep them in pairs, otherwise they will suffer from loneliness. If you already have a rabbit in your house and want a bunny friend, then make sure both are neutered prior to the first meeting and take the necessary steps. Go to the company section to get more advice to help two rabbits or more get along.
Read up on breed information. In the UK there are around 80 breeds and there can be several varieties within the breeds. There are pros and cons to large and small breeds, larger breeds will need more room and may be a more suitable pet for older children. Smaller breeds are easier to handle, but smaller children may seem them as toys so they can be poorly handled. However, young children should always be closely supervised when handling any pets.
There are an alarming number of pet rabbits that get abandoned and are in need for a new home, so your local rescue centre is the best place to get a rabbit. The rescue centre staff will be able to advice you on how best to look after your new pet.
When you bring your rabbit it needs time to get used to its surroundings, sounds and smells. Be mindful they are a prey animal and are naturally cautious and very alert.
You need to gain the rabbit’s trust, so avoid picking them up when they try to hide, sit down on the floor and spend time with them on their level until they get used to your smells, movements and sounds. And remember children need to be supervised to ensure they understand how to handle rabbits properly.
Did you know what a wild rabbit’s territory is equivalent to around 30 tennis court? Running around such large areas every day keeps wild rabbits fit and healthy, so we need to give our pet rabbits the opportunity to have lots of exercise. They should not be confined to a hutch.
We know rabbits as ‘fibrevores’ because fibre is absolutely essential for their dental, digestive and emotional health. Good quality hay and/or grass should make up the majority of a rabbits’ diet and should available at all times. A rabbit’s diet needs to be made up of 80% grass or hay, 15% greens and 5% nuggets.
Create a ‘wild’ environment for your rabbits! In the wild, rabbits have plenty to keep them occupied, from foraging to reproduction to territorial defence. Pet rabbits, on the other hand, often lack stimulation, which can lead to behavioural problems and poor health. Much like humans, they need to be kept physically and mentally active.
People don’t realise that rabbits are incredibly social animals and if left without appropriate company and things to do for a long time they can suffer. Many owners keep a rabbit alone in a hutch, but this leads to a miserable lifestyle for rabbits. Rabbits have complex social needs and are happiest when kept with another friendly rabbit – therefore, rabbits should ideally live in friendly pairs or groups. However, keeping the wrong pairings together can lead to unwanted kittens (baby rabbits) and/or fighting. Neutering is recommended to prevent unwanted babies (kits).
Keeping your rabbits fit and healthy is vital to ensure a long, happy and fulfilling life. Rabbits can be prone to some health issues which can prove challenging to treat, but can often be easily prevented if you know how. Good care, appropriate feeding and other appropriate measures such as vaccination are key.
- Life span: 8 – 12 years (but can be 12+)
- Puberty: 3+ months in smaller breeds, 5-8 months in larger breeds
- Litter size: average 5-8 kittens
- Birth weight: 40-100grams
- Eyes open: 7-10 days
- Weaning: 4-6 weeks
The rabbit comes from the European rabbit. Rabbits are prey animals, so they have evolved to be very alert, lightweight and fast moving.
Rabbits have a very efficient digestive system, this makes sure that they spend less time above the ground and stay away from predators. The skin of rabbits is very similar to dogs and cats, but their skin is much thicker as is their fur. They don’t have any sweat glands, but only on the edge of their lips which means they don’t get as much heat stress.
Rabbits have glands under their chin, that they use to mark territory and female rabbits use that to identify their offspring. Rabbits also rely on a strong sense of smell to communicate.
Around their lips there are small hairs that act as sensors, they aren’t able to see the food that eat once it is under their mouth so the sensors help to get the food to their mouths.
Rabbits don’t have foot pads like dogs or cats, but thick fur giving them protection and grip when they are running.
The ears represent a large part on the total body surface, much more than you would think approximately 12%!
Their ears are fragile and sensitive, so rabbits should not be lifted by their ears as it will cause serious injury and distress. There is a good blood supply that helps to regulate the temperature, which is why rabbits have a large number of arteries and veins of the ears.
The rabbit skeleton is light, and it makes only 7-8% of their bodyweight (cats have 13%), that means they can easily suffer from fractures. They have short front legs with delicate bones, but their back legs are quite powerful.
The digestive tract is adapted to digest a large amount of fibre. Like horses, rabbits rely on bacteria that ferments fibrous food and convert it into nutrients. They have a unique system that redigest this food – a process called ‘caecotrophy’. Rabbit’s teeth are continuously growing, so they need to be eating grass or hay to wear them down. The food is sterilised in stomach, the bacteria is killed before it passes to the small intestine and reaching the colon. The food is then passed into two different directions at the same time, passing out waste material as normal hard pellets.