Rabbits make very rewarding pets for dedicated owners, with every rabbit having their own unique character. Many rabbit owners want to provide their pets with the highest quality care possible, so as our knowledge of rabbit husbandry has improved over recent years, this has enabled owners to meet the welfare and behavioural needs of their rabbits. All new rabbit owners should ensure that they are able to fulfil these requirements so they can give their new pets a great quality of life.
The Importance of Companionship
You may be surprised to learn that rabbits are very social animals and will be lonely if they are kept without another rabbit companion. If you watch a pair of bonded rabbits then you will often see them grooming each other and lying close together, showing how important rabbit company is. While rabbits also enjoy socialising with their human owners, it is difficult for us to provide adequate time every day to prevent them from becoming lonely, so we are usually a poor substitute for other rabbit company.
In the past, to combat loneliness rabbits have often been kept with guinea pigs, but we now advise to never keep rabbits and guinea pigs together. This is because rabbits will often bully guinea pigs, which can result in nasty injuries to either animal. Also, rabbits can carry a bacteria called Bordetella, which is usually harmless to rabbits but can cause illness in guinea pigs. The best companion for a rabbit is always going to be another rabbit.
Bonding rabbits is the process of introducing one rabbit to another and it is not always straightforward to achieve. If you are looking to bond your rabbit then you should speak to your vet for advice on how to do this and they will be able to direct you to further information on this process. Alternatively, some rabbit rescues will rehome their rabbits as already bonded pairs, so you do not have to worry about introducing new rabbits together.
Housing your rabbits
Wherever you decide to keep your rabbits, they should always be provided with adequate space so they can move around. This is important for preventing health problems and weight issues. Many hutches or cages that are marketed for rabbits to live in are too small, as at a minimum each rabbit should be able to lie stretched out and take 3 hops within the hutch. They should also be able to stand on their back legs without their ears touching the top of the hutch. Ideally, rabbits should have constant access to a run area to allow them space to explore, dig and run around.
Indoor or House Rabbits
Rabbits that are kept indoors can make appealing pets, as you will really get to know their characters. They are also easy to litter train making them suitable indoor pets. However, you should bear in mind that rabbits are inquisitive and may chew wires, furniture and carpet. This means that you will need to make your house rabbit safe to prevent any injuries from chewing electric cables or items that are not edible. If you have laminate flooring then you should bear in mind that some rabbits will find this flooring slippery and difficult to use, so it may restrict their movement. Alternatively, you could consider providing them with a non-slip surface to help them get around. While it can be an effort to keep rabbits indoors, it is certainly rewarding and will allow you to develop a great relationship with your pets.
If you prefer to keep your rabbits outside, then there are some great rabbit set-ups that provide your pets with adequate space to display their natural behaviours. This may involve using a large hutch connected to a run, or alternatively, using a shed with outside access. Rabbits love exploring tunnels so they are great to use to connect runs and hutches together, so you can create a stimulating exercise area, even in small gardens. When designing the living space for your rabbits you should ensure that they have adequate protection against bad weather and predators, and that they have no access to any toxic plants to ensure that they are kept healthy at all times.
For more ideas on creating the ideal living space for your rabbits you can speak to your veterinary practice or visit the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund website.
The Correct Diet for your Rabbits
Feeding your rabbits the correct diet is important to ensure that they stay healthy and maintain healthy teeth. Rabbits have a sensitive digestive system, so feeding them an incorrect diet or making any sudden dietary changes can cause your rabbits to become ill. If you do want to change your rabbits’ diet, or introduce a new food, then this should be done gradually and you can seek advice from your vet for help with this.
Hay and grass
Rabbits have continually growing teeth so, to help prevent any dental issues, they need a high fibre diet. You can provide this by feeding hay and grass, which should make up 85% of your rabbits’ daily diet. If you have access to fresh grass then this may be fed, though it is important that grass cuttings are never given to rabbits as this will make them ill. In addition, you can provide this fibre by feeding hay and there are a great variety of feeding hays for you to choose from. As a guide, every day each rabbit should eat an amount of hay that is the equivalent size (volume, not weight) to them.
Fresh leafy greens should make up 10% of a rabbits’ daily diet. This may include vegetables such as; kale, spinach, carrot tops, dandelions, parsley, spring greens and mint, through there are many more options that you can offer your rabbits. You should aim to give different types of vegetables every day for variation. A small amount of fruit can be given occasionally as a treat but it is high in sugars so should not be a routine part of their diet.
Dried or concentrated foods
Rabbits only need a small amount of dried food and this should make up a maximum of 5% of their diet. For an average sized rabbit this is the equivalent of 1 egg cup full twice a day. This food should be in pellet form as rabbits are selective feeders so will often only eat their favourite parts of a muesli type diet.
Rabbits Need to Routinely Visit the Vets
Rabbits need routine visits to the vets for health checks and vaccinations. There are 3 deadly diseases that you should vaccinate your rabbits against including; Myxomatosis, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 2. All rabbits, kept both indoors and outside, should be protected against each of these diseases, as they are highly contagious to other rabbits and usually result in the death of affected rabbits. Your vets will be able to give you more information about these deadly diseases and work out a vaccine schedule for your rabbits to ensure that they have continued protection.
If you keep your rabbit with other rabbits, or if you are looking to bond your rabbit in the future, then they should be neutered (castrated or spayed). This will prevent male and female rabbits from breeding, but will also help calm aggressive behaviour and reduce the likelihood of fighting in rabbits that are kept together. For more information your vet will be able to discuss the effects of neutering and the procedure with you, so you know what to expect.
Rabbits are very popular pets and owners like to ensure that their rabbits have the best level of care possible. Investigating the best husbandry requirements for your rabbits and establishing good preventative health care is important for creating a great bond with your pets. Your veterinary practice will always be happy to advise you on any issues or concerns that you may have regarding your rabbit’s health.