Friendly and easy? Or complex with hard-to-meet needs? Our Pet Health team take a look at rabbits as a family pet…

Rabbits are great animals to have as pets… 

Rabbits are social animals and love affection as well as gentle human interaction. They are clean animals as their mess can be contained to their kennel space; they can also be trained to use a litter tray. Rabbits have a relatively low maintenance cost when compared to other pets such as a dog or cat. They are a reasonable price to buy, as well as being readily available in most pet shops. With a relatively low ‘price tag’, as well as a life expectancy of approximately 10 years, they also prove good value for money. They are also one of the quieter pets you can keep. Making them an attractive pet candidate for a lot of households. 

…but they’re not as easy as they sound

Whilst all of these things sound great and appear to deem the rabbit as the perfect family pet, it’s so important (like with any pet!) to know at the very least a basic amount of knowledge prior to committing. This is especially true when it comes to getting a rabbit due to the common misconceptions of owning a rabbit as a pet. Getting a pet rabbit is usually seen as an easy and cheap option for households. However, the reality can often be quite different.

Rabbits often require more care than people expect. 

To be able to engage well with your rabbit, thus making it easier to care for and handle them, rabbits need a good amount of human interaction and handling. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that comes naturally to them, being a prey animal. They are often naturally very scared of you and dislike being handled. So it is important that a lot of time is put into your rabbit becoming used to being handled regularly. It’s also important to know the best way to hold a rabbit. This is because when they are scared their fight or flight reaction kicks in. And they can often sadly hurt themselves (and the holder!) in an attempt to get away.

The housing of a rabbit can also differ to people’s expectations too. 

It is commonly thought that rabbits can be kept in a small cage. However, this is not correct and is often due to advertisements giving a distorted view of how a rabbit should be kept. Rabbits in fact need a substantial area where they are free to move around. This usually equates to 3-4 times the length of the rabbit, which means their house should be a bare minimum of 3-4 foot in length. They will also need an enclosure for exercise; a minimum of 3 foot high, six feet wide and nine feet long.

On top of this, they also need 1-2 hours of exercise a day; ideally, out of the enclosure. For example, by letting them out into a larger area to roam e.g. a rabbit-proofed garden, etc. 

Rabbits are also highly intelligent and require mental stimulation in the form of toys and dynamic cage set ups. They are so intelligent that they can even be taught to do tricks. Which can make them a really fun pet to have. Rabbits also often require regular grooming to keep on top of their moulting seasons. This helps to ensure they don’t develop any matts in their fur.

The next biggest misconception is often the amount it can cost when it comes to a rabbit’s health and their vet bills. 

Rabbits require annual vaccinations to protect them from highly contagious and fatal rabbit diseases; such as Myxomatosis and two common strains of Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. Rabbits sometimes require regular teeth burring, as their teeth continually grow. In some cases where they are unable to keep these worn down themselves (e.g. through diet or chew toys) then they will need Veterinary intervention. This usually requires sedation or anaesthesia. 

There are also common conditions that affect rabbits, such as gut stasis and flystrike. Gut stasis is when food stops moving within their gastrointestinal tract. It usually occurs due to stress, pain, or insufficient diet and signs for this must be picked up as soon as possible for the best prognosis. 

Fly strike in rabbits is most common in the warmer months and happens when flies nest and bury their eggs onto the rabbit. Once hatched, these turn into maggots and can be devasting to a bunny due to the maggot’s nature to burrow down further into the rabbit. This is more likely to happen in the summer but can happen at any time. So it is imperative that rabbits are checked at least twice a day to ensure that any infestation is picked up immediately, giving the best chance of survival. 

Insurance is always recommended to help cover unexpected Vet bills when having any pet, and a rabbit is no different.

Overall, rabbits can make good family pets. 

However, to ensure the rabbit is able to thrive in a family home environment, it is imperative that the generalised and old-fashioned stigma of the pet rabbit is dissolved. Like with any pet, you must do thorough research so you are aware and prepared for the holistic care and expectations that come with having a pet rabbit. If you have a pet rabbit, or are thinking of getting one, and would like more advice on their care, then we would recommend speaking with your local Vets.

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