Many people assume that a rabbit is an ideal pet for a
child. However, this is one of the main
reasons why so many rabbits end up in rescue centres. 80% of children get bored with their pet
rabbit after 3 months and with a lifespan of up to 10 years, this goes some way
to explain why more than 33,000 rabbits are abandoned in the UK each year. People simply aren’t prepared for the
Rabbits can bond as deeply as a dog, but need a lot of specialist
knowledge, care and attention, which should be taken into account before taking
one on. They come in a variety of sizes,
colours and coat types. They are very
clean animals, can be trained to use a litter tray and may live as a house pet
or be kept outside.
CARING FOR YOUR RABBIT
It is important to realise that your pet will need daily
care, grooming and companionship. It is
important to check your rabbit every day, especially under the tail. Rabbits’ bottoms should be checked daily and
kept clean, particularly in the summer.
Flies can lay eggs on soiled fur and it takes only 32 hours for these to
hatch into maggots, which then start to eat the living flesh. This is called ‘fly strike’, and can be fatal
if not treated. There are veterinary products
available which can protect your rabbit from fly strike but they need to be
applied on a regular basis.
Rabbits are sociable animals and when in the wild live in
groups, so when choosing your pet remember this. If you get two or more rabbits it is wise to
have them neutered as adult females (does) might fight, as well as adult males
(bucks). Rabbits tend to be more active
at night and sleep a lot during the day.
Rabbits need to be properly socialised from the start,
initially by offering food in your hand and gently stroking their head.
Never pick your pet up by their ears and don’t touch their
chin or nose as they may not like it. If
you do have to pick up your pet then do so by placing one hand under the chest
and the other around and under their rump, supporting the hind legs. Hold your pet close to your body and reassure
them by stroking and talking quietly to them.
HOUSING YOUR PET
Before getting your rabbit you need to decide where to house
it. Do you want it in the house itself,
in a shed or outside? In all cases the
accommodation has to be large enough to provide separate living and sleeping
areas. It must also have enough room to
allow your pet to lie down full length or stand stretched up on its back legs
if it wants to. If the hutch is too small the rabbit may become depressed and,
possibly, aggressive. An outdoor hutch
needs to be raised off the ground, insulated, weatherproof, predator proof and
Your pet will also need daily exercise. If this takes place inside your house your
rabbit must be supervised at all times, protected from risk and prevented from
chewing through things such as electric cables.
If outside then it must be a suitable enclosure that is predator-proof,
moveable to prevent over-grazing, and of sufficient size to allow them to graze
and hop about safely.
Bedding should be plentiful but dust free. It may consist of shavings, hay, straw or
shredded clean paper. Pine or cedar wood
shavings should be avoided, as should printed paper, as they can all be toxic
to your pet.
The hutch and feeding bowls should be cleaned out every day
and the bedding changed at least once or twice a week. Because rabbits are very clean animals they
will keep a specific corner of their hutch for passing faeces and urine. This area should be cleaned at least every
1-2 days. Ceramic or stainless steel
feeding dishes, which are shallow enough for your pet to feed from but
difficult to tip over and resist chewing, should be used. Clean water, in a gravity bottle attached to
the side of the cage, must always be available.
FEEDING YOUR PET
Because rabbits are grazing animals their teeth continue to
grow throughout life. If the top and
bottom set don’t line up correctly, they will become too long and prevent the
rabbit from eating properly. It is,
therefore, important to feed your pet a specialist diet that contains
sufficient plant fibre to keep the teeth from becoming too long and to maintain
Good quality hay is essential and should be freely available
as a food source as well as for bedding.
Hay is a source of vitamin D and should make up the bulk of a rabbits
diet. A small amount of pellet type
cereal should be fed daily and is preferable to the ‘muesli’ type mixes. Fresh
fruit and veg should also be fed daily.
Rabbits should not have certain types of lettuce, rhubarb, spinach,
beans, nuts or watery foods eg, tomatoes.
Dark green veg such as cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts are
good. Carrots, apples, pears and
nectarines should be fed sparingly as they can cause tooth rot. These must be deseeded and cored.
When introducing a new diet to your pet it should be done
slowly over a 10 day period. This is
achieved by adding small amounts of the new foodstuff to their existing food
and gradually reducing the level of the old food.
A rabbit does not know hunger and should never stop eating,
not even for a day. As soon as a rabbit
stops eating, the stomach and gut stop working causing food to start fermenting
and producing gas which is trapped inside the rabbit’s intestines, which can
quickly turn into an emergency situation.
Never wait to see a vet if your rabbit has stopped eating, go
KEEPING YOUR RABBIT HEALTHY
Finally, your pet should have bright eyes, a healthy coat,
good appetite and plenty of energy. If
you think your pet is unwell, is listless or not eating, then it is essential
you take it to see a veterinary surgeon.
It is essential to vaccinate your rabbit against common
illnesses, some of which can be fatal.
This includes Myxomatosis and VHD, which can be vaccinated against
annually. These vaccinations cannot
usually be given at the same time, so two veterinary visits should be planned
There are several parasites which may affect rabbits. The most common being an organism called E.
cuniculi which can affect your rabbits’ central nervous system. Rabbit Panacur used 2-4 times a year can
protect against these and other common parasites.
If your rabbit gets ill, the last thing you want to worry
about is the vet’s bill. Insurance is
now available for rabbits. If the worst
happens and your rabbit gets sick, insurance means your vet can dedicate their
effort into doing all that is necessary to diagnose and treat any illness,
rather than worrying about doing certain tests or treatments because of cost.