It’s official! Rabbits are the third most popular pet in Britain, with more than 60 different breeds to choose from.
Rabbits can live anywhere in the region of 3-5 years for a larger variety, and around 8 years for the small to medium breeds. They are intelligent and very sociable animals, providing a long and enjoyable friendship with their owners.
Owning a rabbit is a huge commitment to make, they require lots of your time, love and attention on a daily basis, 365 days a year. It is imperative that a responsible adult supervises their child’s pet rabbit as they will be accountable for its overall health and safety.
Your rabbit will need a good quality, spacious hutch that is protected from the elements, plus a good sized rabbit run for daily exercise, weather permitting! A healthy diet should be provided containing fresh hay, dried food, fresh water and greens. It is vitally important to keep your rabbit’s home spotlessly clean in order to prevent the spread of germs and diseases, keeping your rabbit healthy. Your pet’s home will need to be cleaned out daily, including its litter tray and, be provided with fresh bedding straw.
The following information has been put together based on our knowledge and experience at Winterbourne Rabbits. However, this should be used as a guide only, if you are in any doubt about the health of your rabbit, you should refer to your local vet immediately.
There are many costs involved in order to care for your rabbit, including:
A good quality spacious hutch
A good quality exercise run with a sheltered area
Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD) Vaccination (annually)
Myxomatosis Vaccination (bi-annually to annually)
Vet insurance (annually)
Neutering (one off fee)
Water bottle or bowl and food dish
Bedding barley straw
Rabbits are social animals and can be happy sharing a large hutch with a companion. The best combination of paired rabbits is to have a male and female, both neutered. They can develop an affectionate and caring bond with each other, providing a great friendship.
Two female sisters from the same litter may also get on well together, but sometimes when not neutered can display territorial behavior which could result in needing to separate them.
Two males from whichever litter, should not be paired together as they will be highly territorial and may fight whether neutered or not.
The latest advice from vets, recommends not to pair a rabbit with a guinea pig, as they see many instances of injury to the guinea pig.
Rabbits can be kept on their own, although they like lots of affection and attention.
Rabbit Hutches & Runs:
Your rabbit will need a good quality, strong, weatherproof, and spacious hutch, allowing your rabbit to hop around freely with plenty of head/ear room! Unfortunately some manufactured hutches are made from thin plywood and of poor quality wire, not designed to last the lifetime of a rabbit. It is therefore worth investing in a good quality home for your pet that will stand the test of time.
Hutches should be secure and made with strong fox proof wire. Unfortunately, rabbits make good targets for a hungry fox and so it is vital to protect your rabbit.
The position of your hutch is very important, it should be situated in a shady sheltered position away from driving winds, rain and direct sunlight. Rabbits cannot cope with high temperatures but are happy in cooler climates, a thick bed of barley straw should be provided during winter months to insulate them and help to keep them warm.
Rabbits also need regular exercise and so it is important to get a large good quality and sturdy run with fox proof wire and a sheltered area at one end. As a rule of thumb your rabbit should be able to hop from one end to the other in 6 or more hops in order to provide sufficient exercise.
The run should have a large top opening area so that you can stand in the run to give you easier access to your pet.
Rabbits should not be left for long periods of time unattended, they are susceptible to attacks from predators and can become frightened and stressed.
Care must be taken when handling your rabbit to ensure it feels safe and secure. A rabbit’s spine is very fragile and therefore needs to be handled in the correct manner, keeping the back straight at all times.
To pick up your rabbit, put one hand under the top of the stomach and the other supporting its hindquarters, hold the rabbit close to you so that it feels comfortable and secure. You should never pick a rabbit up by its ears!
When carrying your rabbit from one place to another, e.g. from its run to its hutch, it is best to place your pet in backwards (i.e. so that its bottom enters first) at its destination. This will prevent the rabbit from prematurely jumping from your arms and injuring itself.
Baby rabbits will need time to settle into their new home and should have no more than 10 minute handling on a daily basis for the first few weeks. This will ensure your rabbit gradually gets to know you and builds trust in you without becoming stressed, which can be harmful to your pet.
It’s important to remember that rabbits are at their happiest when they have all 4 feet on the ground, as nature intended, and prefer not to be carried or held for long periods of time.
Litter Training your Rabbit:
Providing a litter tray in your rabbit’s hutch will ensure your pet’s home remains clean and hygienic, whilst making it easier to clean and disinfect. Using a litter tray also protects the wood of the hutch.
It is relatively easy to train your rabbit to use a litter tray, place the tray in the corner where your rabbit has started to soil and it should not take long for the rabbit to start using the tray of its own accord.
The tray should have low sides to enable the rabbit to get in and out easily. Wood shavings or wood based cat litter is generally fine to use for this purpose.
Neutering your Rabbit:
It is a good idea to have both male and female rabbits neutered, especially when living together. Apart from preventing unwanted kits (babies), there are other health benefits. With males, neutering eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and can help reduce aggressive behavior and marking of territories (spraying). Neutering females will prevent uterine tumours later in life and can stop hormonal territorial behavior.
If you buy rabbits, it is recommended that you take them to the vets straight away for a health check to confirm the age and seek advice about when to neuter. Both male and females can start to breed from 3½ to 4 months old onwards, therefore it is a good idea to separate your pets from this age until neutering has taken place.
Males can be neutered from 4 months of age once the testicles have descended or dropped, and females around 6 months of age can be neutered. Your vet will be able to provide full advice regarding timescales.
A Rabbit’s Diet:
It is important to give your rabbit a good balanced diet to maintain its health and well being.
It is very easy to overfeed your rabbit which in turn, can lead to obesity, kidney disease, liver problems, fly strike, dental and heart problems. Rabbits should be fed at consistent times on a daily basis, i.e. once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Ad hoc feeding or top ups during the day are not a good idea as this could lead to over feeding.
Rabbits like to gnaw on tree branches such as apple branches that haven’t been chemically treated. This is preferable to sugary treats (e.g. chocolate drops etc.) and is good for their teeth.
Generally, diets should contain:
Pellets provide a balanced diet of your rabbit’s daily requirements, preventing the problems of selective feeding with mixed food varieties. Quantities are very important (please refer to the health section) for your pet’s health. About 4oz of pellets is sufficient for a medium sized rabbit, i.e. dwarf lop or dutch rabbit.
Hay is an important part of your rabbit’s diet and is essential for daily roughage requirements. A large handful of sweet smelling meadow hay (dust free and not pre packed) is recommended.
A small amount of vegetable greens per day (e.g. one small piece of broccoli or cauliflower) will contribute to your rabbit’s vitamin intake, but remember everything in moderation! While most greens are good for your rabbit, there are exceptions that can be harmful.
There are a number of plants, vegetables and fruits that are poisonous and so care must be taken when exercising your pet in the garden in order to avoid contact with these. The following is an example of poisonous varieties, however this list is not exhaustive and therefore we would recommend exercising your rabbit in a run to avoid contact with anything dangerous.
Lettuce Runner beans & leaves Rhubarb & Tomato leaves Potato Sprouts
Evergreens Arum Anemone Buttercups Bluebell Daffodils Deadly Nightshade Delphinium
Dock Foxgloves Fools Parsley Ground Ivy Jasmine Gypsophilia Hemlock Honeysuckle
Iris Laburnum Lobelia Lily of the Valley Love in a Mist Oak branches Poppies Plum branches
Red Clover Snowdrop Tulip Yew
Ensure a constant supply of clean, fresh and cool water is available for your rabbit. This must be refreshed daily and bottles/dishes should be disinfected on a regular basis and checked to prevent clogging up of the spout.
If using a water bottle, it is important that you have a good quality large bottle that doesn’t leak. We recommend using the ‘giant classic’ rather than the ‘large classic’ variety of rabbit bottle. This is because it’s spout is large enough for any sized rabbit to drink freely, especially in hot summer conditions when your pet needs it most.
Whilst your rabbit may have a long, trouble free and healthy life, there are a number of common ailments that can affect your pet’s health. We strongly recommend taking out medical insurance for your rabbit to help cover the costs if your pet becomes ill.
There are a number of signs to look out for should your pet become ill. If your rabbit stops drinking and eating, shows signs of stomach upsets (e.g. diarrhoea), looks lifeless or even a bit quieter than normal, it is important that you act immediately and seek veterinary advice.
The following are just a few of the more common diseases or conditions that can affect your rabbit.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD):
This is a deadly disease that arrived in Britain in 1992 and can affect rabbits more than 6 weeks old. VHD attacks the liver causing severe bleeding from the mouth and bottom. It is a highly infectious disease and can be spread very easily on clothing and footwear. Birds and insects can also transfer the virus and so even the house rabbit can be at risk.
Your rabbit should be vaccinated to protect it against this disease.
This is disease that arrived in this country in 1953. The myxomatosis virus multiplies in the skin of the face, ears and anus causing large swellings, making it difficult for the rabbit to see, eat and drink. The virus that causes this disease is caused by blood sucking insects, e.g. mosquitoes and insects.
In order to prevent this disease you will need to vaccinate your rabbit and control insects in the hutch. A good insect control is Johnson’s Hutch and Mite spray, giving you cover for a 2 week period.
This is where flies lay their eggs at the base of your rabbit’s bottom and tail, these then hatch out into maggots in 12 to 24 hours and start to eat away at the flesh, leading to a painful death.
One of the most common reasons that rabbits suffer from fly strike is when they are overweight/obese and therefore unable to clean their bottoms. Poor quality food can also contribute to upsetting rabbits’ digestive system. It is therefore important that care is taken to provide good quality food and not to over feed your rabbit. If in doubt, take your rabbit to your vet for a general health check and advice regarding diet.
To help protect your rabbit from fly strike you should:
1. Check your rabbit’s bottom twice daily
2. Assess and if necessary, reduce food quantities and variety
3. Administer prevention drops to your rabbit’s neck (obtained from your vet with full instructions)
4. Apply Rightguard to your rabbit’s bottom (obtained from your vet with full instructions – this is not the deodorant!)
5. Hutch protection (Johnson’s Mite & Hutch Spray is excellent)
Rabbit Dental Problems:
Rabbits teeth grow constantly throughout their life, they are worn down and kept healthy by the action of chewing and grinding their food. However, dental problems occur when teeth are not aligned properly, this is called Malocclusion.
Malocclusion can be hereditary, caused by trauma and stress (e.g. due to physical injury or constant pulling on the hutch wire), a poor diet or tooth infections.
The signs to look out for in identifying if your rabbit has a problem include:
• Difficulty eating
• Reduced appetite
• Weight loss
• Eye infections
Problems can arise if your rabbit won’t eat its pellet diet, as the food contains calcium and phosphorus, essential for good bone and teeth growth.
To treat Malocclusion, teeth need to be trimmed by your vet. If repeated dental work is needed, it is sometimes advisable to remove the affected teeth at the advice of your vet.
Rabbits nails can grow excessively as they predominantly live in hutches and on grass or soft surfaces. Therefore it is necessary to get your rabbit’s nails clipped on a regular basis by your vet.