Keeping and Caring for Rabbits

Did you know that Rabbits are now the third most popular pet in the UK? It’s true, right after Cats and Dogs, rabbits are keeping us company over all the other pets which help occupy our homes. So understanding these fluff bums and learning how to look after them properly is extremely important.

Like all pets, doing full research before you buy is highly advisable and the same rule applies to bunnies. Rabbits are intelligent animals and if looked after correctly can live in excess of 12 healthy years. If after reading this blog you would like more information before you take the leap, all of our staff are happy to run through caring for your rabbit with you and with any children involved, you can buy a book there too!

Should I get my Rabbit a Friend?

Rabbits are naturally very social animals, they are inquisitive and playful and enjoy interacting with other rabbits, and many enjoy interacting with people; in the wild they live within a loosely organised society in underground tunnels called a warren. Groups can vary in numbers from less than ten, to hundreds of individuals! Rabbits left alone with lack of company can become depressed and ill. Ideally, pet rabbits should either be kept with a same sex litter mate or a neutered rabbit of the opposite sex. If keeping a group, all rabbits must be neutered. Rabbits can be territorial so introductions must be slow and supervised, unfamiliar rabbits can become stressed and aggressive.

Week old rabbits should be held daily to ensure that they become used to the environment and become confident adults. It is still very important that they have a friend in another rabbit whom they get along with. Be sure to hold your bunnies with care and when when picking them up and not acting like a predator by luring over them, kneel down and pick them up gently. Rabbits should never be picked up by the ears or scruff of the neck.

How should I house my Rabbits?

It’s a well known fact that a rabbit’s living area in the wild is about the size of 30 tennis courts! With that in mind it’s very crucial that they have space to be their active selves, they can become bored, frustrated and even unwell if they are not given the appropriate space. The bigger the cage or run the better!

Rabbit Hutches

Two rabbits should be housed in nothing smaller than a 5ft hutch or a two tier 4ft hutch. Pets Corner sell Great & Small hutches which are perfect to these requirements. The G&S Double Hutch and Jumbo Hutch are all ideal and are extremely good quality; one small rabbit can be housed in a minimum of a 4ft hutch.

A good hutch provides shelter, warmth and shade. It should be placed in a draught free position, out of direct sunlight; don’t position west or south facing as wind and rain can blow into the hutch. It is safer to position the hutch near to the house, against a wall in a sheltered area, so a closer eye can be kept on the rabbits; this can also prevent unwanted animals from trying to attack them. When it gets particularly cold, it’s good to consider moving your rabbits’ home somewhere warmer such as a shed, unused garage or outhouse.

Rabbit Runs

Rabbits need lots of exercise, ideally they should have access to a large run (or a rabbit proofed room in your house if you have a house bunny) every day, the minimum should be at least once per week. You must provide water, food and shade and shelter from the sun in the run, a tunnel or tube is a great idea. Great & Small Runs are recommended, they come in both wood and metal designs; run extensions for run and huches and hutches are also available.

Be sure that the run is secure from predators and that it is ideally on grass so that they can enjoy their natural luxuries.

Should I keep Rabbits Indoors or Outdoors?

Rabbits that have always lived outdoors can do so all year round, but newly purchased animals can only live outdoors between 1st of May and 31st of October so they can acclimatise to colder weather. If you buy a rabbit between November and April it will be too cold to put the rabbit outside as it hasn’t had a chance to grow a winter coat.

Whether you have a house rabbit or an outdoor rabbit, the priority is that they are kept safe, they are fed, watered and housed correctly, and that they have plenty of exercise. Rabbits can make good indoor pets and can be litter trained – be careful as rabbits love to chew, they will chew wires and your belongings if you leave them out unattended! Make sure you rabbit proof the house.

You can use wood shavings or carefresh as Substrate; Straw or White Paper bedding should be used in the bed area. For outdoor rabbits straw is the best option as it is a fantastic insulator so helps keeps them warm. Hay is for eating, do not use as bedding.

Remember – rabbits are still primairly outdoor animals, they require outdoor space allowing them to graze naturally and get good exercise.

What should I feed my Rabbit?

Wild rabbits spend 70% of their time above ground foraging for high fibre food like grass, hay and foliage. Foraging keeps rabbits busy, stimulated and well exercised, it also helps to grind down their teeth (which grow continuously). Providing rabbits with the correct diet is absolutely essential.

The majority of a rabbit’s diet should be high quality hay or grass (grass must be introduced to a rabbit very gradually so as not to upset their stomach). Hay must be available at all times.

In addition to hay, rabbits should be offered a variety of vegetables daily – greens like Kale, Savoy Cabbage and Spinach are good examples; avoid feeding too much fruit as it is high in natural sugar. Remember rabbits would naturally eat a very fibrous diet, low in sugar and rich food stuffs.

Complete Rabbit food comes in two varities; muesli – which is a mixture and nuggets. If the rabbit selective feeds when eating the muesli then it would be wise to use a nugget to ensure they are getting the full nutritional requirements from the food.

Example of muesli; Great and Small Rabbit with Grass and an example of pellet; Excel Rabbit. Do not overfeed dry food, it should only be a supplement to the hay and greens.

Young rabbits have weaker stomach acid than adults and need to be introduced to fresh food and grass very gradually. Begin by only feeding veg’ twice weekly in small amounts, and only allow them to graze on grass for five minutes at a time, then gradually increase. Tips and Treats for your Rabbit

  • Stuff hay into feeding balls, wicker balls or tubes to add some stimulation
  • Hide natural treats in and around the hutch and run to encourage foraging
  • Always remove uneaten vegetables as it will rot and attract flies
  • Alfalfa makes a great addition to the diet and adds variety
  • Treat balls are a great addition for bored bunnies
  • Make sure fresh water is available at all times

Keeping Rabbits Healthy

Prevention is always better than cure, I’m sure you’ll agree. Keeping your rabbits in a healthy condition and being of aware what could occur can cut your vet bills and more importantly keep your rabbit hopping with joy. However, If you have any health concerns you must seek veterinary advice.

Common Health issues in Rabbits

Flystrike – This unfortunately is fairly common; it is very distressing and can often be fatal. It is caused mainly in warmer months when flies lay their eggs either on any sore areas around the rabbit’s bottom, or in their hutch. The eggs then develop into maggots that will eat away at the rabbit. You can help prevent flystrike by keeping the environment clean (use a pet safe disinfectant), removing any wet bedding, keeping your rabbit healthy – an overweight rabbit cannot groom itself efficiently, and using insecticides and repellents like Johnson’s Fly Strike Protector.

Overgrown Teeth – Rabbit’s teeth continuously grow, if the teeth are not ground down by gnawing and grinding hay etc. they can become overgrown and may need to be clipped by a vet. Check the rabbit’s teeth weekly for signs of excess growth and wear and tear. Rabbits can also get fur caught around their teeth which you must remove. Always provide plenty of fresh hay and gnawing material – wood gnaws are great. Did you know rabbits have twenty eight teeth?

Digestive Problems – A change of environment, over-handling and rapid changes to diet can cause problems. These disorders can be fatal, therefore if your rabbit stops eating or you noticed a bloated stomach or diarrhoea please contact your vet immediately. Follow the feeding advice above.

Myxomatosis and VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) – Myxomatosis is caused by a virus spread by biting insects, and quickly leads to blindness, swellings around the genital areas, difficulty eating and death. VHD is very serious causing internal bleeding. We recommend that you have your rabbit inoculated against these diseases.

Owners must give their rabbits health checks weekly, Pets Corner provide leaflets which you can pick up in store and have a very hand ‘Health Check’ inside of them.

Rabbit Behaviour

First and foremost, rabbits are prey animals. Pet rabbits’ biology and behaviour are very similar to their wild counterpart, so understanding their needs will lead to a contented pet.

To maintain a happy healthy rabbit you must provide an interesting, stable environment and an opportunity to exercise and interact regularly. Remember that wild rabbits have a territory equivalent to around 30 tennis courts to explore, and plenty of rabbit friends!

If a rabbit is not given enough stimulation, behavioural problems can develop including: depression, fur plucking, aggression, chewing bars, altered feeding, drinking or toileting habits, sitting hunched, excessive hiding, reluctance to move and repeated circling of their enclosure.

Always handle rabbits gently and talk to them in a calm quiet voice. Rabbits become stressed very easily so always supervise children when handling the rabbit.

Rabbits all have their own personality; an important part of pet ownership is getting to know your pet’s individual style, so that you can learn to recognise if anything changes, or if there’s a problem.

Helpful Rabbit Tips

  • Always provide your rabbit with somewhere to hide
  • Allow your rabbit to exercise out of the hutch and cage as regularly as possible
  • Spend plenty of time with your rabbit, they are extremely intelligent and can even be clicker trained! The more time spent with your rabbit, the friendlier he/she will become
  • Provide Toys (Jingle Balls, Crispy Corn, Treat Balls etc.) Vary them and keep them interesting
  • Provide tunnels (large enough for the rabbit to fit through easily)
  • Provide Gnaws, safe twigs and wicker
  • Rabbits love to dig, a planter with compost will be thoroughly enjoyed
  • Cardboard boxes filled with hay will provide great entertainment

If you have any concerns about looking after your small animals or any other pets in your family, please do not hesitate to visit one of our highly trained members of staff in one of our stores. Please click here to find your nearest store!