This page is designed to give you as much information as possible regarding bunnies. Rabbits can make great pets but are also, like any animal, a great commitment and have various needs which need to be met in order to ensure their health and happiness. This information is intended to help you provide the best possible life for your bunny and the best possible experience as a bunny owner. So many bunnies end up in rescues after experiences which have been unpleasant both for the owner and the bunny and we hope this information may in some way help to remedy this.
How to make a bunny happy
A rabbit, like any animal, has basic needs such as food, water and shelter of which most breeders or pet shops will inform you. What they probably will not tell you are a rabbits other needs, which although not necessary for basic survival, enrich a bunny’s life and makes it, and in turn you, happy.
The best gift you can give your rabbit is the gift of company of its own kind. Rabbits are highly social creatures and live in large social groups in the wild. Just because pet rabbits have been domesticated does not mean that they no longer require social contact. Although attention from a human is great, it will never really be enough to satisfy this need and this is why bunnies are happiest when kept in pairs. The best combination is a neutered male/female pair. The neutering is of course necessary unless you wish to be swamped in baby bunnies in a short space of time but also has health and behavioural benefits too. (More about this in the neutering section below). As a pair, not only will they provide each other with company and play but also they will groom each other and communicate with each other in a way no human ever could. Although some people house a guinea pig with a rabbit, this is not good for either animal. Guinea pigs are often bullied by rabbits who are usually much bigger and are often injured. The rabbit also doesn’t benefit from the company as they are completely different creatures with different habits and don’t even speak the same language! The best company for a rabbit is another rabbit, just as a guinea pig is the best company for a guinea pig.
Thinking about rabbits how rabbits live in the wild also provides clues as to the housing and stimulation needs of pet rabbits. Wild rabbits live in large tunnelled homes and forage for food and explore their environment continuously. How boring it must be then for the pet rabbit, trapped in a small enclosure with no opportunity to forage or explore, with their food simply placed in front of them every day. It can be difficult for rabbit owners to duplicate their natural environment but we can go a long way towards improving their day to day life.
Hutches are seen as the traditional housing for rabbits. However, they were only introduced as a short term measure for rabbits that were being raised for consumption, not living in its confinement for potentially ten years. Modern rabbit keeping looks at the hutch as more of a shelter within a wider area accessible to the rabbit, whether this be a permanently attached run, secure garden or similar setup (see our Rabbit Accommodation page for examples). Being confined continuously to a hutch does not allow a rabbit to exhibit natural behaviors such as running, hopping, jumping and digging and is actually cruel confinement. Where used, hutches must be as large as possible, bigger really is better. It is best to buy the biggest, best quality hutch you can afford even if your rabbit/s are only babies. It is a worthwhile investment to buy a 6 foot hutch from the start rather than going through the expense of buying another bigger hutch later on. There are tiered hutches on the market with 2 or 3 floors. Its worth bearing in mind the internal ‘ladder’ does use up floor space, effectively making the hutch smaller. Also rabbits sometimes slip on the ladder causing injury. So a 6 foot hutch would probably be better than a 4 foot tiered hutch as it gives the rabbit more room on one level. However, a hutch isn’t the only type of accommodation available to your rabbit. There are many other options such as a converted shed, child’s playhouse or even free roaming house rabbits, which can give your rabbit/s a fantastic quality of life. More about this, including suggestions on where to purchase good accommodation can be found on our Rabbit Accommodation page.
Your rabbit/s will require access to a run for exercise and the stimulation of a new area to explore. Many people find it difficult to put their rabbits out each day or find that their rabbits try to dig out of the run. The easy answer to this is to buy a hutch with a run permanently attached and site on concrete or install an anti-dig kit on the perimeter. This way the rabbit can’t get out, predators can’t get in and the rabbit does not have to rely on you for its daily exercise. Some simple corrugated plastic or tarpaulin can be draped over the top of the run to provide shelter but also remember to ensure the hutch is located in a relatively shady location anyway as rabbits can die from overheating in summer if not properly sheltered. It is wonderful for your rabbit/s to free range in the garden and the time when you are most likely to see them binky with joy, but you must ensure that the garden is secure (from the rabbits getting out and predators getting in) so its probably best reserved for days where you can keep an eye on them.
Many people do not realise that rabbits are highly intelligent and inquisitive animals in need of stimulation who quickly become bored of a barren environment. It is relatively easy to enrich their environment within the hutch and run. Like their wild counterparts, rabbits love tunnels and there are plenty of options both at the pet shop or at home (such as cardboard tubes or clean drain pipes). They also love a lookout and many things can be adapted for them to climb on. Chewing is also very important to wear their teeth down as well as to relieve boredom and things like cardboard boxes can satisfy both these needs. Some rabbits may also be interested in balls and this may be worth trying as they can be bought from the pet shop for little expense. Hay racks, hanging baskets full of hay or fresh food holders can also be useful.
Large flowerpots can also be of benefit. When overturned they can provide a lookout or food can be placed inside for forage opportunities. It can also be placed in the run filled with mud to provide digging opportunities or even grass seed sown it to provide access to fresh grass. Once eaten it can be removed to allow the grass to re-grow and subsequently given to your rabbit again.
These are just a few ideas but many more can be found on the Rabbit Welfare Trust web site, particularly on the page ‘A Hutch is Not Enough.’ Click here to visit the site directly: http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/ahutchisnotenough.htm
There are literally thousands of unwanted litters of rabbits, yet bunnies crave company and a male/female pair is usually the best combination. Neutering enables rabbits to enjoy company while preventing breeding, but it also has less well known benefits. For males, it stops urine spraying (a nasty habit of many unneutered males) and also decreases mounting behaviour and can help with temperament issues. For females it prevents the development of uterine and associated cancers which is a common cause of death in unneutered females. It can also decrease aggression linked to the hormone cycle. Neutering is a worthwhile investment for any rabbit owner as the reason for re-homing a rabbit can often be traced back to problems arising from not being neutered, whether due to behavioural impacts or the boredom of being kept alone.
Rabbits can be safely castrated at any early age and helps to avoid the onset of problems with fighting or pair bonding. Males can be castrated as soon as their testicles descend, usually at around 10-12 weeks. Females can be spayed from 14-16 weeks as long as they are in good health and weigh at least 1kg.
It is vitally important to feed your rabbit a good quality nugget food. Many muesli based foods encourage selective feeding (that is only eating the bits they like best and not necessarily the bits that are best for them) and should not be used. Overgrown teeth are such a prolific problem and left untreated a rabbit can literally starve to death. Although dental disease is largely a genetic issue, you can help your rabbit in some way by using good quality food and providing plenty of chew toys. Anything from log rolls to cardboard boxes are suitable, even some natural branches but you should always check first that these are safe for your rabbit and not poisonous. Signs of dental problems include weight loss, weeping eyes, wet chin & loss of appetite.
It is also vital to follow the feeding guidelines on the back of the packet of the nuggets as overfeeding your rabbit will lead to obesity and a large range of health risks. For efficiency, you can mark the correct amount on a small feeding cup so that it is quick and easy to feed them the correct amount each day. Rabbits can never have too much hay and this should make up 80% of their diet.
It is also important to feed your rabbit a variety of greens which as well as nutritional benefit, provide extra interest for your bunny especially if you place them in something like a food ball (see picture above) or hide under overturned boxes to provide forage opportunities. For more information on what to provide and what to avoid, as well as information on branches for chewing, the Rabbit Welfare Trust sell a booklet called ‘Greenfoods for Rabbits & Cavies’ by F R Bell.
The hay experts – This site is great for stubborn bunnies who aren’t quite sure on why they have to eat so much hay and also for those hay lovers looking for something new and exciting! The hay experts provides lots of yummy hays and forages which will excite your bunny and keep them healthy! Natural is best and they have lots of alternative treats, rather than buying cereal based ones which, although they are widely sold, are not good for rabbits.
It is vital to vaccinate your rabbits, even if they are kept as house rabbits. Myxomatosis is carried by fleas and biting insects which can find their way into any inner city home (fleas are readily transported by cats which most neighbourhoods have!). It is a horrific disease with a long drawn out painful death. For unvaccinated rabbits, there is no cure and vets will recommend euthanasia as soon as it is diagnosed. Vaccinated rabbits can still contract the disease but it is usually milder and rabbits usually survive given the correct supportive care. Having seen the disease first hand, I can honestly say that it is not something you ever want to see your pet go through, especially if they are a pet for your children.
VHD is another terrible, fatal disease. Vets rarely get to see infected rabbits as they die so quickly, usually within 24 hours. It is, however, still an incredibly painful death. It causes massive internal bleeding and often there is no outward sign of the disease. VHD can be transported on hay, blown on the wind or transported on objects or clothing. It can survive for months within the environment so can be easily transported without you ever realising that your rabbits are at risk. They can only be protected by vaccination.
A new vaccine was released in 2012 that vaccinates your rabbit for 12 months for both diseases (rather than the previous 2 injections 2 weeks apart with a myxi booster after 6 months). The vaccine has been proven to be highly effective and means only one trip to the vet for your rabbit which is useful if they are stressed by travelling. Your vaccination appointment is also a useful annual checkup for your rabbit to ensure that it is in good health.
Flystrike occurs when flies lay eggs around a rabbits rear end. This often happens if a rabbit as a dirty or ‘sticky’ bottom due to obesity, old age or incorrect diet. It is worth regularly checking your rabbits bottom to make sure it is clean, especially if a long haired breed and particularly in summer months.
It is important to regularly check the length of your rabbit’s nails – so many rabbits come into rescue with seriously overgrown nails. Allowing the nails to become overgrown is a form of neglect, their toes can be caused to break as a result and the rabbit is not able to groom itself. House rabbits often have overgrown nails due to walking on carpets or other surfaces which are unlikely to help the nails to wear naturally but all rabbit nails need checking regularly. In a rabbit with light coloured nails you should be able to see the vein inside the nail for trimming but if you are nervous of trimming or the nails are black, then a vet will trim them for you which will also enable them to carry out a general health check for you.
An excellent resource for all things rabbit and with informative pictures of health problems and even sexing advice, can be found on the Cottontails web site. Click here to visit directly: http://www.cottontails-rescue.org.uk/rabbits.asp