Easter is about more than chocolate eggs. It’s about regeneration, celebration, new beginnings and let’s not forget … bunnies!
What with their intelligent and playful nature, rabbits make for fun and rewarding pets. They do need their fair share of looking after though, just like cats and dogs and sadly, many pet rabbits live without their essential freedoms. To help stop this, and to ensure your rabbits are as hoppy (and happy) as can be, we’ve compiled a handy checklist:
Rabbits are very sociable animals and whilst yes, they will bond with their human companions, they should always be kept in pairs. Their need for companionship stems from their behaviour in the wild; rabbits form huge groups, in which they work together to warn one another of predators. A lonely rabbit is therefore an anxious rabbit who cannot relax properly – regardless of how comfy their surroundings.
Though pairing can be complicated, if you introduce two or more rabbits of a similar size and age (6 weeks is perfect), it won’t be long until they’re the best of friends. This isn’t to say that rabbits don’t love their owners – because they do – but take into account your lifestyle, and that however hard you try to accompany your rabbit, you’ll inevitably spend most hours of the day without them.
To say that wild rabbits cover a lot of ground during their day-to-day life is a bit of an understatement. What cannot be understated, however, is that rabbits need space!
We advise that their hutch be a minimum of 6ft x 2ft x 2ft high. Ideally, their run should be no smaller than 8ft x 4ft x 2ft high and should attach to the hutch so your rabbits can come and go as they please. In both enclosures, a rabbit should be able to stand up, lie flat, move about – run as well as hop – with ease and without interference.
A hutch should be weatherproof and raised from the ground so it stays dry at all times. The run should be on a grassy area, mimicking a rabbit’s natural habitat; this also allows them to graze continuously, which is vital towards maintaining their dental health. It’s also important to ensure they have access to shade at all times as particularly over the summer months, rabbits are susceptible to heatstroke.
If the weather gets very cold, consider moving hutches to an outhouse or garage – a car-free garage as fumes are fatal. It is as important for a rabbit to display their natural behaviour in winter as it is in summer. If you take their hutch into the garage, do so for a short time only and beware of fluctuations in temperature. Provide plenty of bedding and a bonded pair will snuggle together to keep warm. Bear in mind also that in the wild, rabbits are other animals’ dinner. Overnight, make sure their accommodation is secure; particularly the front of the hutch so your rabbits can’t get out – and predators can’t get in.
Line the rabbit hutch with newspaper, topped with soft hay or straw. It’s of the utmost importance to keep rabbits’ living quarters clean; remove dirt, damp bedding and uneaten fresh food every day. You can make this easier by providing a litter tray as rabbits like to do their business in one specific area. It’s also worth cleaning the hutch thoroughly once a week, keeping it fresh and hygienic.
Rabbits are prone to a boatload of diseases including Myxomatosis, VHD, snuffles, E.Cuniculi and Fly Strike. To keep them safe and healthy, it’s crucial to keep them up to date with their vaccinations and to visit your vet as soon as something doesn’t seem right. Being prey animals, rabbits tend to hide it when they feel unwell so pay them regular attention, looking out for a constant tilt of the head, cold-like symptoms, lumps/abscesses, dirty bottoms and a change in faeces – be it pellet size or the number passed.
Again, as with dogs and cats, keep your rabbit clean and comfortable. Keeping their fur clean, especially around the bottom, can also help to protect them against Fly Strike.
Another problem faced often by rabbits is dental disease. Diet will play a huge role in preventing this; you should feed your rabbit a natural diet, consisting of 85% hay or grass, 10% vegetables and a further 5% pellets. Grazing really is the key as it helps to trim down rabbits’ teeth – which never stop growing. Carrots, apples and other fruit are not ideal as they contain a lot of sugar and wouldn’t be eaten in the wild.
Whilst grass is good, avoid feeding lawnmower clippings to your rabbits because fermented grass causes gastrointestinal disease. Not to mention, you don’t know what else has come up through the lawnmower!
Many plants and herbs are poisonous to rabbits and because the list is very long, we recommend keeping them away from flowerbeds at all times.
Taking all of this information into account, you’ll see that keeping rabbits is a huge, often expensive commitment. Never buy rabbits spontaneously – there are many factors to consider before you proceed: time, space and money to name a few. They also don’t make very good children’s pets.
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