It’s widely accepted that little bunnies are just about the cutest creatures in the world, and so it’s no wonder that rabbits are one of the most popular choices of domestic pets.
Affectionate, curious and cuddly, rabbits can quickly become part of the family and are incredibly easy to bond with, making them a great first pet for young children.
However, looking after one is no walk in the park, and there’s a lot to learn before you purchase a new furry friend!
Sadly, a lot of misinformation still exists about the care of rabbits, and so many new bunny owners are given the wrong advice when it comes looking after a long-eared pal.
So to help you avoid running into any issues, we’ve put together this in-depth, trustworthy guide, to clue you up on everything you need to know on rabbit caregiving!
- Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
- Average Height: 17 – 40 cm
- Average Weight: 1 – 8 kg
- Popular Breeds: Lionhead, Angora, Netherland Dwarf, Mini Lop
- Diet: Hay, Grass
- Origin: Europe
IMPORTANT THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Before you decide you really want a rabbit, you need to consider these important caregiving factors:
- Rabbits need time and attention – They must be checked at least once a day or more without fail.
- Rabbits need to live in groups – They are not solitary animals and need to be kept in groups or pairs to keep them healthy and happy. If you want one, you’re going to have to get another.
- Rabbits need regular vaccinations – They need to be protected against myxomatosis and VHD.
- Rabbits should be neutered – Neutering helps prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy.
- Rabbits are sensitive – Although they are a great pet for young children, rabbits sensitivity means kids should always have parent supervision when looking after bunnies.
- Long-haired rabbits need grooming – Long fur can become matted quickly, and so these breeds need daily brushing.
- Rabbits can live for 10 years – Make sure you have the time, money and facilities to cope with this.
WHERE TO BUY A RABBIT
Once you’re sure a bunny really is the pet for you, your next question is probably where to buy some from. Thankfully, rabbits are a widely available animal and can be bought from many pet shops, breeders and rescue organisations.
However, you need to make sure that whoever you buy your rabbits from is reputable, and that they’ve taken good care of the animals before they come home with you.
This is because rabbits living in poor conditions could easily be carrying illness or infection, which would cause you and your family needless distress or grief should you purchase a suffering animal.
A reputable seller should keep their rabbits in an appropriate area, preferably a hutch, that is clean, dry and not overcrowded. They should also clearly be on an appropriate diet of hay and grass with access to clean water.
CHOOSING YOUR RABBITS
When choosing your little hoppers, you first need to make sure they are in good health and ready to be given a new home.
Healthy rabbits are active and wary of their surroundings, with clear bright eyes and undamaged fur. These are the easiest things to spot, but if you can, try and also observe whether they have pink and moist gums, even teeth, and clean feet without sores. Their droppings should also be well-formed.
For those looking for a bunny, the perfect age for a baby rabbit is around 6 – 8 weeks old, once they have been weaned from their mother. However, you will find rabbits of all ages of being sold and adult rabbits can make just as good pets.
If you want certain sexes of rabbit, make sure you buy from a seller with experience of sexing one, as it can be quite difficult to determine. You don’t want to bring home Peter and discover five years later he’s a Miffy!
Knowing this is also important when it comes to pairing rabbits together.
This is because it is unusual for two male rabbits to live in harmony without fighting, so two females or a male and female pair are usually the preferred choices.
As rabbits are so sensitive, socialising with them at an early age is important to avoid them becoming too distressed when coming into contact with humans.
Ensure you are always gentle with them, move slowly, and speak in a quiet, hushed tone to avoid scaring them.
This is why supervising children with rabbits is important, as it’s easy for a rabbit to become startled in their presence.
You should also take care when picking up a rabbit, as picking them up from a great height can unnerve them, so it is best to keep your interactions at ground level.
The most important thing to consider before you bring a bunny home is where on earth you’re going to keep it. While some find it easier to keep their rabbits outside in a hutch, others want to be more sociable with their pet and choose to keep it indoors.
Please make sure you read the specifics on both options before you make a decision!
Outdoor Rabbit Housing
A classic outside rabbit hutch needs to be suitably large enough for your rabbits to hop around in. This is because rabbits who live in too confined conditions can develop skeletal issues and become irritated and unfriendly very quickly.
Specifically, they need an area in which they can:
– Stand on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof
– Hop across three times without reaching the end
– Comfortably stretch out or lie down in
The vastly varying sizes of rabbit breed mean that the hutch dimensions needed differ greatly from owner to owner, but the average-sized rabbit would require at least a 1.8m x 0.9m x 0.9m space.
But gone are the days when rabbits could simply be locked away in this hutch till you came home.
To boost their health and happiness, bunnies now require access to a run or an enclosed area attached to their outdoor home, allowing them to get some fresh hair and hop around outside.
Try and also keep the accommodation in a shaded area away from direct sunlight, or where it could be subject to aggressive winds or rain, as all of these weather conditions can be stressful for a rabbit and even harmful.
Finally, you obviously need to ensure your hutch is as secure as possible, to prevent escapes and sly foxes getting in at your cute little bunnies, but simple strong sliding bolts and predator-proof materials should do the trick.
Another important thing to note is not to keep rabbits in the same enclosure as a Guinea Pig.
Their similarities often lead owners and even sellers to keep them in the same areas. However, they have completely different needs, and can often fight each other in the same environment.
Indoor Rabbit Housing
Rabbits can also happily be kept indoors, but if you’re genuinely considering keeping a house rabbit, be warned: It is a lot of extra work.
Firstly, they still need a base which they can retire to, as well as sleep and eat in.
For indoor rabbits, this is often a cage filled with bedding, which should be 3m x 2m x 1m at a minimum, although obviously, the bigger the better.
Then much like cats or dogs, they need equipment like food and water bowls, digging trays and litter trays to make sure they have everything they need to be happy.
They’ll need to be litter trained to prevent them from spraying and leaving droppings around the house and you’ll need to fill your house up with specialist chewing toys too. This is due to their love of nibbling things, and with chew toys, they’re less likely to gobble up all your furniture!
Annoyingly, all cables must also have a protective covering to ensure your chomper doesn’t nibble through them and most house plants need to be removed as they can be poisonous.
To stop these kinds of situations, we recommend creating a small pen or area in your home purely for the rabbit to play in, well away from any chewable items!
But it’s not all doom and gloom having a house rabbit, and one of the positives is that they often don’t need a long-eared partner, as the constant presence of people keeps them entertained.
For bedding, rabbits require clean, bagged straw or hay.
Straw holds more warmth than hay and so is often the best choice for winter, but it has no nutritional content. Conversely, hay forms a large part of a rabbit’s diet, and so can be used as both food and bedding, effectively killing two birds with one stone!
Bedding must be checked on a daily basis and always removed if soiled.
This prevents their habitats from ever becoming dirty or smelly and also limits a rabbits exposure to the high levels of ammonia in their urine.
To cut back on your daily checks, litter training a rabbit can help them maintain a cleaner living environment, while also making your cleaning schedule slightly less frequent!
Make sure to also pay particular attention to their accommodation during hot weather, as flies will often lay their eggs in soiled bedding, resulting in maggots burrowing into a rabbit’s fur and body. This is known as flystrike and can be fatal if not prevented.
Rabbit hutches and cages require weekly cleaning at a minimum to prevent them from becoming too smelly or dirty.
Here all bedding must be removed and replaced and the inside of the accommodation wiped down to be rid of urine deposits.
If using a cage, you should probably also disinfect it on a weekly basis, taking care to rinse thoroughly once soaked for 30 minutes.
A rabbits diet is mostly made up of hay or good quality grass, accounting for at least 70% of their diet!
Most health issues with rabbits are purely down to nutrition, and so it’s crucial that your long-eared lop always has access to plenty of hay so that they can graze happily throughout the day.
They require a high fibre diet, with moderate protein levels as well as a smaller amount of fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
To help them achieve total nourishment, it’s advised you feed rabbits a pellet diet in addition to their hay or grass rations as this ensures they are getting all the nutrients they miss through their daily graze. Pellets are far superior to muesli mixes in terms of quality, and can also improve your bunny’s dental health if long in shape.
You can also feed rabbits a variety of fresh, leafy greens and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and watercress. It is also safe to provide them with fruit provided it is in small amounts as their high rate of natural sugars is not good for hoppers when consumed in vast quantities.
Your rabbit should also always have access to clean water, through a drip bottle or a large bowl.
Foods To Avoid
As bunnies seem to enjoy chomping away on any old vegetable, you can be forgiven as an owner for throwing any old plant their way.
But you need to be careful!
As previously stated, rabbits are very sensitive, both in personality and stomach, and there are a few foods you definitely shouldn’t feed them, some of which can be fatal if ingested!:
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Hamster Food
To give your long-eared friend the best care possible, you are going to have to take measures to ensure it always remains in optimum health!
Firstly, rabbit nails need to be checked regularly to ensure they don’t get too long, and trimmed by yourself or a groomer if they are!
You should also perform daily checks on your bunny to check for any signs of disease or illness. The easiest way to spot this is by examining their eyes, ears and nose for any discharge and making sure their eyes are always clear and bright.
Any sudden weight loss, changes in fur quality, reduction in appetite and lumps or lethargy can also be symptoms of something wrong. If you notice any of these issues, seek advice from your vet as soon as possible.
Like all animals, rabbits require regular veterinary check-ups to ensure they are in the best of health. It’s recommended that bunnies are taken to the vets biannually for a routine inspection and that they also receive important vaccinations when necessary.
During a check-up, vets will examine and identify any problems your rabbit is having and will observe their teeth and give advice on how to prevent dental disease. They will also be weighed and you will be able to seek advice and declare any worries you may have about your rabbit.
In terms of vaccinations, rabbits should be given a vaccine for the deadly VHD virus at 12 weeks of age and then again 4 weeks later once a juvenile.
From there, a rabbit requires the VHD vaccine once every 6 months as an adult. You can choose from a myxomatosis/VHD1 vaccine or a VHD2 vaccine for your bunny, and it’s important to do so as if a rabbit contracts the virus they are unlikely to recover.
Vets will also be able to advise on any neutering or spaying procedures. Males can remain fertile for up to 6 weeks after a procedure, whereas females will be made infertile immediately.
Females will, however, take slightly longer to recover from the operation than males, as it is more invasive.
Neutering rabbits is considered one of the best things you can do for them as it helps decrease aggression and fighting in groups, urine spraying and unwanted pregnancy.
For females, it also prevents the occurrence of uterine cancer, which is a very common reproductive disease for female rabbits.
Female rabbits become sexually active from around 3 months of age and unlike many animals, don’t have a set oestrous cycle. Instead, they go through a process of induced ovulation, in which the act of mating will bring on ovulation in a doe.
The average gestation period for a rabbit is just 28-32 days, and females will usually produce a litter of 4-12 babies. These bunnies will be raised by their mother in a small nest for the first 3 weeks of their life and should only be weaned once they reach around 8 weeks of age.