Caring for Rabbits

ENVIRONMENT

A rabbit needs a lot more space than a guinea pig as they like to move around. So giving them their freedom to run and play is perfect.
At the shelter the majority of rabbits seem to like the two storey hutches (not the small ones as there is not enough room for them to sit in the top storey and the bedroom area is too small for two rabbits)  and enjoy looking out at a height to nosy around. We can create a perfect pen by laying mesh on the floor so they cannot burrow out and then placing the hutch in the pen.

Hutches need to be protected by the weather as shop bought ones do not last very long.  Another idea would be to buy a shed or Wendy house. You could cut a hole in the side and attach a very large run (or freedom in the garden if secure) for them to play in.
Rabbits can withstand the cold (not draughts or sitting in wet soiled bedding) but must have access to their hutch. You need to ensure that in summer they have got an area of shade to go into.

Rabbits do like to play and enjoy throwing things up in the air (old plastic plant pots). An old lampshade that can be tied in midair is also another game. We have stools at the shelter in the pens for them to sit underneath or on top of.

Diet

A rabbits main diet consists of hay, grass and a small amount of dry concentrate.  Rabbits enjoy a daily treat of fruit and veg but try and rotate it each day as some fresh foods contain acid which can give your rabbit sores in his mouth. Here is a list of fresh foods.

  • apple carrot                     parsley               kale
  • peach                              basil                  cabbage
  • grape                              coriander           cauliflower leaves
  • plantain                          mint                    dandelion
  • pear                               dill                       goose grass
  • banana                          sage

Rabbits continually need to wear down their teeth therefore giving your pet a piece of apple or fruit wood is a good way of doing this.

Behaviour

Some people seem to think that having a pet rabbit is like having a cuddly bunny but this is a misconception. In fact they have their own unique temperaments and most do not like to be handled.  Most if our bunnies at the shelter race up to greet us not for cuddles but cupboard love as they know it is feeding time and tend to get excited by racing around our legs. Recently we have had a few that will grunt and lunge to bite you.
We do try to change that behaviour but it can take a while as they need to learn to trust you especially the ones with a bad history.
When you take home a new rabbit, leave it to get used to it’s new surroundings for a day before handling it. Keep the rabbit in the hutch for a few days, talk and handle the rabbit in a calming manner to increase the bonding process.
When you think the rabbit has settled in, introduce it into the new pen. Try to make the pen small at first so you don’t have to chase the rabbit around when putting to bed as this will break the bond you have made. Gradually increase the pen size

Health

Rabbits should be bright eyed and are usually alert. If you are at all worried you should take your pet to your vets. As rabbits are prey animals they try to act normal even when they are ill so they need to be seen as soon as possible.

You will need to keep up to date with vaccines. This year they have produced a combined myxomatosis vaccine (myxo/rhd) that only needs to be done annually.

All rabbits teeth continually grow, so it is very important to give the right diet (hay, grass) so the mouth has to gnaw and chew moving forwards and backwards as well as sideways.

 You need to check your rabbits bottom regularly as some rabbits are prone to getting dirty ones. Dirty bottoms need to be cleaned or they could end up with fly strike which is when the fly lays eggs which turn into maggots.  The maggots burrow into the rabbit. It is a serious and painful condition and the end result could be the death of your rabbit so it needs to be spotted early.

Company

The majority of rabbits do like company and it is lovely to watch them together. We have a couple called Opal and Sapphire. They sometimes look like they are squashing each other the way they lie over each other but are very much in love and always close by one another.They groom each other as a sign of affection.

You have to be really careful as to how you bond rabbits as they are very territorial. The best way is to re-home a pair that are already together.The pairs that work well are neutered male and female or two females.You cannot have two males unless they are brothers and even then it sometimes will not work even if they have been neutered.

The best way to bond a pair is for them to live side by side for a few weeks with wire mesh in between the pens so they can see and sniff each other but cannot fight. At first both rabbits could get nasty (tails up and over the back) and they will chase each other up and down the dividing mesh to try and hurt one another.

Over the weeks this behaviour will disappear and eventually the rabbits will sit next to each other. You then need to place them in a room or place neither one has been in before to see if they are going to become friends. In the room put some new toys and treats for them. Have a towel handy in case they start to fight and you can throw the towel over them. Do not use your hand as you will get bitten. As long as the fight is not too serious you could try it again, but the majority of rabbits do get on if you take the procedure nice and slow and let them slowly get used to one another