- Rabbits need as much exercise as a small dog, and as they can not be walked the way dog can, they must be able to get that exercise within their accommodation. (Leads for rabbits are not recommended.) This means that their housing must be as large as possible. Most conventional rabbit runs do not deserve the name as they certainly are not large enough for a rabbit to run in. they are usually lucky if they allow more than a few hops. Rabbits are very athletic being built for speed and they are inclined to be very acrobatic, leaping high in the air, twisting and turning. Even the minimum size acceptable to the Rabbit Welfare Association will accept does not fully allow them to do this and they will benefit from time out in the main garden if it is secure. Always bigger is better. The investment in spacious accomodation will result in happier healthier rabbits and will save money on vet bills. You will also get more entertainment from every bit of extra space you can give them.
- We strongly recommend housing rabbits in sheds with attached runs that people can walk into. Not only do the animals get a larger dry space to live in but cleaning out is far less taxing for the human. Bending over a rabbit hutch scraping out poo is not the worlds most pleasant task, and is not at all enjoyable with rain pouring down your back. Also interacting with your rabbit when it lives in accommodation that you can't fit into is tricky as most rabbits do not like to be handled, but will happily interact with their human on their own terms. When you can go in and sit with them they will come to you and the interaction will be much nicer for both of you meaning that a closer relationship is possible.
If a shed is not possible then situating a hutch inside an aviary which can be partially or fully roofed is another option.
- The minimum hutch size for rabbits is a 6ft long, 2ft deep and 2ft high hutch. Larger rabbits will need one larger, or better yet a shed. Many of our hutches are 6ft long by 30 inches high by 30 inches deep. The extra 6 inches in height and depth makes a huge difference. The hutch or shed must either have a run that is at least 6ft by 6ft permanently attached to it or be located inside a secure enclosure that is properly predator proof. For small rabbits this must have a top. To be considered predator proof the fencing must be solid or made of wire that is securely joined and will not unravel if one strand is broken. Chicken wire is NOT suitable. If there is no top the fencing needs to be at least 6ft high. Runs need to be situated on slabs or at least have the edges paved as predators get in as often by digging as climbing. The run should be a big as possible. Rabbits need as much exercise as a small dog and will be far healthier if they get it. Every penny spent on their accommodation will be paid back by savings in vet fees.
- It is not fair to keep rabbits alone. They are social creatures and a bonded pair or group will be very affectionate with each other. Once you have seen bonded rabbits grooming each other you could not possibly be so cruel as to keep them alone.This mutual grooming has health benefits too. A rabbit with an eye problem often needs nothing but a companion to keep their eyes clean. A lone rabbit could need expensive veterinary treatment for the same complaint.
Unfortunatly bonding rabbits is not as straight forward as simply putting another rabbit in to the other's space. In fact that is a recipe for disaster. Introductions, or bonding, needs to be done carefully, in neutral territory. Rabbits can be quite picky about their life partner so the best option is to give them a choice by taking them along to a rabbit rescue that can do the bonding for you so you do not end up with a fight on your hands.
- Neutering for both males and females is essential if they are going to live a life that is not full of the frustrating urge to breed. We can not allow them to do as nature intended and reproduce copiously; there are far too many unwanted rabbits already. Neutered rabbits are happier and healthier. Females are very prone to uterine cancer. Spaying removes that risk entirely. It also prevents or shrinks their dewlap - a flap of skin under their chin from which they pluck fur to line a nest for their babies. In many rabbits this can get so large that it prevents them from grooming their bottoms leading to urine scalding and/or a build up of fecal material which can attract flies and lead to fly strike where flies lay eggs and the resulting maggots eat the rabbit alive. Preventing this is enough reason on its own to spey a doe. Another benefit is a reduction in territorial behaviour. Some does will defend their territory fiercely and may bite the hand that feeds - literally or box and scratch at it with their front paws, growling at the same time. This does not foster a good relationship. Unneutered bucks will mount whatever they see in front of them and spray the object of their affections with urine. They will often become frustrated and agressive if prevented from fulfilling thier urges. Castration also prevents testicular cancer.
- Rabbits need constant access to clean fresh hay or grass as this should comprise the bulk of their diet. They do not much like plastic packaged pet shop hay, so a bale of meadow hay suitable for horses should be obtained and stored ina dry place to provide a constant supply. When this is purchased it should be free of dust and smell sweet not musty. Hay should also be used as bedding, but make sure to add a large fresh handful daily as they will not want to eat it once it is soiled. In addition to hay, small quantities of rabbit pellets, NOT MIX, should be offered daily. We recommend Alan and Page Natural Rabbit Pellets as they are the highest fibre pellets available at a reasonable price. Excel Rabbit pellets would be our second choice, but they have less fibre and are more expensive, although most rabbits find them more palatable. Fresh green vegetables should also be fed daily, with the occasional carrot or piece of fruit. Lettuce should not be on the menu. Feeding pellets and veg at dusk when the rabbits are put away for the night makes them look forward to bedtime and ensures their co-operation saving you from chasing a reluctant rabbit.
- Their living area should be cleaned at least twice a week, ensuring that all wet material and droppings are removed. A paint scraper is very good for removing material from corners and getting up dried on mess. Wooden surfaces should be allowed to dry or at least air if the weather is too damp to allow full air drying. Plastic surfaces can be sprayed with a suitable animal safe cleanser and wiped down. Indoors suitable bedding is newspaper covered in a layer of hay, outdoors chopped barley straw can be used as an underlayer for absorbency with plenty of hay in the sleeping area. Shavings should not be used as they produce harmful fumes which can damage the rabbit’s liver.
- Regular checks on the rabbits’ health need to be made as they are complicated little creatures and can go downhill very fast. Everyday you should watch how they behave. Once you know their usual habits and how they react to being fed any change can alert you to problems. A rabbit that usually dives into the food bowl hanging back can be all the warning you will get that they have a potentially serious problem. A rabbit hunched in a corner unwilling to move needs a vet immediately. At least once a week rabbits should be picked up and given a health check of their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, bottom, general body tone and weight. Claws need to be trimmed approximately every 2 months. Particular problems for rabbits are digestive stasis where their digestion stops, and fly strike. These must be taken very seriously.
Rabbits can not go long without eating before their liver is damaged by fat metabolism, so it is essential to tempt a rabbit that is off its food with things like dandelions or carrot tops to make sure that something goes in to keep the cycle going. Appetite stimulants such as cisapride are a real lifesaver for rabbits. When choosing your vet make sure they are willing to prescribe this. It is now again available in the UK from Summit Veterinary Supplies although your vet needs to order from them directly rather than through their usual supplier. The same place also supplies small dose tramdol tablets which are very useful for safe pain control.
Fly strike occurs when a fly lays its eggs on a rabbit. The eggs then hatch into maggots which literally eat the rabbit alive. Rabbits lack an enzyme to protect them from the maggots and will go into shock and die from the effects. To prevent this it is essential not to let your rabbit get fat so that he can clean his bottom properly. Also if there is another health problem that means he has difficulty cleaning himself (such as having had front teeth removed or being old and stiff) you must help him keep himself clean by trimming the fur around his bottom so that droppings do not stick to it. (Hopper Haven will be happy to do this for you if you have difficulty). A rabbit prone to a mucky bottom must be carefully checked daily. Flystrike can also occur on other parts of the rabbit, particularly if the fur is wet or if the rabbit is seriously ill. Flies can smell a dying rabbit, and will swarm around them. Rabbits being pestered by flies should be taken to a vet for a health check. We do not recommend routine use of chemicals to keep flies off as these can be harmful to the rabbit. Vigilence, hygiene, spacious accomodation and familiarity with your rabbit's usual demeanor is a better defence.
Other health problems such as head tilt, hind leg weakness, incontinence and kidney trouble are caused by the parasite E. Cuniculi which lives in the brain and kidneys and has been shown to be present in half of all rabbits in this country. Flare ups of symptoms can be prevented or slowed by regular treatment with Fenbendazole the ingredient in Panacur and Lapizole, so we recommend regular treatments with one of these products.
- Keeping rabbits in the house is another possibility which gives you lots of opportunity to interact. However if you are going to keep house rabbits you need to be prepared for lots of mess and destruction. Rabbits can fairly easily be litter trained - it is in their nature to just use one toileting area, but that is not the end of mess. Hay gets everywhere. Rabbits chew wires, they chew woodwork and they are talented wallpaper strippers. They will bite holes in your clothes, your furniture and your bedding. They will disconnect your telephone and your computer. They will nibble your books and refuse to accept that that is your piece of toast on that plate. They will eat many things that they ought not to and go through terrifying bouts of digestive stasis. You will hopefully be rewarded by gaining a delightful pair of companions that sit on your lap while you watch television (if it is still working!) and delight you with their acrobatics and make you draw breath and say ahhhhhhhh every time you catch sight of them looking so sweet while they take a break from destroying your home. If you are not too house proud this will be well worth it. But do consider the matter very very carefully before you opt to keep rabbits indoors. Do not feel that it is unfair to keep them outside. Rabbits are very happy outside. There is lots for them to watch and they are very well weatherproofed. The key for them where ever they are kept is having enough space, companionship and proper care.
- Rabbits are not generally keen on being handled but are inquisitive and lively and will want to interact with their humans once they feel safe doing so. If they live in an environment where the humans can visit them without needing to fish them abruptly out of a hutch, swing them up into the air dangling alarmingly several body heights above the ground (imagine being treated that way yourself), they will initiate contact themselves. Curious rabbits find it hard to resist climbing on a human sitting or lying in their space. Rabbits love to have their noses rubbed and their ears stroked and will often demand this from their people. Don’t be fooled, a rabbit putting its head down to be stroked is not submissive, he is demanding. Frightened rabbits will freeze when they are handled. Confident ones will wriggle and nip asking to be put down. This is how they would behave with other rabbits, a quick nip being a form of communication meaning get out of my way. Some rabbits will go into a form of a trance when held upside down. This can facilitate health checks and claw cutting but is not a good way to hold your rabbit generally. Hold a rabbit firmly. They feel much more secure if you are firm and in control. If you let them dangle they will twist and may even injure themselves. Picking them up quickly will cause them to freeze and avoid this. Place them on your chest supporting their own weight with their legs underneath them. They will be happier this way. Or tuck their bottom under your arm supporting their front with your hand underneath them and your fingers between their front legs. This works well if they are trying to dig or bite at your clothes. It leaves your other hand free to stroke their face and ears which they love and which calms them.