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SMALL PETS | VET ADVICE

CARING FOR RABBITS

Everything you need to know to look after a pet rabbit

Rabbits are one of the most popular household pets and for good reason. Intelligent, naturally sociable, and oh so adorable, they are a rewarding animal to add to the family. Read our handy guide to discover whether they’re the right small pet for you.

Choosing a Rabbit

  • Lifespan: 8–12 years
  • Personality: curious, playful
  • Best kept: in same-gender pairs or groups
  • Sleep cycle: crepuscular (awake during dawn and dusk)
  • Diet: herbivore
  • Best for: teenagers and adults
  • Neutering rabbits will prevent unwanted litters and potential fighting. Contrary to popular belief, you should not keep rabbits and guinea pigs together; a rabbit will often inflict severe injuries onto a guinea pig.

    Housing

    Make sure your rabbit has got plenty of room – their hutch should be large enough that they can stand on their hind legs, stretch out, and take 3 hops in any direction. There must also be a private area for them hide/sleep, as well as constant space to exercise so that they can exhibit natural behaviour. It is important that the hutch is in a shaded area, away from direct sunlight, strong winds, and rain, and is predator-proof – it is possible for a rabbit to die of shock from being harassed by cats, foxes, and similar creatures. If you’d prefer to house your rabbit inside, keep dangers such as cables and house plants well out of reach, and make sure the same rules regarding their hutch applies.

    Diet

    In the wild, rabbits spend more than half their time feeding. They take time to eat and their food contains a lot of fibre, which is good for your rabbit’s digestion and helps wear down their teeth. A rabbit’s diet should consist of 90% high quality feeding hay (differing from bedding hay) or grass, a small amount of pellet-style rabbit food, and some fresh vegetables. Although the stereotype is true – rabbits love carrots – they contain a lot of sugar and should only be fed every now and again as a treat. Avoid Muesli type mixes, as they can lead to gut issues, due to the lack of fibre, dental problems, and obesity.

    Bedding and litter boxes

    Rabbit bedding needs to be checked on a daily basis and removed if soiled. Always make sure to check the bedding at least twice a day in summer during hot weather, as flies may quickly lay their eggs on soiled bedding and the resulting maggots may burrow into the rabbit’s fur and skin, known as flystrike, which is very painful and can be fatal. It is easy to litter train a rabbit – once you are aware which corner they prefer to use as a toilet, place a medium-sized cat litter tray in that space. This will make it far easier to keep the accommodation clean.

    Grooming

    Rabbits go through shedding cycles a couple times a year and so it’s important to brush them to remove all the excess fur – otherwise, your rabbit could ingest it. Regular nail clipping is also important because long nails can get snagged on things or curl into your rabbit’s paw. Provide your rabbit with an area for digging to help their nails wear down naturally or visit your vet to learn to how to clip them safely.

    Enrichment

    Just like us humans, rabbits can get bored easily. Puzzle feeder toys can keep them entertained for hours as well as cardboard boxes and toilet roll tubes; the boxes in particular can be used to hide in as well.

    Handling

    Some rabbits enjoy being stroked; others prefer to be left alone. As they are prey animals, rabbits always prefer to interact with you on ground level, where they will feel far happier and safer. If you sit quietly, most will happily come over and see you – but remember that they will never feel overly comfortable, as it is not natural for them to be lifted off the ground. The safest way to pick up a rabbit is to slide one hand underneath the body and in-between the front legs, with your other arm around its hindquarters, supporting its body weight. Place the rabbit against your body with its head towards your arm. Never pick a rabbit up by its ears or by the scruff of its neck. Always put a rabbit down gently, hind legs first, on a non-slip surface.

    Our articles are not a replacement for face-to-face vet advice. It’s important to consult with your vet on a regular basis to raise any pet concerns that you may have.

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