Rabbits

Rabbits make great pets & deserve the right care and comforts to keep them happy and healthy. And take great care to buy from a reputable seller like Dobbies. Don’t just buy your pet from the first place to advertise bunnies for sale.

Please read the sections below for more advice on keeping a pet rabbit.

Housing

You have to be very careful on how to house rabbits. Think about the masses of room a rabbit has in the wild. They practically have all the room in the world to hop around in, so it’s important to make sure you get the largest hutch and run you can afford. A hutch should only be a shelter, never the sole or main accommodation for the rabbits, who should have access to large secure exercise areas every day. Rabbits that are kept in hutches develop painful spinal deformities and brittle bones which makes them difficult to handle. Make sure you look after your rabbits properly and do not keep them confined to a hutch

A hutch should allow your rabbits to take 3 hops, and for an average rabbit, this will be 6 feet in length. Make sure that the hutch allows the rabbits to stretch up fully on their back legs, so it will need to be at least 60cm high (to avoid spinal deformities) and is also nice and deep so that the rabbits are not forced to sit right at the front of the hutch in very hot, or wet weather.

The exercise run is equally as important as the hutch, and as long as it’s safe, you can attach it to the hutch all of the time so that they can exercise or shelter when they want. If you weatherproof the run with a tarpaulin, they can make the most of it all year round.

Position of cage

Site the hutch away from prevailing winds & direct sunlight. It is important to raise the hutch to prevent damp & vermin, it also makes cleaning easier. Rabbits can be kept outside all year as long as the hutch is kept dry & draught free. In very bad weather either cover the hutch and run loosely with a plastic sheet or tarpaulin or move the hutch into a fume free garage, shed, porch or conservatory (do not keep in the dark). Make sure that the rabbits can still exercise every day.

Feeding

A rabbit’s diet should mimic that of their wild cousins and be based on fibre in the form of hay and grass. In fact it should contribute 80% of their daily food. Hay not only keeps their teeth healthy, but it keeps them busy too. Hay is not just bedding, it is an essential part of their diet!. Around 15% of their diet should be vegetables and greens, and then only 5% should be a good quality rabbit food. Supply fresh water daily in a suitable water bottle or bowl.

Companionship

Rabbits are social animals and live in large families in the wild, It is very unkind and old fashioned to keep them alone. Rabbits should be kept in neutered pairs or compatible groups and opposite sex pairs work best. It is possible to keep same sex siblings together, but they should still be neutered to prevent fighting, and need to have plenty of space. Even if they have a lot of human companionship, they still need company of their own kind. Guinea Pigs do not make suitable companions for rabbits.

Cleaning

Cover the base of the hutch with a thick layer of newspapers or magazines. A small cat litter tray filled with wood shavings or wood based cat litter placed in the corner of the hutch will make a good toilet which is easily cleaned once a day. Straw is used as the main bed material and hay added as food. Clean the hutch thoroughly once a week and the litter tray once a day. Use an animal disinfectant to clean the hutch.

Handling

Always support the rabbit’s weight. Never pick them up by their ears – it hurts them! If children are handling a rabbit for the first time sit the rabbit on their lap so if it does jump or fall it will not hurt itself, also be careful not to squeeze the rabbit, calm the rabbit by stroking the ears and face area. It is a good idea to leave new rabbits on their own for at least 24 hours so they can settle in.

Exercise

It is extremely important to allow a pet rabbit to exercise out of its hutch as much as possible. It’s unfair to keep a rabbit contained in a hutch for long periods of time. A good size safe exercise run is a safe way to allow a rabbit to exercise. If a run is placed on the grass it means the rabbit can forage all day which is very good for them, but they will also like to dig, so make sure you monitor it, and move it regularly so that they don’t escape. You may like to put mesh around the outside of the run to prevent them digging out, but wire should not cover the whole of the floor because it is not good for their feet, and also, digging is a natural behaviour for a rabbit and they should be allowed to dig somewhere. If you do not want them digging in the lawn, then place the run on slabs and give them a digging box in the form of a large litter tray filled with earth. If the run is attached to the hutch the rabbits can exercise or shelter as they please. If however your run is not safe enough to leave the rabbits in all night, then you will need to make sure the hutch is a minimum of 6ft x 2ft x 2ft, and that the run has lots of hiding places and shelter in. Always supply food and water.

Furnishings and toys

A few branches from an apple or willow are popular. There are lots of pet toys available in pet shops or your local Dobbies pet centre, such as willow toys and tunnels. Make sure you give your rabbits new toys regularly so that they don’t get bored.

Problems

If correctly cared for, with a good diet and adequate housing, rabbits should be happy and healthy. They must be neutered and vaccinated against both myxomatosis and VHD which is a worrying threat to pet rabbits, it is a disease which is transmitted in many ways and causes death in a matter of hours from contraction. Up to 12 weeks of age the rabbit has some sort of natural immunity to the disease, but after this a rabbit should be vaccinated by a vet. Keep an eye on their claws as they soon become overgrown. If you experience any other problems, pay a visit to your local vets.

Company

Rabbits are sociable animals and unless a lot of human attention is going to be provided some other form of company should be thought of. Two doe rabbits raised together from young will live in harmony.

Life Expectancy 8 - 12 years

Rabbits on average live for 8–12 years. In this time, a pair of rabbits properly looked after could cost in the region of £9000–£11000. A serious amount of money. So make sure you are seriously committed to taking on rabbits as pets – don’t just act on impulse on sight of a cute baby bunny in a pet shop.

Flystrike

Flystrike - Flystrike is an unpleasant and distressing condition, which occurs in the summer months when flies lay their eggs around a rabbit’s rear end, or within faeces in the hutch. The eggs hatch into maggots, which feed on the faeces and eventually the rabbit, burrowing into its flesh. Sound horrible? It is. Prevention is better than cure – if caught quickly enough some rabbits can be successfully treated, but Flystrike is often fatal. Effective hutch hygiene and good healthcare is by far the best defense. Follow this simple 3-step guide below to ensure that your rabbit is not at risk.

Step 1

Examine your rabbit each day, to check that his fur is clean, dry and not matted with faeces. If you see any sign of maggots, immediately remove them using soap and warm water, thoroughly dry the affected area and contact your vet straight away. A rabbit with diarrhoea or a dirty bottom is most at risk. Ensure that your rabbit has a balanced, complete diet to avoid the side effects of digestive disturbances based on hay and grass.

Step 2

Change soiled bedding every day. A dirty hutch and bedding is a magnet for flies. Use plenty of good quality absorbent bedding in your rabbit’s toilet area to avoid excess moisture. Russel Bedding is ultra-absorbent and what’s more, it’s treated with a non-toxic cleaning agent to eliminate pet odours, germs and bacteria. It is made from super-threshed barley straw and is totally safe for your rabbit, even if eaten. Russel Bedding has a pleasant lemon odour – an effective deterrent to flying insects.

Step 3

Once a week, thoroughly clean and disinfect the hutch. Remove everything from the hutch and disinfect with a purpose-made solution suitable for use with small animals. Supreme Home Help is a non-toxic hutch cleaner formulated by vets to eliminate pet odours, germs and bacteria. Sprayed inside the hutch and on bedding, Home help makes your rabbit’s hutch hygienically clean with a fresh citrus smell. It comes in a handy trigger spray bottle and there’s no need to rinse. What could be simpler?

Clipping your rabbit's nails

A rabbit’s nails grow continuously, and in the wild they wear them down by scratching and burrowing. A domestic rabbit in a house or cage does not have the opportunity to wear down their nails, so consequently they need regular clipping. Clipping a rabbit’s nails is straightforward. You will need some nail clippers, the kind used to cut cat’s claws are suitable; also have on hand styptic powder, a compound that stops bleeding. Both of these should be available from pet shops. The first few times you clip the nails it will be useful to have a helper available, as your rabbit may not be too happy – rabbits are often frightened by new procedures. A small torch helps too, especially if the rabbit is dark coloured. Finally, wear a long sleeved shirt and trousers; it will save you many scratches! The most important thing to remember is that there is a vein within the nail and you need to cut below this. If you cut into the vein, firstly it will hurt the rabbit as there are nerves in this living part of the nail, and secondly it will bleed – sometimes quite heavily and this is when you will need to use styptic powder. By shining the torch behind the nail it is usually possible to see the vein as a darker central section of the more translucent nail. The difficult part is getting the rabbit to stay still while you clip the nails. The following is a good way to gently restrain your rabbit while clipping.

The snuggle hold Put the rabbit on a carpet square on top of a table, positioned so that his rear is facing you then put your arm around his middle section so that you have your rabbit snuggled up against you. At first consider this as a practice session, just touch his toenails, so he gets used to this before you actually try to clip them. If he tries to struggle at any stage, stop and reassure him. Once he seems happy with you touching his nails, slide the clippers over the nail until it is below the vein, and firmly but quickly snip the nail off.

*If the rabbit becomes ill, veterinary treatment may be needed. Although many rabbits will never need veterinary treatment during their life, you should be prepared for the possibility when taking on the commitment of a pet.