There’s no denying the cuteness of a fluffy, cuddly rabbit; perhaps this is why we all love Beatrix Potter’s iconic tales of Peter Rabbit so much. I mention Beatrix because the Peter Rabbit film has just hit our cinemas, and no doubt there will be young cries all over the UK of “I want a rabbit, please!!” Before you rush out and get a gorgeous bunny, take a few moments to read the blog; it’ll give you the heads (and cotton tails) up as to what is involved.
I cannot stress enough the importance of the right diet; get this right and you have got the biggest factor in the rabbits care sussed. The correct diet is massively, massively important with rabbits; the commonest mistake is feeding too much pelleted food and fresh vegetables, and not enough Hay. Hay or grass should account for at least 80% of a rabbit’s diet. At this level, it will keep their teeth healthy, improve their gut motility, and maintain a healthy weight. With their weight at a natural level, bunny will be able to turn around quite easily and keep their bottom clean, which helps prevent fly strike (more on that later).
The reason rabbits have such a high requirement for fibre in their diets is down to their “double digestion” system. This means that food passes through their digestive system twice, rather than the usual once in most mammals. When food has passed through the gut once, a rabbit will produce soft droppings which they will promptly turn around and eat; this is exactly what they should do, even if it isn’t what we want to be seeing! These soft droppings then have a second spin through the digestive tract, before being expelled as hard pellets.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you don’t need to feed your bunny pellets and fresh vegetables; they should simply be fed judiciously, and as a treat. Rabbit will much appreciate some fresh Dandelions, trust me 🙂
The other important thing to consider is their living arrangements, and I’m going to assume that most rabbits bought as childrens pets will be living outdoors. If not, remember to litter train them (easy to do) and remove electrical cables etc from indoor rooms; they are vociferous chewers! A hutch needs to be bigger than you would perhaps think, actually bigger=better is definitely the case with rabbits. It needs to be high enough so that bunny can stand on its hind legs without its ears touching the roof, long enough for them to hop 3 or 4 times in any direction, have separate eating and toileting areas, and be predator proof. Wow, that’s quite a list!
Assuming you’ve bought “Flopsy Towers”, you need to place it in an area out of direct sunlight and winds and also to lift it off the ground, to prevent it getting damp. In colder months it may well need covering with blankets etc to ensure bunny is warm enough. It goes without saying that rabbits are active creatures, so you need to also provide an adequate outdoor run for them; ideally one that measures at least 8ft x 4ft x 2ft. Where possible the run is best being attached to their hutch so that they can exercise as and when they want.
Rabbits are very intelligent too and require a lot of stimulating toys in their environment. They love tunnels and pipes to run through, and a box that they can climb on and jump off will give them lots of satisfaction. They are also highly sociable, which is why I recommend buying at least a pair of rabbits; they don’t do well alone, often becoming withdrawn and/or grumpy.
Guinea Pigs do not make good companions of rabbits – this is a common misconception. All too often the poor little ‘pig will get bullied by bunny, and they also have different dietary needs; well they are different species after all! The best combination is a neutered female and neutered male together, not only from a population control angle, but also un-neutered animals are less likely to fight.
Obviously you will want to pamper your bunny, and the more you can interact with them the better. Regular handling is important (just remember to support their back end when picking them up, and NOT by their ears please), as is regular grooming – more so if you decide on a long haired breed. Don’t rush things when you first get your rabbit, spend time getting to know each other and enjoy each other’s company. If you sit on the ground, they will come over and investigate your presence – it isn’t just cats that are curiousJ
Rabbits can live for around 12 years; a lengthy commitment if you get one. They don’t much care for change in their environment, so if you’re planning a holiday ask friends, family, or neighbours to care for them at your home rather than uprooting them, if possible.
Now, I mentioned something called Fly strike at the beginning of this post; this is where blowflies lay their eggs on rabbits – normally attracted by mucky bums or open wounds. Check your rabbit at least twice a day (it’s a good excuse for a fluffy cuddleJ) and practice good hutch hygiene. Cleaning the hutch is very important anyway, but more so in hot weather.
There is a spot-on type product for rabbits called “rearguard” which we recommend to prevent fly strike. You simply apply it to your rabbit’s neck and back, and this will stop fly eggs developing and hatching for approximately 10 weeks. Obviously, we’re always on hand for any advice you need, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need us here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre J .Several companies offer insurance policies for rabbits, and again just ask us if you need help in selecting one that’s right for you.
Until next time, stay safe, stay well, and be happy 🙂