There’s been an upturn in the number of pets being bought during the Covid-19pandemic lockdown, one of which is the humble Rabbit, commonly kept as an ideal childrens pet due to its size. Rabbits are far from simple creatures though and have many needs to consider when keeping them as family additions. In this blog I shall go over a few aspects which need to be considered: their home enclosure, Diet, Play, Exercise and Social considerations, and common Diseases.
For rabbits, the bigger the hutch the better, as far as they’re concerned; more is definitely more! Your bunny needs enough room to be able to stretch out fully, lie down, stand on their back legs without touching the hutch top with their ears, and also have a little run about. Rabbits are sociable souls that should be housed in pairs as a minimum, and a rabbit duo will require at least 3m x 2m x 1m (that’s 10’ x 6’ x3’ in old money!) of living space so take this into consideration when you’re buying or making their bobtail des.res. You need to make sure that their hutch is weatherproof too (and not somewhere draughty either) and make it predator proof; oh, and remember that bunnies love to dig and burrow – so any runs need to incorporate a dig barrier as well, or you’re going to be chasing that cute tail around an awful lot!
Digging is an instinctual behaviour in rabbits so they will very much appreciate it if you provide them with a shallow tray, such as a litter box, filled with soil that they can satisfy this urge as and when the fancy takes them. Rabbits are quite curious by nature and love to have a selection of toys (boxes, branches, tubes etc.) to keep their minds occupied and their bodies exercised. One of their favourite things is a box (not too high though, I don’t want to be repairing broken limbs!) that they can jump off; it will also double up as a look-out post.
In the wild, rabbits would avoid the heat of the midday sun in their burrows and come out to eat at either end of the day; early morning or later evening, when things have cooled off a bit. To help them stay at a comfortable temperature, keep their enclosure and runs out of direct sunlight; a shady (but not windy) spot in the garden is ideal. If you don’t have much natural shade in your garden then you can create shade for them by putting a towel or tarpaulin over a portion of their exercise run. A ceramic tile in their hutch will give them something cool to lie against or consider freezing water in a bottle then wrapping this in a towel and popping it in their run so that they can use it as a cooling station when they want to. Make sure that your bunny always has fresh water available, not just in the heat of summer, but year-round; check any water bottles regularly to ensure that the water still flows from the spout and hasn’t clogged up.
It’s important to provide your rabbit/s with separate areas for feeding, sleeping and toileting within their living quarters too. Quick fact: bizarrely, rabbits are stimulated to toilet by eating (‘chew and poo’!) so they will thank you for popping a bit of forage in the vicinity of their ‘facilities’.
A point worth noting is that you must clean out the hutch regularly; not only does this keep the smell down, it also helps keep their lovely fluffy bunny bums clean. A clean derriere drastically reduces the chances of your rabbit getting flystrike, a condition where blowflies lay their eggs on soiled fur in this area. These eggs hatch into maggots which then burrow into their bodies and can quickly be fatal for the rabbit, so keep a close eye on them and clean away any poop from their fur to discourage the flies. Here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we recommend a spot-on type treatment called (not so imaginatively) ‘Rear Guard’ to prevent flystrike. All you do is apply it to bunnies’ back and neck, and it stops the fly eggs developing and the maggots hatching for around 10 weeks; easy peasy, rear guard tube squeezy 🙂
Whilst we’re on the topic of health, there are a couple of other (usually) fatal conditions that plague rabbits: Myxomatosis and Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). Both pathogens can survive for a while on hutch surfaces, water bottles and food bowls – another reason that you need to employ good standards of hutch hygiene.
Our wild bunnies are frequently affected by Myxomatosis and it’s passed to domesticated pet rabbits by either direct contact from a wild rabbit or through flea, mite or fly bites (in warmer countries mosquitoes can pass it on too). Unvaccinated bunnies die from Myxomatosis 99% of the time, but vaccinated individuals develop a milder form of the disease that, if treated early, responds to Veterinary intensive care.
RVHD has been around on UK shores for decades, although there is a second strain, RVHD2, which has been identified in recent years. Typically, this second strain has enough variance from the original RVHD1 type that it needs its own vaccine! The SLVC team can administer the Myxomatosis and RVHD1 vaccines in a single visit and then give the RVHD2 shot a couple of weeks later. A combination vaccine will soon be available. As with Myxomatosis, RVHD is incurable in unvaccinated rabbits and progressively ravages the lungs and other organs in affected animals. I always say that prevention is better than cure, so please get in touch with us and make an appointment to have your bunny vaccinated.
Dental health is paramount in your cotton-tailed companion. Without sufficient wear-and-tear a rabbits’ teeth will continue to grow unfettered, over-growing within the oral cavity and the roots pushing backwards into the skull and jaw. Rampant rabbit teeth will prevent them from grooming, eating or drinking – something that could (in extreme cases) lead ultimately to death. Forage aka fibre/ hay/grass is tough enough to wear down a rabbits teeth and keep them at a nice length as they happily munch away at it. If you do have a rabbit that requires dental work though we can soon sort that out for you here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre; we can also clip overgrown claws too if necessary, so no need to stress!
Also, whilst ’physical’ health is being mentioned I am just going to point out the importance of getting your bunny neutered – there’s a reason for the saying “ breed like rabbits”; without surgical sterilisation you could have more rabbit than Sainsbury’s in a matter of months! The Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre vets can soon prevent your bunny from producing unwanted babies, cute though they are, so give us a bell if this is something we can help you with.
Fibre should make up the bulk (another fab bun-pun!) of Flopsy’s diet; about 80% of it ideally. Not only does fibre keep bunny’s gnashers nice, it keeps their gut health and mobility moving along nicely and maintains a steady, healthy weight. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing amiss with giving your rabbit the occasional bit of pelleted food or fresh vegetables, but it’s got to be in moderation. Mr (or Mrs) Bunnykins will really enjoy a treat of juicy, fresh Dandelions and the whole point of having a pet is to love, and occasionally indulge, them isn’t it?
I hope you’ve found this an informative article; it’s by no means exhaustive or in-depth, but it’s a good starting point. If you want to discuss any aspect of your rabbits’ health then please give us a call and our team will make you an appointment to suit 🙂
Until next time; stay safe (still masked where required), stay well, and be happy 🙂