Well-being

Rabbit Care

Claire Dunling

From homing and bedding to interaction and vaccinations – this rabbit care 101 will give all the information needed to ensure your pet is healthy and happy in your home.

Interaction

One of the most important aspects to consider if you are thinking of homing rabbits is the plural: keeping at least two rabbits together (as long as they prove compatible) is imperative to their well-being – they live in large groups in the wild and aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. So, ideally they need to be in pairs or groups to avoid loneliness.

Like most animals, rabbits require a bit of TLC: be sure to check in on your fluffy one at least once a day, twice if possible. This will not only build a good bond, but will also give you the opportunity to see if there’s any changes in their behaviour or appearance. Though rabbits may seem like cuddly, docile companions this isn’t always the case; like any other animal, they have personalities so do not be surprised if your rabbit is not a fan of too much human interaction!

One of the most important things to look out for on your daily visits is to check out for any scaly patches around the ears, swelling and discharge around the ears or eyes. A weekly check on their teeth is crucial as dental issues in rabbits is a common problem (see rabbit dental care).

“A hutch is not enough”

A campaign launched by the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund highlights the importance of not enclosing rabbits to a cramped and solitary existence. The organisation also advocates that rabbits should have a minimum area of 10 x 6 x 3 ft high area for a pair of average sized rabbits.

Regardless of indoor or outdoor, rabbits need stimulation and should be able to do what they loved to do in the wild. Digging! Don’t worry, they won’t start turfing up your lawn, but you should give them plenty of options to display their natural behaviour – tunnels and boxes are a great option for them to burrow and make little hideouts. It is also part of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 that was established by the Welsh Assembly Government’s Code of Practice that also noted that rabbits must be able to hop at least three times in their enclosures.

Food, glorious food

A rabbits favourite food is hay or anything of the grassy variety. The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund also recommends buying a hanging basket or a hay rack so it’s kept off of the floor, not only is this more hygienic, but some rabbits love to jump into their hay bundles for fun! As rabbits will graze all day, another way to keep them happy is to give them a turf tray – you could buy a small patch of grass from a garden centre and put into a litter tray for them to munch on. As they also love to forage, try scattering some of their food around their hutch for them to burrow out. The odd treat now and then won’t hurt either – another great way to encourage their natural behaviour is to put some treats into a willow ball, which makes great fun to snuffle out some natural treats.

Health

Fly strike is an incredibly nasty condition that can affect all types of rabbits. However, if they are overweight, arthritic, long-haired or if they have urinary issues or diarrhoea they are at higher risk of infection. Another common cause could be that the hutch is damp with urine or too many faeces have dried on the rabbits fur. Flies will lay their eggs in the rabbits fur, which will then turn into maggots and subsequently eat the rabbits flesh. As soon as you notice any maggots on/around your rabbit take them to the vet immediately, your rabbit will be in great pain and will require treatment as soon as possible. Of course, this abhorrent condition can happen at any time but is more common during the summer months when more insects are around.

To prevent fly strike, ensure you clean out the rabbits soiled bedding everyday, play close attention to what they are eating – eating too much fruit can result in diarrhoea for some rabbits. Also, ensure the hutch is disinfected on a weekly basis which will repel flies.

Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is a disease most commonly found within the wild population, but is often contracted in domestic rabbits too. The viral disease can be passed through fly and midgey bites or is contracted if wild (infected) rabbits are able to enter your garden. The best way to protect your rabbit from myxomatosis is to vaccinate at five weeks then have booster jabs when recommended by your vet. Other preventable measures include fitting insect screens to hutches and runs and feed dust extracted hay. To prevent insects from falling into water containers, cover up or add a drop of oil to the rabbits water butt – this will eradicate any larvae forming.

Neutering

Not only will it prevent hundreds of baby rabbits over running your garden, but it is essential to your rabbit’s happiness to be neutered or spayed. Having mix sex rabbits cohabiting means that both will need neutering/spaying – if a female is spayed but her male friend hasn’t been neutered, he will still try to mount her and cause great anxiety for both. Naturally. Vice versa, if you leave your female rabbit unspayed and male uncastrated, she will suffer false pregnancies, become incredibly aggressive and is at risk of uterine cancer. It is strongly advisable to have your rabbits ‘done’ as early as possible.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!