First of all, this post is not a definitive guide on “how to look after your rabbits”. There are multiple ways to keep your rabbits happy and healthy. I have owned rabbits for 12 years now and they are extremely rewarding. The decision to buy rabbits should not be taken lightly. In my opinion, the amount of care and attention that is required to do the job well is much higher than that of a dog or a cat. This post will be fairly concise to provide a general overview based on my own experience. There is also plenty of brilliant information to read on Best4Bunny too which I would recommend having a look at.
Introducing my bunnies…
Lottie and Bertie are certainly a handful at times! At around two years old, they both require a constant change in enrichment to keep them occupied. Both were adopted from Pets at Home individually and were successfully bonded in March 2016.
1. Housing & Cleaning
It’s essential to understand that your rabbits need a LOT of space. The rabbit hutch should be at least 6ft x 2ft x 2ft and they should have a permanent space to exercise in that is a minimum of 8ft x 4ft. These standards are set by the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund. If you can provide anything larger that’s even better and it’s always brilliant to allow your rabbits to run freely if you have somewhere secure to do this. Beware: it can be tricky to catch rabbits once they’ve had a taste of freedom and I always need two pairs of hands for this timely task!
Personally I have always used rabbit hutches to house my rabbits but there are other suitable options such as sheds, playhouses, dog runs and aviaries. They may need a little customisation to make sure your rabbits have everything they need but creating their living space is part of the fun. Lottie and Bertie’s current set up is from Home and Roost (details on the image above). Although I haven’t used them myself, I would recommend Boyle’s Pet Housing as they build fantastic bunny homes. To connect any rabbit hutches and runs I would also recommend taking a look at the Runaround systems.
When it comes to maintaining your rabbits’ housing, it’s important to make sure their accommodation isn’t damp or draughty as this will lead to rot and mould. I use the Scratch and Newton Hutch Cover and Hutch Snuggle to keep their hutch dry and at the correct temperature. Housing should be fully cleaned at least once a week with disinfectant and a good scrub everywhere – don’t buy rabbits if you’re afraid to get your hands dirty! Toileting areas should also be cleaned out daily to prevent fly strike and to keep your bunnies clean. If your rabbits are anything like mine they’ll love helping you…
2. Feeding & Nutrition
Fresh water should be available to your rabbits at all times and protected against extreme temperatures. Rabbits have extremely sensitive digestive systems and require a large amount of fibre every day which is provided through hay. A rabbit’s diet should consist of a minimum of 90% fresh hay. Did you know that a rabbit should eat a ball of hay the equivalent to it’s size each day? Eating hay prevents many illnesses and ailments in rabbits such as overgrown teeth, weight gain and gut stasis.
A further 10% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of green vegetables and plants, however it is common for rabbits to eat 5% greens and 5% manufactured rabbit food. It is essential to make sure your rabbit is not over eating rabbit pellets as this is guaranteed to cause problems. The only rabbit pellets I will use are Science Selective Rabbit Food by Supreme Petfoods as they are vet recommended. When shopping for your rabbit food it’s easy to get distracted and choose the colourful rabbit muesli, however this will encourage selective feeding, so personally I don’t recommend it. Whatever you decide to feed your rabbit, make sure they only have an egg cup of pellets per day. Treats should only be fed in small portions once a week or so. A list of suitable fresh food to feed your rabbit can be found here.
Stimulating rabbits is essential for their well being and food is the best way to do this. I often encourage my bunnies to play by using feeder balls, puzzle toys and scatter feeding. Scatter feeding is where I sprinkle their pellets and fresh food (cut into small pieces) in their run hidden amongst their toys for them to find. This stimulates their natural instinct to forage for food.
Once you understand how to house your rabbits and keep them healthy the fun part comes along – playing with your rabbits and keeping them enriched. Rabbits need a lot of stimulation to prevent them from becoming destructive to the tasty hutch they live in or potentially aggressive towards their owners. When I adopted Bertie he was very aggressive and territorial as he was kept in a tiny hutch with no enrichment apart from a food bowl.
Rabbits enjoy running through tunnels, jumping onto platforms and being on different levels, throwing things and chewing everything. Lottie always enjoys having a good nibble on my wellies if given the chance – nothing is safe! To go that one step further you can provide digging boxes with soil or sand and even grow your own grass for them to enjoy playing with and eating.
The slideshow below shows just a small selection of Lottie and Bertie’s favourite enrichment:
When it comes to purchasing rabbit toys, unfortunately it can be extremely expensive. It’s essential to offer your rabbits a choice of enrichment and to change their environment regularly. I recommend purchasing from Pets at Home, The Range, Amazon, Manor Pet Housing, independent garden centres and your local pet shops. It’s handy to stock up on your rabbit’s favourite toys whilst they’re on sale and there is often more choice in store rather than online.
Although caring for rabbits is mostly very fun, we’ve got to remember the importance of their healthcare too. Once you’ve found a rabbit savvy vet, two vaccinations will be required for your rabbits: 1 – Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease and 2 – RHDV-2. I also recommend neutering your rabbits for many health and behavioural benefits. It’s also a good idea to get your rabbits microchipped and insured in case they get poorly, lost or stolen.
Each day you will need to check your rabbit’s entire body, in particular their eyes, ears, mouth and nose for any signs of illness. It is also essential they keep their bottoms clean to prevent illnesses such as fly strike. Any signs that your rabbit isn’t eating, drinking or toileting normally are often signs of gut stasis and you will need to seek veterinary assistance immediately for this. For some breeds, it will also be necessary to brush the rabbit’s coat each day, and most breeds will need brushing when moulting. Rabbit claws also need trimming regularly and I would advise watching a vet do this a few times before doing it on your own. I trim my rabbits’ claws however it is another job that requires two people!
Most of all, it’s important to remember that as a rabbit owner you won’t ever stop learning new things. I constantly look for new ideas to provide exciting enrichment for my rabbits and it’s very rewarding to see Lottie and Bertie happy and healthy.
How do you keep your rabbits busy? I’d love to hear all about your ideas and bunny stories.
Happy bunny snuggles!