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Rabbits can live for 10 years and require a lot of commitment and a lot of space. They do not like being picked up and cuddled and are definitely not an easy ‘first pet’. They are high maintenance, needing regular vaccinations and vet checks, and they need cleaning out at least twice a week. Adults must be aware that they are the ones taking on the responsibility for the majority of the rabbit care.
But for committed owners who have done the research and know what they’re taking on, rabbits can be very rewarding. They are bright, affectionate, inquisitive, and funny. They will enjoy being stroked at ground level or while sitting beside you.
ADOPTING A RABBIT
There are many benefits to adopting a rabbit rather than going shopping for one. Rescues are full of beautiful, healthy animals who are there through no fault of their own. At ARC we make sure all our rabbits have had thorough health checks, are neutered and fully vaccinated. We can advise you on a rabbit that’s suitable for your situation (indoor, outdoor, with children, with other animals) as we know all the rabbits as individuals. We can also ‘bond’ one of our rabbits with a single rabbit you may own. There is no charge for this.
Rabbits can be kept indoors or outdoors.
If your bunnies will be confined to a particular area, then they must be able to exercise freely and have a minimum secure area of 32sq ft at all times.
Your bunnies must have somewhere as a ‘homebase’ or hideaway where they can go to be quiet. This might be a cardboard box, a purpose built box or hutch.
Litter trays have been provided, lined with newspaper and lots of hay. Wood shavings and sawdust should not be used.
If your bunnies will be free ranging, then all areas that will be accessed should be made safe by ensuring that all chew hazards are safe, electrical cables are protected, all house plants are bunny friendly, all household cleaning products or other harmful substances are safely in a cupboard out of bunny reach. The bathroom door must be kept closed (or the toilet seat kept down) and any windows left open for ventilation are safe from predators entering or bunnies escaping.
Your rabbit hutch/accommodation needs to be a minimum of 6x2x2 feet (183cm x 61cm x 61cm) or more in dimensions (for single storey hutch). For a double storey hutch it needs to be at least 5x2x2 feet (152cm x 61cm x 61cm) or more on each level. Wendy houses and sheds will be assessed on a case by case basis.
ARC does not rehome rabbits to ‘chicken coop’ type accommodation, where the rabbits go up a ramp to a small enclosed area. These coops are unstable in the wind and the warm, dry, accommodation is too small.
You need to have a rabbit run of a minimum of 6×4 feet (183cm x 122cm) which your rabbits can access every day.
Both the hutch/accommodation and run must be secure from foxes. Any ‘wire’ must be welded aviary mesh. Please note that chicken wire is not acceptable, as it is not secure and can be bitten through by foxes.
The run and housing are fitted with pad bolts or hasps and staples. ‘Twist’ catches (turn buttons) are not fox-proof and should be replaced.
Fixed runs placed onto grass must have meshed underneath them to prevent digging out by the rabbits, and to stop predators digging in.
You have made protected your hutch against damp, heat and cold.
Litter boxes / areas have been provided using newspaper and hay (not wood shavings/sawdust which can harm your rabbits).
RABBITS NEED COMPANY
It’s essential to your rabbit’s welfare that they don’t live alone. A pair of rabbits is ideal. Both of your rabbits should be neutered, as this reduces aggression. It is also essential to prevent breeding and to stop the cycle of unwanted rabbits.
Please see our Rabbit Care: Bonding, for more details.
Your rabbits’ home must be kept clean for their health and comfort. They can be litter trained and we suggest using large cat litter trays, lined with newspaper and filled with lots of hay. Woodchip and sawdust should be avoided, as they are harmful to animal and human health. Rabbit homes should be cleaned out at least twice a week, and cleaned with a suitable disinfectant once a week.
Adequate exercise is essential to a bunny’s well-being. You need to supply them with a good sized run in addition to their hutch. It must be long enough and wide enough to allow him to have a good scamper.
Again, the construction must be solid, with a roof and sheltered area. Ideally, it should rest on a concrete base, covered in newspaper and straw for easy cleaning.
A supervised run around a secured garden is also most enjoyable for a bunny. Do not leave them unattended though, as they is very vulnerable to predators.
PLEASE DON’T LEAVE YOUR BUNNIES IN A HUTCH ALL DAY!
THEY WILL BECOME FRUSTRATED & DEPRESSED.
Your rabbit needs fresh food, hay and water every day. Good quality green hay should be the main food, making up 80% of their daily diet. In addition your rabbit will need dry pellets which contain all the nutrients they need. They should not be fed a muesli mix.
Rabbits prefer a bowl for dried food and a large non-tip water bowl. Bottles are acceptable but not recommended.
Daily diet should include a cupful of fresh vegetables or grass every day. You should avoid giving your rabbits fruit or carrots which are too high in sugar and will damage their teeth and upset their stomachs. Introduce new foods in small quantities slowly.If you have grass in your garden, your bunny might like to graze, but don’t let them gorge on fresh spring grass which can cause bloat.
Fresh water must be available at all times.
Please also see our Rabbit Diet tab.
As well as preventing unwanted litters, neutering can be beneficial to rabbit’s health, ie. preventing potentially fatal conditions such as reproductive cancers and infection of the womb (Pyometra). It also improves litter training, prevents spraying and reduces aggressive and destructive behaviour; allowing two bunnies to live peacefully together. Please read our neutering page for more details.
A male rabbit (buck) can be neutered from 3/4 months and a female (doe) from 5/6 months.
It is very important that rabbits are fully vaccinated. They need a combined injection against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) 1. There is also a new strain of VHD, known as VHD2, which has arrived recently in the UK. All three of these diseases can be transmitted to indoor and outdoor rabbits and can be fatal, but vaccination protects them. Both injections are given annually.
Regularly check your bunny for the following possible health problems:
- Discharge from eyes or nose
- Wet chin or front paws
- Dirty bottom (prevention of fly strike)
- Loss of fur or sore feet
- Overgrown teeth or nails
- Swellings or signs of parasites
- Loss of appetite or change of behaviour
Any of these problems would require immediate veterinary attention. A rabbit’s health can seriously deteriorate within hours. Although a rabbit prefers not to be held it is essential that they accept being handled, in order that he can be checked. Lift them up by Supporting them under their forelegs and bottom and hold their back feet securely to prevent kicking.
Avoiding Fly Strike
Sadly we meet a lot of people who’ve lost a rabbit to fly strike and they never forget this terrible experience. Fly strike occurs in summer and mainly affects rabbits who have dirty bottoms, with droppings stuck in their fur. This mucky mess makes an ideal place for flies to lay their eggs, from which maggots then emerge within a matter of hours, eating into the rabbit’s flesh. From this point the rabbit will go into toxic shock and die very quickly. Sick, old and overweight rabbits are most at risk as they may be unable to clean themselves properly. But fly strike can also affect healthy rabbits who produce an occasional soft dropping, or long-haired rabbits whose fur gets wet with urine.
Tips to avoid fly strike:
– Check your rabbit’s bottom at least once a week to see that it is clean, with no droppings stuck in the fur.
– Check long-haired, overweight, or poorly rabbits twice daily – clean their bottoms with baby wipes (avoid water which also creates a warm, damp environment for flies) and cut or shave their mucky areas if necessary. Vets can do the shaving for you.
– Apply a product such as ‘Rearguard’ on your rabbit if they are prone to having a dirty bottom
– Look for eggs which are laid in rows on their rear ends and remove them daily
– If your rabbit is producing sticky droppings or not eating their first droppings (the caecotrophs) reduce their fresh food and increase their hay rations. (We recommend this diet: an eggcup of pellets, a cupful of fresh food and a shoebox of hay per rabbit per day). If a rabbit is grazing on the lawn then reduce any other fresh food.
– Clean out the hutch or litter trays regularly and sweep up droppings daily to reduce flies
– Mesh fly screens are available from pet stores to cover hutches or runs.
– If you see maggots get straight to a vet – this is an emergency.
AS CUTE AS THEY ARE, PLEASE THINK VERY CAREFULLY BEFORE TAKING ON RABBITS.
The Rabbit Welfare Association website is an excellent source of rabbit welfare and care information.
Please also read Rabbit Neutering, Bonding, Vaccines & Diet in the tabs above.
Feel free to download this information as a printable friendly PDF
Why Neuter Your Rabbit?
Neutering (castration of males and spaying of females) is vital to helping your rabbits live a long and healthy life. Neutering allows rabbits to be kept in the pairs or groups that are so vital to their welfare; prevents life-threatening health problems and, of course, prevents unwanted pregnancies: there are thousands of unwanted rabbits in rescue charities, like A.R.C. already, please don’t add to this by breeding from your pets.
GIVE YOUR RABBIT A LONG & HAPPY LIFE. GET THEM NEUTERED. IT BENEFITS YOU & YOUR RABBIT!
THE BENEFITS OF SPAYING YOUR FEMALE RABBIT
1. Stops the cycle of unwanted rabbits
Rabbits are able to reproduce from 4 – 6 months of age. Pregnancy is short, at 31 days and they are known for large litters. A female rabbit can get pregnant straight after giving birth and so very quickly breeding gets out of hand. There are so many unwanted and mindlessly bred rabbits that there is no need to add to this for ‘fun’ or ‘education’.
2. Prevents cancers
Most commonly uterine cancer which can spread rapidly to other organs of the body such as the liver, lungs and skin and is not always treatable. Less common, but when it occurs it can spread rapidly and be very difficult to treat, is breast cancer. Both are potentially fatal in the absence of neutering.
3. Prevents other uterine diseases
There are other uterine disease such as pyometra (infected uterus full of pus), uterine aneurism (uterus full of blood) and endometritis (inflamed uterine lining). These are high risk and often fatal.
4. Stops false pregnancies
Female rabbits can go into a hormonal state triggered by their ovaries where they think they are pregnant but they are not. Although this is not medically harmful, it can be very stressful for the rabbit who goes through all the motions of being pregnant including nest building, milk production and aggressive protection of its territory. This aggression can be taken out on the caretakers and cage-mates and can make the pet very difficult to handle during this period. Some rabbits experiencing false pregnancy will develop a decreased appetite and have gastrointestinal disturbances as well.
5. Stops aggressive behaviour
Both male and female rabbits can display aggressive behavior when they reach sexual maturity. Many rabbits are sweet and easy to handle as little babies, but when the teenage years hit… watch out. Keeping two un-spayed females, even if they are sisters, can lead to aggressive behaviour.
THE BENEFITS OF CASTRATING YOUR MALE RABBIT
1. Prevents unnecessary breeding
Yes, we are saying it again, because it’s so important that we stop the cycle of the huge amount of unwanted rabbits in charities and rescue centres. There is simply no need to ever let your rabbit breed.
2. Prevention of urine spraying
Un-castrated male rabbits often spray urine like tom cats … over their territory, their possessions (including their rabbit companions) and very often over you, too. Females who are un-spayed can do this too but in males it can be ten times more frequent.
3. Helps litter training your rabbit easier
If you allow an un-neutered male to spray for a few months, it may be impossible to get him litter trained.
4. Eliminates the risk of Testicular Disease
Unneutered males can occasionally develop cancer in their testes but by neutering, this risk is eliminated.
5. Reduces aggression
Some un-neutered males are aggressive. After castration, testosterone levels will fall dramatically which should reduce or eradicate aggression.
6. Your rabbit will be a happy bunny
In general, neutered males are much happier and more relaxed pets. Un-castrated male rabbits can’t realistically live with any other rabbit.
WHEN SHOULD YOUR RABBITS BE NEUTERED AND WHAT HAPPENS?
All our rabbits are neutered before being rehomed, unless they are not old enough.
Male rabbits can be castrated at any age, but if you have adopted young rabbits, it’s best to have them castrated as soon as their testicles descend at 1 0-12 weeks although take advice from your own vet – some may prefer you to wait a little longer. The operation is fairly straightforward and recovery time is quite quick, provided there are no complications. Some vets perform rabbit castrations via the scrotum and some via the abdomen.
If you have a young male rabbit castrated within a few days of his testicles descending into the scrotum, he won’t have the chance to become fertile and he can remain with a female littermate or companion. If he was any older when he was castrated, be careful: male rabbits aren’t sterile immediately after castration (mature sperm may have already left the testicles, and can live a surprisingly long time!), so keep him away from un-spayed adult females for at least four weeks after his operation.
For females, the spaying operation should take place around 16 weeks is a bigger undertaking, as her uterus and ovaries have to be removed via an incision in the abdomen. Females are sterile as soon as they have been spayed.
Please also read our How To Give The Best Care For Your Rabbit, Bonding, Vaccines and Diet in the tabs above.
It’s true to say that some people still believe that they can give an endlessly topped-up bowl of muesli mix rabbit food and a bit of left over vegetable peelings as a suitable diet for a bunny. Unfortunately, that’s very wrong!
IN RABBIT WORLD, HAY IS THE MAIN COURSE, EVERYTHING ELSE IS JUST DRESSING ON THE SIDE!
This is very true. The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is hay, hay and more hay. Not only does it keep the bunnies’ teeth worn nicely, but also it is the best type of fibre going. Bunnies should be fed a diet of approximately 80-85% hay, with a small handful of suitable vegetables and finally a tiny top up of pelleted food daily.
An eggcup of a good quality pellet is generally sufficient to provide the extra nutrients that don’t come in the hay or veg, except in special circumstances for example an underweight, elderly or poorly bunny.
Hay provides essential fibre, nutrients and is possibly the one single thing that can help to prevent major rabbit dental problems and costly vet bills. A bunny whose teeth don’t have to work hard by not being fed enough hay, will almost certainly end up with a trip to the vets, either because it’s gut has stopped moving or because it has painful teeth or mouth.
A good quality hay is essential and can be found at good farm suppliers, or from hay specialists. Sadly, most pet shop hay is not good quality, having been bagged and stored in plastic for a good length of time. Poor quality hay can be bone dry, dusty, mouldy, damp and at best low in essential nutrients. It can also harbour mites, a common way of your bunnies needing a trip to the vets to eradicate microscopic visitors. Great hay is green, fresh and sweet smelling.
A small amount of mixed rabbit friendly vegetables should be offered daily. Ideally a few different vegetables should be given at one sitting, rather than a different thing every day. This encourages gut flora to remain stable. Bunny tummies are very sensitive so any new food should always be introduced in small amounts at first and gradually over a period of time to ensure that an upset tummy doesn’t appear as a result.
No longer is a muesli style mix the accepted thinking for a good rabbit diet. It can encourage selective feeding, with the rabbits only choosing to eat the bits they like or that are easy to chew, rather than what is needed. Some muesli mix can also be of very poor quality and have added sugars and colours – not a part of a good rabbit diet.
When changing from one pelleted food to another (or from a muesli mix to a pellet) it’s essential to do it over a period of about 10 days to 2 weeks. Stopping and starting a particular part of a rabbit diet can cause your bunny to stop eating all together and the stomach to stop moving (gut stasis); if left unchecked this can very quickly cause severe illness and sometimes death. Best avoided!
Recommended hay food are:
Oxbow Hay – Oat or Orchard
Others: Burgess Excel, Burns, Vitakraft
Rabbits can prefer different types of good quality hay.
Supreme Science Selective Oxbow Bunny Basics
Allen and Page Natural Rabbit Pellets Bunny Nature
Others: Burgess Excel
Please also read our How To Give The Best Care For Your Rabbit, Rabbit Neutering, Bonding & Vaccines in the tabs above.