Every year we celebrate Rabbit Awareness Week, a week dedicated to our rabbits. This year is the 15th year of the celebration, where we will be hopping through the years, as we provide you with the best information about how to care for your rabbit and how adapting their care throughout their years will help your bunnies live happily and healthily into their golden years.
From baby bunnies to golden oldies, read below how you can help your rabbit throughout their lifetime, and of course, if you have any questions, please contact us or book your rabbit in for a health check.
Below we have detailed the five freedoms required by your rabbit to ensure they live a happy and healthy life.
- You should ensure that your rabbit always has access to fresh, clean drinking water
- When providing food for your rabbit, fresh grass is the preferred choice, but when not available, hay is a good substitute that is available all year round and provides them with the nutrients they require
- Hay provides lots of long-strand fibre, keeping your rabbit’s gut moving and is the closest thing to a natural diet. Rabbits would naturally graze all day in the wild, so please ensure your rabbit has an unlimited supply
- Complete rabbit food is also available but should not be a replacement for hay. Please use these as a nutritional supplement
- There are many plants that rabbits can safely enjoy, including broccoli, parsley, spring greens and dandelions. They also love the leaves from an apple or hazel tree. When feeding them plants, you should keep the portion sizes to a minimum
- Fruits should be counted as a treat for your rabbit as they are high in sugar. Your rabbit may enjoy a grape, slice of apple, slice of orange or carrots.
Providing your rabbit with an ample amount of space to stretch, run, lie down and binky is very important. Did you know that there are guidelines for minimum space requirements for housing rabbits whether they live inside or out?
The RSPCA advises that rabbits need the below as a minimum space requirement for two averaged sized rabbits. But, of course, if you can provide more space, that is even better for your rabbit’s welfare.
A hutch should be permanently attached to a larger run to ensure they can exercise freely, such as rabbit friendly room indoors or a larger secure run outdoors.
It’s recommended it is at least 2m long x 60cm wide x 60 cm tall to house two paired rabbits, which they have access to at all times, so they can move freely and explore as they would if they were a wild rabbit.
- It is important to note that the space must be across a single level, so raised hutches within the space will not count towards the minimum space requirement
- If you can provide free-range space, that is even better, but please ensure roaming is supervised
- Most importantly, the bigger the space, the more room they will have to exercise and keep in shape!
Rabbits are naturally nervous as they are prey animals, so it is important that their enclosure or housing has a safe spot so that if they feel unsure, they can escape when worried. The sleeping area should contain dust-free straw or another rabbit friendly bedding. Away from the sleeping area, a dedicated toilet spot should be created for your rabbit. The toileting area should be lined with newspaper, straw or a paper-based litter that doesn’t expand.
Rabbits also require enrichment in the form of tunnels and platforms so that they can perform normal behaviours that they would in the wild. Normal behaviours that you should expect to see are:
- Hiding somewhere
- Stretching up on their back legs
- Lying fully out with their bodies
Rabbits prefer to find small pieces of food hidden rather than have their food in one bowl.
- Use a treat ball to feed them
- Willow tunnels, paper tunnels or cardboard toilet rolls stuffed with hay and fresh herbs
- Willow, hazel, apple and blackthorn branches are tasty treats
- Make a turf tray – fill a litter tray with turf from a garden centre.
To ensure your rabbit’s set-up is well equipped, we advise you have the following:
- Food bowl or puzzle type feeders (feeding balls)
- Water bowl
- Litter tray
- Hay rack
- Boredom breakers
- Suitable base materials (sawdust/straw) or non-slip flooring
- Hiding places (cardboard boxes / tunnels)
Remember to spot clean your rabbit’s housing once a day – removing soiled materials and un-eaten food. Use a rabbit-safe disinfectant and then carry out a full clean at least once a week.
(Please note that during summer months, we recommend spot cleaning is increased to twice a day due to the risk of flystrike)
As prey animals, rabbits hide pain and illness well. Therefore, it is very important for your rabbit to have a check-up at least once a year to detect any underlying issues or detect and potential problems early on.
To keep your rabbit fit and healthy, we recommend carrying out the following checks at home:
Eyes: Ensure your rabbit’s eyes are clear, shiny and free from discharge
Ears: Ensure your rabbit’s ears are free from discharge and no mites are present
Mouth: Ensure your rabbit’s mouth is free from drooling and there is no swelling present around the cheek areas
Skin and coat: Ensure your rabbit is appropriately groomed, looking out for any fur that may be matted and bald patches as well as mites. (If matted fur is present, a vet visit would be necessary as rabbit skin is extremely delicate and a home groom may cut the skin)
Nails: Ensure your rabbit’s nails are not overgrowing or curling
Bottom: Ensure your rabbit bottom is free from faeces and urine staining. If faeces are present, these should be gently washed away and the area needs to be dried thoroughly. Rabbits with faeces on their bottoms are more at risk of flystrike
The most common health problems seen in rabbit include:
Rabbit’s teeth continue to erupt throughout their lives. This allows them to grind down course feed substances such as grass and plants in the wild. Many domestic rabbits are fed a mixture of hay and commercially available diets. Commercially available diets are lower in fibre and higher in protein, fat and energy. This means that rabbits quickly achieve their nutritional requirements, unlike in the wild when they would need to graze all day and forage to meet the same energy intake from food. This can not only lead to obesity and boredom, but it can also lead to dental disease due to lack of wear of the teeth. In addition, less time grinding and a lower intake of indigestible fibre can lead to the formation of molar spurs, which if severe, and allowed to progress, can cause tongue and cheek lacerations.
If the front teeth (incisors) are too long, these can be shortened, this is usually performed on a conscious rabbit, but this depends on temperament.
If there is malalignment of the incisors (meaning that they don’t contact each other when closed), then shortening the teeth may provide a temporary fix, but the removal of the affected incisors may be more appropriate to prevent the need for regular burring- this is something your vet would advise you on.
A general anaesthetic will be required to facilitate a thorough examination and treatment if there is spurring (sharp edges) of the back-cheek teeth (molars).
Gut stasis is a digestive issue where the system slows down or stops. As a result, gas and toxins can build up, and this can prove to be fatal.
Monitoring your rabbit’s food intake and faecal output will help you detect if this is present.
Obesity is a huge problem in pet rabbits. Two of the main causes are insufficient exercise and a poor diet of muesli or too many high sugar treats.
Remember that pellets or nuggets should make up ONLY 5% of their overall diet – with hay being 85%! So – only one egg cup twice a day of pelleted feed is required.
Obese rabbits suffer from several health issues, including not being able to clean themselves or reach their bottom to eat their caecotrophs – which puts them at greater risk of flystrike as well as putting extra weight strain on their joints.
Over the spring and summer months, the risk of flystrike increases amongst the rabbit population. Flystrike occurs when a particular type of fly lays its eggs on or around the rear end, which hatch into maggots. These maggots then start to eat the flesh of the rabbit, with often fatal results.
Due to rapid development, the best prevention is keeping your rabbit clean and in good health, feeding them an appropriate diet, carefully checking their bottoms, and applying preventative treatments during the peak season. Please contact us quickly for further help and advice if you have any suspicions.
Typical signs of flystrike include:
- Not drinking or eating
- Lethargic and noticeably quiet
- A strong smell from their living area
- Digging into a small corner of their living area
- Open sores or visible maggots on the skin
If your rabbit’s faeces are watery or jelly-like, this is very serious in rabbits and can be fatal, especially in elderly or young rabbits. We recommend getting in touch with your practice immediately if this is the case.
Blood in the urine (haematuria)
If blood is present in the rabbit’s urine, small blood spotting would be noticed. If your rabbit otherwise seems fit and healthy, this could be your rabbit’s diet staining the urine if all the colour is the same. If any straining or difficulty is noticed or blood spotting, please contact us as soon as possible. We would also suggest taking out bedding materials and placing a white towel or leaving the housing free from materials so you can fully assess the urine colour, consistency and amounts.
Rabbit’s value companionship over food!
Rabbits are extremely sociable creatures and not having a companion can lead to boredom. Rabbits feel safer with the same species as opposed to a guinea pig. Rabbits that are neutered are more successfully bonded together. Different neutered sexes tend to be the best fit, although some same-sex bondings can occur. We would always recommend that you let a good rescue do the pairing for you, especially if you have not tried to pair up rabbits before – it can be quite a challenge.
Rabbits are usually neutered around four months of age. Castration involves removing the testes of a male rabbit, and spaying removes the uterus and ovaries of a female. It is worth noting that sperm can reside in the genital tract for up to six weeks, so it’s best to keep your rabbit away from un-neutered females during this time. Rabbits are extremely social creatures; neutering helps pair or bond rabbits, making them much happier.
Rabbit neutering benefits:
- Eliminates prostatic and testicular cancer
- Helps owners to litter train rabbits
- Reduces aggressive behaviours, especially in males
- Eliminates womb infections in females
- Eliminates uterine cancer in females
- No risk of unwanted pregnancies
- Reduces spraying
- Promotes successful bonding of rabbits
We recommend that rabbits are vaccinated against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).
Previously this would have been administered through two separate injections; however, our new rabbit vaccine means that your pet can be protected against myxomatosis and both strains of VHD with just a single injection.
Hop to our practice for a rabbit health check and for more information.