Tips and advice about Rabbit Care
Rabbits can make great pets, they are intelligent, sociable and not to mention adorable! Rabbits generally live for 5-8 years depending on their environment and breed, but they can live for as long as 12 years. So, if you are considering adding a bunny to your family ensure you are prepared to care for them for that long! Rabbits are also social animals so should be kept in groups of at least two, unless you have lots of free time to spend with them.
Housing for Rabbits:
Rabbits are prey animals and require a hutch to protect them from predators such as dogs and cats. Their hutch should allow space to sleep, eat and exercise. The enclosure should be easy to clean and cleaned at least weekly. Suitable bedding consists of hay, straw, newspaper or cat litter. Rabbits will use a litter tray and this should be changed daily. Rabbits housed outside should be protected from the elements.
Enrichment is important to rabbits and toys should be provided as well as safe items to chew. Exercise is also important, providing enough space and time outside of the hutch for a few hours each day is recommended – a play yard can help with this.
Rabbits are herbivores and have a strict requirement for a high fibre diet. A lot of disease that we see is a result of improper feeding.
Hay should make up 70-80% of your bunnies diet – they should have unlimited access to a variety of quality grass hays. Not only is it a requirement for good gastrointestinal health but it helps to prevent dental disease, obesity and can help relieve boredom.
– Your rabbit should eat a pile of hay at least the size of its body every day!
– Your rabbits teeth never stop growing. Hay is essential as it stimulates normal chewing and dental wear patterns, helping decrease the risk of dental disease
We recommend good quality grass hays such as Timothy or oaten hay.
Fortified food in the form of pellets and greens can provide essential vitamins and minerals and these should make up approx 20% of your bunnies diet. Ensure to always choose age-appropriate pellets specifically formulated for rabbits – we recommend oxbow essential rabbit food. Greens – cos lettuce, coriander, parsley, carrot tops and kale are good options. Leeks chives and onions should be avoided.
Treats such as fruit and veggies are great to encourage interaction between you and your pet but should only be offered after your bunny has consumed their daily basics. Bananas and apples are favourites with rabbits.
Always remember to offer fresh water!
Health checks and vaccinations
Rabbits need to be vaccinated for calicivirus – terminal viral disease resulting from bleeding. We recommend two initial vaccinations, one month apart followed by 6 monthly boosters. Vaccinations start at 8-10weeks and repeated at 12-14weeks.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccination for myxomatosis virus in Australia. This virus is usually transmitted by fleas or mosquitoes so good flea prevention and the use of mosquito netting is recommended.
Female rabbits will reach puberty at 4-9months of age and males between 4-7months. Smaller breeds will mature faster than larger breeds.
Neutering is important and can prevent uterine infections / cancer/ endometrial hyperplasia and mammary tumours. Did you know that up to 80% of entire females over the age of 5yrs can be affected by these diseases?! Neutering will also help to control aggression and fighting in both sexes.
Neutering is recommended at 4-5months of age.
Dental disease is very common in bunnies. Any rabbit that is inappetent, drooling or chewing excessively should be brought in for a checkup. Good quality diet, access to direct sunlight and adequate dietary calcium can help to prevent dental disease.
Anorexia or lack of defecation is an emergency in rabbits and if noticed your bunny should be brought in for a checkup immediately! If the gastrointestinal system stops moving toxic bacteria will overgrow and can cause serious illness and death.
Other reasons to contact us – blood in urine, sneezing or breathing issues, lethargy, bald patches in fur, sores on feet.
Rabbits are social creatures, normally living in groups of 2-14 in the wild. Ideally rabbits should be kept in neutered male – female pairs. Housing two males together can cause problems and fighting can occur. Does tend to become aggressive after their first breeding season and serious fighting can occur… another good reason to desex early.
Body language – different body and ear posture indicate rank, pleasure, pain or fear and behavioural intent. As a general rule, wide eyes, upright ears and tense muscles indicate anxiety, while semi closed eyes denote relaxation.
Scent, as with cats, is the most highly developed form of communication in rabbits. chin – rubbing on objects, people and other animals denotes territory and identifies group members.
Understanding Rabbit behaviour – An infographic created by the RSPCA
Rabbits can find visits to the vet quite stressful. We ask anyone bringing their bunny to us for a procedure bring their cage mate with them. It makes the experience a lot less daunting when they have their buddy by their side, recovery is often quicker too!
NB: We also don’t fast these little guys for very long before a surgery, so bringing in a lunch box of food for them can help keep their gastrointestinal tract healthy and their glucose levels more stable throughout the procedure.