Choosing a rabbit
Rabbits are now the third most popular pet animal in the UK. Rabbits are cute and cuddly. Rabbits don't need much looking after. Rabbits make ideal pets for children. A rabbit will keep our guinea-pig company. Rabbits don't take up much space. Rabbits are cheap to keep. If any these answers match the reasons why you want a rabbit then, unfortunately, a rabbit may not be the best pet for you. It may surprise you, but owning a rabbit will demand as much commitment from you as owning a cat or dog.
Rabbits are very cute, particularly when they are babies. However, many 'cute' baby rabbits are bought from pet shops on impulse and their new owners have not considered the reality of owning a rabbit. For example, the average lifespan of a pet rabbit is 7-9 years which represents a big, long-term commitment. Also, rabbits are not usually cuddly in the way that soft toys are! As ground-dwelling animals, they often feel insecure when picked up, and so do not enjoy being held and cuddled. If the rabbit is not securely held it will struggle and may be dropped. Unfortunately this commonly results in injuries such as fractures to the limbs or spine which can be fatal. Rabbits do adore being stroked and will allow you to stroke them for hours - providing that they have all four paws on the ground! Owning a rabbit means that you have to learn to interact with your pet in a way that makes it happy. Happy rabbits will respond by licking their owner's hands. Some rabbits learn to come when their name is called, and can be taught tricks such as begging for treats.
When you own any pet, its needs and requirements must come before your own. It is a common misconception that rabbits don't need much looking after. Rabbits require at least 3 hours of your time every day:
.They need to be checked at least twice a day for feed and water.
.They need access to a run or enclosed garden for exercise for at least 2 hours every day (except in bad weather).
.They need at least 1 hour of interaction (stroking, play etc) with you to build up their confidence with humans.
No animal should be thought of as a 'toy' for children. Rabbits are particularly not suitable pets for children because they do not enjoy being picked up and if they are not being held properly (as is often the case when a large rabbit is picked up by a small child) they often scratch or bite. Remember that rabbits can live for 7-9 years and unfortunately children can lose interest or grow out of wanting to look after them. Guinea-pigs, mice and rats are much more suitable pets for children as they are easier to hold. Rats and mice can also be taught tricks. Rabbits and guinea-pigs do not mix! They are very different animals and have different behaviour and requirements: They need very different diets - guinea-pigs need a diet that is very high in Vitamin C and they will develop severe medical problems if fed only a commercial rabbit mix. They have different health problems - rabbits carry a type of bacteria which does not affect them, but which can cause severe respiratory infection (like bronchitis) in guinea-pigs. They behave differently - rabbits can 'bully' guinea-pigs! A rabbit should not be kept on its own as they are social animals and need other rabbits for company. Rabbits live in groups in the wild and it is extremely unnatural for them to live a solitary existence. The best combination for rabbits is a male-female pair, but this will require both rabbits to be neutered as soon as possible to prevent unwanted litters. Same-sex pairs are possible but only if the rabbits were littermates or were introduced at a very early age. If the pair do not bond, both animals may need to be neutered.
A rabbit hutch can never be too large. Rabbits need a large hutch - with both a living area and a sleeping area. A combined floor space of 150 x 60 x 60 cm has been suggested for a hutch for two small rabbits. Avoid placing the hutch in a site which is in direct sunlight during the summer or where it will be exposed to draughts. Rabbits also need to be able to exercise for at least 2 hours per day. This can be either in a large, secure run or 'ark' placed over grass, or if your garden is securely enclosed, they could be allowed to run free in it.
Before you can bring your rabbit home, you need to invest in a hutch, a run, a food bowl, a water bottle, sawdust and straw for bedding, and food such as rabbit mix, greens and hay. You may also wish to have your rabbit neutered in the first few months. On-going costs of keeping your rabbit are feed and veterinary care. They are also prone to developing chronic health problems, such as snuffles or dental disease, which can require months of treatment.
When choosing a baby rabbit (called a 'kitten') try to see it with its mother and littermates as it is easier to judge its temperament in a natural setting. Also ask about the health of the parents as this may alert you to potential problems.
If you get a rabbit which is already carrying a disease, it may never recover full health and the treatment may be expensive. A healthy rabbit will have clear bright eyes, clean nostrils and ears and a shiny coat. If your rabbit has runny eyes, sneezing or a nasal discharge it probably has a severe respiratory infection. Being able to see the third eyelid (a membrane in the corner of its eyes nearest the nose) or a dull coat are also signs of ill health. Avoid taking on a rabbit with dirty ears which may be infected with bacteria or ear mites or an animal which is thin and has a pot-belly as it may be heavily infected with worms. If you are in any doubt, ask to have the rabbit examined by your vet before agreeing to take it on. In any case make an appointment for any new rabbit to be examined by your vet on the second or third day in your care. Your vet will check that your rabbit is healthy, and give you advice on feeding your rabbit, vaccination and neutering.
Before taking a rabbit home find out about the type of care it was getting. Baby rabbits can leave their mothers from about eight weeks of age. You also need to know what sort of food it has been eating. Feed the same food for a few days and reintroduce new foods very gradually over a period of at least 2 weeks (if you need to) so that your rabbit's digestive system does not get too much of a shock. Have all the necessary equipment ready before bringing a new rabbit home. You should have the following: a carrying box, food and water bowls, food (including rabbit mix, fresh vegetables and hay), a grooming brush and comb, nail clippers, rabbit toys, and a secure enclosed run. If your rabbit is going to live outside it will need an outdoor hutch with sawdust and straw bedding. If it is going to live inside it will need an indoor cage and a litter tray with rabbit litter.
The first days away from its mother and littermates are understandably stressful for most rabbits. Outdoor rabbits should be confined to their hutch for the first 2-3 days before allowing them out in the run. Indoor rabbits should be kept in their cage in a quiet room for the first few days. If there are young children in the house they must not become overexcited or treat the rabbit like a toy. Regular daily grooming for long-haired rabbits is recommended to keep their coat in good condition and short-haired breeds will also benefit from grooming, particularly when they are moulting. Coat brushing is easier if your rabbit is used to it from an early age.
Rabbits are usually neutered between the ages of four and six months. Some female rabbits can be fertile from the age of four months so make sure you arrange to have your rabbit neutered promptly to avoid adding to the mountain of unwanted baby rabbits that are produced every year.
(from Vetstream Lapis factsheet)
Useful sites House Rabbit Society