With Rabbit Awareness Week underway, we caught up with Rae Todd, CEO of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund to hear more about their latest campaign, ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough’ and to get some tips on the best type of housing you can give your furry friends.
Rae Todd, CEO, Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund
Tell us about your latest campaign, ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough’? How did it start?
Funnily enough, it started with a chance remark at a meeting when we were discussing housing. The more we thought about it, the more the idea developed that traditionally owners have believed that all they need to do with a rabbit is put it in a hutch, throw in a bit of food now and again, the odd carrot, and that’s it. Of course that’s wrong on so many levels. The rabbit is alone and we know they are highly social and would like the company of another neutered rabbit. They have very specific dietary needs, and need constant supplies of hay, some greens – (not carrots!) – and only a few pellets. Rabbits have complex medical needs so should have regular veterinary care from a rabbit-savvy vet and should be neutered and vaccinated. They need our company too as well as other environmental enrichment. With lots to do, they make so much more interesting pets. And of course a tiny hutch at the bottom of the garden simply isn’t enough space. In the wild rabbits would cover vast distances every day. They are natural athletes who need space to hop and play and just be rabbits, so they should have as big hutch which is as sturdy and as comfy as possible, with permanent access to a sizeable, secure run.
If pet owners do have a hutch, what is the ideal size of housing that they should have?
It varies of course according to the size of the rabbits, but let’s take an average rabbit, the size of a Dutch rabbit, for example. It takes them 2ft to take one hop and they need 2ft to stand up tall, (as they would in the wild when they are nipping tasty bits off brambles and the like). They also need 2ft to stretch out when they lie down, so this 2ft is a really important measure. Taking all of this into account, their housing has got to be at least 2ft high and 2ft wide, but they also need to be able to take at least 3 hops inside the hutch without having to change direction, so that means in this case it would need to be at least 6ft long, and their run should be bigger so they can properly exercise. For a pair sharing, the overall size would need to be at least 10ft x 6ft x 2ft, but bigger is better. The same goes for indoor rabbits too of course. We don’t recommend that rabbits should be kept singly, so we don’t have a space recommendation for single rabbits. In any case they would still need the same amount of space to allow them to take the same number of hops.
For those thinking about getting a rabbit, what advice would you give them when it comes to pet care and housing?
Always go for good quality housing. It will last longer and be safer. Go for the biggest you can accommodate and afford. Don’t forget you can consider sheds as a great alternative to a traditional hutch. You’ll still need to attach a run but when you’re cleaning out in the winter it’s going to be much more comfortable for you and much more fun, more spacious and more comfy for your rabbits all year round. It also means you get some storage space! If you’re looking for hutches and runs, we suggest you have a look at the retailers and manufacturers listed in our A Hutch Is Not Enough Retail Charter. http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/walloffame.htm
What is the perfect environment for any rabbit to lead a happy, healthy life?
Rabbits should be neutered so they aren’t experiencing the urges brought on by hormones. That’s particularly important for females with their huge risk of uterine cancer. Neutering allows them to live in bonded pairs or groups so they always have a playmate, ‘somebunny’ to snuggle up to and share grooming and play with. As prey species they are much more confident in the company of other rabbits. Rabbits should also be vaccinated to protect them from the two killer diseases, Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. They should have a good diet for optimum gut and dental health – typically that should be 80% grass or great quality hay, 15% green leafy veg and 5% extruded nuggets. Rabbits are intelligent and should have plenty of toys to play with. Toys that help them behave in the way their instincts urge them are the most popular, so give them something to dig in, tunnels to run through and hide in and toys that will test their intelligence. The fitter they are the healthier they will be, so provide toys that encourage them to keep moving. They need a comfortable, spacious home, of course and so a hutch and run should always be available. Remember that they are crepuscular creatures; that means they are most active at dawn and dusk when we are often asleep; so don’t lock them in the hutch, they need the run available too. Finally make sure their vet is rabbit-savvy. If you want help, we at RWAF have a list of rabbit-savvy vets and we also provide annual veterinary conferences, so that the population of rabbit-savvy vets is growing all the time. A good vet is your and your rabbits’ best friend.
For further information on Rabbit Awareness week visit: http://www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk/ or follow @rabbitawareness