Following on from our Active Pets competition, designed to showcase the importance of exercise and activity for pets, and following the fantastic summer of sports around the world, we caught up with the CEO of Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) Rae Todd, to get more of her expert advice on how pet owners can ensure their rabbits stay active, happy and healthy into Autumn and beyond. Here’s what she said.
What‘s the ideal environment for rabbits to exercise in?
Rabbits can live indoors or outdoors but regardless of this, they will all want to do the same things like run, jump, dig, forage and hide. Their living area should allow them to do all of these things, so we would recommend a minimum living space, for up to 2 rabbits, of 10ft x 6ft x 2ft high.
Rabbits are 'crepuscular' which means that they are most active dusk and dawn. They don't sleep all night like we do and can actually be quite active at this time so will need access to their whole living area at all times. If your rabbits are living in an outside area, this will need to be predator proof, so no foxes can attack them for example. It is fabulous for rabbits to have access to fresh grass, but they might try to dig out, so if the run is permanently-sited make sure they are not able to dig out to freedom! 10ft x 6ft might seem like a huge area, but it is not. In reality this is only 5 hops. Bear in mind that giant breeds will need considerably more space than this though!
What’s the minimum amount of exercise any rabbit should have per week?
Ideally, access to a 10ft x 6ft area at all times. So, this means their hutch or shed should be attached to their run and they should be able to come and go as they please 24/7. This is why it is so important that their whole area is predator proof. Indoor this is likely to mean an indoor cage left open with puppy panels around to make a bigger area, or even free access to a whole rabbit proofed room. Free ranging round the house, or garden, is wonderful, but should be in addition to free access to an area of 10x6, not instead of. If you cannot provide a permanent of area this size for your rabbits, then it is really important to ensure they have at least 8 hours access to a larger exercise area every day and that they can take 3 hops and rear up tall in their accommodation.
Is there any particular equipment pet owners should consider buying?
For outdoor rabbits, make sure the exercise run and the hutch are safe for your rabbits and have good, secure locks (not swivel catches). I would personally advise setting up your rabbit’s living space in a garden shed. These make great shelters because they are big and give your rabbit more protection from the elements. It also makes it easier for us humans to clean them out and interact with them in the cold wet winter weather. Rabbits should have a diet that consists of 80% hay so they should have a nice big hay rack – one that your rabbits would love to play with.
When thinking about things to buy that your rabbits can play with, why not have a look around your garage or shed and see what you can find, or perhaps visit a car boot sale? For example, old caravan steps make good look-out posts, used cardboard boxes can become bunny hide-outs and big plant pots can be filled with earth as a digging pit or to grow herbs for the rabbits to forage in. Seed trays can be filled with earth and used as digging pits too, or you could even get creative and grow your own turf in them so your bunny can have their own mini lawn! A good tip is to have two of these on the go; one to grow while the other is being used.
In addition to food and water, provide your rabbits with a litter tray, a digging box, a hay rack, a shelter, and enrichment such as willow branches, tunnels and look out posts.
For rabbit owners who are slightly more limited for space, can you give them tips on how they can still ensure their rabbit gets the exercise it needs?
It is vital to give your rabbits as much space as possible to run around in so they can keep themselves busy and avoid being stressed and bored. If the space your rabbits are in is too small for them to run around and play in they could develop skeletal and other health problems because they are so restricted. For example, there is a system called runaround (www.runaround.co.uk) which allows owners to make the most of their garden size and shape by connecting tunnels and runs together. Check out their website, it is full of good ideas! At a very minimum, owners should make sure they attach their hutch to their run to allow the rabbits to get some shelter or exercise when they please.
It's important to note that one rabbit needs room that is big enough for two rabbits - one rabbit will still need 10ft to take 5 hops and space for a digging pit etc. that being said, it is recommended that people buy at least two rabbits so they can have their own companionship from you and each other. This way they also won’t pine for you and get lonely when you are out or on holiday.
If you really do not have enough space, and don't already have rabbits, then give it some serious thought, as they might not be the right pets for you.
Tell us more about rabbit ‘binkying’ – what does it mean and why do they do this?
A Binky is Joy-in-a-bun-dance! It is what rabbits do when they are really happy! It is an excited jump and twist to show how fit and happy they are.
Any other tips?
Rabbits are not the easy pets that people often think they are. Here are our top 10 tips for making sure your rabbit is happy and healthy...