Rabbits are very active pets, so a hutch should have enough space for pets to stand up on their back legs and hop three or four times in each direction. Hutches and runs should ideally be placed out of the sun and sheltered from the rain and ideally hutches should be raised off the ground. In the winter, the hutch must be moved into a garage or outhouse.
Straw or wood shavings are ideal for rabbits in outdoor hutches and wet bedding should be removed on a daily basis. Hutches should be completely stripped out and scrubbed ideally once a week during the summer and more regularly during the winter when rabbits spend more time inside.
Blankets or towels are good bedding for litter-trained house rabbits.
House rabbits are gaining in popularity and make great indoor pets. They should be provided with their own indoor cage, a litter tray full of cat litter and food and water should be easily accessible. It’s also advisable to remove items from a rabbit’s reach such as indoor plants and electrical cables so that they don’t chew them.
Rabbits need fibre rich diets, such as hay or grass, to help digest food and maintain healthy teeth. Hay and grass should be supplemented with a complete food, which provides all the nutrients in the correct amounts and proportions. Rabbits can also be given fresh vegetables, in moderation. To make the most out of nutrients consumed, rabbits also eat their own caecotrophs (soft faeces). Water must be accessible at all times and bottles are often easier to keep clean.
Vaccination is the only proven method of protecting rabbits against potentially life-threatening diseases such as myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD). Your vet will be able to advise you on vaccination and will also carry out a health check to ensure your pet is in tip top condition.
Internal parasites can cause serious damage to rabbits if left untreated. One particularly nasty one is Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) which affects as many as 50 per cent of domestic rabbits. Your vet, country store, pet shop or pharmacist will be able to advise you on products to treat internal parasites.
Dental problems are a major health issue for rabbits. Rabbits need to eat fibre to wear down their continuously growing teeth. If teeth don’t get worn down enough this can cause drooling and lack of appetite. Your vet will be able to advise you on your pet’s teeth.
If rabbits’ nails grow too long and start curving they can be trimmed, but avoid cutting the pink bit in the middle of the nail (called the quick) as this will hurt and bleed if cut. Your vet will be able to advise you on how to cut your pet’s nails.
Neutering female rabbits (does) is recommended to help prevent unwanted litters and behaviour such as nesting, aggression and mood swings. It’s also advisable to neuter male rabbits (bucks) to prevent aggression. Your vet will be able to advise you on neutering your pet.
Regular exercise is also important to keep rabbits fit and prevent boredom, which could lead to behavioural problems. It’s therefore advisable to exercise pets in an outdoor run, the garden or the house as often as possible, but ideally for at least four hours a day.
Rabbits will groom both themselves and others, as it’s a social activity. Some long-haired breeds will need daily grooming by their owners to remove loose and matted hair. You should also check rabbit’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, bottom and nails daily.
Techniques for handling rabbits vary depending on their weight and size. However, it’s advisable to always try and pick up a rabbit with one arm under his bottom to support his weight. Never lift a rabbit by the ears or by the scruff of the neck. If your rabbit doesn’t like being handled, stroking when feeding will help him become accustomed to being picked up.
Indoor rabbits can socialise regularly with their owners, so they’re happy to live alone; however it’s advisable that an outdoor rabbit has the company of one or more rabbits to replicate the socialising that would take place in warrens in the wild.
Regular Health Checks
Your vet will carry out a ‘nose to tail’ MOT when your rabbit is given its booster vaccinations. You can play a role too by following the guidelines below to keep an eye on your rabbit’s health and help him to stay in tip top condition and live a long and healthy life:
Look out for changes in your rabbit’s food consumption, drinking and toilet habits. Does he have less energy or is he slower in getting up or jumping? Monitor your rabbit’s faeces for colour, consistency and signs of worms
Rub your hands over your rabbit’s body including his head, legs and feet to check for any lumps or bumps or anything stuck in his pads. Also keep your eyes open for evidence of fleas and other parasites. Check your rabbit’s coat quality and whether any dandruff or hair loss is evident. Is your rabbit scratching, chewing or biting excessively?
Check your pet’s nose, eyes and ears for any abnormalities or discharge. Your rabbit’s nose should be moist, the corners of his eyes should be free of discharge and his ears should be clean
Regularly examine your rabbit’s mouth for signs of disease and overgrown teeth
Monitor your rabbit’s body condition by running your hands over his ribs and backbone. If he is losing weight or is overweight, it’s advisable to take him to the vet