Rabbits can be kept as indoor or outdoor pets. If kept indoors, they are easy to litter train, though will need to be supervised as they can be destructive to furniture. It is a good idea to have a secure enclosure to keep the rabbit in while you are out and at night. If kept outdoors they can be kept in a hutch, but should have access to a grassed run.
Whether kept indoors or out, your rabbit’s home should be as large as possible. They should be able to stand up fully and hop three times. A minimum size is usually around 60x24x24 inches. Larger breeds will require more space. Outdoor hutches should be divided into an enclosed sleeping area and an open area for the daytime.
Wood shavings and barley straw make ideal bedding, avoid dusty or mouldy straw as well as sawdust, as it can irritate your rabbit’s eyes.
Toys should be provided to prevent boredom. Some rabbits simply enjoy a small selection of toys which are rearranged every now and again to provide a bit of variety.
Rabbits should NEVER be picked up by their ears. Always ensure that their hind legs are well supported and hold the rabbit close to your body to make sure they feel secure. Some rabbits prefer to have their head hidden in the crook of your arm as you carry them.
We recommend neutering rabbits unless you intend to breed from them. They become sexually active at the age of 4 months in small breeds and 6-9 months in large and giant breeds. We recommend that rabbits are not kept in mixed sex groups unless they have been neutered.
Both male and female rabbits can be neutered from 3 months of age. Neutering can help prevent aggression and urine spraying in both sexes. Neutered rabbits are, however, more prone to obesity so take care not to overfeed them.
Rabbits are ‘fibrevores’ which means that fibre is the most important part of their diet. The fibre helps keep their guts moving healthily, so they should be fed mainly with good quality hay or dried grass (never grass clippings). Hay can be put into a rack or net to provide entertainment and prevent it becoming soiled.
Rabbits should also be fed a variety of green vegetables to provide even more important fibre and to provide them with the vitamins and minerals they require. Rabbits should also be provided with a good quality dry diet. Nugget diets are preferable to a muesli type as it prevents the rabbit from picking and choosing the bits they like.
As with any other animal, ensure your rabbit has access to plenty of fresh water to drink.
We recommend vaccinating rabbits against Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), which are two serious infectious diseases of rabbits. Both are caused by viruses which can be passed on by close or direct contact between rabbits or by biting insects such as fleas.
The signs of Myxomatosis include puffy swellings around the head and face, discharge from the eyes and nose, swollen lips and small swellings inside the ears and around the anus and genitals. If your rabbit shows any of these signs it is essential to contact the vet immediately.
RHD is a much quicker disease and some rabbits can show very few signs of disease. It is a fatal condition and a few rabbits may have a fever or have fits before going into a coma.
As with many diseases and conditions, prevention is always better than cure, so your rabbit can be vaccinated against both of these diseases with a single vaccine from 5 weeks of age. Your rabbit will require yearly boosters to keep their immunity up-to-date.
Common Medical Problems
Having your rabbit checked regularly with a vet will help to prevent common medical problems or pick up on them in early stages when they can be more easily managed. Common problems include:
Overgrown teeth – you may notice overgrown incisors at the front of the mouth, or your rabbit having difficulty eating. Your rabbit may require an anaesthetic and dental to clip the teeth back to the correct length.
Skin problems – look out for scratching, bald patches, and sore- or irritated-looking skin.
Eye problems – you may see a milky white discharge, or sore, red skin around the eye. This is usually caused by blocked tear ducts and your rabbit may require an anaesthetic to have them flushed and cleared.
Diarrhoea – there a number of causes of diarrhoea in rabbits, some of which can be very serious so contact a vet immediately.
Obesity – prevention is better than cure, so pay close attention to your rabbit’s diet and encourage them to exercise. If you need some advice, or if you suspect your rabbit may already be obese, please contact reception and make an appointment with one of our nurses for a free weight check and dietary advice.