We’ve all heard the saying ‘a puppy is for life not just for Christmas,’ but what about rabbits? OK, so these furry little critters won’t quite live that long, but with an average lifespan of nine years and a need for lots of space and stimulation, they’re a big commitment.
Rabbits are incredibly active, social animals, which need the space to run, hop, dig and stretch out. However, all too often they are kept in unsuitable housing, without access to the outside or company.
Here’s a guide to your rabbit’s needs and how to meet them.
Imagine being completely isolated from your own kind? In the wild, rabbits live in groups or colonies – they are therefore incredibly sociable animals and a rabbit kept on its own will likely experience fear, boredom and frustration. It’s therefore widely viewed as unacceptable to keep them singularly.
Before purchasing a rabbit, you should consider whether you have the money and time to care for more than one. The Animal Welfare Foundation recommends keeping a neutered male and female together – this reduces the chance of fighting, as well as the problem of unwanted babies.
In the wild, rabbits will spend most of their day above ground grazing on grass, and their diet should therefore be mostly made up of grass or good quality hay. As a general guideline, they need to eat a pile of their own body size every day.
Contrary to popular belief, you should avoid predominantly feeding your pet muesli-style dried food (a teaspoon daily or twice daily if the animal ways over 3.5kg is recommended by The Animal Welfare Foundation). Your rabbit will likely pick out its favourite pieces and leave the rest, resulting in an unbalanced diet. This type of feed is also too easy to eat compared to grass and hay – rabbit’s teeth grow throughout their lives and so need to be worn down by grinding and chewing.
You can also offer fresh vegetables daily, such as carrot tops, broccoli and cabbage. However, avoid fruits as they are high in sugar and can make your rabbit overweight.
It goes without saying that your rabbit needs a constant supply of fresh water. The RSPCA recommends that you check their water supply twice daily, and make sure it doesn’t freeze or have blockages and leaks.
The need for natural behaviour
All animals have behaviours that they’re compelled to carry out in the wild, and if they’re prevented from doing these things in captivity they can quickly become distressed. Your rabbit needs to:
- Dig – you don’t want to risk your rabbit tunnelling out of its enclosure, but you can give them things to dig in safely. Try filling a large container with compost or soil and placing it in their run.
- Hide – in the wild, rabbits are prey animals. This means that they need somewhere to hide if they feel frightened or anxious.
- Forage and keep busy – no animal will be happy with nothing to do. Scatter food pellets and toys around your rabbit’s enclosure to keep them occupied.
The Need for Prevention from Illness
Rabbits are susceptible to a variety of diseases and parasites. To keep them happy and healthy, there are a number of things you need to do:
- Vaccinations – your rabbits need to be vaccinated against Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD) and Myxomatosis. You should discuss these, and any other vaccinations, with your vet.
- Parasites – rabbits can pick up parasites such as fleas, lice and mites, including E Cuniculi, which is spread via the urine. Ask your vet about preventative treatments and what you need to watch out for.
- Neutering – this prevents unwanted babies and protects against problems such as certain forms of cancer.
- Handling – make sure you handle your rabbits regularly. This gives you the chance to check for problems that you might otherwise not notice.
The need for a home not just a hutch
Rabbits are hugely active animals and they need plenty of space to run, jump, hop and stretch. Far too often, these energetic creatures are kept in cramped conditions, without access to outside space, hide-aways or anything else that they need.
In response to this worrying trend, Dunster House have followed in the footsteps of the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund’s ‘A Hutch is Not Enough Campaign’ and produced a range of rabbit houses which meet rabbit’s needs.
Director Alex Murphy, a rabbit lover, comments:
“For years, a revolution has been needed in rabbit hutches and runs. They are typically too small to meet a rabbit’s needs. The RWAF is trying to heighten awareness with their ‘A Hutch is Not Enough’ campaign.
“The problem is price. Smaller is cheaper, and it typically takes time to re-educate people to the new ways of thinking – time rabbits don’t have. They’ve one life of 8-12 years. Rabbits need life enrichment, exercise, somewhere properly insulated to retire to, space and they need to be and feel safe. In the wild, rabbits have fields to run in – anything built is never going to be more than adequate. Adequate, however, is better than inadequate.”
Understanding the needs of these complex animals is key to giving them the life they deserve. Get started today and view our range of Rabbitopia products.