BUNNIES DESERVE BETTER
Rabbits are intelligent, affectionate, social creatures just like dogs and cats. They will lick you, greet you, play with you and give you lots of love, given the opportunity. It’s so sad to see rabbits confined like prisoners at the bottom of the garden where they are often ignored and neglected. BUNNIES DESERVE BETTER! Many caregivers are now choosing to keep their rabbits indoors where it’s easier to meet their physical and social needs. In the daytime bunnies can exercise in an escape-proof run or garden with supervision.
One of the family
Caring for a rabbit is a big commitment as they can live 10 years or longer. Contrary to stereotype, rabbits are not inexpensive, low-maintenance pets and require almost as much time devoted to them as a dog. Being gentle and timid, they are not very suitable for children under 10 years old. Children want a pet they can pick up and handle, while rabbits are ground-loving creatures who prefer to be on the floor. Rabbits can make excellent family pets provided the parents are the main caregivers and are willing to supervise their children when they’re with the rabbits.
Adopt a rabbit and save a life
The best place to get a rabbit is your local animal shelter. Even better, why not adopt two rescued rabbits so they can keep each other company. For details of your nearest shelter click on The Bunny Hopline. Adult rabbits over a year old make the best pets because they are less destructive and easier to litter-train, especially if they’re neutered.
A bunny’s place is in the home, not a hutch
You will get the most from your rabbits – and vice versa – if they live indoors with you. Many house rabbits are completely free-range and are happy to sleep in a dog bed or on a fleece rug. If you need to confine them you can simply use a baby gate. If you are new to house rabbits, start with one room without carpet and wallpaper and gradually increase their running space.
Rabbits should never be left outdoors unsupervised – even in a sturdy hutch or run, they can become very stressed and die of a heart attack if they are teased or frightened by predators (cats, dogs, foxes, large birds, etc.). Make sure the garden is escape-proof and avoid using harmful chemicals (e.g. slug pellets, insecticides) on your plants and grass. Keep all poisonous plants, including houseplants, out of reach. Rabbits love to chew on telephone and electric cables so it is essential to cover them with plastic tubing from a DIY shop.
Your rabbits’ diet should include grass, fresh fruit and vegetables, meadow/timothy hay and water. Offer two plates of different vegetables a day and smaller amounts of carrot and fruit, which are high in sugar. Hay and water should be available at all times. You can also provide your rabbits with other sources of fibre such as apple and willow twigs, dried grass, straw and edible toys. If you have a garden, let your rabbits graze on grass, clover, dandelion and other weeds. Dried food is not necessary for most rabbits if you feed a healthy and varied diet as described above. It does not wear the teeth down as well as grass and hay and causes messy droppings in some rabbits. Make any changes in your rabbits’ diet very gradually.
Rabbits need friends
Rabbits are social animals and need to live in pairs. Before you introduce two rabbits, you must have them both neutered to reduce aggressive behaviour. Do your introductions on neutral territory where neither rabbit has been before. Introducing rabbits can take a few weeks but is well worth the effort. The easiest introductions are between a mixed pair (neutered of course).
Toys are essential to provide mental and physical stimulation and prevent damage to your home. Favourite rabbit toys include: cardboard box with 2/3 doors for hopping in and out, clay/cardboard tubes, (foot)ball, apple/pear/willow twigs, pinewood block, pine cones, untreated willow and seagrass items, wire ball with a bell inside, bunch of keys, hard plastic baby rattles, a towel to dig in or drape over a chair for your rabbit to run through, digging box full of hay, straw, shredded paper or spare bit of carpeting, litter tray full of sand or soil to dig and roll in.
Rabbits tend to urinate in just one or a few places and are fairly easy to litter-train. Start with one litter tray in their living area and at least one other in their exercise area. Fill the trays with newspaper covered with hay and straw or a paper-based litter. Encourage your rabbits to use them by leaving their food bowl or a treat in one corner.
Neutering both male and female rabbits has many benefits. As well as avoiding unwanted litters, it prevents reproductive cancers, which affect up to 85% of female bunnies, and false pregnancies, which can be very stressful. It also reduces spraying and aggression and enables two rabbits to leave peacefully together. Neutering is a safe procedure when performed by an experienced rabbit vet. Male bunnies can be neutered at 4 months and females at around 5-6 months. All rabbits (including house rabbits) should be vaccinated against RHD, RHD2 and Myxomatosis. It’s important to check your bunny every week for possible health problems as rabbits can deteriorate very rapidly. In doubt, take your rabbit to a knowledgeable vet.