Best Care for Bunnies

Small bunny

 

Whilst we may think of cats or dogs as pets which require more maintenance compared to the likes of smaller animals, this is often not the case. In particular small companion animals, such as rabbits, have very specific needs and are not the cheap or easy option that people may sometimes assume. Rabbits are sociable animals, and whilst they are relatively low cost to initially buy, the life-long cost of owning a rabbit can add up quickly; looking after them properly takes time, space and dedication.


As big bunny fans here at Protexin, one of our resident vets, Gemma, has put together top tips on how to give your rabbit the best possible care! Read on to find out more…

 

Rabbits need companions:

Rabbits are highly sociable animals; in the wild they live in groups in their warrens and burrows. Without the companionship of another rabbit, they can quickly become lonely and depressed, which may then affect their health. Some rabbits will come in a ‘bonded pair’, these should never be separated. It is important that the bunnies in a pair are both neutered to avoid fighting and unwanted mating. If you are planning to introduce two bunnies yourself then it is important that it is done in a certain way to minimise the chance of them fighting. It would be sensible to seek advice from your vet or the RWAF (Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund).

 

Rabbits should be neutered:

(unless of course you are planning to breed!) Rabbits in general are highly fertile animals, and if mixed sexes are left together after reaching puberty you will quickly end up with more bunnies than you bargained for! Even if you have two males or two females (including siblings) it is best to get them neutered as this will minimise the risk of them fighting once they reach puberty. Finally female rabbits should ALWAYS be neutered to avoid them getting uterine cancer. According to the RWAF 80% of un-neutered female bunnies get uterine cancer by the time they reach their later years.

More than a hutch:

Rabbits should not be confined to live in a small hutch. They should be provided with access to a large area, be that inside or outside, where they can properly exercise.  The current recommendation is that their total space should be 10ft by 6ft and at least 3ft tall.  A hutch should be at least 6ft by 2ft by 2ft and be attached to an exercise run permanently. It is also important that their hutch, and exercise area are well protected against predators, such as foxes.

Think about the temperature outside: 

If your bunny is living outside then it is important to help them out with thermoregulation. In summer it is important they have access to cool, shaded, breezy areas to stop them over-heating. In winter their hutch may require extra insulation, or in extremely cold weather you may even need to consider bringing them inside. If you are planning to bring your rabbit inside, try to make the temperature transition gradually – either bringing them in for a few hours at a time, or first insulating the hutch outside, then bringing them inside. This gives them time to adjust to the change. Likewise in reverse when returning them back outside again.

bunny rabbit

 

Feeding:

The majority (85%) of your rabbits’ diet should consist of grass and/or hay; this is essential for their digestive system to function normally, and their teeth to be worn down. They may also be given a small amount of pellets (5% = about an egg cup’s worth), but muesli type feed is not advisable as it is high in sugar and can contribute to digestive upset and obesity. You can also give them a variety of leafy green, vegetables and herbs (10%), though fruits should only be given in small volumes as treats – as they tend to be high in sugar. Visit the RWAF for a recommended list of bunny suitable vegetables and herbs. {https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-diet/recommended-vegetables-herbs/}

Water:

Some bunnies like to drink from water bottles, while others prefer to drink from bowls. Once you have established you rabbit’s preference, ensure they ALWAYS have plenty of access to water - especially in hot weather. In cold weather ensure the water does not freeze (if it does, this may also be a sign that the hutch is too cold and extra warming measures are required!)

 

Check your bunny daily:

You should be seeing your bunny at least daily to clean out their hutch, feed them and change their water. At this time it is important to give them a check over and to ensure they are happy and healthy. Rabbits are prey animals so they don’t readily show pain or distress. Monitor their eating and faecal output closely - any reduction in either of these should warrant a fairly urgent trip to the vets (this can be the first sign of gut stasis and things can go rapidly downhill in bunnies, so best to get them checked over ASAP). It is also important to check their bottoms for any sign of urine scald, and in warmer weather it is absolutely essential to check their bottom on a daily basis for flystrike.

 

Teeth:

Along with your daily checks, you need to keep an eye on your bunny’s teeth. Rabbits’ teeth are unusual in that they grow throughout their life. If their teeth are well aligned, and they are fed plenty of hay/ grass the teeth should naturally wear down against each other. However, some rabbits are born with poor dental anatomy, or lack fibre in their diet; this may result in overgrown teeth with sharp spurs, making it painful for them to eat. You may notice them dropping food or hyper-salivating, or may see their incisors (front teeth) becoming longer or growing at abnormal angles. However, in some rabbits the first sign they show of dental issues is a reduced appetite. If you notice any of these changes, then you should get your rabbit checked by your vet.

bunny outdoors in grass

 

Nails:

Along with their teeth, keep an eye on their nails. Rabbits are generally kept on soft flooring (grass/ carpet etc), which can be best for their feet, however, as a result they don’t always wear down their nails. You can learn to trim these yourself (being careful to cut below the quick (the blood supply), or if you prefer you can make an appointment to get them trimmed at the vets.  

 

Keep them up to date with vaccinations:

All pet rabbits should be vaccinated against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic diarrhoea virus (1 and 2), as these disease can be fatal if contracted. Given that flies and other biting insects can spread these viruses it is important for both outdoor and indoor rabbits to be vaccinated regularly, as recommended by your veterinary surgeon.

 

Bunnies like to play too:

Being sociable animals, bunnies do generally enjoy games, play and social interaction with their humans. You can buy rabbit specific toys from pet shops, or can play games such as hiding treats for them to find. Even large cardboard tubes can be fun for them to hop through or on top of.

Pet them on the floor:

While they do enjoy social interaction, being prey animals, rabbit don’t tend to like being picked up – as they cannot escape if they want to. It is best to pet them on the floor, where they feel most relaxed.

Think about longevity:

A well-cared for bunny can live for more than 10 years… it is important to take this into consideration both logistically and financially. If buying a rabbit as a pet for your child, who will be the one caring for the bunny when your child leaves home etc?

 

We hope that these top tips will help you to give your bunny the best care possible, as bunnies, when looked after properly, can make wonderful and happy pets.

The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) is an excellent source for more detailed information on rabbit care. 

 

 

Meet the Author

Gemma Ives

Gemma qualified from the University of Cambridge in 2013. She is passionate about evidence based medicine and is particularly interested in the role that the microbiota can play in so many diseases.

In her free time Gemma loves climbing hills and finding beaches with her terrier, Percy, and hanging out with George the cat!