Rabbits are grazers and in the wild they eat only grass and other plants – your rabbits’ digestive systems must have hay and/or grass in order to function properly.
Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life and need to be worn down and kept at the correct length and shape by eating grass, hay and leafy green plants – if they don’t eat the right sorts of food they can suffer from serious dental disease.
Good quality hay and/or grass should make up the majority of your rabbits’ diet and should be available at all times. Each rabbit needs at least a ‘rabbit-sized’ bundle of good quality hay every day which should be sweet-smelling and dust-free. Feeding some hay from a hay rack or hanging basket keeps it clean.
Offer your rabbits a variety of safe, washed leafy greens or weeds every day – ideally five or six different types. Safe plants include cabbage, kale, broccoli, parsley and mint. Don’t feed them lawnmower clippings as these can upset their digestive system and make them ill. A rabbit’s diet doesn’t naturally include cereals, root vegetables or fruit but you can give apples or root vegetables like carrots, in small amounts as an occasional treat. Avoid feeding any other treats as these may harm your rabbits. You can also feed a small, measured ration of good quality commercial rabbit pellets or nuggets to help to ensure your rabbits get a balanced diet, but hay and/or grass are much more important and must be available at all times.
Muesli-style foods are associated with health problems in rabbits and should not be fed. Feeding muesli can increase the risk of rabbits developing serious teeth and tummy problems (including obesity). If you currently feed muesli, you need to gradually transfer your rabbits onto a healthier diet. Don’t make any sudden changes to your rabbits’ diet as this could make them very ill.
Your rabbits need fresh clean drinking water at all times – without access to water they can become seriously ill. Check their water supply twice a day and make sure it doesn’t freeze if they live outdoors in winter.
Rabbits are naturally sociable and normally prefer to be with another rabbit. A rabbit left alone can develop abnormal behaviour and may suffer if left without company and nothing to do for long periods of time. So please keep your rabbit with at least one other friendly rabbit, unless advised otherwise by a vet or qualified animal behaviourist. A good combination is a neutered male and a neutered female.
If you take the time to handle your rabbits regularly they will learn to see you as a friend and companion, so handle them gently every day from an early age. To hold your rabbits correctly, you should pick them up gently but firmly, making sure that one hand supports their back and hindquarters at all times and that they feel secure by having all four feet held against your body. Rabbits that receive little handling at an early age, or rough handling at any age, may find human contact distressing. This can be expressed as fearfulness, escape behaviour and aggression.
Rabbits will usually be scared of cats and dogs because they are natural predators, but if introduced to them carefully, early in life, they can develop friendships. Never leave your rabbits unsupervised with a cat or dog, even if you know they are good friends
Rabbits are highly social, playful and inquisitive animals and need to interact and play with other friendly rabbits. Many rabbits also enjoy interacting with people through gentle petting and positive reward-based training (such as clicker training). Rabbits need regular and frequent opportunities to exercise every day.
Toys allow rabbits to perform normal behaviours such as digging, chewing, chin marking and investigating. Provide your rabbits with safe toys to play with and chew, and regular opportunities to play with other friendly rabbits and/or people. Rabbits tend to love the simple things in life. Shredded newspaper, paper bags (with the handles removed) and cardboard boxes with holes cut into them make great hiding places. Cardboard tubes can be stuffed with hay and healthy treats/part of their daily food ration. Plastic and fabric tunnels can be purchased commercially. Tunnels can also be made from cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes and large ceramic pipes (with a wide diameter).
Some of the most common, potentially severe rabbit poisons are rodent poisons (‘rodenticides’), ivy, rhubarb, foxgloves and glyphosate herbicide products. Preventing your rabbit from coming into contact with poisonous substances and treating any accidental poisonings quickly and appropriately is an important part of responsible pet ownership.
Make sure your rabbits are vaccinated regularly – take them for a routine health check with your vet at least once a year. Vaccinations protect them against myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) (also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, (RHD). Your vet will advise how often your rabbits should be vaccinated.
Rabbits that are stressed are much more likely to become ill so try to minimise unnecessary stress, provide constant access to safe hiding places and watch to see if their behaviour changes or they show regular signs of stress or fear, in which case, seek advice from your vet or a qualified animal behaviourist.
Check your rabbits for signs of illness or injury every day. Make sure this is done by someone else if you are away.
In warm weather check the fur and skin around your rabbits’ rear end and tail area twice a day, as urine staining or droppings that are stuck will attract flies, which can lay eggs and cause ‘fly strike’, which is often fatal.
Front teeth and nails should be checked at least once a week as these can grow quickly but only a vet should correct overgrown or misaligned teeth.
Give your rabbits treatment for external and internal parasites (e.g. fleas and worms) as necessary, as advised by your vet.
Only use medicines that have been specifically recommended for your individual rabbit by a vet – some medicines used for other animals can be very dangerous to rabbits.
Groom your rabbits’ coats regularly to keep them in good condition. If you are unsure how to groom your rabbits properly ask your vet for advice.
Rabbits are active animals so they need to be able to hop, run, jump, dig, stand fully upright on their back legs, and stretch out fully when lying down. They need regular and frequent opportunities to exercise every day to stay fit and healthy, as well as an appropriate place to go to the toilet.
Rabbits must be able to hide from things that scare them and, as they are a prey species, they need to be able to hide in a secure place, away from the sight and smell of predators such as foxes, cats, dogs, ferrets and birds of prey. They are intelligent; if they are bored and do not have enough to do, rabbits may suffer.
As they are inquisitive animals, if there are hazards within their environment they may easily injure themselves, so their home should be safe, secure and free from hazards.
Living in a draughty, damp, hot, poorly ventilated or dirty environment can cause rabbits to suffer and become ill. Providing housing that meets rabbits’ complex environmental and behavioural needs is an important part of responsible ownership. A traditional small hutch must not be the sole and permanent home of any rabbit as it will not meet his/her need for exercise and stimulation and could cause health and behaviour problems.
You should provide both a large escape-proof living enclosure where rabbits can exercise and behave normally and a secure main shelter where your rabbits feel safe and can rest together if they chose to. Make sure that all areas of your rabbits’ home are well ventilated, dry and draught-free and that they are protected from predators and extremes of weather and temperature.
Rabbits must have constant access to additional safe hiding places where they can escape if they feel afraid, as well as platforms from which they can scan their environment for threats.
Your rabbits’ home should be large enough to allow each rabbit to stand up on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof (so a medium-sized rabbit needs a height of at least 75cm), to lie fully outstretched in any direction, to take a number of consecutive hops, and to run, jump, explore and forage. The shelter could be sited in/attached to a traditional exercise ‘run’ outside, an indoor pen or a ‘rabbit-proofed’ room in your house (where you’ll need to protect wires and cables by covering them or removing them from reach as rabbits love to chew). By permanently attaching your rabbits’ shelter (for example, a large hutch, cage, shed or playhouse) to their enclosure, exercise run or pen, your rabbits will have more space and choice about which section they spend time in and when, rather than limited access to their exercise area. Your rabbits should have access to the main enclosure at all times unless it is absolutely necessary to secure them in their shelter.
Rabbits are most active in the early morning and late afternoon, and overnight. This is when they like to graze, forage for food and be sociable, so you should try to make sure they are able to use a large area for exercising at these times in particular.
Your rabbits will need enough bedding to keep them comfortable and warm – it should be safe for them to eat so provide suitable insulating bedding materials such as dust-free hay and shredded paper. They will also need regular (ideally constant) access to a suitable place where they can go to the toilet which should be separate to where they sleep.
You will need…
• Outdoor hutch/indoor cage
• Run or pen for garden
• Straw for bedding
• Wood shavings
• Hay or dried grass for food
• Water bottle and bottle brush
• Ceramic food bowl
• Rabbit food
• Litter tray and litter
• Hay rack
• Gnaw block
• Toys and treats
• Vitamin supplements
• Pet safe disinfectant
• Pet safe fly repellent
• Rabbit care book
PETS ARE FOR LIFE!
Owning and caring for a pet is a very rewarding experience. Your pet will offer you friendship, interest and enjoyment, but keeping pets brings with it responsibilities. These responsibilities differ from one species to the next. Please ask a member of the pet department for help in choosing the right pet for you.
Whilst every effort has been made to ensure this information is correct, Squire’s cannot be held responsible for results of action taken without the advice of a professional veterinarian.