Rabbits can make fantastic pets. New rabbit owners are often surprised at how clever rabbits can be. They can be toilet trained, taught to walk on a lead and play games. Their cheeky antics can be very amusing and enjoyable to watch.
There are many different breeds of rabbits, and they tend to have unique personality and behaviour traits. Before you choose a rabbit do some research into different breeds so that you can work out which would fit best into your lifestyle. Larger breeds need more space and long haired breeds require a lot of grooming. You can talk to your local vet, rabbit club, or read books or search online about different rabbit breeds.
It is a common misconception that rabbits are an easy or low maintenance pet. To stay happy and healthy they require a high standard of care, good quality housing, and good environmental enrichment. Maybe most importantly, most rabbits are very social animals – it is unnatural and cruel to leave them alone for long periods of time.
Rabbit ownership is a serious commitment for 6-12 years, depending on the type of rabbit you choose.
See our list of rabbit breeders, and other services for rabbits here - vets, rabbit boarding, rabbit food etc...
Welfare worries for rabbits
- Loneliness - rabbits are highly social, yet only 18 per cent have the company of another rabbit.
- Cramped housing and no exercise - many rabbits live in hutches that are too small to move comfortably. Although rabbits need at least 4 hours a day of exercise, only 36 per cent of rabbits are allowed out of their hutches each day and 7 per cent are never let out of their hutch at all.
- Boredom - rabbits need to dig, run and play every day. Statistics show that 34 per cent of rabbits don't have access to toys or other objects they can play with, 26 per cent never receive opportunities to forage, and 25 per cent never have an opportunity to dig.
- Diet disaster - rabbits need to eat their own body weight in grass hay each day. 39 per cent of rabbits aren't given any hay to eat at all - instead, 30 per cent of rabbits are fed rabbit muesli, which can cause dental disease and nutrient deficiencies.
- Neglected health - rabbits require vaccination, dental care, grooming, desexing and other preventative health measures. Thirty-seven per cent of owners don't vaccinate their rabbits, 36 per cent do nothing to maintain their dental health, and 35 per cent of owners don't take rabbits to the vet for a checkup.
- Hot and bothered - rabbits are very heat sensitive and can die from heat stress - 18 per cent of rabbits don't have access to a cool, shaded area when the weather is hot.
Tips for rabbit owners
- Ease your rabbit's loneliness - think about getting a second rabbit for company. The best combination is a desexed male and a desexed female (make sure you follow guidelines on safely introducing a new rabbit to your existing pet, to prevent aggression).
- Check your rabbit's hutch - is it big enough for your rabbit to lie down and stretch out in all directions? High enough so your rabbit can stand up on his or her back legs, without ears touching the roof? Long enough to allow for at least three hops from one end to the other? If not, you need to upgrade to a bigger hutch. Also make sure that your rabbit has a secure exercise area that he or she can use for at least four hours a day.
- Make some toys for your rabbit. You can find most of the things you need already around the house. Refer to the 'Behaviour' section below for ideas.
- Check your rabbit's diet - is your rabbit eating his or her own bodyweight in grass hay daily? This is essential for dental and digestive health. Your rabbit also needs a handful of fresh greens morning and night. give your rabbit a variety of geens such as spinach, bok choy, cauliflower leaves, cabbage and brussel sprout leaves. Because they are high in sugar, carrots and fruit should only be fed occasionally and in small quantities as treats. Don't feed rabbits muesli – this causes dental decay and nutrient deficiencies.
- Book your rabbit in for a checkup with your vet. Your vet can advise you on vaccinations, desexing, internal/external parasite control, dental health and grooming.
- Plan ahead for next summer. When temperatures get above 28°C, you will need to move your rabbit to a cool, shaded and well ventilated area. You can also provide two-litre frozen water bottles for rabbits to rest against. Alternatively, on hot days, you can bring rabbits inside the house (even if only in the laundry).
Doing just one of these things today could make a big difference to your rabbit's life!