How long do they live?
Rabbits have an average lifespan of 6-10 years. Some are reported to have lived up to 15 years.
Should I have a male or female?
Both sexes make good pets. Male rabbits (Bucks) can be territorial, aggressive and spray urine. Neutered males tend to be more relaxed, spray less and be less smelly. Female rabbits, (Does) once sexually mature, can bite, be aggressive, have false pregnancies become territorial and can growl if not spayed, they can also develop neoplasia (cancer) within the womb.
Can they live alone, in groups or with guinea pigs?
Rabbits can live together- a neutered pair is best. First introductions should be made gradually on neutral territory, whilst observing them from a distance. Keeping same sexed rabbits together can be difficult unless they have grown up together. Even then, they should be neutered and not separated. Never house sexually mature rabbits (4-6 months) of the same sex together.
Rabbits are social creatures. Ideally, if housing pairs, a similar sized rabbit is recommended. A neutered male and female will work best. Companionship they enjoy, but from the same species. It is not wise to house rabbits with other species like guinea pigs or chinchillas as their dietary and housing requirements differ considerably. Also bullying can be a serious problem along with injuries and health problems.
Where to live? Indoor or Outdoor?
House rabbits make great pets and give good company. Indoor rabbits are said to display more natural behaviours and get plenty of exercise. House training a rabbit takes time and can be hard work. When bringing your rabbit home initially we would recommend a training cage until litter trained then eventually a “free range”. They can be destructive and love to chew so “Bunny-proofing” the home is a must for your home and your rabbit’s safety. Pay particular attention to house plants, electric cables and cleaning products etc.
If housed outdoors, the hutch should be big enough for the rabbit to hop four times and stand on their hind legs without touching the roof- the bigger the hutch the better. A minimum size hutch for one small breed rabbit is 60x24x24 inches. Larger breeds of rabbit will naturally require bigger hutches than this. The hutch should have a living area and a sleeping area where the rabbit can hide.
All rabbits should have an outdoor run with a grassed area. Hutches should be dry, well ventilated but kept in a draft free area and not in direct sunlight.
Your rabbit’s hutch should be cleaned at least twice a week and daily removal of soiled bedding is essential. The frequency of cleaning will depend on the amount and size of rabbits caged. During summer check your rabbit’s hutch and bottom daily for droppings and flies/maggots which can cause a fatal condition called fly strike. (See common medical problems for more information).
Your rabbits bedding should consist of lots of padded straw, hay and dust extracted shavings.
Rabbits are most active at dusk and dawn, during which time most rabbits are in their hutch. An outdoor run should be provided with a grass area, preferably one that can be moved around and that is partly shaded. Foraging is a natural behaviour that should be encouraged so allow some food/hay to be scattered and hidden under plant pots etc. Ensure it is escape proof and safe from predators. Rabbits are naturally inquisitive and like to play so provide a variety of bunny safe toys for them. Examples are tubes to hide in, hay cubes to roll around and gnaw toys alongside activity feeders.
Long or short haired?
Short coated breeds need a soft-bristle brush used weekly and more often during moulting periods. Long haired breeds need to be brushed daily.
Grooming should be introduced as soon as possible in short sessions. Grooming will help you bond with rabbit and allow time for a health check over.
Handling and Biting
Handling your rabbit on a regular basis will help you bond with your rabbit. When handled regularly from an early age aggression is less likely. Correct handling is vital as rabbits can kick out and easily break their fragile spine. One hand should be placed across the shoulder blades while supporting the chest, with the other hand supporting the bottom. Never pick a rabbit up by its ears!
Some rabbits can show aggression from fear, frustration, pain, and from becoming territorial. Female rabbits in season (spring time) can show aggression, and also pregnant rabbits will want to protect their nest and young. Rabbits are a prey animal and naturally can feel threatened. If you have an aggressive rabbit speak to one our of veterinary team for advice.
- Please refer to the attached essential rabbit food guide. Many health problems can occur from feeding an incorrect diet.
The daily MOT
- Should be clear and bright. Any discharge or watering should be checked by your vet as soon as possible as eyes can become damaged very quickly.
- Should be clean with no smell. If your rabbit is head tilting or ear scratching see your vet.
- Clear nasal passages are essential for breathing. Any snuffling should be assessed by the vet straight away as rabbits don’t get colds.
- Rabbits have open rooted teeth, which means they never stop growing! Fold your rabbits lip back and check that the front teeth align.
Back teeth can’t be seen as they are too far back in the cheeks. Often rabbit’s front teeth are too long and health problems occur. If you think your rabbit has a tooth problem see your vet as soon as possible.
- Rabbits use their front feet for grooming and cleaning themselves. The feet should be clean and dry. If they are not your rabbit may have a tooth, eye or nose problem. Back feet and hocks can become sore, matted and soiled quickly; ensure they are clean by wiping/brushing their feet. Care is needed as the skin is delicate and thin so can easily tear. Check your rabbits nails too as they may need a trim by the vet.
- Flies are a common problem especially in summer months. Flies can lay eggs in and around the rabbit’s bottom which then causes a condition called “fly strike”. Blue and green bottles produce maggots that mature and eat the rabbits flesh within 24 hours. This is a serious life threatening condition. To prevent this, check your rabbits bottom daily (twice in summer months) to ensure there are no sticky poos on the rabbit and that soiled bedding is removed from the hutch daily. Preventative products can be used against flystrike. “Rear guard” is available from your vet.
Scent glands situated on each side of the genital area need cleaning as a smelly wax like substance is produced. To clean this area use a damp cotton bud.
- Daily grooming is advised for the skin to breath and coat to shine. It should be clear of mats, dandruff and parasites. If you see anything suspicious see your vet. Never use cat or dog parasite products on your rabbit!
Vaccination and why it’s important
- All pet rabbits require vaccination. The two main diseases we want to prevent are Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). Vaccinations can be carried out from 8 weeks of age. The diseases can now be protected against with one injection – saving you money and on number of visits to the vets . The yearly cost is £34.45 for protection against BOTH. Annual booster vaccination is essential to maintain a satisfactory level of immunity. Myxomatosis is spread via fleas and mosquitoes. Viral Haemorrhagic Disease is spread by direct contact and contaminated clothes and objects. Both diseases are invariably fatal so prevention by vaccination and flea control is best.
For more information see the enclosed leaflets on vaccinating rabbits.
Common medical problems
- Problems can be caused by incorrect diet and poor breeding. Teeth that are overgrown can become spiky and ulcers can develop in the rabbit’s mouth. This then can lead to inappetance and rabbits can become debilitated quickly, therefore regular teeth checks are advised. Providing you rabbit with safe gnaw objects is vital for optimal teeth care.
– Eyes can become scratched or damaged from bedding materials or from injuries by fellow rabbits. Watering eyes can be a sign that your rabbit’s eye needs attention. Eyes can become infected from poor dental health too. This may present as a white discharge in the eye and the rabbits tear ducts can become blocked if left untreated.
Prevention of parasites
- Mites can live on the skin and in ears, these mites can also affect humans. Fleas can live on your rabbit so using a rabbit “spot on solution” is recommended for prevention and treatment. Namely “Advantage” is most commonly used, available from a veterinary practice.
- Rabbits can get worms and a parasite called “E.cuniculli”. The latter can cause head tilt, hind limb weakness, blindness, seizures, kidney disease and in some cases death!
Prevention with a rabbit wormer given 3-4 times a year is recommended. Panacur paste for rabbits.
- Can be a serious problem for rabbits as they NEED to eat their faeces to re-digest the fibre from their diet. This is an important part of normal rabbit behaviour. If your rabbit’s faeces become sloppy or sticky see your vet as diarrhoea can be fatal after 24 hours.
- is recommended around the age of 4 months when both sexes become sexually active (4-6 months). Having your rabbit neutered is a way of preventing uterine and testicular cancer and costs around £ 55 for a male and £ 80 for a female. This cost will depend on your rabbit’s weight. For more information see our “Rabbit Before and After Surgery” handout.
- Rabbits can become over weight quite easily from lack of exercise and eating too many of the wrong foodstuffs. Avoid commercial rabbit treats and stick to the more “natural range”. See the attached food guide for more information. If rabbits become overweight they can find grooming difficult and become more prone to arthritis, osteoporosis, urine scalds, flystrike and a fatty liver.
- The digestive tract of the rabbit is constantly moving as they eat. When rabbits become ill and stop eating their guts slow down and can even stop. This can cause a serious condition called gut stasis. Rabbits with gut stasis can deteriorate
rapidly and in some cases this condition can lead to death. As a tip check your rabbit’s production of faeces as this is a good indicator of how much food they are consuming. If you think your rabbit isn’t eating as much as normal see your vet as soon as possible.
A last thought for your pocket!
- We all insure our cars and homes but insuring the pet rabbit may not be a first thought. However veterinary treatments can build up and if your rabbit becomes ill or injured the cost can spiral. For example a fly strike case,
if caught early
, can cost in the region of £100 plus. If you have insurance you can claim the cost back minus your excess fee. Speak to a member of staff or refer to your pet plan leaflet enclosed in your rabbit pack for more information.
If you would like to know more about rabbits, ask a member of staff you will be happy to advise you.
Rabbit Welfare Society