The Animal Welfare Act is applicable in England and Wales, and applies to the welfare of all animals. In Wales, there is also a specific Code of Practice for the Welfare of Rabbits.
Providing Life Enrichment
Enrichment can be defined as improving the living environment, such as providing space to exercise, sheltered areas, social companionship and toys, thus improving the physical and psychological wellbeing of the pet, and allowing natural behaviours. A rabbit confined to a small enclosure, with little to do and no space to jump and run, will soon become bored and suffer, especially if they are alone. As well as providing adequate space, it’s important to provide an interesting and stimulating environment that gives rabbits the opportunity to behave in a natural way and socialise/interact with other rabbits.
Imagine you lived in a box. It was clean, you were regularly fed, but only let out every now and again to stretch and run for a couple of hours. You’d live, you’d survive, but would you be happy?
Cleaning Your Rabbit’s Home
Part of providing the correct environment for your rabbit includes ensuring that their living space is safe and hygienic. A dirty living area can cause health problems, such as respiratory conditions, sore hocks/feet, urine burns, and dirty bottoms which could lead to Flystrike.
How to Correctly Handle a Rabbit
Most rabbits don’t like to be picked up or held. Their reaction to handling may also depend on previous experiences, so you may need to be patient with your bunny as their confidence in people grows. Learning the correct way to handle a rabbit can help you to build up a relationship with your pet, but it’s crucial that it’s done in the right way so your rabbit doesn’t see you as a threat and get scared. If a rabbit is frightened they may try to jump from your arms to escape and end up falling and fatally injuring themselves. They need time to get used to you handling them and know that they are safe.
Understanding Rabbit Behaviour / Aggression in Rabbits
From the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Diet - What do Rabbits Eat
Just like us, rabbits need a healthy balanced diet. 80% of a rabbit’s diet should be grass or hay, 15% greens and 5% pellets.
Ways to Get Your Rabbit to Eat More Hay
At least 80% of a rabbit’s diet should be hay (or grass), but a worrying number of rabbit owners report that their bunny eats little or no hay. Hay is an extremely important part of a rabbit’s diet, as the high fibre content is essential for maintaining a healthy gut and teeth, as well as alleviating boredom.
Is My Rabbit Overweight?
In the wild, a rabbit will be constantly running around, foraging for food or escaping danger, preventing them from becoming overweight. Whereas, well loved pet rabbits will often be indulged, safe and probably not exercise as much, which can lead to weight gain. Many owners do not even realise that their bunnies are overweight, but excess weight or obesity is a serious issue for domestic rabbits. It can put strain on the cardiovascular system and joints, and impair a rabbit’s ability to properly groom and clean themselves
Bonding & Need for Company
More than half (57%) of pet rabbits live alone, which equates to about 680,000 rabbits. In the wild, rabbits live in large groups or colonies and are sociable animals. Rabbits get bored, lonely, frustrated, and sometimes scared living on their own and need company, preferably from another rabbit. You, or another pet, may provide company for your bunny, but a rabbit will always be happier with a companion of their own species. Be careful about leaving a rabbit with another animal unsupervised, as it could be dangerous.
Importance of Neutering
Rabbits are social animals and can suffer from loneliness, so should ideally be kept in bonded pairs or groups 45. It’s advised that rabbits are neutered to prevent accidental breeding or fighting. Rabbits can become very territorial and aggressive, with males frequently spraying urine. Unneutered females can repeatedly suffer from phantom pregnancies which can be stressful and cause them to tear out their fur to make a nest. Once neutered, a rabbit is more calm, relaxed and happy, and less likely to display behavioural problems.
Health and Veterinary Care - Health Checks & Signs There’s Something Wrong
Rabbits are prey animals so will often hide pain or sickness well, as in the wild, a noticeably ill rabbit is an easy target to predators 65. That’s why it’s important you do regular checks to ensure any potential issues are detected early, before it’s too late. Look for any signs of pain, illness or injury, and be aware of any changes in a rabbit’s diet, weight or behaviour, as it could be a sign of something being wrong. Always seek advice from a vet if you think there is a problem.
Nursing & Medicines
There may be occasions when you’ll need to help nurse your rabbit when they are unwell or recovering, but you should take advice from your vet on when this will be necessary, and what you need to do.
It’s something no one likes to think about, but there will come a point when sadly a beloved pet will pass away or need to be put to sleep to end their suffering. As pet owners you will undoubtedly do everything you can to help and prolong the life of your rabbit, but there are times when it’s unavoidable, and you will have to face the difficult decision. Reasons may include the diagnosis of an inoperable or untreatable condition, treatment isn’t working and they’re unlikely to recover, or by prolonging the animal’s life you are just prolonging their suffering.
Grooming is important to remove loose hair and matts from your rabbit’s fur, to examine your rabbit and perform health checks, and to help you bond with your bunny.
Bathing a Rabbit
Rabbits generally don’t like to get wet, as being in water is an unnatural position that makes them feel vulnerable, making bathing an extremely stressful process that has many potential and serious dangers. Being in water can cause a rabbit to panic and thrash about, which could easily lead to them injuring themselves. Also, rabbit hair tends to clump together when wet, making it hard to get them completely dry, and rabbits left in a damp condition are potentially prone to respiratory infections and hypothermia.
Tips and Advice for the Summer
Rabbits can’t tolerate extreme temperatures, with the ideal recommended temperature being between 10 – 20 degrees Celsius, which is why it’s so important to make sure they have the right living accommodation.
Tips and Advice for the Winter
It’s recommended that you keep domestic rabbits in a constant temperature between 10 – 20 degrees Celsius, though they can cope with lower.
If you’re going on holiday, don’t forget to make arrangements for your bunny whilst you’re away. It’s important to leave them in the care of someone who has the correct knowledge or expertise to look after them properly. If you don’t know anyone who you feel confident enough leaving your bunnies with, then look for a specialist boarding place or rescue centre that offers boarding. A good boarding house should not allow rabbits that are not vaccinated, so make sure that your rabbits’ immunisations are all up to date. Ask the boarding house if they’ll let you visit and take a look around beforehand, so you can see the facilities available and whether you’d be comfortable leaving your rabbit there. You may also be able to find animal nannies or animal sitters who can take care of your bunnies for you.
Travelling With Rabbits
Most rabbits don’t like travelling, and can find it stressful, so try not to transport them about unless necessary, and make any journeys as stress free as possible. Before embarking on any journey, ensure that your rabbit is fit and well enough to travel.
Rabbits and Fireworks
Rabbits are easily scared and distressed by loud noises, such as the whizzing and banging of fireworks. Here are some tips on how to keep your rabbits happy during Bonfire Night, or other occasions when there may be lots of fireworks in the area.
Caring for Senior Rabbits
As veterinary care becomes more advanced, and pet owners become more knowledgeable, it’s now common to see more rabbits living into old age. However, as rabbits get older, their needs can change, bringing with it a need to make adjustments to how you care for them. Given special consideration to meet their needs, there’s no reason why a senior rabbit can’t live a full and active life, even if they move less, sleep more and need extra care.
Caring for Giant Rabbits
‘Giant rabbits’ is a term used for breeds that generally weigh over 5kg (eg. French Lop, New Zealand White, Continental Giant, Flemish Giant, Belgian Hare, English Lop), and not just a term for an overweight rabbit. Giant rabbits are meant to be big, and come with their own set of special requirements and potential problems, so it’s important to ensure you can meet these needs before making a commitment.
A houserabbit is a rabbit that lives indoors. A houserabbit can be great company for you, but will still always benefit from the company of another rabbit. If you have other pets, be sure not to leave them together unattended as it could be dangerous if they fight. Your rabbit should ideally be neutered if living indoors, as they will be much better behaved and easier to litter train. An unneutered rabbit is likely to be more aggressive and territorial, often spraying urine everywhere. 49 (Though rabbits should be neutered anyway, especially if living with companions, which they should be - See Importance of Neutering and Bonding & Need for Company).
MYTH: Rabbits make good pets for children. TRUTH: Contrary to popular belief, rabbits do not make suitable pets for children, and are a more complex animal than many people realise. Children may not be able to fully understand the needs of the rabbit, or have the patience it takes to establish a relationship with it and soon lose interest. Rabbits are prey animals, making them wary of danger and scared of loud noises and sudden movements, eg. excited children.
Facts About Rabbits
There are many different breeds of rabbit, varying in size, shape and personality. A pet rabbit is a long term commitment and can live for up to 8 – 12 years. Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK. To look after them properly, they need a lot more time, money and care than people realise.