Did you know that rabbits are now the third most popular pet in the Uk after dogs and cats? Unfortunately, they are also the most neglected. Rabbits make wonderful pets but they are not for the fainthearted!
Rabbits are mini horses in terms of their large personalities and their very delicate digestive systems. Rabbits need to graze on high fibre low calorie food constantly. In fact 90% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of grass and good quality hay. This continuous grazing is not only how they would eat in the wild but it is vital in being able to keep their digestive system moving. A rabbit that refuses food can become a very sick rabbit very quickly indeed.
Rabbits also need to eat this way to avoid malocclusion of their teeth. Their teeth have evolved to grid down tough,fibrous plant matter, such as grasses allowing their teeth to be healthily worn down, a decrease in this action can cause the teeth to begin to wear abnormally. If this occurs a rabbit will often get sharp spurs of a tooth that will damage the tongue and/or side of their mouth causing ulceration. This condition is painful and can cause the rabbit to salivate and will often be wet around their mouth and under their chin, refuse food or reduce what they eat and drink, in some cases the rabbit will develop watery eyes from damaged teeth due to the size of the tooth roots. If a rabbit’s mouth is sore they may not be grooming themselves. Rabbits are also a pray species, so to show pain and discomfort in the wild may mean you become someone’s dinner ,so be sure to look out for subtle signs as rabbits hide pain extremely well. Unfortunately, once a rabbit has suffered with teeth problems it often becomes a lifetime issue where they generally need to come and see us on a regular basis.
As well as grass and hay, a variation of leafy green vegetables and herbs are a welcome addition to a rabbit’s diet. Small amounts of non-leafy green vegetables such as carrots and broccoli can also be offered as can fruit but only in small quantities and in more of a treat format due to the high sugar content. Any vegetables from the onion family such as leeks or chives should be avoided altogether. A small bowl of pellet based food can be offered once daily, a muesli style dried food should not be offered as rabbits tend to selectively eat, meaning they will only eat the preferred pieces of the dried mix and leave the rest. Rabbits have evolved (and often enjoy) a range of wild plants. Further information on what wild plants to feed can be found www.harcourt-brown.co.uk/articles/free-food-for-rabbits/foraging/wild-plants-to-pick-for-rabbits.
Rabbits are sociable creatures and enjoy the company of another bunny. A neutered pair of the opposite sex seem to be the easiest to bond however it has been known that two females can be the best of friends to. A pair of rabbits that live together will often be seen sleeping and grooming each other. For obvious reasons neutering is essential. Male rabbits will often fight with each other when not neutered and ovarian cancer is common among entire (not spayed) females. Once bonded the rabbits are often best friends for life. It is possible to bond older rabbits but this should be done with experienced people such as rabbit rescue centres as this can sometimes take a bit longer.
Rabbits love space, more space and even more space. Rabbits need to run and jump and play and hide. Their hutch should be as big as possible. Consider a small shed as an indoor enclosure for them or a large hutch inside a fox proof run to the outside so that your bunny can hop in and out of his hutch when he pleases. It’s in a rabbit’s nature to dig holes though and in a fox’s nature to get in! So the run needs to well-built and sturdy. Scatter some herbs about so that your bunny can forage about for food and cardboard boxes on their side and tubes to run through as well so a few boxes stuffed with hay make excellent toys and things for your bunny to explore. Perhaps even a large litter tray with some soil so they can have a dig or a large wooden box that they can sit on top of or hide inside. Here is a link for further advice on how to house your bunny correctly www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rabbits/environment.
Rabbits truly are a wonderful pet and with correct diet, lots of space and good healthcare these amazing little creatures make a great addition to a family.