What to consider before getting a rabbit.
A rabbit’s diet should consist of 80% hay and/or grass to ensure that the rabbit’s teeth are kept ground down and in tip top condition – too little hay can lead to dental disease. You can also feed your rabbit sticks from fruit trees to chew on, such as apple trees (not cooking), which can help keep their teeth healthy.
CRRC suggests to provide rabbits timothy type hay or alfalfa hay. However, alfalfa hay is not advised for older rabbits as it can cause them to gain weight.
You should not feed your rabbit more than one large handful of pellets per rabbit per day (such as Supa Rabbit Excel). Always read the packet of your feed and follow the recommending feeding guidelines. Feeding too many pellets can lead to the rabbit consuming less hay which may affect the rabbit’s health negatively. Muesli type foods are not recommended for rabbits as many rabbits are selective eaters and therefore only eat the ‘good bits’ and not the nutritional. Fresh water must be made available at all times. Heavy water bowls are preferable to water bottles, in which the ball can get stuck.
Vegetables, fruit and herbs should be given daily on top of the pellets and hay to give your rabbit plenty of nutrition and something to do during the day. Explore what your rabbit likes. Some examples of good vegetables, fruits and herbs to provide your rabbit could be:
Rabbits in hot and cold weather.
Rabbits can live happily outside all year round but it is important to ensure they don’t overheat in the summer or freeze in the winter.
Rabbits require a lot of space to run and hop. At the rescue centre we will only rehome to homes where the accommodation meets our minimum housing requirements, this is includes how much space for an outside area, how much space for a bed area and what the accommodation is made of as it must be fox proof. Please click below for more information on rabbit accommodation requirements.
Rabbits should be kept in secure accommodation outside or can be kept as house rabbits. Even with house rabbits it is a good idea to allow rabbits access to grass to graze on and natural sunlight.
Rabbits do like to chew so whether they live inside or outside. Their accommodation must be ‘rabbit-proofed’ so that they can’t chew or eat anything dangerous – or valuable!
Some rabbits can be very tidy indoors as with a litter tray and encouragement many of them can be litter trained!
Give your rabbit a mini daily health check – this will also get your rabbit used to be handled.
Run your hands through your rabbit’s fur, check its eyes, mouth/teeth, ears, around the tail, and its bottom.
You should look out for the following:
- General: Check the coat for scurf, dandruff, or itchy sores, and look in the ears for crusty wax.
- Fleas: Fleas are not common with rabbits, but fleas can carry the disease myxomatosis which can be fatal to your rabbit, so it is a good idea to speak to your vet about flea treatment.
- Ring worm: Rabbits can get ringworm, which is a fungal skin infection, so keep an eye on your rabbit’s skin looking healthy and normal.
- Mites: Some types of mites live in the ears, causing severe irritation. Checking your rabbit’s ears daily is therefore advised, but be aware of any excessive ear scratching.
- Fly strike: Bottom checks are especially essential in the warmer months as rabbits can get fly strike (described below). This can happen quickly and any rabbits that are in unclean accommodation, older, or is prone to diarrhoea are more at risk. Diarrhoea in rabbits may be diet related and so if you do find your rabbit is getting diarrhoea speak to your vet.
In all cases, prompt veterinary treatment is needed if you discover signs of any of the mentioned point during your health check.
Wild rabbits groom each other – it is a social activity. Pet bunnies with a short coat need grooming weekly, or more often if they are long-haired. Longhairs can also be clipped – ask your vet or CRRC to demonstrate how it is done.
Rabbits moult twice a year in the wild, but pet rabbits may moult more frequently. The hair seems to come out in handfuls and bald patches may develop. Moulting often starts on the head and spreads down the back to the tummy, but does not always follow a pattern.
There is sometimes a distinct line between new and old fur. Groom frequently during moulting because swallowing lots of fur can cause a blockage of the bowel. Pluck loose fur with your fingers, or dampen your hands and massage to remove the loose coat. Check the quantity of faeces daily and if it is reduced, very small or dry, consult the vet. Make sure plenty of hay is available.
If the nails are long and curving, you can trim them with a pet nail trimmer but avoid the pink bit (called the quick) in the middle. This hurts and will bleed if it is cut. Ask the vet or us to show you how to do it. Make sure your rabbit is getting enough exercise.
It is essential during the Spring and the Summer, that you apply a flystrike treatment (available from some pet shops as well as the vet) and check your rabbits’ bottoms on a regular basis. Flystrike is caused by flies that are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces and the odour of the rabbit’s scent. The flies will land on the rabbit normally around the rabbit’s rear end and lay their eggs. Within a very short time of 2 hours the eggs will hatch into maggots. The maggots will then start to feed on the rabbit. Flystrike can be fatal and on untreated rabbits, rarely caught in time. The flies will strike on any rabbit, but the rabbits most at risk are: older rabbits, females with large skin folds around their abdomen, obese rabbits, long coated breeds and rabbits with dental issues that makes it hard for them to groom. If you have a rabbit that falls into any of these categories, you should be especially aware during the summer months.
Vaccinations – What you need to know
Rabbits are unfortunately at high risk of contracting three fatal diseases. These are Myxomatosis, RVHD1 (Rabbit Viral Hemmorhagic Disease) and RVHD2. They are notoriously difficult to treat, very infectious and have an incredibly high mortality rate for unvaccinated rabbits.
Fortunately, there are vaccinations for them which although don’t prevent them 100%, do considerably lessen the chances of your rabbit getting one of these killer diseases.
Most vets will offer two separate vaccinations, one which covers Myxomatosis and RVHD1 and another which covers RVHD2 – these two vaccinations should be given with a minimum of two weeks apart and will need to be given annually. If your vet has not mentioned the second vaccination, RVHD2, please ask them for it as it is vitally important for the health of your rabbit – this includes rabbits that live indoors. It is a relatively new disease to the UK so not all vets stock the vaccine as standard. There is a newer vaccination that covers all 3 of the diseases when given as a booster so ask your vet about this.
Here at The Cat and Rabbit Rescue Centre, all of our rabbits will have received both vaccinations a minimum of 2 weeks prior to bonding with another rabbit, and we ask that you make sure that your rabbit is also covered by both vaccinations at least two weeks before coming to the centre to bond. We will require proof of these vaccinations.
Rabbits absolutely love toys and must have access to entertainment 24 hours a day in order to stop them becoming bored and chewing on unwanted things.
Ideas for toys could be:
- Willow balls and hard plastic balls for nudging
- Cardboard boxes with holes cut into them
- Toilet roll tubes
- Wicker baskets, seagrass mats, yoghurt pots or plastic cups to pick up and throw
- A phone book to tear up
- Tunnels to play in