Rabbit advice

About Rabbits

Rabbits can make wonderful pets but it is important to know what to expect before you consider adopting them. They are active and playful animals as well as being very sociable. They have lots of personality and can make great pets when looked after correctly.

What to consider before getting a rabbit.

  1. The first thing to consider before adopting a rabbit is their lifespan. Getting a pet with a lifespan over 10 years can give you many years of joy but it is also a long term commitment. Make sure you or your family are prepared for the commitment also if your child loses interest or moves out.
  2. Rabbits are naturally very sociable creatures and need the companionship of their own kind to avoid them becoming lonely. The Centre can help with bonding your single rabbit with one of our rescue rabbits.
  3. Rabbits need annual vaccinations for VHD1, VHD2 and myxomatosis as well as regular check-ups with the vet, especially to check their teeth. We recommend getting your rabbit insured as vet bills can be expensive. When you adopt from us you will be given 4 weeks free rabbit insurance.
  4. Your rabbit will need cleaning out on a daily basis and given fresh food, hay/grass and water. They need to be handled everyday otherwise they may become shy and nervous of you.

Diet

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:

Vegetables

Asparagus
Beetroot (smaller amounts as it can cause gas)
Broccoli leaves
Brussel sprouts
Carrots (not too many as they are high in sugar)
Cauliflower
Celery
Courgette
Cucumber
Curly kale
Lettuce
Peppers
Spinach
Spring greens
Swede
Radish tops
Rocket
Water cress

Fruit (In Moderation – High in Sugar)

Apples
Apricot
Banana
Blackberries
Cherries
Grapes
Kiwi
Mango
Melon
Nectarines
Peach
Pear
Pineapple
Plum
Raspberries and leaves
Tomatoes
Strawberries and leaves

Herbs

Basil
Coriander
Dill
Mint
Oregano
Parsley
Sage
Thyme

Not Safe

Avocado
Bread
Cereal
Chocolate
Mushrooms
Potatoes
Rhubarb
Sweetcorn
Yogurt Drops

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.

Warm Weather

During the hot season always make sure your rabbits are out of the sun and there is plenty of shady space for the rabbit to rest in it’s run and accommodation.
If it is exceptional warm and you think your rabbit looks like it is feeling too hot you could consider:

  • Setting up a circulating fan that will breeze past your rabbit without blowing directly on them all day.
  • Put down a damp towel for them to lay on or place a cooling pad for them to lay on (beware they don’t chew them)
  • Place a ceramic tile or Marble Square in the cage or in bun’s favourite laying place.
  • Mist the rabbit’s ears. Rabbits dissipate heat through their ears and misting them will help keep the rabbit cool.
  • Brush out excessive fur.
  • Fill bottles with water and freeze them, alternately freezer ice blocks and place in the rabbit accommodation. To avoid ice burns, place a cover around the ice.

Cold Weather

During the winter months, older rabbits and rabbits with limited fur may feel cold especially if their hutch has a draft or it is very windy – this can also be the case for younger rabbits when the winter is extra harsh. As a rabbit owner it can be a good idea to winter proof your rabbit’s accommodation before the winter arrives. You could consider doing the following:

  • Raise the hutch off the floor
  • Put in blankets or fleeces for them to snuggle into or to line the floor with some cheap carpet samples for them to sit on (make sure the edges aren’t fraying)
  • Get a cardboard box, close all 4 sides and cut a hole big enough for your rabbits to get through, and fill the box with hay.
  • Buy them a ‘Snugglesafe Heatpad’. You warm it up in the microwave and it releases heat for up to 8 hours.
  • Cover their hutch over with old duvets or tarpaulin (you can buy used duvets in our charity shops).
  • Insulate their water bottle or place bowl on heat pads
  • Moving their accommodation away from wind and frost by putting it in a shed or in a garage (with no car fumes).

Rabbit Accommodation

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!

Health check

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.

Grooming

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.

Fly strike

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.

Enrichment and Toys

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
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