Did you know that with the right care, rabbits can live for eight to twelve years? Our tips on rabbit care will help you keep your rabbit healthy and happy for many years.
Keep your rabbit’s hutch in good condition
There is quite a lot of work involved in turning a hutch into a home where your rabbit will feel safe and secure. Your rabbit’s hutch needs to:
- Have space for your rabbit to move
- Provide shelter from hot and cold weather
- Protect your rabbit from predators
- Allow access to food and fresh water
- Have a safe sleeping area
- Provide a sense of security
Space to move
For a hutch to become a rabbit home, it should allow your rabbit to hop at least three times and to stand on her back legs comfortably. As a minimum, a hutch should have a floor space of 1.5 square metres.
In addition to the hutch, your rabbit should have access to a secure rabbit run. If your rabbit exercises predominantly in the run, it should measure 3 square metres.
Photo credit: Rabbit-hutches.co.uk
If your rabbit’s hutch is located outside then the hutch will need some form of insulation, such as straw or hay. Using fresh hay will provide a soft floor and bedding material that will protect your rabbit’s feet and allow them to build a nest out of hay in their sleeping area.
The hutch should include a covered area for your rabbit to use as a bedroom. Rabbits sleep during the day and the sleeping area will provide shelter from the sun and the worst of high summer temperatures.
Rabbits cope better with the cold than they with hot weather – however, in extremes, you should consider moving your rabbit indoors. A shed or garage is ideal as a temporary location.
Protection from predators
A disadvantage of keeping your rabbit outdoors is that they are more vulnerable to predators. Foxes, rats, birds of prey and the neighbour’s dog all pose a risk to your rabbit.
Raise the hutch off the floor and ensure that the door is secured with a bolt rather than just a latch. Make sure the wire fence has a small mesh to stop predators from getting inside. Chicken wire can be too flimsy as a determined predator can chew through it. Galvanised wire fencing is a more secure option for the walls and roof of your run.
Provide a sense of security
A rabbit’s eyes are best suited to the low light levels of dusk and dawn, which is when they are most active. Consequently, whilst rabbits aren’t instinctively scared of the dark, they can’t see in the dark. As rabbits are prey animals they easily scare and become stressed by the noises and smells of any animals near their hutch.
You can make your rabbit feel more secure by installing a dim light in your rabbit’s hutch. Keeping the light dim will ensure your rabbit is still aware of the difference between night and day. To avoid cables we recommend using a battery-operated lamp.
Alternatively, you may choose to keep your rabbit indoors. Read our article on keeping a house rabbit.
Feed your rabbit a healthy diet
A rabbit’s digestive system can be quite sensitive. To keep your rabbit happy and healthy the basis of their diet should consist of hay or grass (not grass cuttings). We cannot state how important it is for rabbits to have access to fresh grass or hay all of the time.
Washed leafy greens vegetables and herbs are safe and can be given to your rabbit daily. Rabbits love fruit and root vegetables like carrots. However, you should only feed them small quantities of either to maintain a healthy balanced diet. Many owners rely on commercial rabbit food in the form of pellets. Care should be taken not to overfeed your rabbit or you run the risk of your rabbit becoming overweight.
There are plants found in most people’s gardens that are toxic to rabbits. Care needs to be taken if you let your rabbit out of their run that they don’t eat holly, mistletoe or ivy. Signs of ivy poisoning include lack of appetite, diarrhoea, abdominal tenderness and colic. Ivy poisoning can cause convulsions and even paralysis.
Rabbit health: check for signs of illness or injury
Keeping a close eye on your rabbit will ensure that you catch any signs of illness early on and allow you to seek the appropriate advice and ensure you have a healthy rabbit.
Myxomatosis, or myxi, is a highly contagious and often fatal disease. It can be spread through contact with another infected rabbit or by fleas and ticks. It is also thought that myxi can be spread by mosquitoes, midges and flies.
Prevention is the best form of protection. Rabbits can be vaccinated against myxomatosis from the age of 5 weeks and should be vaccinated annually. Hygiene is another defence. Keep your rabbit’s sleeping area clean and disinfect their living area often. Regular flea treatments will also help prevent illnesses from spreading.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD)
Another highly contagious disease in rabbits is Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD1 & RHVD2). This life-threatening disease is spread by contact with other infected rabbits and their droppings. It can also be spread through airborne particles, bird and insect droppings and contact with contaminated surfaces.
Often Rabbits with RVHD1 or RVHD2 don’t show many symptoms but often die suddenly. To protect your rabbit he or she must be vaccinated against both strains of the virus.
Loss of appetite
As previously mentioned, rabbits are prone to problems with their digestion. A loss of appetite can be a sign of poisoning or abdominal swelling. This can lead to a lack of gut movements that can lead to toxic shock. If your rabbit hasn’t eaten for more than 4 – 6 hours he should be seen by a vet.
Rabbits can become victims of parasites. The signs to look out for are ear mite infestations and flystrike.
Ear mite symptoms include skin scales developing on the inner ear and a thick yellow fluid in the ear canal. Whilst ear mites aren’t an emergency if left untreated infection may take hold.
Flystrike is more common in warmer weather when green bottle flies are attracted to warm damp fur soiled with urine or faeces. flies lay eggs which then hatch as maggots that can eat into your rabbit’s skin. Checking your rabbit daily and cleaning any soiled fur will help protect your rabbit. If you do see any maggots on or near your rabbit you should contact your vet immediately.
Dental care for rabbits
Rabbits teeth can grow up to 3mm a week. This isn’t a problem for wild rabbits as their teeth wear down when they eat coarse vegetation. Often pet rabbits don’t have the same access to vegetation and eat dried pellets.
You can make some simple chew toys that will wear your rabbit’s teeth and keep your bunny entertained. Plain cardboard boxes or the inner cardboard rolls from kitchen paper stuffed with hay make excellent toys and provide something that your rabbit can chew. You can also give your rabbit hazel, apple or willow branches to chew. In addition, there are plenty of rabbit chew toys that have been designed to keep your rabbit mentally stimulated and wear their teeth.
The signs that your rabbit’s teeth have grown too long may include selective appetite, salivation or swelling around the jaw. Your veterinarian should complete an annual dental check-up. If required, they can trim your rabbit’s teeth.
Spay or neuter your rabbit
Rabbits will be happier when they have other rabbits for company. A male and female rabbit of similar age and size make ideal companions. When you keep rabbits together nature will take its course, so you will want to have them spayed or neutered. Not only will this stop unwanted pregnancies, having them spayed and neutered has several benefits:
- Improved socialisation
- Less risk of cancer
- A better temperament
- Better house training
- Increased life span
Grooming your rabbit
When done correctly grooming is a bonding experience for you and your rabbit. If your rabbit becomes stressed it is better to stop and spend some time playing together. That said, you will need to gently brush your rabbit’s coat every 3 days and when they are going through a heavy shed grooming should be completed daily. Make sure that you clean any faeces and urine from your rabbit’s coat.
Cleaning your rabbit’s scent glands
Rabbits have scent glands located under their chin and on each side of the anus. Rabbits that don’t have mobility issues and that are a healthy weight don’t normally have any issues with their scent glands as they can clean the glands themselves. However, it is recommended that you check the scent glands located at the rear monthly. If there is a smelly waxy substance you will need to clean the glands.
To clean the glands you can wrap your bunny in a towel and place her on her back. To prevent her from flipping back onto her front you will need to hold her gently but firmly with a hand on her chest. Using your fingers, gently spread the skin around her bottom. Using a damp cotton swab remove any waxy substance until the scent gland is clean.
Trim your rabbit’s nails
Nail trimming is a necessary part of grooming your pet rabbit. It’s best to get your rabbit used to nail trimming from a young age so that he gets used to it. You will need clippers made for rabbits and styptic powder (to stop any bleeding).
If you can, recruit a friend to help hold your rabbit wrapped in a towel. If your rabbit struggles it’s best to stop and try once your rabbit calms down. Using the clippers cut just the tip of your rabbit’s nail. It is best to cut a small amount often, instead of larger pieces less frequently. This reduces the risk of cutting the blood vessel in the nail, known as the quick. If your rabbit has clear nails you can see the quick making it easier to avoid.
If you do cut the quick, you can stop the bleeding and numb the area using the styptic powder. At the end of each grooming session spend some time playing with your rabbit and give her a treat as a reward.
Top tip. You can complete one paw per session – this reduces the chance of stressing your bunny in a long grooming session.
Rabbit care summary
Rabbits require a lot of attention to keep them healthy. When you invest time in creating the right environment and pay attention to their needs, you will have a charming pet that will spend many happy years in your company.