Considering a pet rabbit? Learn what to expect if you’re thinking of getting a pet rabbit.
Rabbits can’t see directly in front of or below their nose, so they can’t see what they are eating. They have to use their senses of smell, taste and touch (with their very sensitive whiskers and lips) to work out whether to eat what is in front of them or not.
Rabbits can only breathe through their nose, not through their mouth. This is particularly important to be aware of if they get a respiratory infection.
Bugs and Illness
Rabbits can carry the bug that causes Kennel Cough in dogs, Bordetella bronchiseptica. This often causes no problems for the rabbit. However, if they are in contact with guinea pigs then it can cause severe illness and even death. This is one of the main reasons that it is recommended to not keep them together.
Rabbits also aren’t able to communicate with guinea pigs. Instead, they are much better off being kept with a bonded rabbit companion, with both rabbits having been neutered. Rabbits get very upset if their bonded companion is taken away. We therefore always advise that if one of a pair of bunnies is coming into the practice (particularly if it’s for a day procedure), then the companion should come along too.
We always recommend that rabbits are neutered. Obviously most owners don’t want their rabbits to breed and have lots of babies, but it also offers other benefits too.
Why Neuter Male Rabbits
Male rabbits can be quite aggressive to each other. They can also be very keen to mate with just about anything, so castration stops this happening. Entire male rabbits are also much more messy and don’t tend to use a litter tray, whereas if they are castrated then they will usually use a litter tray and so are much easier to keep in the home.
Why Neuter Female Rabbits
Female rabbits get very hormonal during the breeding season and can be very aggressive, both to other rabbits and to people. They are also at very high risk of developing changes in the uterus that can develop into cancer. Over 80% of entire female rabbits over the age of 4 years old will have changes in the uterus – and when most rabbits should live for 8-10 years or more, this is a long time to be living with problems. Spaying prevents this, and can be carried out from 12 weeks of age.
A lot of rabbits don’t like to be picked up, which is understandable, as when in the wild other animals try to eat you and will approach from above.
Always talk to your rabbit when approaching (predators don’t usually give any warning!) If they don’t like to be picked up, try sitting on the floor with them and allowing them to come to you.
Many rabbits will enjoy coming up to you for a fuss and grooming, and even a tasty treat!
Rabbits have a particularly special digestive system that is prone to having problems if they aren’t looked after properly.
They have teeth that are constantly growing and need to grind against each other to stay the same length. Contrary to popular belief, chewing on things like twigs won’t keep their teeth short, although rabbits do like doing it.
Rabbits should be fed a pile of hay each day that is the size of their body. Most of their diet needs to come from long fibre (hay and grass). This is needed for the bacteria that live in their gut to be healthy, as well as to encourage proper chewing.
Small amounts of pellets and vegetables are useful for topping up but should only be a minimal part of the diet.
Help and Support
Although all vets should be able to look after rabbits, we have several vets with special interests in bunnies at Scarsdale Vets. If you are considering a pet rabbit and would like to discuss this further, please call your local practice.