Veterinary Nurse Emily Tindall shares her top tips for rabbit care
Rabbits require large amounts of space with grazing areas, access to outdoors and dry, and well ventilated indoor areas. This means that the usual hutches you can get from stores are often not appropriate. Playhouses, sheds or even aviaries can be converted to be much more suitable accommodation for your bunnies. Rabbits need to be exposed to natural light to prevent vitamin D deficiency. Supplements or time outdoors needs to be factored into their daily lives, especially for house rabbits. Suitable housing is also necessary to prevent health problems such as upper or lower respiratory disease. Therefore avoiding small, dusty and dirty environments is vital while ensuring there is suitable weatherproofing to avoid damp.
The diet of a domestic rabbit should mainly consist of three things:
- Hay/grass (timothy hay being the preferred type)
- Rabbit pellets
- Mixed leafy green vegetables/herbs
Hay and grass should make up the majority of the rabbits diet (a minimum of a ball of hay the same size as the rabbit or larger a day). A handful of leafy greens/herbs and a tablespoon per kg of ideal bodyweight of pellets will lead to a well balanced diet. Treats, vegetables and herbs can be given but must be given in moderation and new food items should be introduced separately. One new item per week to allow time for any intolerances to show. Long-term changes to the rabbit’s diet should made slowly over the time of 4-6 weeks to allow their sensitive digestive system to adapt appropriately and reduce chances of an upset stomach.
Rabbits are highly social animals and due to being prey creatures, without a buddy to watch their back, a rabbit may never fully relax. However, bonding is a complicated procedure which can change for each pairing – therefore patience is key. A fast bonding can take as little as 2 weeks whereas more complicated ones can take as long as 3-4 months or, on rare occasions, 6 months to a year.
It is important to note that both rabbits should be neutered before introducing to them to reduce hormonal influence. Bonding should be started a month after neutering to allow for enough hormones to leave the other rabbit interested enough without going overboard. A second cage will be needed near the original cage alongside neutral spaces for both rabbits to interact. Introductions should be gradual and closely observed at all times.
Vaccinations and Health Checks:
Your rabbits should be fully vaccinated every year. There are two vaccinations available; a combination vaccination covering Myxo (myxomatosis) and RHD1 (rabbit haemorrhagic disease) and a single dose for RHD2 (a separate strain). Both are important and should be given 2 weeks apart from one another. The combination vaccination can be given from as young as 5 weeks old whereas the single dose vaccine has to be given from 10 weeks. These vaccines need to be repeated yearly to ensure full coverage.
Frequent health checks with the vet will help to assess your rabbit’s general growth and care. It is important to monitor how much your rabbit eats, drinks and poos to make sure you can spot any potential problems early on. It is also a good idea to get your rabbit used to being handled and having their paws touched. This will make health checks and nail clips generally easier and reduce stress levels during vet visits.
Flystrike coverage is also important during the warmer months and can be easily applied throughout the year. Speak to your vet for when best to apply flystrike protection.