Did you know that in the UK there are approximately 1.1 million pet rabbits in the UK? That makes them the third most popular domestic pet! Have you ever been confused about how best to care for your furry friend? We here at the Wheelhouse Veterinary Centre have answered some of your frequently asked questions to keep your bunny bouncing happily.
What should I be feeding my rabbit?
The majority of a rabbit's diet should be made up of hay, they need a constant supply and it should be available to them throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to provide a ball of hay around the same size as the rabbit's body per day. Rabbit teeth grow constantly, so they need to wear them down by munching on fibrous hay. As well as preventing dental problems, hay keeps their digestive systems moving healthily.
You should also be giving your rabbit some leafy greens every day, examples include; spinach, kale, watercress, broccoli, celery and dandelion leaves. You can also feed your rabbit herbs such as mint, parsley, dill and thyme. The amount of leafy greens should be about the size of the rabbit's head per day.
Pellets are high in fibre and are a popular rabbit food and they should indeed be eating these too, but only one egg cup full of pellets, twice a day. Pellets should only form five percent of their daily diet.
It is also important to provide your rabbit with fresh water which is changed daily. Rabbits usually prefer to drink from bowls rather than bottles but whichever you use, it should be cleaned regularly and bottles should be tested to make sure they are working correctly.
If you would like to give your bunny a treat, you can use carrots, sweet potatoes and fruits, such as apples, but these are high in sugar or starch, so should only be eaten a couple of times a week.
What kind of environment is best for my rabbit?
Rabbits need lots of space and should be kept as a pair or in a group. They are very social animals and if they are alone they can get lonely and become depressed. Two rabbits will need access to a space that is a minimum of three meters by two meters and at least one meter high. Don't forget to make sure it is predator-proof so foxes or other animals can't get in.
They also will need a shelter such as a hutch, for when they want to hide or if it is cold, the suggested size for this is around six feet by two feet and two feet high.
Rabbits are extremely active and need space to run around, jump and dig. If they are unable to express these natural behaviours they could become frustrated and even develop health problems. They are most active at dawn and dusk so they need access to the large area at all times as opposed to just during the day.
Should I neuter my rabbit?
The short answer is: yes, it is recommended. Neutering is also known as spaying for females and castration for males. Removing the rabbit's reproductive drive is key to limiting undesired sexual behaviour such as fighting and preventing unwanted litters. The risk of tumours in female rabbits is also drastically reduced. Be careful when getting rabbits of the opposite sex as even if they are siblings they will still mate if given the chance. Male rabbits can take up to six weeks to become sterile after they have been castrated so be careful if your female rabbit hasn't been spayed yet. If you are unsure about neutering, the best thing to do is speak to one of our veterinary surgeons who will be able to speak to you about the process and address any of your concerns.
Should I groom my rabbit?
Rabbits usually groom themselves but it is best practice to groom them regularly yourself. Brushing your rabbit's coat will help it stay in great condition and also helps you to check for any lumps or patches that shouldn't be there, particularly a dirty bottom. It is also a great way to socialise your rabbit and get it used to being handled. Short-haired rabbits should be brushed a minimum of twice per week, while long-haired bunnies may need brushing every day. You should brush the fur gently in the direction it is growing, you can use a moist cotton wool ball to clean their face. Rabbit skin is really fragile so take care, never try to clip out matted hair at home. You can also choose to clip your rabbit's nails at home with nail clippers but if you need help with grooming, you can visit us in practice and our nurses will give you a hand.
How can I play with my rabbit?
A rabbit's favourite things to do include climbing, tunnelling and digging. There are lots of things you can do to encourage this natural behaviour and provide enrichment for your pet. Give your rabbit tubes they can run through and boxes to hide in, they will enjoy a cardboard box with shredded paper they can hop in and out of. You should also try giving them a digging pit, it will satisfy your bunny’s desire to dig.
Most of a rabbit's time is spent eating, you can even make this fun by hiding food and encouraging them to forage. You can hang hay and vegetables up to get them to reach up for them, and scatter their food around so they have to search for it.
You can also find safe rabbit chews like apple wood, willow or some wooden chews from pet shops.
How should I introduce a new rabbit to my old one?
Assuming both rabbits have been neutered, the first step is to start with side-by-side enclosures where the rabbit can see and smell each other and be able to lie alongside each other through a barrier. They should both have access to hiding places should they wish to hide from each other. It is normal for things to be tense in the beginning and this can last around a week before the rabbits become more comfortable with each other. Once this happens, start exchanging their scents; you can try swapping their nesting materials over, rubbing a cloth over one rabbit and then the other to transfer scent.
Eventually, once they are comfortable with the sight and smell of each other, the two rabbits should be allowed to meet, but this should take place somewhere where neither rabbit has been housed before. The first time they meet it should be without distraction, but if the meetings are going well, you can provide hiding places and toys for them. It is very important that these initial meetings are short and increase in length over time, you should also supervise interactions between the rabbits to prevent negative behaviour such as mounting or other aggressive signs.
Once the rabbits are spending a couple of hours together every day without any issues, they can be introduced together to their intended living space, initially under supervision. You can leave them together when you are happy they are showing positive behaviour such as lying down together or grooming.
Still have questions?
Rabbits are surprisingly tricky to look after and we have only covered a few points in this article. If you still have questions about how to do right by your furry friend, come to our surgeries in Chesham, Amersham, Chalfont St Giles or Beaconsfield and book in to see one of our fantastic nursing team at absolutely no cost!
Call us on 01494 782001 to make a booking.