Posted by Rae, Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund
Rabbits are the third most popular pets in the UK, but did you know that they are also the most misunderstood? Many of us grew up with a pet rabbit that was kept alone and in a traditional hutch, but we know so much more about them now than we did even 10 years ago, and we know now that this is not the best way to keep them.
We are delighted that Preloved has asked us to write a guest blog for them, so that we can let everyone know that there are some really fun and exciting ways to look after our pet rabbits nowadays and we want YOU to help us spread the message too, that, as this video sums up ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough’
Pet rabbits are still very similar to their wild cousins, so did you know that:
Now let's look at each of these in more detail:
Rabbits prefer the companionship of their own kind. Recent studies have shown they will work as hard to access another rabbit as they will to get to food, and that it's unkind to keep them alone.
If you have a single rabbit the best way to pair them up is to get your rabbit neutered and then get another neutered rabbit of the opposite sex and introduce them on neutral territory. If you are worried about doing this, ask a rescue centre, or a rabbit boarding establishment to help you.
If you haven’t yet got your rabbits then you can start with an already bonded pair, but make sure that you get them both neutered by the time they are 16 weeks old, so that you do not have any accidental litters, which are very difficult to rehome.
It is important that the area you have for the rabbits to live in is big enough for two, so that they can behave as rabbits, and they don’t fight
A hutch is not enough - a hutch should be a shelter, and never the main or sole accommodation for pet rabbits. The easiest way to provide a good environment for your bunnies is to attach a safe exercise run to the hutch so that they can exercise and shelter as they please.
Rabbits are ‘crepuscular’ which means they are most active at dusk and dawn (when we most often see wild rabbits) so allowing them free access to a hutch and run suits them very well. With this set-up you can also have a lie-in on a Sunday morning without feeling guilty, and in wet or hot weather the rabbits always have somewhere to shelter.
A hutch should allow the rabbits to rear up fully on hind legs and take 3 hops – we suggest a minimum hutch of 6ft long x 2ft high for most average-sized rabbits. If it's at least 2 ft deep (front to back) too, then if it rains, they can get right to the back and stay dry.
The run can be as big as possible, and you can put all sorts of things in to keep the rabbits busy. Toys don’t need to be expensive, ‘rabbit jumble’ can be found in your garage or shed – ie a hanging basket as a hay rack, a plant pot to dig in, a cardboard box filled with hay to forage in or an apple, willow or hazel branch to eat.
Remember: rabbits like to dig, so if your run is on grass you will need to keep moving it. If it is on paving, then give them a digging area, either in the ground – but keep an eye on that in case they make The Great Escape – or else in a container such as a plastic box filled with compost.
The run will also need to be high enough to allow the rabbits to rear up tall and will need a roof to stop any predators from taking them. A tarpaulin is a nice finishing touch and can offer shade from sun or rain to allow the rabbits to spend more time outdoors. Garden sheds also make great rabbit ‘hutches’, making it easier for the owners to look after the rabbits in bad weather. Maybe there is a garden shed near you for sale on Preloved? An exercise run can also be easily attached to a shed.
A healthy diet is very important for pet rabbits. They are designed to eat hay and grass all day, we call this long fibre. Not only does this keep them busy (remember 70% of their time in the wild is spent foraging for food), it also helps to prevent boredom (chewed hutches are a result of boredom and frustration), keeps their teeth healthy and their guts working properly too.
It is fair to say that a good diet can prevent lots of health problems, and save you a lot of money in vet bills, such as for overgrown teeth, gut stasis and obesity. Make sure that 80% of your rabbit's diet every day is hay or grass, 15% is greens and only 5% is rabbit pellets/nuggets. If you can pick grass, dandelions, plantain and milk thistle for your rabbits they will love it - it’s also free! Otherwise, make sure they have fresh clean hay at all times.
Greens can consist of cabbage, herbs and carrot tops. Not too many carrots though, as these are full of starch and sugar and not good for your rabbits. As for commercial rabbit food, avoid the muesli-type mixes because they can cause ‘selective feeding’, which can be a major cause of dental problems in bunnies. Stick to an extruded or compressed nugget or pellet, such as Burgess Excel or Supreme Science Selective.