Many people may not realise that a rabbit can live up to 10 years of age and, like owning a dog, requires a considerable amount of care, time and money.
They may be referred to as ‘pocket pets’ but this does not make their needs any less important than any other family pet. They require exercise, interaction, a specific diet and twice yearly vaccinations.
So, if you are considering buying or adopting a rabbit, it is important to remember it is a long-term commitment just like owning a dog is.
Rabbits need daily exercise and socialisation
Rabbits need a lot of exercise so they should get to spend time roaming outside of their pen each day. This allows them to move freely and in a natural way, running and jumping. This will ensure you have a much healthier and happier pet. Which should be everyone’s goal when owning any animal.
They are also very social animals that like to be a part of the family. Allowing them indoors is a great way to bond with them. They are also very easy to litter train which can make them perfect indoor pets, like a cat.
Of course if they do live indoors, you need to make sure it is a safe secure area and no wires lying around which could encourage chewing behaviour which, is not only costly, but is dangerous for the rabbit itself.
If you’re not prepared to have your rabbit indoors full time then a safe secure enclosure will be needed. If you have a fully fenced and secure yard and shelter from predators rabbits will very happily free roam in the garden. However, regardless of how secure your yard seems to be always make sure rabbits are brought inside or enclosed in a large secure hutch overnight.
You can find a variety or hutches and enclosures in your local pet store. Ideally you want something tall enough for the rabbit to stand and fully extend, they should also be able to take three bounding leaps. No matter how large your hutch is make sure you bring them out and interact with them for a minimum of two hours per day.
Feeding rabbits for good health
Rabbit’s daily diet should be made up of 80% grass hay, 10% vegetables, 5% of a good quality pellet and 5% treats such as fruit. As well as fresh water daily.
Hay should make up the bulk of their diet, as they need the fibre and it also helps wear down their teeth which grow constantly, up to 3cm per year in fact.
Despite the myth about carrots, too many can actually be bad for them as they are high in sugar. Carrot tops are great and considered a leafy green but, as for the actually carrot itself, they shouldn’t have more than two per week.
Health & safety
Rabbits are a prey animal so safety is vital. If they are kept in a pen outside it needs to be well secured so foxes, cats etc can’t get in.
Rabbits can also contract sickness from flies so outdoor pens should be fly meshed for extra security especially in the warmer months when flies are more prevalent.
Their pen should have plenty of room so they can move about and have an enclosed, warm space that is away from the elements. Ideally kept under a patio, or indoors, particularly at night.
Rabbit Haemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a type of calicivirus which is released quarterly by councils to contain wild rabbit populations. It is highly contagious and fatal to rabbits who are not vaccinated and come into contact with it. Speak with your veterinarian about vaccinations and precautions you can take to lessen your rabbit’s chances of catching this disease.
- If allowed to roam free indoors then keep electrical cords up high so they don’t chew through them.
- Make sure you research what plants are toxic to rabbits as you don’t want them munching on anything in your garden that could be fatal. Some toxic foods include Avocado, potato, tomato vines, lily and jasmine.
- The bulk of their diet should be a grass hay like timothy, oaten, meadow or pasture. Once over seven months Lucerne and clover hays should only be fed in very small quantities as they are too high in protein and calcium and can cause problems, including obesity.
- Vaccinations against RHD are highly recommended and can be done at any local vet.
- Rabbits are social animals and crave human interaction and affection. Make sure they are out of their enclosure for a minimum of 2 hours per day.
- They are highly intelligent and easily litter trained.
- Rabbits are a relatively quiet animal in comparison to dogs and cats. Which makes them perfect for apartment living.
- There are plenty of beautiful rabbits waiting for homes in adoption centres. Please consider adoption when adding a new rabbit to the family.
- Never wash or submerse your rabbit in water. This is very unnatural for them and can send their bodies into shock and even be fatal.
- If your rabbit’s behaviour ever changes and you suspect they are not feeling well e.g. not eating or seem lethargic, a trip to the vet is highly recommend. As rabbits are a prey animal they do their best to cover up illness, showing signs means there could be a serious problem.
Teisha Sladic has been working in the animal industry for the past 10 years. She has owned pets all her life and currently has dogs, cats and rabbits. Teisha is passionate about animal welfare and helps operate Sherv’s K9 Fitness dog walking and minding business in Sydney’s North.