Rabbit Facts


Many rabbits are acquired as a child's pet. Unfortunately many people are surprised and disappointed to find that rabbits rarely conform to the cute-and-cuddly stereotype in children's stories. They tend to be too busy dashing about to be cuddled. It should be remembered that rabbits are physically delicate animals and can be hurt by being picked up without supporting them adequately. If this happens and the rabbit feels frightened, it will kick and struggle, which means children, can also get hurt. Rabbits are also built to react to sudden changes, which means they may either run away or try to bite when approached too quickly and too loudly. Stressrelated illnesses are common. For these reasons, many children, especially younger ones find the initial enthusiasm soon wears off and they lose interest

If your child is generally easygoing, calm and co-operative, he or she may get on quite happily with a well-handled rabbit. On the other hand, if your child is generally on the loud side and tends to be very active or frequently seems to need reminders, they may find it difficult to build a relationship with a rabbit and you may find that a rabbit is simply an additional stress to all of you.

Using pets to teach responsibility
Many parents say they want to get a rabbit to teach their children to be responsible. What usually happens is that the child loses interest and the rabbit suffers, The child may feel bad and resent the animal for the nagging they get from an adult Often the rabbit is given away because "you didn't take care of it". The child has now learnt that life is disposable and that if they wait long enough, someone else will relieve them of the responsibility.

Let your children help with the rabbit, but don't insist. Small children particularly enjoy the fact that caring for a pet is something that children and parents can do together. The more interest you show and the more you help out, the more enthusiastic they are likely to be.

So, if the children appear interested, encourage them. But, if they become bored, let them move on to the next thing, and you carry on with the rabbit. They will learn most from watching your actions and tone of voice when you speak to the rabbit. From this they will learn about waiting patiently, caring, and enjoying a living creature for what it is and not what you want it to be. It is not easy to manage children and animals. But when parents find solutions, rather than dispose of an animal for convenience sake. An important concept is communicated to the child.

Either way, reconcile yourself to the fact that a rabbit is an adult's responsibility. Rabbits are very sensitive to changes to their feeding, cleaning, and exercise routines. Changes are stressful and may lead to illness. Symptoms of illness are often subtle changes in appetite, behaviour, or droppings that even older children may miss. It is unreasonable to expect a child of any age to take sole responsibility for the care of any pet. The rab­bit and your children, as well as the family peace will benefit greatly from you accepting this.

Rabbits as companion animals

But rabbits do make good pets. With the active support of an interested parent, rabbits can make an ideal pet for an older child. Adults should also consider rabbits as a pet for themselves. Compared with other domestic pets, they have a lot going for them:

· Rabbits are quiet and can learn to use a litter tray just a quickly as a cat.
· They are fun to watch and soon show their personalities to be just as individual as any dog or cat.
· Rabbits don't necessarily need outdoor accom­modation and will happily live indoors as long as they are given plenty of space for exercise and access to sunlight.
· Rabbits are social animals and benefit from the companionship of humans or other animals. Although the need may vary from rabbit to rabbit. Many enjoy being with people but your family must have patience, understanding and an acceptance of individual differences to earn their trust.
· Rabbits play, some more than others. Many can get along with most other dogs and cats as long as they are properly introduced, preferably early in life.

Rabbits as part of the family
Rabbits can be kept in outdoor hutches and allowed to exercise in the garden as well as in the house.

Alternatively, rabbits can be raised to live exclusively as house pets. This will require time and patience from you during the early days as the rabbit becomes house trained and is taught what not to chew, (this is perhaps the difficult bit!). More and more people are keeping "house rabbits" and a well trained and handled rabbit is a much more entertaining companionable pet than one confined to the bottom of the garden. A well-managed house rabbit also enjoys a better quality of life.

Unless you are enthusiastic, informed, and committed about what is involved a stuffed toy is a better choice!

Keeping a house rabbit
Before you set your heart on having a rabbit around the house, ask yourself if you really want another "toddler"? Rabbits are a lot like 2-year-old children. They can be great fun to live with, but you will need to spend time in toilet training and must be prepared to tolerate accidents. You will need to "bunny proof" those parts of your house where the rabbit is allowed to run in exactly the
Same way as "toddler proofing". You will need to check on your rabbit often and supervise play with children when the rabbit is out for exercise. You also need to accept that inevitably, some of your precious possessions may be partially ruined.
Just like toddlers, rabbits benefit from a routine for feeding, playing and resting. The main thing is to get into a routine that is easy for you or you may begin to look at the rabbit as simply one more mess-maker.

Choosing your Rabbit
There are more than sixty-five different breeds of rabbit ranging in weight from 1kg to 10kg. Some have short, velvety fur, (Rex), whilst others have long woolly fur, (Angora, Cashmere), which will require a lot of grooming. Some have patterned coats with patches, spots or stripes, (Dutch and English Spot), and there are rabbits with upright, or floppy ears (the Lop breeds). With so much choice, it should be easy to find a breed you like.

If you are not too bothered about a particular breed check your local newspaper and the postcards in your local newsagents or veterinary practice as somebody may have a litter to sell or give away. Rabbits are sold in pet shops and your local animal rehoming shelter may have litters to find homes for. If you really want a specific breed though, you will have to find a breeder. You should get in contact with your local rabbit club or go to a local rabbit show, where there are frequently pedigree rabbits for sale.

Before buying, think how big the rabbit is going to grow or if it needs extra care. Smaller rabbits, such as the dwarf breeds, tend to be lively and energetic, while the larger, giant breeds are usually less active and easier going. However, they will need a larger cage or hutch. The long coats of Angoras and Cashmeres tangle easily and will need grooming every day.

When you go to choose your rabbit, don't be bowled over by the first fluffy bunny you see. For younger children, the larger, more placid breeds which they can't pick up, drop or frighten may be more suitable companions. These larger rabbits usually bond better with people and are quite happy to sit alongside you to be stroked.

A rabbit, which is in good condition when you acquire it, is less likely to present health problems and vet's bills later on. Ask to hold the rabbit and check that its coat is sleek and glossy and its eyes are bright and has no signs of any discharge. There should be no visible wounds or abscesses on the body and the back should be firm, without protruding spine. Beware of a rabbit with a runny nose and check for any signs of diarrhoea or discoloured fur around the tail. If you are in any doubt, find another litter to choose your rabbit from.

The safest way to approach a rabbit is to begin by stroking the top of the head. Most rabbits resist having the tips of their noses or chins touched. An unacceptable number of rabbits are injured each year through inappropriate handling. A frightened poorly secured animal will be at great risk of a potentially fatal injury to itself such as a spinal fracture. The handler can also receive painful scratches if the rabbit is allowed to kick. Rabbits should generally be picked up with a firm grip over the loose skin around the neck, always paying attention to support the rear limbs. This way the rabbit will feel secure and will not resent handling or examination.

It is often said that a rabbit can be "hypnotised" or "tranced" by laying it on its back across your lap? Holding the rear limbs and tipping the head backward until it's "out." Initially the rabbit may struggle but will soon relax with perhaps only the hind legs quivering occasionally. The rabbit will come out of this "trance" as quickly as it went into it? Trying to get itself upright and get away. If you continue restraining the rabbit, it will simply struggle and may become aggressive.

Don't think that your rabbit is in a state of total bliss. When a prey animal such as a rabbit is seized it will freeze. By becoming immobile and trying to mimic successfully killed prey, the rabbit increases its chances of escaping and is less likely to be seriously injured. Thinking it has killed its prey, the predator may relax its grip, which stimulates the rabbit to spring into life and attempt to escape. If the escape is thwarted. the rabbit is likely to fight in a last ditch attempt to escape death.

This is what your rabbit is doing during "trancing" That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It is extremely useful when cleaning the rabbit's sensitive areas, like the face, feet, or under the tail. If the hind feet seem to be vibrating touching them will usually stop it. This technique is well worth learning as it is the most convenient way to inspect a rabbit's front teeth.

Outdoor accommodation
Most hutches are simply too small for a rabbit to live in permanently and still maintain good health. Rabbits need to be able to stretch to their full length and height, not to mention running and jumping. In a small hutch, which precludes exercise, they are likely to become bored, depressed and overweight. If they become overweight, they will be less able to groom themselves and in the heat of a small hutch, the likelihood of fly-strike increases. Provide the biggest hutch and run you can.

Size matters
Imagine living in a cage 2 or 3 times your own size, where you can barely stretch - let alone exercise - and you are unable to stand. Shocked? Yet this is the life for most of the 2 million pet bunnies in the UK, confined to a hutch measuring on average just 3ft X 1ft X 1ft "Rabbits are the most abused pets" says Carolina James, Director of The Rabbit Charity. "People wouldn't dream of keeping a cat or a dog in the same way." Even hamsters and other small animals are housed in big cages (compared to their body size), with room to play and exercise. Most rabbit hutches are so small, there isn't even room for toys or a companion. Because rabbits cannot bark or meow, they suffer in silence and caregivers may not realise how unhappy and frustrated they are.

Rabbit habitats
Rabbits are intelligent, social animals who enjoy playing and exploring, and need to live in pairs. The minimum recommended cage size for two dwarf lops (the most popular breed) is 6ft X 2ft X 2ft, but bigger is better. Rabbits also love double-decker cages where they can hop up and down and get a look-out. Like other pets, they need to exercise several hours a day in a BIG outdoor run (daytime only and with supervision) or in the home. Rabbits don't have to live in cages and many caregivers now give them free run of one or more rooms or a secure shed, garage or conservatory. For more information on keeping bunnies indoors and outdoors please send an SAE to The Rabbit Charity, P0 Box 23698 London N8 OWS, e-mail: lnfo@bunny.org.uk, website: http://www.bunny.org.uk.

There are no hard and fast rules as to what a hutch and run should look like. All that is required is a dry and draught free area for sleeping, a sheltered area to keep food dry - and as much exercise and play area as you can provide. If you can't find the space, construct a two or three story apartment with well-secured ramps. Bunny will love it.

Think where you locate the hutch as well. Light is good for rabbits as it helps them to develop strong bones, but leaving your rabbit's hutch against a south-facing wall in the heat of summer is not a good idea. Bunny will cook It is far better to place the hutch and run in a position where the rabbit gets the sun in the morning or evening, but is provided with shade during the middle of the day. You should also avoid draughty places on the side of the house, which gets the worst of the wind. If the weather becomes really bad, your outdoor rabbit will be entirely happy in its sleeping area as long as you provide some extra insulation by throwing and securing an old piece of carpet or blanket over the hutch.

To prevent escape by burrowing out or intrusion from potential predators digging in, a run should have a top and bottom as well as sides. One solution is to use wire for the base, although this can be hard on a rabbit's feet. Another solution is to place the run on paving slabs.

Outdoor hazards
Even a sturdy hutch does not necessarily protect a rabbit from predators, such as dogs, cats or foxes. Determined predators can bend or break wire. Agile ones can open cage doors. The mere presence of a predator may trigger an extreme reaction in a rabbit; a panic attack during which the rabbit runs wildly back and forth, twisting and thrashing about. A rabbit in this state can break its own back, or die from a heart attack.

A survivor may be permanently disabled, or develop infection from bite or claw wounds. It is essential that the wire is strong with no weaknesses and that the door to the hutch has a secure fastening. Your rabbit's sleeping quarters should be well off the ground to ensure it is totally out of sight of any potential predator. Placing large diameter clay or plastic drainage pipes in a rabbit's run also provides as substitute burrow and gives the rabbit somewhere to play and hide. Finally, an insidious danger to a rabbit, which is kept permanently out of doors is inattention from its caretaker Even though the rabbit is fed, watered, and sheltered, infrequent observation and handling may mean that health problems to go unnoticed until too late.

Playtime outside
Many people believe that a rabbit allowed to browse a garden will instinctively avoid poisonous plants. This is not always the case and if you intend to allow your rabbit to wander freely around in flowerbeds, it is advisable to make a list of all your plants and check for poisonous ones. Until all poisonous ones are removed, the rabbit should be confined to its run or kept indoors.

Always supervise your rabbit when it is running around outdoors. It takes just a few seconds for the neighbour's dog or cat to jump the fence and attack or frighten your rabbit to death. Before you allow your rabbit on the lawn, check that the grass has not been sprayed with pesticides or fertilisers. Walk the perimeter of your garden and check thoroughly for holes in the fence. Under no circumstances should rabbits he left outside after dark. Most of its predators hunt at night, so it should be secured in its hutch well before dusk. You should also remember that wild rabbits may be attracted to the run and they may be carrying myxomatosis. Touching noses through the wire may be all that is needed to transmit this killer by the transfer of fleas.

Traditionally rabbits were kept outside all the time but as people have recognised that they make ideal companion animals, more and more are being allowed into the house and many now live inside permanently. As long as they have exercise, access to sunlight and an appropriate diet, they will be completely at home! Above we have described what is required for both outdoor and indoor living. It's your choice as to which lifestyle you decide upon for your rabbit.

Rabbits are territorial even when they are living in your home and for indoor living, your rabbit will need as large a cage as possible. The type which exhibitors use at dog shows is ideal and good pet stores will usually have a selection to choose from. Many have internal plastic trays, which not only protect your floors, but are also kind on the rabbit's feet. There is nothing worse than a rabbit spending all of its time on its litter tray to avoid wire floors. Alternatively, line the cage with cardboard, but don't be surprised if your rabbit destroys it every so often.

A house rabbit often finds its cage a safe haven, returning there to eat or rest. For psychological security a cardboard box lined with straw or a synthetic fleece may be added to the cage. Make the cage enjoyable and they will enjoy being there, even when the door is open. Keep it stocked with toys and things to chew any rabbit, even a seemingly well behaved one, should probably be kept in a cage while your not home to supervise and at night when you sleep. When you put it to bed at night give it a vegetable or fruit snack.

The more an indoor, toilet-trained rabbit is allowed to mingle with its human family and other pets, the more it will express its personality and be enjoyed for it. But, if you are going to allow your rabbit to run in your home even for short periods, it is essential that you bunny-proof the environment. This is essential to prevent damage to your property and to protect your rabbit from injuring itself.

Some houseplants are poisonous. Putting them on high furniture may not keep a rabbit away. Hang them from the ceiling if you have a partic­ularly active bunny, but watch for falling leaves! If you are unsure, consult a good reference book.

If a rabbit insists on chewing skirting boards, legs of chairs and the edges of carpets, condition them to stop immediately provide them with an alternative

Such as a piece of root vegetable or edible wood. A slap on the floor next to a misbehaving rabbit and a firm "No" will get the message over; "thumping" being a sign rabbits instinctively recognise. A quick shot from a water pistol whilst it's engaged in the unacceptable behaviour can help. In addition, most pet shops sell pet repellents such as bitter apple, which can be sprayed on objects to deter your rabbit.

Protecting your Rabbit from Harm
Rabbits have an instinct to quickly and casually sever any cable they encounter. Special temptations are those which run across the rabbit's path, or through a burrow-like area, such as behind a settee. "Bunny proofing," means encasing electric cables in heavyduty plastic tubing and blocking the runs behind furniture so the rabbit cannot use them. It is the single most important step in preparing an indoor area for a rabbit since they can be badly burned or electrocuted. The consequences of biting into an electric wire are too severe to risk relying on training alone.

A rabbit's tendency to chew is often more inconvenient than hazardous. To prevent your rabbit chewing on your things, provide natural alternatives such as wood, cardboard, untreated straw mats, cardboard boxes, the inside of toilet rolls etc.

Toys are important, They provide:

Mental stimulation
Without challenging activities to occupy your rabbit when you're not home, it will get bored. This could lead to it becoming depressed or destructive. Providing toys will keep your rabbit interested in its surroundings, particularly if it is a solitary rabbit.

Physical exercise
Your rabbit needs safe activities to keep it in good physical shape and to prevent it from becoming overweight. It needs things to climb on, crawl under, hop on and around, dig into, and chew on. Without outlets for these physical needs, besides gaining weight, your rabbit may create its own diversions with your furniture and carpets.

Suitable bunny toys
Paper bags and cardboard boxes for crawling inside, scratching, and chewing. Bunnies like them much more when there are at least two entry points into the boxes

Cardboard rolls from paper towels or toilet paper

Untreated wicker baskets or boxes full of shredded paper, junk mail minus the wrap­ping, magazines with the staples removed, straw, or other organic materials for digging in.

Pieces of edible wood such as apple, pear, willow or hazel.

Telephone directories for shredding.

Carrots or pieces of root vegetable suspended on a string

Cat or parrot toys that can be tossed, or hung from the top of the cage and chewed.

Toys with ramps and lookouts for climbing on and viewing the world. Rabbits love to have a lookout.

Playtime indoors
When your rabbit is better trained and your house (or the part that your rabbit will have access to) has been sufficiently bunny proofed. Your rabbit can be allowed to run out of its cage. A bored rabbit is often a naughty rabbit. If you don't make every attempt to provide your rabbit with lots of entertainment and toys, then it will make its own entertainment with your belongings.

Rabbits are crepuscular which means that generally they sleep during the day, but are ready to play at dawn and at twilight. Be sure to let them out during the evening when you are home, and if possible, in the morning while you get ready for work.

Toilet Training
Rabbits are by nature clean animals and in the wild use separate latrine areas not far from their bur­rows. In a confined space, they will usually choose a distinct spot like a corner to deposit their urine and most of their droppings. Consequently toilet training is usually very easy and involves little more than putting a litter tray where the rabbit chooses to go. This tends to be close to their feed­ing area and many rabbits will happily eat whilst sitting on their litter tray.

The easiest way to litter train a rabbit is to place it in a confined space such as a run or an indoor cage, with its food and litter tray next to each other. The rabbit will happily sit in the tray to defecate and urinate soon after eating. Initially it may be necessary to place some droppings in the tray to get the rabbit used to the idea. Once the habit is established, gradually enlarge the area and you should find that the rabbit is happy to return to the tray.

Most rabbits quickly get the idea, especially if you keep an eye on them and herd them towards the tray in their early days. However you may encounter problems when your rabbit reaches the age of 4-6 months at which time their hor­mones become active and they usually begin marking their territory. By spaying or neutering your rabbit, it will be more likely to use the litter tray as well as being much healthier and happier.

Your rabbit may sometimes regress and stop using the litter tray altogether. This can indicate the pres­ence of a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, kidney disease or some other illness, which should be treated by a vet. Sometimes the introduction of another rabbit can lead to a renewed bout of spraying and territory marking, which only stops once they have established a harmonious relationship.

Litter should be non-toxic, dust free and absorbent, but not to the extent that it goes into large clumps once it's damp. Rabbits spend a lot of their time on their litter tray and will always nibble some of it, so toxic litter or the clay-based type, which could swell up to several times its original size in your rabbit's stomach should be avoided. Rabbit urine also has a very strong smell and can irritate your rabbit's skin, so it is important to choose a good absorbent litter; but avoid dusty litters which may irritate a rabbit's eyes or nose. For these rea­sons, it is probably better to use an organic litter.

Cleaning and disposal
Keep the litter tray clean to encourage your rabbit to use it. Most pet shops sell deodorising cleaning fluid for pet trays, but for tough stains you may need to leave the tray to soak. Accidents within the home can be cleaned up with a commercial bactericidal cleansing agent although occasionally a stain remover and deodoriser may be required.

Finally if you haven't kept a rabbit before, you may be surprised and revolted to see your rabbit eating its droppings. There is no reason to be alarmed or disgusted. The material you see your rabbit eating are caecotropes, partially digested particles sealed in a coating of colic mucus, which are fermenting and from which the rabbit will get more nutrients as they are ingested again.

Feeding your Rabbit
Rabbits have a unique digestive system that has developed to suit a high fibre, low protein and low energy diet. As pet owners, we like to think we are doing the best for our rabbits and are all too ready to provide them with a diet that is too rich and contains insufficient roughage.

A diet of scientifically prepared rabbit food with a constant supply of grass or hay together with a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables and a constant supply of water is all that a rabbit needs. Anything beyond that is 'a treat' and should be given in limited quantities, complete­ly avoiding sweets and chocolate, which build up harmful bacteria in the rabbit gut and can kill.

Grass and hay
In the wild, rabbits spend many hours each day devouring grasses, the availability and nutrition­al value of their diet slowly changing with the seasons. Not only does a wild rabbit's diet pro­vide most of the nourishment and roughage they require it also helps keep their teeth trim. A scientifically developed complete rabbit food will contain ingredients such as alfalfa which is high in fibre and will make your rabbit work at digesting its food. However, you should also provide a constant supply of grass or hay for your rabbit to eat whenever it wishes.

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to allow a rabbit access to grass is by using a portable run which can be moved around an area of fresh, medium length grass, although in practice this often proves difficult in the average garden. There's nothing wrong with having a portable run on the lawn but you will need to guarantee that it's free from weedkillers and chemicals. You should also introduce your rabbit to grass slowly, allowing it no more than 10 minutes grazing on the first day and building up the time slowly over a period of a week.

Good quality hay is a totally acceptable alternative, but you should make sure that it is fresh and sweet smelling as old hay tends to be low in calcium and can often be laden with mites and fungal spores. Your nose will tell you when it's off!

You should also try your rabbit with commercially prepared dried fresh grass. It is made for feeding to horses and can be bought from an agricultural feed merchant or a good pet superstore.

Look to provide your rabbit with small amounts of different leafed and rooted vegetables but stay away from beans and rhubarb. Never give vegetables that have come straight out of the fridge as they can cause quite a shock to your rabbit's system. Always wait until they are at room temperature.

Many rabbits have too low a calcium intake resulting in brittle bones and teeth. Feeding green stuff such as fresh grass, cabbage leaves and dandelion leaves can help correct this. How­ever, feeding too much green stuff invariably results in soft stools indicating an imbalance in the gut flora. If this happens, stop feeding the vegetables immediately, clean the rabbit's rear end daily and be prepared to visit the vet if it doesn't clean up within a couple of days.

So next time you are tempted to buy your rabbit treats read the labels and make sure that the constituents may be doing the rabbit some good. Otherwise, how about an especially big carrot, a piece of fresh apple wood or hard baked bread crusts to chew on?

Your rabbit should have access to fresh water 24 hours a day. If you keep your rabbit in an outside hutch throughout the winter, change the water twice or three times a day to prevent it from freezing.

Once your rabbit is established on a diet, try to keep to it. If you want to change to different food, do so over a period of a few days, starting by mixing small quantities of the new food with its existing food.

Rabbit friends.
Rabbits are not meant to live in solitude, away from members of their own kind.

The need for companionship can be partially met by a human, but once you live with a bonded pair you will see that even the most devoted human does not quite fill the bill. Bonded pairs are rarely out of each other's sight. Rabbits interact with each other constantly, not so much with sounds as with movements. There are large movements such as dancing and grooming, and there are quite small communications of breath and slight shifts in position. You can sense some of this quiet conversation by lying on the floor beside two talkative rabbits.

Fortunately for all of us, what's good for a rabbit is also good for us humans. Pairs are much easier to care for, get into far less trouble and tend to relate better to people. Boredom in a rabbit leads to trouble, and pairs don't get nearly as bored because they are so busy relating to each other. Boredom and depression are common symptoms of loneliness in rabbits. These can be accom­panied by destructiveness and hyperactivity in some rabbits, especially the smaller breeds, and withdrawal in others.

Suitable pairings
Unless you are intent on breeding, unneutered rabbits of the opposite sexes should never be with one another In addition to preventing a possibly unwanted litter, neutering makes for smooth introductions and better long-term relationships between same-sex partners as well as male/female pairs. Neither should you house more than one male with a single female, nor two males where they can smell un-neutered females. It is often said that a rabbit and a guinea pig make a good pairing. In practice, this is rarely true, as the rabbit tends to harass and dominate the guinea pig.

Two rabbits are generally not more expensive than one. Hay, fresh vegetables and litter for two puts little additional strain on the budget.

The exception is veterinary care. Both must be spayed or neutered, and even if you start with a spayed/ neutered pair one or both rabbits may become ill and require a visit to your local practice.

  Home   Rabbits   Guinea Pigs   Locate us   News   Terms   Links   Contact us  
This site is designed to be viewed at 800 x 600 or above.