Rabbits make great pets because they are social and have an inquisitive nature.
An estimated 2% of the UK’s adult population has a pet rabbit, according to the veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA). The population is in excess of one million.
With distinctive personalities they are able to form strong bonds with their owners. But, as with all pets, rabbits are susceptible to a range of issues that can lead to visits to the vet. A healthy domestic rabbit typically lives for between eight and 12 years and some survive even longer. The advice to keep a rabbit happy and healthy includes:
Getting them vaccinated
It doesn’t guarantee total protection but with regular vaccinations a rabbit can be protected against Myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD). When the weather is hot and humid, as it was in the summer last year, vets fear this creates a perfect storm that threatens outbreaks of killer myxomatosis.
It’s a grim viral condition that is practically always fatal, causing breathing problems, along with fever, swollen ears and mouths, as well as bulging eyes. Death which generally happens within 14 days is painful, with affected rabbits developing skin tumours. The disease can sometimes lead to blindness and fatigue.
It is contracted from mites, mosquitoes and flies and can also be passed from rabbit to rabbit. An infamous outbreak in the 1950s led to the deaths of millions of animals.
Vets recommend having rabbits neutered because it lessens the risk of potentially fatal diseases and many behavioural issues.
Feeding plenty of fibre
High-fibre diets including hay and root vegetables keep the gut of a rabbit moving, which reduces the risk of stomach problems such as bloating. But obesity can become a problem if rabbits eat too much fat and starch and don’t get enough exercise.
Healthy animals need to be sleek and slim, so steer clear of legumes, including beans and peas. Other foodstuffs to shun include corn, grapes, bananas, wheat, oats, crackers and chips, bread, nuts, chocolate, cookies, breakfast cereals, pasta, potatoes, beans, breads, cereals, refined sugar and seeds.
Keeping your rabbits groomed
Rabbits need to be groomed, especially when it is their moulting season. Not only does grooming keep your rabbit looking fantastic, but it also reduces any risk of your pet swallowing excess hair, which can lead to serious digestion issues.
The Otto & Alice Mobile Grooming Studio offers to bath and trim rabbits with the owner present. But if you are able to groom your own rabbit it will reinforce the bond you have with each other. Also by brushing your rabbit, you have an early warning system that can highlight hidden injuries, like cuts or grazes.
Ensuring adequate activity
All pets need exercise and stimulation to keep well and happy. Outdoor exercise is preferable as long as it is in a safe and secure environment protected from predators.
The Rabbit Welfare Association is adamant that a hutch is not enough because the animals suffer miserably when they are confined. Indeed the advice given is that, as well as rabbits always being kept with at least one other of their own kind, a rabbit run should allow them to make at least three hops and lie fully stretched out.
This effectively means that a run should be a minimum of 6ft x 2ft with floor space of at least two feet from front to back. But you need to make sure there are no hazards that could cause injury, and be sure to supervise them when they are stretching their legs.
Keeping rabbits company
Rabbits are very sociable animals. They do not like to be left alone and lonely. This is why it’s a good idea to keep rabbits in pairs or groups. It’s also why we can help if you ever go away.
Since Cats, Dogs & Peace of Mind was founded in 1999 we have looked after most types of small animals. Our carers know that domestic rabbits come in a variety of sizes, colours, and breeds and are naturally curious, intelligent, and social animals.
In our experience many rabbits have been trained to use a litter box and come when their names are called. However, we are also aware that many rabbits do not enjoy being handled but when cared for properly, rabbits make highly rewarding pets.