HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR
NEW PET RABBIT
The following information is our opinion only, and based on our experience of keeping rabbits. We are not qualified animal health professionals. If you are concerned about your pet you must contact your vet immediately.
HOUSING, EXERCISE AND PREVENTING BOREDOM
Although the law states that as an absolute minimum a hutch must be large enough for a rabbit to make three consecutive hops and the height of the hutch must allow the rabbit to sit up on its hind legs, we cannot stress enough that the more space you provide, the happier your rabbit will be. A hutch is not enough. Rabbits must also have daily access to a secure exercise area and be able to exhibit natural rabbit behaviours.
We do not recommend chicken coops for rabbit as they are often open to the elements, easy to dig out of (if not on hard standing), difficult to clean, and the enclosed living space is limited.
If you intend to keep your rabbits as house rabbits you must ensure it is 'rabbit proof' and any electrical items, harmful plants etc are out of their reach. Giving pet safe toys such as a digging box, large cardboard tubes, tunnels, boxes, balls and garlands are all great ways to stop your rabbit from being bored and displaying unwanted behaviours.
FEEDING YOUR RABBIT
Hays and grasses are the biggest and most important part of your rabbit’s diet. You should also feed them a high fibre, good quality pellet (see manufacturer's instructions for amounts to feed dependent on size of your rabbit).
When you collect your rabbit you will be given a bag of changeover food (free of charge) and a feeding guide with a list of safe foods.
If you are planning to feed your rabbit something different you should introduce this gradually over a 7-10 day period. ALL NEW FOODS MUST BE INTRODUCED SLOWLY. Sudden changes in diet (at any age) are very harmful and can cause bloat, gut stasis or diarrhoea, which can kill a rabbit very quickly. Rabbits must always have access to fresh drinking water.
Herbs, plants and leafy greens such as parsley, mint, basil, kale, carrot tops and dandelion leaves & flowers, are all foods your rabbit will love. DO NOT feed iceberg lettuce, apple pips, potatoes, tomato leaves or grass cuttings. Do not feed pet shop bought honey or yogurt coated bars, chews, drops etc due to very high sugar content.
This list is not exhaustive; there are other things that may harm your rabbit including some plants in your garden, so please proceed with caution. If you are unsure then don’t feed it without checking first. All treats should be given sparingly.
HEALTH & WELL BEING
With the right care rabbits can live up to 12 years! A good diet, exercise and seeking medical attention when required is essential. Check your rabbit every day, paying special attention to teeth, eyes, their weight and bottoms (must be kept clean and dry) - we will show you how to do this when you collect your rabbit.
It is essential to rapidly diagnose and treat problems, and only by handling your rabbit daily will you recognise subtle differences in weight and behaviour. Prevention of illness is better than cure, this is why daily health checks are essential.
Wet and dirty bottoms can lead to fly strike (flies lay eggs in the wet faeces, which hatch into maggots that burrow in to the rabbit). This is prevented with a good animal husbandry ie keeping their living space clean, a healthy diet, exercise and not letting your rabbit become overweight.
Eating hay and straw should keep your rabbit's teeth in perfect condition however you should check to ensure they are short and biting together correctly. Claws can be cut with clippers but ensure you don't cut into the pink bit (blood vessel). Baby rabbit's claws can be blunted with an emery board.
If you notice 'dandruff' in your rabbit’s fur they may have hay mite. This is usually picked up from fresh hay, and is easily treated with a few drops of Ivermectin 1% (follow manufacturer's instructions). Speak to your Vet for more information.
If you notice fleas, which can be caught from cats and dogs) we would recommend treating with 'spot on' flea treatment, but ensure it is the correct strength for your rabbit. Speak to your Vet for more information.
If you notice worms in your rabbits poo (they look like little pieces of cotton) you can treat with a one week course of Panacur or Lapizole. Speak to your Vet for more information.
It is highly recommended that your rabbit is vaccinated annually against Myxomatosis and RVHD 1 (Nobivac) and with RVHD 2 (Eravac or Filavac). Ensure your vet knows about RVHD 2 and that it is included in your rabbits vaccination programme. These injections should be given 2 weeks apart.
IDENTIFICATION RING CARE
If your rabbit is ‘rung’ for show, it will be wearing a metal ring on one of its back legs. You must check the ring regularly to ensure it is turning freely and isn’t causing the rabbit any discomfort. If you do not wish to show your rabbit, only wish to show in pet classes, or if the ring is causing the rabbit any discomfort, you can have the ring removed by your vet.
Binky - an expression of happiness. They run fast, leap and twist their body mid-air.
Bunny Flop - rolling over, lying on their side with eyes closed and legs stretched out behind them, indicates a relaxed rabbit.
Buzzing - your rabbit might buzz when they are excited or trying to get your attention.
Chinning - rub their chin against everything (including you!) to investigate and mark their territory.
Droppings - two types; plenty of hard round dry pellets, and soft cecotropes; droppings that they usually eat. This is their way of maximising the value of their diet. Too many soft dropping may indicate that their diet is too rich or they are being overfed.
Grinding Teeth - a light 'munching' noise can indicate a happy rabbit, but a heavy grinding indicates they're in pain and may be accompanied by other symptoms. Seek medical attention.
Grooming - a healthy rabbit will groom itself several times a day. Bonded rabbits will often groom each other as a sign of affection and may even groom you!
Mounting/Humping - when a rabbit mounts another rabbit or even your foot, they are either trying to mate it, or are displaying dominance. Both bucks and does do this.
Panting - A sign that your rabbit is too hot, overweight or ill. Act now!
Thumping - A rabbit will thump its foot on the ground when it feels there is danger around, to warn other rabbits or just to get your attention - also a sign of annoyance.
THE 5 FREEDOMS
Your legal responsibilities under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006:
Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health
Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment
Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient facilities
Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment avoid mental suffering