The Easter bunny may have been and gone, but we still have rabbits on the mind!
Rabbits are social and curious animals, who can make fantastic pets. But contrary to popular belief, they are not an ‘easy’ first pet for a child. Rabbits, like all animals, have specific needs when it comes to their housing, handling, food, and providing enough interesting and stimulating activities for them to do.
Here are some important tips on taking care of your rabbits – (and a quick reminder that rabbits cannot be kept as pets in Queensland).
Rabbits need the companionship of other rabbits
Rabbits are a social species and should not be kept alone, or without at least one other rabbit with whom they are compatible. Generally rabbits should live as part of a bonded pair of rabbits; this is a process that takes some time and patience but, if successful, will hugely improve your rabbits’ quality of life. It is important that the rabbits are desexed, to prevent them producing lots of baby rabbits.
A hutch is not a home
A common misconception about rabbits is that they’re able to be housed in a hutch all the time. This is not the case – a hutch should serve as a temporary enclosure for your rabbits, and a safe place to sleep. If your rabbits are kept in a hutch, it must be attached to a run with plenty of space for them to run, jump, sit/stand upright, exercise and express normal rabbit behaviours. Your rabbits will also need at least a few hours a day of exercise outside of their hutch and run. See below for more tips on outdoor access for your rabbits.
When it comes to sourcing the right enclosure for your rabbits, remember it needs to be large enough to allow your rabbits to exhibit natural behaviors such as grooming and feeding, with a separate area for toileting. Many hutches marketed for rabbits are too small, these active and inquisitive animals need plenty of space. Your rabbits’ enclosure should be as large as possible but the minimum size for a rabbit enclosure for two rabbits should be 3m (length) x 1.5m (width) x 1m (height) as recommended by the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund.
A ‘burrow’ type space should also be included with regularly cleaned bedding. Burrowing is a normal behavior for rabbits that need to be able to express, they also require a safe and enclosed space to hide in for comfort.
The hutch should be predator-proof, located somewhere that is rain-proof, and has netting that can keep out flies and mosquitos.
You can also keep rabbits inside your house, and this is becoming increasingly popular! This would generally mean that you would spend a lot more time interacting with your rabbit companions and get to know them really well and form a close bond. Your rabbits would still need a safe escape proof area to themselves inside but can be kept ‘cage-free’, you can even toilet train them! Ideally your indoor rabbits should have some access to a safe place outdoors some of the time, or they can be trained to use a cat flap to a secure safe outdoor area. Remember to also keep any poisonous cleaning products out of reach, and protect your rabbits from potentially chewing power cords.
Rabbits just want to have fun
Rabbits are intelligent animals that need plenty of exercise and room to run around to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. You should make their environment as interesting as possible and provide opportunities for running, jumping, and digging on a daily basis.
Ideally, your rabbit will have the chance to exercise in a safe, protected grassy area every day – though you will need to supervise to make sure they don’t escape and are safe from possible predators. Otherwise, you can housetrain your rabbits and let them exercise in your home.
Make sure to spend dedicated time with your rabbits every day, to groom them and play.
Rabbits eat a lot more than just carrots!
Rabbits are herbivores and grazers, and need to have a constant supply of grass or grass hay to chew. Grass/hay should make up 80% of your rabbits’ diet and is vital for gut health. Chewing continuously throughout the day also helps keep your rabbit’s teeth worn down, and can prevent dental disease.
Rabbits should also have plenty of fresh leafy greens and vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts, celery and others; these should make up about 15% of your rabbits’ diet. You can offer a small quantity of high quality rabbit pellets (though this should be no more than 5% of your rabbits’ diet), and carrots and other root vegetables can also be offered in small quantities as treats.
For more detailed info, head to the RSPCA Knowledgebase online and check out our extensive sections on caring for your pet rabbit.