Rabbit Care Sheet

General Information

Rabbits are another very sociable animal, so it is always best to keep two together if you can.  The best combination is a neutered male and female. Two females should get on ok if they are from the same litter, but it may still become necessary for one or both of them to be neutered (I will discuss more about the benefits of neutering later) for them to continue living happily together as they become sexually mature, the same goes for males.

There are many different kinds of rabbits, the most commonly seen are Dwarf Rabbits and Lop-eared Rabbits. You will also come across Rex Rabbits, Flemish Giants, Dutch Dwarf, Lionhead Dwarf, Mini Lops and many more. Although more often now you will see rabbits that are a mixture of several of the above.

The lop rabbits - which are any of them that have ears that hang down instead of standing up - tend to be more placid and easier to handle, the dwarfs can be a little skittish, although if they are well socialised with people from a young age they can make lovely pets.

Housing 

Rabbits need space!

Outdoor - Any hutch should be a minimum of 4 feet wide and should be a couple of feet tall so that the rabbit will be able to stretch up on it's hind legs. They should also have a run to spend a good part of the day out in a larger space. If you have a really well rabbit proofed, not too large back garden many people find it can work quite well to let them out to run around that for a few hours each day. If you keep your rabbit(s)g outside I would strongly recommend having a small indoor cage or enclosure in the house or even in a shed to bring the rabbit(s) into on really cold nights.

Indoor - More and more rabbits are now being kept as indoor pets. It needs a little thought and effort beforehand to rabbit proof a part of the house, but ultimately it makes them much more rewarding as pets. An indoor cage should be a minimum of 100cm wide and tall enough for a rabbit to stretch up in. The Joe or Cavia Mega are both very good cages for a rabbit inside. 

Rabbit Proofing Your House - Electrical wires must either be covered so the rabbit cannot chew them or taken up out of the way. One way to cover the wire is to get some hose, slit it along the side and slide the wire into it, or you can tak the plag off and slide it into the hose without cutting it. Remember rabbits need to gnaw, so anything you really value would probably be best removed from the area the rabbit will be in. Make sure you keep plenty of toys handy so you can distract the rabbit from chewing things they shouldn't be chewing.

House Training -  To start put the litter tray in the rabbits cage and keep some dirty litter in it when you clean it out, when the rabbit is using the litter tray reliably for toilet you can start to increase the free range area of the rabbit, remembering that they will need more litter trays the larger the area. I would not recommend using clay litter for rabbits as there is a risk they will eat the litter so wood based or paper ones are always safer

Feeding 

Like Guinea Pigs the staple diet of a rabbit should be hay and grass. Timothy hay is best, I should have it in stock next week. Other than Timothy hay some good quality hays are Supa Forage Excel or Versele-Laga Mountain Hay .

Hay can be supplemented with a good quality pelleted food to make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need. I recommend Supa Rabbit Excel or Versele-Laga Complete.  The mixed feeds should generally be avoided if possible as they allow a rabbit to selectively feed and therefore they may be not be getting a fully balanced diet.

Fresh vegetables can be fed as well. Broccoli, carrots, curly kale, basil, parsley are some of the best. Iceberg lettuce should not be fed, it has very little nutritional value, romaine lettuce is ok. They do enjoy a little bit of fruit too, but best not to give them too much fruit as it can be high in sugar.

Bedding

Whatever type of bedding you use, never use cedar shavings. If they are kept inside newspaper is easiest and cheapest. This is not practical outside, so you will probably need to use some sort of shavings, although I find hemp bedding is much better. During the winter if they are outside when the weather is cold they should be given straw and extra hay to give them something to make a snuggly nest in. 

Health

Vaccinations - Rabbits should be vaccinated against Myxamitosis and Viral Haemorragic Fever. You will need to specify the Viral Haemorragic Fever to your vet as most vets only do Myxamitosis. In high risk areas - like if you have wild rabbits in fields very close - these should be given at 6 monthly intervals to ensure full immunity.

 Teeth - Rabbits teeth grow constantly, so they must always have things to gnaw to help them keep them worn down. This is one of the reasons they should always have access to good quality hay as this helps to keep the teeth worn down. You can provide other wooden toys and chews for them, also fresh branches such as apple branches are a great source of activity for them. Make sure any branches you give them have not been sprayed with pesticides.

Spaying and Neutering - Reproductive cancer for female rabbits is quite a high risk, thankfully spaying completely rules this out. It also has other benefits from the owners point of view as it will reduce behaviours such as chewing and reduce any stroppiness caused by hormones. For males the benefits of neutering are mostly behavioural, reducing spaying and hormonal issues. But spaying and neutering also makes it possible to pair the buns up with members of the opposite sex without increasing the population.

Diarrhea - If you see diarrhea in your pet they should be brought to a vet straight away. If they do not have diarrhea but their faeces is somewhat soft and misshapen it is best to remove any pellets or fresh food, make sure they have plenty of hay and water and keep a close eye on them. If their poo does not return to normal within a couple of days they should be brought to the vet.

Grooming and Handling

Rabbits shed their hair every three months, during this time it is important they are brushed regularly to help them remove the loose hair. Rabbits groom themselves in a similar way to cats, but as they cannot throw up hairballs are extremely dangerous for them. It is a good idea to get in the habit of grooming your rabbit every day so the rabbit is used to it and finds it an enjoyable experience.

When picking up your rabbit it is important to make sure you support the front and the back ends. If your rabbit feels insecure you are much more likely to get scraped when trying to hold them. They should never be held by the ears, this could cause extreme pain and possible injury to the rabbit.

Quite a few rabbits don't really enjoy being held, if this is the case it is as well to limit holding to necessary times and enjoy petting the rabbit on the ground  for the most part.