Rabbits make lovely pets but do need plenty of care to keep them healthy. This advice sheet will help you keep your rabbits a happy as possible.
Rabbits are sociable animals and are much happier living in pairs or groups. The most successful combination is a neutered female with a neutered male rabbit. Same sex litter mates can also get along fine, but to prevent fighting it is best that they are both neutered. Guinea Pigs are not suitable companions for rabbits; they are a completely different species, with different needs.
Rabbits need a living area, where they can relax, eat and sleep, and a run to exercise, play and explore.
The living area (e.g. a large hutch) needs to have a darkened sheltered area for sleeping and a separate area for eating, toileting and relaxing. It should be as large as possible: big enough for your rabbit to lie down and stretch comfortably in all directions, high enough for your rabbit to stand up on their back legs without their ears touching the top and long enough so your rabbit can take at least 3 hops from one end to the other. Two rabbits together will need a sleeping area each and of course a bigger relaxing/eating space.
The living area needs to be sturdy, raised off the floor and in a sheltered position so your rabbits stay safe from excessive sun, wind, rain and cold.
The exercise area (the run) needs to be high enough so your rabbit can stretch to full height and large enough so your rabbit can run around. It should have a raised area to jump on and a sheltered area for each rabbit. Rabbits are curious animals and need mental stimulation. Placing empty plant pots, large bore tunnels or a cardboard box with an entrance and an exit in the exercise area makes the area more interesting. You could also hide some of their food or hang a carrot on a string in their run. If you cannot have the run permanently attached to the hutch, you can have it in a different place, but your rabbit will need to spend quite a few hours in the run every day; rabbits prefer to eat and exercise around dawn and dusk.
Both the living areas and the runs should be escape proof (bear in mind rabbits love to dig) as well as strong and secure enough to keep particularly foxes, but also cats, dogs, birds and rats out. A wooden Wendy house or small shed with a large run attached would make an excellent home for a pair of rabbits.
To keep your rabbits stay warm in the cold winter months you can give them extra straw and cover the living area with blankets or carpet. The blankets etc will need a waterproof cover, but take care to leave enough space for ventilation. You may need to bring the living area into a shed or unused garage to keep your rabbits warm.
Clean, bagged straw is the best bedding for your rabbits.
Once you know where your rabbits like to toilet, you can either put newspaper underneath the bedding there or try a litter tray to make cleaning easier. The litter tray needs to be big enough so the whole rabbit fits inside it.
The main food your rabbits need is lots of fresh, green hay or grass (not lawn clippings though). Chewing the hay will give your rabbits the fibre they need and it helps to wear down their teeth, which continue to grow all their life.
They also need a small amount of rabbit food. If you feed your rabbits a nugget or pellet type rabbit food you can be sure they get a balanced diet with every mouthful. Many rabbits only eat the bits they like with a muesli type diet, so these diets are not as good for them.
To give you rabbits some variety you can add small amounts of vegetables like kale, broccoli and carrots (especially carrot tops) to their diet.Treats made for rabbits are fun to give and are fine in moderation; avoid treats with sugar though as they can upset your rabbits’ digestive system.
Any new food needs to be introduced gradually over 7 to 10 days.
Clean drinking water needs to be available all the time. Most rabbits prefer to drink from a water bottle with a metal spout. If your exercise run is separate from the living area, this needs a water bottle too. Clean the water bottle daily and avoid the water freezing in the winter.
Remove the faeces, all wet or soiled bedding and any uneaten food daily. Clean the food bowls and water bottles and provide fresh food and water every day.
The hutch and the run need a weekly clean up. The toilet area in particular will need a thorough clean with a rabbit friendly disinfectant. Replace the bedding with a fresh supply but put a clean bit of the old bedding on top so it still smells of home.
Your rabbit will have been implanted with a microchip. Please make sure you inform the provider of any change of address as they won’t be able to reunite you with your rabbits without your current details.
If your rabbits came from NAWT, they will have been vaccinated against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. The vaccination record will show when the boosters are due.
All rabbits are at risk from this condition. It is caused by flies laying their eggs, and the maggots attacking your rabbit. Check you rabbit daily (twice daily in warm weather) for any signs of maggots, particularly under the tail. Maggots on your rabbit is an emergency, contact your vet immediately.
The most common parasite in rabbits is E Cuniculi. Most rabbits do not show any symptoms, but it can cause eye problems, back leg weakness and problems with balance. Ask your vet for advice about prevention and treatment.
Rabbits rehomed from NAWT are issued with 4 weeks free Petplan insurance for veterinary fees in case of accident or illness. Petplan will contact you during this time to give you the opportunity to continue the insurance. The NAWT advises you to continue this insurance as veterinary fees can mount up.