Whether it’s those gorgeous long ears, twitchy noses, or quirky personalities, there’s just something about rabbits that makes it no surprise that they’re such popular companions – with around 900,000 of these long-eared beauties currently kept as pets in the UK.1 However, a recent survey found that almost 1 in 4 new rabbit owners admitted that they found owning their bunny stressful1, and while sharing our lives with these highly intelligent animals can be a wonderful experience, looking after them properly is not always as simple as it seems. But help is at hand…so read on for some top tips to help keep your bunnies hopping happy!
Rabbits are naturally very sociable, and pet bunnies need at least one other rabbit to hop around with to make sure they don’t get lonely. A neutered female and neutered male are a great option! Neutering helps reduce the chances of fighting, and also ensures you don’t end up with more bunnies than you’d bargained for- rabbits aren’t the symbol of fertility for nothing, after all!
Rabbits can form really close bonds with their two-legged family members, too, but as prey animals they can be, understandably, wary of new people. When you’re first getting to know your newly-arrived bunnies, it’s best to sit quietly and allow them to come to you; this way they can take things at their own pace.
Hopping and jumping, running and digging, stretching out in the sunshine and nibbling on fresh grass; it’s all in a day’s work for a rabbit, and to engage in all these natural, joyful, bunny behaviours, they need a decent amount of space! The RSPCA advises that a home for two medium sized bunnies should be at least 2 by 3 metres, with a height of 1 metre, so they can stand up on their hind legs, too.2 Traditional rabbit hutches are often too small to meet these requirements, and many people use children’s playhouses, or even small sheds, as rest areas for their bunnies, attached to a large secure exercise area. Your bunnies’ abode should have separate areas for:
Ideally these areas should be interlinked, giving your rabbits freedom over how they spend their time. Their home should be well-ventilated, dry and free from draughts, and a predator-proof roof is also a must!
You might not be taking your rabbits out on a daily walk, but your long-eared companions still need a good amount of exercise every day, to keep those sprightly paws and inquisitive minds active. In addition to a decent amount of space to leap around in, there are lots of fun elements you can add to enrich their environment even further:
As well as being wonderful to watch your bunnies enjoying themselves, this physical and mental workout has huge benefits for their health and well-being, too.
Contrary to every cartoon you’ve ever seen, the mainstay of your bunnies’ diet won’t be carrots, although they do love them as a treat now and again! Rabbits have unique digestive systems, and as natural grazers, hay and/or grass needs to make up the bulk (around 85%) of their diet. They will munch on this throughout the day, and for good reason, as this constant nibbling not only helps keep their guts in good working order, it also helps prevent their teeth from overgrowing (rabbits’ front teeth grow at a rate of around 2 mm every week!3). Check out our lowdown on the types of food your bunnies need to stay in tip top shape:
To help keep your bunnies bright eyed and bushy tailed, we’ve included a handy checklist of things to look out for; your vet is your best port of call if you have any concerns.
If you suspect your rabbit may not be eating, contact your vet straight away. Unlike dogs and cats, who can usually skip the odd meal without too much of an issue, rabbits need to graze continually for their guts to keep working, and a bunny who is off their food should be viewed as an emergency.
Like all pets, rabbits are at risk from creepy crawly parasites. Skin parasites, like fleas and mites, can cause a lot of irritation to bunnies; and can make them itchy and sore. Fleas can be picked up from wildlife that visit the garden, or even hop onto your bunny from your dog or cat! Rabbits can pick up mites from other infected pets, or from infected bedding, but keeping them in a clean environment helps lower the risk.
Rabbits are at risk from internal parasites too, including pinworms and a parasite called E.cuniculi. This parasite is spread via the urine of infected animals, and can cause serious symptoms including a head tilt, wobbly back legs, and urinary problems; it can even be fatal. Treatment is available and is more effective the earlier it’s given, so if you’re concerned your bunny is showing any unusual symptoms, always speak to your vet.
Vets don’t usually recommend routine prevention of parasites in rabbits, but treatments are available if they do get an infestation. Imidaflea, for example, is licensed for use in rabbits and kills fleas, it comes in a simple-to-apply spot-on format, helping you to easily banish these pests if the need arises!
There are some additional proactive steps you can take to help your bunnies stay fighting fit.
There’s no mistaking the fact that caring for rabbits is a big commitment; these intelligent, curious animals need a carefully planned environment, and the right food and care to allow them to thrive. But if you’re willing to put the time into giving your rabbits everything they need, seeing them display their natural behaviours and unique personalities will be a reward that’s well worth it!