Most of us at some point are thrown the family dilemma of whether or not they are ready for a pet of their very own. We normally get all the promises under the sun; they’ll look after it, they’ll feed it, they’ll walk it, they’ll clean out the cage, and all the rest. Naturally, and especially for a first pet, our minds are drawn to something small and manageable. The idea of buying a bunny rabbit always seems like a good idea at the time, but there’s a lot you should know before you make that decision.
Rabbits are naturally shy and quiet animals that like all four feet firmly on the ground and space to run around freely. They are sociable animals and enjoy the company of other rabbits (neutered friendly pairs) or other compatible groups, without which they could suffer from loneliness. Rabbits are ‘prey animals,’ which makes them very fragile. Before buying a rabbit, a lot of people don’t realise that they can weigh between 2 and 8 lbs and live for more than 10 years, which makes them a huge commitment.
Rabbits have a very delicate digestive system and feeding the correct diet is paramount for a happy, healthy bunny. A diet that is as close to their natural diet should be provided. This predominantly consists of grass or hay, some fresh leafy vegetables and a small amount of commercial feed. Rabbits require good quality hay to help promote dental and digestive health along with encouraging natural behaviour. Their diet should consist of 80% fresh hay or grass, 15% leafy greens and 5% pellets. Fresh water should be available daily in both a bowl and a bottle.
Treats, as with most animals, should be given in moderation, but they can be used to encourage foraging. If you hide some dandelion leaves and a few small sliced pieces of apple or carrots in their hay, for example, this will give them the opportunity to search for the food like they do in the wild.
Read our past blog on the special ways you can Enrich Your Rabbit’s Life as an owner.
Rabbits should be provided with safe living areas that comprise of not only a hutch (this is their man made alternative to a burrow) for resting, but also space to run, play and enjoy life. You should aim to give them an area that is 10ft x 6ft x 3ft tall at least. Safety is key, not only to keep predators out but to keep your fluffy Houdini in, so make sure that runs are secured with bolt locks and strong small holed wire mesh along with shaded areas offering protection whatever the weather.
Another consideration is whether or not your rabbit will be an indoor or outdoor rabbit? Many people are put off by the thought of indoor rabbits due to the perceived mess, but believe it or not, rabbits are very clean, clever and can be trained to use a litter tray.
Rabbits are naturally shy by nature due to being a prey species. They don’t like being picked up or carried around so social interaction and trust needs to be built up over time and on their level (ground level). Rabbits love to dig and forage and this behaviour should be encouraged and opportunities for this provided whenever possible. Some great rabbit ‘play’ ideas are hanging hay racks, digging pits (use a litter tray or planter), tunnels and interactive feeding toys.
Happy and healthy rabbits can live to around 10 years old, which is why a rabbit is a long term commitment. If your son or daughter asks for a rabbit when they’re eight years old, you have to ask yourself whether or not they’ll still be willing to take care of them when they’re eighteen or older.
Along with daily checks (hutch and bunnies included) and cleaning, rabbits will need health care such a vaccination, neutering, parasite control, health checks and even dentistry for their teeth. To avoid any unnecessary visits to the vet you should be familiar with general rabbit care, behaviour and dietary needs.
Rabbits do make lovely pets, but it should be remembered that they are as big a commitment as any dog or cat. An adult, despite who’s rabbit it is, will always be responsible for its overall care and welfare. Rabbits are loving and a pleasure to watch when happy and healthy and will thrive if given the right foundations to do so. The question of whether or not an animal makes a good pet is always dependent on the owner. It’s always a good idea to ask yourself whether or not you have the time, patience and commitment it takes to care for a pet before making a commitment.
Here are some questions worth asking before you decide to get a rabbit.
• Can you commit to providing lifelong care (this includes both money and time)?
• Have you researched fully what is involved with caring for a rabbit?
• Do all family members agree to play a role in its care?
• Is it understood by everyone that rabbits do not like to be picked up and carried?
• Can you create a calm and stress-free home?
• Do you have the space to give a rabbit all it needs?
• Have you found a rabbit savvy vet?
• Are you getting your rabbit from a reputable place?
• Have you checked your garden if free from plants that may be toxic?
• Is your garden/house secure and rabbit proofed?
• Have you considered who will care for them if you want a holiday?