The Ultimate Guide to Keeping and Caring For Rabbits
They have been one of the most popular family pets for years and when compared with cats and dogs, it would be fair to say that it’s much easier to keep rabbits.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of need-to-knows. Contrary to what many people think, they aren’t just a smaller version of a cat – they do have diverse handling requirements while their body is much different and this means that they require a somewhat unique approach.
Bearing all of the above in mind, we will now take a look at all of the essential information you need to know before you start to care for your first rabbit. It’s by no means difficult advice, but again, it’s different to what is utilized with the likes of cats and dogs.
What types of rabbits are there?
Just like there are different breeds of cats and dogs, the same applies to rabbits. Fortunately, all breeds can be happily adopted as pets, even though some of them vary enormously.
To highlight some of this variation, let’s take a look at one of the smallest types; mini lops. These do not tend to surpass 3.5lb, which is tiny when compared to the Flemish giant which can be over 14lbs. The fact that the Flemish giant is bigger than a lot of cats says everything you need to know about its size, while there are also notable differences including the ears which stand upright.
As such, the breeds can vary far and wide. As they are all accepted domestically, it really comes down to your own personal tastes and just what is suitable for your house. As we’ll soon come onto, there is a size equation when deciding what size hutch to get, and some houses just won’t be large enough for breeds such as the Flemish giant.
Regardless of the breed you decide on, make sure they are spayed or neutered. This isn’t from a reproductive reason either; rabbits often contract reproductive cancers and by carrying out the above procedure you can eradicate this issue.
What is the ideal environment for rabbits to be kept in?
We’ll keep this short and sweet; the perfect home environment for rabbits is down to basic common sense. In other words, you need to remove all of the possible dangers, like keeping cats and dogs in the same room, and go from there.
In short, rabbits like quiet and calm environments – and that’s the best advice you can stick to.
What equipment do you need to keep rabbits?
Unlike some pets, the equipment you’ll need for your rabbit is actually quite self-explanatory. There are no surprises and this is one of those pets which isn’t going to cost you the earth to keep initially.
The primary equipment comes in the form of a hutch. This is effectively the house which your rabbit is going to live in. When choosing a hutch, you need to make sure that your rabbit is going to have enough space to maneuver. A good rule of thumb is to allow your rabbit three to four hops meaning that, in most cases at least, your hutch will be around 2m long. If you are keeping your rabbit outdoors, extra considerations such as a shaded area and protection from the elements are needed. In the case of indoor hutches, the requirements are a little more relaxed as your hutch doesn’t necessarily need such areas.
Another useful piece of equipment comes in the form of a pet-carrier. If you happen to travel a lot with your rabbit it goes without saying that this is even more essential, but most people will merely use the carrier for the odd trip to the veterinarian. When you do use your carrier, make sure you place hay on the bottom to act as bedding for your rabbit.
This next suggestion might be the only surprise on the list, as it’s one that’s often associated with cats. However, rabbits need a litter box and litter as well, and the ones which are sold for cats are perfectly acceptable to use. Cover the litter with hay and you’ll probably find that your rabbit uses half for their food, and the other half for their eating.
In terms of other equipment, it’s all of the essentials which are applicable to other animals really. We’re talking about food and water dishes, as well as a brush for grooming (we’ll talk more about the ins and outs of that later).
How should you feed your rabbit?
We’ll start with the obvious advice here; make sure you provide your rabbit with regular, clean water. The drip-bottle is the easiest way for them to consume this, although some owners might provide a bowl instead.
In terms of eating, rabbits are very low maintenance and again, the requirements are inexpensive. Fresh hay is a must – and this should be provided in unlimited quantities. Elsewhere, all you will need to provide is fresh vegetables and commercial rabbit pellets. In terms of the latter, the average amount you should give your rabbit should be between 1/4 and 3/4 of a cup – although this will vary depending on how large or small your rabbit is.
While carrots are always associated with rabbits, in actual fact a lot of rabbits don’t like to eat them. Some don’t mind them as a chew, but don’t be surprised if your pet opts not to eat them.
How much exercise does your rabbit need?
Unsurprisingly, your rabbit doesn’t need anything like as much exercise as a cat or dog. In fact, most rabbits will receive their complete exercise requirements just by hopping around in their hutch.
Of course, few owners are going to keep their rabbit locked in their hutch all day – and this is where your home comes into play. Your rabbit will be able to manage his or her own exercise requirements simply by roaming around the house all day, but if you do allow this you need to take several precautions. This involves making sure that electrical cords are out of the way for chewing reasons, while anything of value on the floor should be dealt with in a bid to prevent any accidents.
If you happen to have more than one rabbit, you’ll probably find that they exercise by playing with each other as well.
Should you groom your rabbit?
Grooming is often associated with dogs and a lot of people forget that rabbits have similar requirements. Whilst small, they also have plenty of fur and this means that they need to be taken care of appropriately.
On the plus side, most rabbits can do all of the above by themselves. They groom themselves all of the time, although it’s always recommended that you provide a helping hand. This is because your rabbit can start to become sick if they swallow large amounts of their fur, and regular brushing with help to alleviate this problem. When we define “regular”, we’re referring to a few times a week, so it’s not going to hinder your normal routine in the slightest.
On the subject of your rabbit swallowing their own fur – this won’t make them vomit. Instead, the fur will become stuck in their tummy and over time they will stop eating. You need to watch out for cases like this all of the time as they can happen “under the radar” and while mostly they won’t result in anything serious, it goes without saying that if your rabbit isn’t eating properly it can cause more severe problems and a trip to the vet is in order.
If you have a rabbit who has fur which molts, the requirements are somewhat different. In this case, you’ll need to apply warm water to their coat before brushing, and this will make the task all the more easier.
What sort of training does your rabbit need?
As you will have probably noticed with a lot of the topics we have covered, rabbits differ enormously when compared to other pets. This also applies to training and in simple terms, very little is required.
While dogs might need to be taken to training classes, the same doesn’t occur here. Instead, basic handling is mainly what is required, with this building the elusive trust between owner and animal.
As well as this, you will have to train your rabbit to use their litter, although again this tends to be much easier when compared with other pets.