What You Need To Know About Owning Rabbits
Expert advice to consider before adding Bugs and Thumper to the family.
They’re ridiculously cute and adorable, playful and fun, and are super social so will love hanging out with you........ and they’re not as expensive as your kids!
What are we talking about? Rabbits!
These beautiful creatures have been steadily growing in popularity as more people recognise how much fun owning a rabbit or two or three or four can be!
We chatted to local vets, Charlie Carter and Chris Watson from Southern Highlands Veterinary Centre who gave us some good advice about what to consider before you take the plunge and add Bugs, Thumper or Snowball to the family.
1 // What sort of rabbits make good pets?
“The most popular breeds in Australia are Dutch, Holland Lop, Mini Lop, Rex and Satin,” Chris says.
“It’s important to make sure the breed suits your environment. Some rabbit breeds like the Mini Lop and Rex have good temperaments and are good with a house full of kids, while others, like the Dutch breed are more suited to kid-free and quieter environments.”
2 // Should you get more than one?
“Rabbits are a very social species – we all know their reputation about HOW social!” Charlie laughs.
“They prefer to live in groups and will definitely benefit from having another rabbit or two or three to hang out with. If you’re only getting one rabbit, be prepared to become their companion – they’ll happily follow you around the house like a dog or cat would.”
“If you’re out of the house for long periods of time, make sure you keep them occupied with toys and activities to stop them from getting lonely or stressed,” Chris adds.
And do you recommend de-sexing?
"Absolutely and there are a couple of reasons for this - not necessarily the one everyone thinks!" says Charlie.
"We recommend female rabbits are de-sexed at 5-6 months if they live alone because females have extremely high rates of reproductive tract cancer. Males should also be de-sexed at 5-6 months of age to prevent aggression towards other males (if kept together) and obviously if kept with entire females, otherwise you'll have a bunny population explosion!"
"Desexing male rabbits is a relatively simple procedure and is the responsible thing for a pet owner to do,” Charlie says.
“Because yes, given half the chance, they will do what rabbits do!”
3 // How long do they live for?
“Most people don’t realise rabbits live as long as they do, so can be a little shocked when we tell them we’ve treated some fairly mature rabbits!” Chris says.
“Most rabbits live between 5 – 8 years but some can reach the age of 14.”
4 // Where should they live?
“A suitable rabbit hutch will keep them safe from predators (and over-enthusiastic kids!). It needs to be waterproof and include a dark, dry area with soft bedding –you can use hay, straw or shredded paper which will need to be replaced every couple of days – for your rabbit to rest,” says Charlie.
“Make your hutch at least three ‘hops’ long and twice as wide as your bunny, so it has plenty of space to move around in.”
And rabbits love hanging out with the family indoors too, right?
“Rabbits definitely like to explore. It’s absolutely fine to give them a few hours a day of exploring time inside and outside. Be sure to supervise at all times though. They like to chew things like chair legs and electrical cables - that never ends well! If they have some time out in the garden, it must be in a secure area where there are no other animals – a sectioned off area of grass is good – so they can dig and forage away,” Chris says.
“Rabbits can get stressed or anxious quite easily if left to their own devices in a hutch all day and night, so give them a balance of quiet time, exploring time and outdoor foraging time,” he adds.
"Providing them with a place to hide mimics the burrows they use in the wild which helps them feel safe and reduces stress."
5 // We ask the VERY important questions here at The Fold! Do they poo and wee everywhere?
“Rabbits are very intelligent creatures and can actually be house-trained to use a litter tray,” says Charlie.
“But don’t use cat litter. Fill a tray with hay or straw and change it regularly.”
6 // What do they eat and how often should they be fed?
“Rabbits are herbivores and love chewing away on plants, bushes, grass and fresh green veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, lettuce of course and celery,” Chris tells us.
"Hay and grass should make up 80% of their diet but don't feed them lucerne or clover hay as it is too high in protein and calcium. This is particularly important for gut health and to prevent dental problems."
"Don't solely feed your bunny commercial pellets or mixes. Many don't have a balanced diet and should only be offered as a treat. There are also a number of plants and food that if ingested, can be toxic for rabbits and ones you wouldn’t expect either.”
Yikes! Like what?
“Onions, tomato, apple seeds, anything that grows from a bulb, ivy and more. The list is quite extensive so it’s worth having a chat to your vet or local pet store about it before you get your rabbit,” Chris points out.
7 // What health issues should we keep an eye out for?
“We mentioned they’re susceptible to getting stressed out quite easily, so you’ll need to be proactive about that. They also suffer from heat stress, so make sure their hutch is in a cool part of the house or property. They’re at risk when the temperature rises above 30 degrees Celsius,” Charlie says.
“They’re also susceptible to diseases such as Myxomatosis and Calicivirus. There is a vaccine for Calicivirus and minimising the risk of your bunny getting bitten by mozzies will help reduce the risk of them contracting Myxomatosis – it can be carried by mozzies from the wild rabbit population.”
And there’s a reason they like to chew, right?
“Right. Their teeth grow rapidly so they need to be constantly chewing on something so they don’t end up with overgrown teeth which can cause dental problems.”
"Oh, and they're also naturally coprophragic," Chris adds.
"They eat their own poo."
"But it's a good thing," Charlie pipes up.
"They need to do this in order to keep themselves and their digestive tract healthy."
* Makes mental note to not come back in the next life as a bunny.
8 // So, the verdict on rabbits as pets?
“They’re playful, social and make really nice companions,” says Charlie.
“The key is being proactive about their health and bringing them in for regular check-ups. If they’re looked after properly, they can live a long, happy and healthy life and become a much-loved member of the family.”
Awesome guys – thank you. So hop to it, people!
Gawwwwwd sorry – didn’t even meant that!
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