Rabbits can make loving pets but they do have special dietary and husbandry needs which need to be met to enable them to live happy and healthy lives.
A single rabbit is a miserable rabbit! They should be kept in at least pairs (neutered opposite sexes work best). Keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together is NOT recommended. They have different nutritional needs and the guinea pig often gets bullied.
Handling your rabbits correctly daily from an early age will allow you to check their health each day and get them used to having human attention. Always support your rabbits' fore and hind quarters to prevent them kicking out - NEVER hold a rabbit from its ears. This will prevent a stressed rabbit and scratched owner and allow you to get the most out of your rabbits as pets.
Life expectancy: 6-14 years
Sexual maturity: 4 months
Adult body weight: 2-6kg
Housing - A hutch is not enough!
Rabbits need a minimum house size of 1.8m x 0.6m x 0.6m with an attached run of 2.5m. This is a minimum recommendation for a pair of rabbits, which due to their strong social interactions is strongly recommended.
It is important that rabbits are able to stand on their back legs fully to prevent back problems. They also need hidey places/ bolt holes to go to if they feel threatened. This can as simple as an upturned box.
Straw, hay and shredded paper are all suitable beddings (any wire floor is not suitable). Rabbits can be litter trained - some will learn to use commercial cat litter (not clay types- recycled newspaper is ideal) or hay/ straw in a tray works well.
If outside the housing should be rain proof and avoid extreme weather conditions, including hot weather. Mosquito proofing the housing is beneficial to help prevent Myxomatosis and flystrike.
Remember - you do not need to use a traditional hutch - garden sheds and child's cubby houses can work even better!
If indoors it is important to 'rabbit proof' your home. Protect all electrical cords and furniture as they will want to chew them. It is also important that they have access to natural sunlight as it is an important factor in their Vitamin D metabolism.
Toileting areas should be cleaned out daily, with a clean of the whole housing area once a week.
80% of your rabbits' diet should be grass in the form of fresh grass if access to a lawn, or hay eg Timothy, oaten, wheaten, Pasture, Paddock or meadow hay. Lucerne (alfalfa) or clover hays should be avoided as too high in protein and calcium.
They should also have ad lib access to dark leafy greens eg broccoli, cabbage, chinese greens, kale, spinach etc. Herbs can also add interest such as parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint.
A small amount of pelleted rabbit concentrate, such as Oxbow, should make up the remainder. Cereal based 'muesli' mixes should be avoided as they are too high in fat, too low in fibre and allow them to pick out what is tasty. If unable to provide an appropriate pellet you are better to just feed the hay and vegetables if you can provide enough variety.
Fruits, root vegetables and capsicum should be classed as treats only - two tablespoons full once a week maximum.
Fresh clean water should be provided at all times. A water bottle is ideal, but check the ball is working correctly as they can become stuck. If not make sure a water bowl is cleaned regularly as they can become soiled and promote disease.
Health and Veterinary Care
Any newly acquired rabbit should be checked by a vet, particularly if you intend to mix it with other rabbits.
At home you should always monitor closely your rabbits' food intake, body condition/ weight, eyes, ears, mouth, feet, anus and toileting behaviour. It is important to seek veterinary advice if any changes occur. If a rabbit does not eat or pass faeces for 24hrs it must be seen by a vet as a matter of urgency.
A yearly vaccination against Rabbit Calicivirus is recommended. This causes Viral Haemorrhagic Disease which can lead to sudden death in rabbits. It is also an opportunity for your vet to check the health of your rabbits including weight, teeth etc.
Desexing is important in both sexes from 4-6 months of age to help prevent behavioural issues. It is especially important in female rabbits (even if with another female) as over 4 years of age they have over a 80% risk of uterine cancer.