There are an estimated 1.7 million rabbits kept as pets in the UK - after cats and dogs they are the third most popular pet we keep. However, they are also the most neglected domestic animals, as many people simply underestimate the complex needs of rabbits and how much time and effort they require. So how do you ensure you keep your rabbit as happy and healthy as possible? Here we'll cover the different requirements and what you can do to help your bunny...
Hutches were originally designed by the Victorians to hold a rabbit for a short time before they were eaten, and sadly many people don't realise that the space provided by a hutch simply isn't enough for adult rabbits to live in happily. Your bunny will need enough space to stretch, walk around, sit up and lie down comfortably - and this is just the minimum! It's recommended that you provide your pet with a 6ft hutch and 8ft run to really give them the space they need. Please remember that your rabbit will be extremely unhappy confined to a hutch alone, as this prevents them from behaving naturally, so they will need access to a run or other large area to exercise in. It is easy to forget about a rabbit kept in a single hutch at the end of the garden, especially as they cannot ask you to let them out for a run around like a dog or cat would - your pet relies on you to make sure they get everything they need.
You can find out more about the 'A Hutch is Not Enough' campaign here.
Rabbits are fibrevores. This means that fibre is an essential part of their diet to ensure good health. You can provide digestible fibre by giving your rabbits plenty of hay to nibble on throughout the day - they should be given a bunch of hay roughly the same size as their body to keep them in good condition. This will keep their digestive system ticking along and ensures good dental health too. Rabbits' teeth grow continuously through their lives (up to 3mm per week), so they need to be worn down by chewing hay or severe dental problems can occur, usually made noticeable by runny eyes. Your rabbit will also need a bowl of good quality dry food and constant access to fresh clean water.
You can find out more about how to provide the correct diet here.
Rabbits are highly sociable animals that require a lot of attention. In the wild they would live in large groups and share burrows with up to 10 other rabbits - that's a lot of company! Therefore it is essential that your pet gets lots of love from you as well as other rabbits. It is recommended to keep bunnies in pairs as this means that they always have company even when you're not around. Rabbits need time with their own species for grooming, bonding and playing. You will also need to provide them with enrichment to keep them occupied, as a bored bunny becomes a destructive bunny.
You can find out more about rabbit behaviour here.
Hygiene and Health
Flystrike is a common disease affecting rabbits, that can often become fatal. Please remember to check your rabbit's bottom regularly to keep an eye out for a build up of faeces (this can happen to rabbits that don't have enough space to move around in a hutch as they as sat in their own mess for long periods of time), as this is how flystrike can start. Your rabbit will need Rearguard treatment every summer to protect them against this awful and distressing disease, to prevent flies laying eggs in their damaged skin. It would be a great idea to check your rabbit's health every time you clean them out - as this should be done once a day. Remove soiled bedding to keep their accommodation clean and use a safe animal-friendly cleaning spray when necessary. You should also make sure your rabbit is neutered to prevent any unwanted pregnancies and reduce the chance of them getting certain types of cancer. Rabbits need vaccinations twice a year against myxomatosis and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease, as these are both fatal as well as highly contagious to other bunnies.
Please remember that your rabbits are complex and intelligent creatures, and they need lots of time and love to stay happy! If this has inspired you to adopt a rabbit, you can take a look at our bunnies needing homes or the National RSPCA Bunny factfile page. Also, don't forget about Rabbit Awareness Week every May!