Despite being one of the most popular pets in the UK, rabbits are still widely misunderstood and sadly their needs are often overlooked or underestimated. It is important to house them in accommodation that can provide for all their needs to allow them to display natural behaviour and live a long, happy and healthy life.
Rabbits require spacious hutches; the bigger the better, at least 6ft by 2ft wide and 2ft tall. If the animals are of different sizes, the largest should be able to stretch out lengthways, have space to hop and run and to stand upright on its hind legs; this is important in order to prevent skeletal aches and pains that can be a result of cramped conditions.
Each rabbit should ideally have its own sleeping compartment, although at least one of the compartments should be large enough to accommodate all of the rabbits sleeping together should they wish. Newspaper can be used to line the bedrooms for absorbency, and covered with hay; any bedding used in the hutch should be edible to the rabbit.
The main area of the hutch should be where the food is kept, a litter tray could also be put here if this is where the rabbits toilet. What’s more, the hutch should be raised off the ground to prevent absorption of surface water, and the roof of the hutch should be waterproof. In the summer months the hutch can get very warm and so should be situated in a shady area, in the colder months the hutch could be moved somewhere warmer, for example in a shed, unused garage or outhouse.
All hutches should have a much larger run or exercise; the rabbits can then decide when to stretch their legs. The general rule of thumb would suggest that the run should be at least large enough to allow three hops in a line; a minimum of 8ft by 8ft is recommended.
The run must be secure and escape proof, preferably located so as to allow the rabbits’ access to grassy areas and access to a digging area in child safe play sand or earth. As prey animals, rabbits must have hiding places such as boxes and wide tubes, distributed throughout the run. Fresh water should be provided both in the run and the hutch, and the run should offer areas of shade.
Rabbits are typically clean animals; they can often be seen grooming themselves and their companions, so it is important to maintain the cleanliness of their environment by sticking to a daily cleaning regime. Faeces and wet, soiled bedding should be removed daily, and some of the clean bedding should be mixed with the fresh bedding to preserve the ‘homey’ smell of the hutch. Underlying newspaper should also be replaced daily. Rabbits kept in dirty hutches are more susceptible to snuffles (a respiratory illness), sore feet, urine scalding and, most critically – dirty bottoms. This can lead to fly strike which can often be fatal; rabbits should be checked regularly in this area, especially in the warmer months.
Due to their sociable natures, rabbits should be kept in pairs or compatible groups as they will be lonely if left alone. The best combination is usually a neutered male and a neutered female, although same sex pairs can get along if they are both neutered, especially if they were littermates. Unrelated rabbits can be introduced so long as they are neutered and of a similar age and size; with complementary personalities, and only if they are introduced properly.
Don’t forget, the official opening of our new rabbit area is this Saturday, the 16th of May. There will be lots of activities for families to take part in and all are welcome to come along and visit the rabbits in their brand new accommodation. You can also ask staff members for advice and see if they can match you up with a perfect new pet!