Housing Rabbits

 

Housing your Rabbit

Rabbits come in all kinds of sizes and shapes from the Flemish Giant weighing up to 9.5kg (the size of a small dog) to the tiny Polish rabbit weighing just over 1kg.  Naturally the size of your rabbit hutch should reflect the size of your rabbit.  Whatever the size of your rabbit you should remember that rabbits need space – and LOTS of it!

Big is best

Rabbits don't enjoy being cooped up all day in very small hutches and quickly become depressed and unhappy if left alone.  The bigger the rabbit hutch the better!  

Your rabbit hutch should be:

Cosy and comfortable

Rabbits like to have separate rooms for eating and sleeping just like we do.  Your hutch should have two separate compartments - a light and spacious day area and a sleeping compartment that is enclosed and sheltered for your rabbit to sleep in.  

Your hutch should have a solid non-slip floor as rabbit prefer this to wire flooring.  Wire mesh can also cause problems as rabbits can get sore feet if kept on wire floors.

Safe and secure

Your hutch needs to be sturdy, well ventilated, draught-proof, damp-proof, escape-proof and predator-proof.  

 

Rabbit runs

Rabbits are active animals and should be kept in a run for 4 hours a day at least.

A large, secure run is great for letting your rabbit hop, run, jump and dig about in safely.  The run should have an area that is covered to provide shade on hot days.  Make sure that your garden is well fenced and that your rabbit has a safe place to hide in their run if they become scared – a cardboard box or activity tunnel would be ideal. 

Rabbits love to dig and it helps keep their nails short.  If you don't want your rabbit to dig in your lawn you can buy runs with a wire mesh base but be aware that wire mesh can hurt your rabbit's feet badly.  Do not use pesticides, weed killers or lawn treatments anywhere near your rabbit run as your rabbit could become fatally ill from grazing on grass or plants treated with these chemicals.


 

Playtime for your Rabbit

Why play is good for rabbits

Playing is very important for rabbits and they should be in a run or secure garden area for a minimum of 4 hours a day.  Rabbits enjoy playing with humans as well as each other and need toys and boredom breakers to keep their minds busy. They love to get lots of attention and stimulation and you'll find that playtime keeps your rabbit happy, entertained and in good health – and you have fun too!  In fact play is essential to your rabbit's well-being, gives them mental stimulation and exercise, and keeps them alert and trim.  The best times for playtime are the mornings and evenings as this is when rabbits are most active.

Playtime for all

Rabbits of all ages like to play but their exercise needs differ according to age, breed and whether or not they are neutered. Rabbits reach maturity somewhere between 6 and 10 months of age depending on the breed.  Generally rabbits are considered to be elderly at about 5 - 8 years old but different breeds of rabbit age more quickly than others.  The smaller breeds are longer lived, with most dwarf and small rabbits living on average 8 - 12 years. Medium sized breeds generally live around 6 - 8 years and the large and giant breeds tend to have the shortest lifespan at around 5 - 6 years. 

Young rabbits – young rabbits are full of energy and are more likely to chew the bars of their cage if they are bored. 

Older rabbits - senior rabbits are not as active and usually sleep more but still need regular work outs to prevent obesity.

Large breeds – Large or giant breeds (such as the French Lop or the Giant Chinchilla) tend to be less energetic than small or dwarf breeds (such as the Dutch or the Dwarf Lop).  Large and giant rabbit breeds are prone to obesity and benefit from exercise but they are not as agile as smaller breeds and tend to suffer from joint and mobility problems.

Neutered rabbits – Neutered or spayed rabbits slow down a little and put on weight more easily.

Indoor only rabbits - It is important to ensure that rabbits kept indoors play outside as they do not use up the energy normally reserved for outdoor activities.  Exercise helps to prevent obesity.

Playing games with your rabbit is a great way to prevent boredom and get to know them a bit better.  Your rabbit will play hide and seek with you, chase you, play with a football and play King of the Castle if you lie down!  Obstacle courses are great fun and you can create one in your garden out of tunnels and jumps.

Choosing the best toys for your rabbit

The best toys for your rabbit can prevent boredom, discourage destructive behaviour, provide mental stimulation and keep them supple and agile.  Some rabbits enjoy throwing their toys around and up into the air so make sure the toys you choose are safe and have no sharp edges.

Chasing and jumping – Rabbits love to run about and will chase balls and tug toys.  These are often made from wicker or rope which satisfies your rabbit's need to chew.  

Digging and burrowing – Tubes and tunnels are ideal for your rabbit as they recreate an underground environment.

Chewing and gnawing – There are lots of chew toys for your rabbit to gnaw at and range from sticks, wood, fruit and vegetable chews, kongs and treat balls.  Your rabbit needs to chew to keep their teeth trim as their teeth do not stop growing.

 

Keeping Rabbits Healthy

When you get a new rabbit you should register with a vet as soon as possible for a health check and to arrange vaccinations.  

Vaccinations

When your rabbit is about 8 weeks old you should start their vaccinations.  There are 2 shots which are given 2 weeks apart.  
Boosters are given twelve months after the starter course and your vet will tell you when they are next due.  If you live in a high risk area your rabbit should receive vaccination against Myxomatosis every 6 months.

Which diseases are covered by vaccination?

Myxomatosis – a fatal, highly contagious disease.  Transmitted by biting insects and direct contact with infected rabbits or hares.  Symptoms include swollen, runny eyes, blindness, swollen genitals, swelling in the head, thick pus discharge from the nose and lumps on the body.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) – a fatal, highly contagious disease.  Transmitted by direct contact by biting insects or infected rabbits and indirect contact via contaminated food, bedding or water.  VHD is also transmitted via humans or animals that are carrying the disease on clothing, hands or fur.  Symptoms include lethargy, collapsing, convulsions, lack of co-ordination, paralysis, breathing difficulties, bloody discharge from the nose, jaundice, weight loss, fever and groaning.  However many rabbits show no symptoms at all and are simply found dead.
 

Health Care

You can tell if your rabbit is feeling ill or is in pain by their behaviour.  If you notice that they are not eating or drinking, or are quieter than usual this could be a sign of illness.   Rabbits that are stressed are much more likely to become ill.

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Flystrike

Flystrike can be fatal. Flies lay their eggs in soiled fur under the rabbit's tail and can be a particular problem in summer.  Long haired rabbits are especially vulnerable. The maggots hatch out 12-24 hours later and burrow into the flesh.  Check every day to make sure your rabbit and the hutch and bedding are clean and fresh.  In the summer, Flystrike can happen in as little as a few hours, so it's advisable that your rabbit is checked at least twice a day during this time of year.   To help prevent Flystrike remove soiled bedding daily.  Products are available to prevent Flystrike but if you think your rabbit is affected seek immediate veterinary attention.

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Fleas, Lice, Mites and Worms

Fleas - Fleas can be a problem at any time of year and if your rabbit is scratching a lot she probably has fleas.  Fleas are hard to spot but you may see small black bits of dirt on their skin and coat which are their feaces.  Fleas spread the disease Myxomatosis (see Vaccinations above).

To get rid of fleas you have to treat your rabbit's hutch as well as your rabbit to break the flea life cycle.   Bedding should be destroyed and the hutch scrubbed with an appropriate insecticide.  Your rabbit should have regular treatments for fleas to prevent them reoccurring. There are several treatments for your rabbit - Flea Drops, Tablets, Spray and Powder.  Only use rabbit flea products and not ones for other animals as they may seriously harm your rabbit.   
Petstop is licensed to sell a full range of anti-parasitic treatments, which you would normally find at your veterinary clinic, that provide an effective, long lasting treatment. Our qualified staff can dispense these treatments without consultation fees.    They are much stronger than the standard off the shelf products and have faster acting active ingredients.
Visit our rabbit Products section for a selection of flea treatments
 

Lice – Signs that your rabbit has lice are continued scratching and tiny white eggs (nits) attached to their fur.  

Lice can be destroyed by insecticide powders and sprays.  Several applications are necessary to eliminate the succeeding generations of lice emerging from the nits.
Mites – There are several different mites that can affect your rabbit.  Signs of mites are scratching, brown matter in the ears, bald patches on the coat and irritated broken skin.  

Our qualified staff at Petstop are licensed to sell a full range of anti-parasitic treatments, which you would normally find at your veterinary clinic.  
Visit our rabbit Products section for a selection of mites and lice treatments
   
Worms – Worms can cause ill health in rabbits as well as posing a risk to people. Symptoms are difficult to spot, but can include loss of condition and diarrhea.

Petstop is licensed to sell a full range of anti-parasitic treatments, which you would normally find at your veterinary clinic, that provide an effective, long lasting treatment. Our qualified staff can dispense these treatments without consultation fees.    They are much stronger than the standard off the shelf products and have faster acting active ingredients.
Visit our rabbit Products section for a selection of worm treatments
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Neutering

We highly recommend that you neuter your rabbit.  Neutering your rabbit not only prevents unwanted breeding, but it also has significant health and behavioural benefits.  Neutered rabbits are more sociable, live longer and are easier to manage.  They are also less destructive and less aggressive.  

80% of female rabbits (does) die of uterine cancer by the age of 5 but this is an illness that can easily be prevented by neutering your female rabbit while she is young and in good health.
If you keep a male rabbit (buck) and a doe together that have not been neutered be warned - a doe can become pregnant at 5 months old, produce approximately 30 young in a single breeding season and can become pregnant again within hours of giving birth!
Neutering reduces aggression and territorial behaviour.  Bucks that have not been neutered can spray urine and attack other rabbits.  Does that have not been spayed can also be aggressive towards other rabbits and can suffer from repeated phantom pregnancies, constantly pulling out their own fur in order to line a nest.
While bucks can be neutered as soon as the testicles descend (usually around 14 weeks of age), the operation is not carried out on does until they are around 6 months old.

 

 

In Winter

In winter your rabbit will need protection from the freezing temperatures and cold weather.  If your rabbit was born in the autumn they will not have a winter coat so they should be kept indoors.  If you have bought your rabbit from Petstop they will not have a winter coat as we keep them nice and warm indoors so remember to choose a suitable hutch and cover if you are going to keep your rabbit outdoors and keep the hutch in a sheltered location.

Winter coats

 

Keeping warm and dry

Food and water in winter

Winter health and exercise

Visit our rabbit Health advice to learn more

 

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