Rabbits are cute, fluffy, and very cuddly, and millions of people share their homes and gardens with them.
Rabbits are a popular companion, and sharing our lives with a rabbit brings with it a large responsibility to ensure that their needs are being met.
While many live enriching lives which bring them joy and happiness, others suffer due to a lack of understanding of their basic needs.
One of the fundamental basic needs of all rabbits to ensure they can find contentment and happiness in their lives is to live with another rabbit and to be provided with a safe space for them to run, jump and play.
Domestic rabbits are wild rabbits at heart, and in the wild they would spend much of their time exercising in their search for companionship, food and fun. Rabbits in our homes and gardens need to be provided with the same opportunities.
They need space to run, to chase each other and to ‘binky’ in the air. A ‘binkying’ bunny is a happy bunny.
Rabbits also need a rabbit friend to share their lies with, to provide companionship and to help keep them clean. As they spend time grooming each other, they also reaffirm their friendship and bond. Rabbit friendship rivals that of all other species. Rabbits groom each other, eat together, exercise together, dig and roll in the sand together and sleep together. In fact, as soon as a rabbit meets its best friend they spend very little time apart.
In Rabbit Awareness Week, please take some time to think of the rabbits in your life and ensure that they have all they need to live a healthy and a happy life.
And for anyone thinking of getting a domestic rabbit, please take time to read through the following rabbit care advice and ask if you are ready to provide an appropriate home for a rabbit and to meet these needs for the next 11 years.
Rabbit care and advice
Rabbits are specialised companion animals and owners require detailed knowledge to meet their physical and behavioural needs. Rabbits are social animals, requiring the company of other rabbits. They require large amounts of space, mental stimulation, and access to specific foods to ensure they live a healthy lifestyle.
It is not acceptable to keep rabbits permanently confined inside a cage or hutch while being fed a diet of vegetables and fruits.
If you are thinking of having rabbits in your life, please contact your local animal rescue centre to provide a home for rabbits that do not currently have one.
space, food, water, safe hiding places, companion rabbits, toilet areas and toys.
Safe toys to play with/chew and regular opportunities to play with other friendly rabbits and/or people.
Constant access to safe hiding places so they can escape if they feel afraid.
Opportunities to exercise daily to stay fit and healthy. They need access to a large area during their most active periods (early morning, late afternoon and overnight) when they like to graze, forage and be sociable.
Constant access to good quality hay is important for emotional wellbeing as well as dental and digestive health.
Suitable materials that allow digging and areas to mark territory with chin secretions, urine and droppings. Scents are important communication methods for rabbits.
A rabbit carer needs to be ever-observant. If a rabbit’s behaviour changes or shows signs of stress or fear, they must seek advice from a vet or qualified animal behaviourist. Your companion could be distressed, bored, ill or injured.
Signs of stress
chewing cage bars,
altered feeding or toileting habits,
over-drinking, playing with the water bottle,
reluctance to move or repeatedly circling the enclosure.
Domestic rabbits should be neutered; this not only prevents unwanted litters but also reduces the risk of uterine cancer in females, reduces aggression in both sexes and enables pairs or groups to live harmoniously.
It is inappropriate to give a rabbit as a pet to children. Rabbits are highly sensitive animals, requiring very careful and experienced handling.
A rabbit’s diet should consist of 70% hay, 20% greens and fresh vegetables and 10% specialised rabbit pellets.
Hay or forage is the most important part of your rabbit's diet. Good quality forage has lots of health benefits, including:
Maintaining healthy teeth. Rabbits' teeth grow 2-3 mm a week, so chewing forage keeps them ground down. Three in four rabbits seen by vets are diagnosed with dental problems, which arise when the teeth grow too long.
Keeping the gut healthy. The high levels of fibre found in forage are vital for a healthy digestive system.
Preventing boredom. Foraging in hay will help keep your rabbit entertained.
As well as forage, feed your rabbit an extruded food such as Burgess Excel, which comes recommended by vets and contains the optimum balance of nutrients in every nugget.
Don't feed a muesli mix, as your rabbit will simply pick out the bits it likes and leave the rest, missing out on vital nutrients.
Make sure your rabbit has access to fresh, clean water always.
Rabbits have 7,000 more taste buds than humans so give them some variety in their diet. Stick to healthy treats such as spinach or kale but feed them in moderation.
Never feed your rabbit human food. Some human food is poisonous to rabbits, so don't take the risk.
As domestic rabbits still have most of their natural instincts, it’s very important that we understand and consider their natural habitat and behaviour, so we can make sure they’re as happy as they would be in the wild.
In their natural habitat, rabbits have plenty to keep them occupied, from foraging to reproduction to territorial defence. Captive rabbits, on the other hand, often lack stimulation, which can lead to behavioural problems and poor health. Much like humans, they need to be kept physically and mentally active.
Replicating the natural environment:
Twigs (which can be hung in their runs)
Planter filled with potting compost for digging
Large tubes and platforms for climbing
Places to hide (because rabbits are naturally wary)
Games, such as food items in brown paper which they must unwrap
It’s incredibly beneficial for rabbits to start interacting with people, other rabbits and other animals, such as cats and dogs, from an early age. Familiarity with other species will help your rabbits develop into friendly and confident adults. Exposing them to normal everyday sights and sounds is also important, so they’re relaxed and happy in their environments.
Like every responsible companion animal guardian, if you want your rabbits to live a healthy and happy life, you must have them vaccinated against Myxomatosis and two strains of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). Your rabbit will need two vaccinations every year. The most common are Nobivac (protects against Myxi and RVHD1) and Filivac (protects against RVDD 1 & 2) or Eravac (protects against RVHD2). Please consult your vet for advice
How you can help
The official website for Rabbit Awareness Week is really great! Lots of tips on how to care for and protect your Rabbit. Click below to explore