Rabbits As Pets
Rabbits can make good pets but sadly they are often given as children’s pets, who after a little while get bored with them. The rabbit is then left alone for long periods of time in small hutches.
Wild rabbits are sociable animals that live in groups and depend on each other for security and companionship. Therefore if you are thinking about getting a pet rabbit always consider at least a pair. A lone rabbit can become lethargic, frustrated or depressed and can start showing behavioural problems or aggression.
The average life of a rabbit is between 8 to 10 years but can be longer. Therefore like most pets, taking on a rabbit is a long-term commitment.
Housing Your Pet Rabbit
A shed or Wendy House with an outside run attached to one end, via a cat flap or specially designed rabbit door, that can be opened or closed off, at different times of the day, makes an ideal home for your pet rabbits. This needs to be secure and protected from predators such as foxes and cats. The living quarters need to be well ventilated; dry and draught free to protect your rabbits from extreme temperatures.
Within the housing and outdoor areas provide spaces to run and places to hide to make the environment more rabbit friendly and natural. Use log piles, tunnels or boxes with holes cut out so they can go in and out. Trays filled with soil or sand will encourage your rabbit to dig, an activity they would be doing in the wild. Provide toilet areas away from sleeping areas. You can use litter trays filled with newspaper, hay/straw or natural wood or paper-based non- clumping, non -expandable cat litter.
Importantly provide enough bedding to keep the rabbits warm. The bedding should be safe to eat e.g. dust-free straw/hay.
More and more people are keeping rabbits as house pets. However rabbits are destructive so make sure your house is rabbit proofed. You may find it is better to keep your rabbits contained in only part of the house. This way you can ensure they cannot gnaw on any cables or wires. Rabbits can be trained to use litter trays and many people have successfully house trained their pet rabbits.
Most rabbits will groom themselves, but regular brushing keeps their coats healthy and prevents fur balls. Use a special grooming brush for rabbits. Brush in gentle stokes in the same direction that the fur grows. Start brushing your rabbit at an early age so they get used to it. Longhaired rabbits will need grooming daily.
Keeping you rabbit and its living conditions in a clean and hygienic condition is very important. A particularly unpleasant problem resulting in poor hygiene is Fly Strike, this is caused by flies laying their eggs on dirty fur. They hatch out into maggots, which eat into the rabbit’s flesh and can kill a rabbit in a matter of hours. Seek immediate veterinary attention if you find maggots on your rabbit.
Get to know your rabbits and be observant. If your rabbit’s behaviour changes or shows signs of stress/fear, seek advice as they could be distressed, bored, ill or injured.
Other signs of illness could include diarrhoea, drinking more or less, loss of appetite, weight changes, runny nose or eyes, lethargy or sleeping more. If you notice any of these or other unusual symptoms have you pet examined as a condition caught early is easier to treat than a chronic problem.
Once you get a new rabbit we advice you make an appointment so we can carry out a health examination. We will provide you with an information pack and advise you on vaccination and worming treatments.
Unless you intend to breed from your rabbits you should have them spayed and or castrated. Un-neutered females are at high risk of developing womb cancer. Un-neutered males are more likely to fight.
The best time to castrate a male rabbit (Buck) is at around 3 months of age and a female (Doe) at about 4 months of age.
Rabbits should be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. (VHD). This is important even in pet rabbits as (VHD) can be carried on the wind or bird’s feet and Myxomatosis can spread via fleas. As well as vaccinating your rabbit we will carry out an annual health check. A baby (Kit) rabbit can be vaccinated from 5 weeks of age. We use a one dose combined vaccine. Booster vaccinations are then given every 12 months.
Teeth And Feeding
Rabbit’s teeth continually grow (up to a rate of 3mm a week) and in order to wear them down they need to have plenty of hay to gnaw on, at least their own body size in hay each day. Give different types of hay, hide treats amongst it and put some in different places to make foraging more interesting. In addition you can provide them with fruit tree branches to gnaw on or some willow type of toys and treats such as root vegetables. If your rabbits teeth seem to be to long they may need veterinary attention.
The rabbit’s digestive system needs hay and grass. Always make sure this is good quality and always available. Only feed small amounts of pellets type of food as the rabbit may prefer this and not eat enough hay, which is essential.
Fresh clean drinking water must be continually available at all time and should be checked about twice a day. Make sure the water does not freeze in winter.
Training Your Rabbit
Rabbits are intelligent, inquisitive and playful. They can be taught various tricks (e.g. come when called/entering their cage on cue/retrieving objects) and learn to use cat flaps. Only positive reward-based methods e.g. clicker training, should be used. Punishment e.g. shouting/physical coercion must never be used.
Cavies originate from South America. The domestic variety can make fascinating and interesting pets and are often given to children, as a first pet but this should only be done with an adult in charge of its overall care. Small children must be under supervision whenever they are with the guinea pig. It is important to teach your child how to pick up and handle the guinea pig correctly as some small children can squeeze them tightly or drop them if they become scared when the guinea pig wriggles.
Guinea pigs need to have company of their own kind and can be kept in same sex groups or pairs.
You can house your guinea pigs either indoors or out doors but as they have sensitive hearing make sure the area you choose to keep them in is quiet i.e. no TV, loud music or busy household noises. For this reason you may choose an out door home, such as a weather proof, draught proof shed. Extra shelter and bedding will be required in the winter months to give warmth.
Guinea pigs are natural grazing animals. Provide plenty of quality non-dusty hay with a small amount of guinea pig mix. The nutritional requirements are different for rabbits so do not give your rabbit mix to guinea pigs and visa versa. Guinea pigs will also require fruit and vegetable to give them a source of vitamin C as they lack the enzyme to produce this themselves.
Examples of good sources are dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach or cabbage and fruits such as oranges and melons. Do not feed lettuce as this can cause diarrhoea.
Clean fresh water from a gravity bottle must be available at all times and changed every day. Do not over feed as they can become obese and try to find ways that make feeding more interesting and encourages grazing.
Your guinea pig should be alert with bright clear eyes and a good coat. They are prone to eye problems so make sure you have dust free bedding. A foot problem known as bumblefoot is another common condition. This is where the foot becomes swollen due to a bacterial infection. The cause is often due to dirty bedding. It is very important to make sure their housing conditions are kept clean and dry, There living area will require daily housekeeping and attention.
Dental problems can be caused by not providing enough fibre in the daily diet and obesity from giving too many treats and not enough activity. If you have any concerns about your guinea pigs health seek veterinary attention.
A guinea pig can live between 4 to 8 years so think ahead before buying your pet as owning any pet is a serious commitment.