At Beloved Rabbits we hope everyone remains safe and healthy through this challenging time with the risk of Coronavirus. However, if you do have to self-isolate or unfortunately become ill, we have put together a basic guide to looking after a rabbit which we hope can help your family and friends if needed.
Understanding a Rabbit
Rabbits are social animals and typically like to rest for a few hours during the daytime, becoming more active and energetic in the mornings and evenings. They tend to do their business in just one or two places and feel instinctively at home in a place that resembles a dark tunnel or burrow.
Rabbit Noises To Listen Out For
Many people think rabbits are pretty silent, but when you spend time with one you learn this isn’t the case. Here is a list of noises rabbits typically make:
- Gentle grinding of teeth – it is like the equivalent of a cat purring. A rabbit will be feeling content and happy.
- Loud, continuous grinding of teeth/chattering – your bunny may be in pain and you should seek immediate medical advice.
- Cooing/grunting/honking – rabbits may make a soft noise such as this when happy or wanting attention from their mate or owner.
- Thumping with back feet – rabbits will thump their back feet if they feel they are in danger. Some also may do it if they feel irritated or simply want attention!
- Hissing/Growling – this is an aggressive sound and usually precedes an attack such as biting or boxing with their front paws.
- Loud squealing – your bunny is in extreme pain or danger.
What You Should Feed A Rabbit
Rabbits spend a lot of time nibbling and eating and must have access to hay 24 hours a day. Their incisors continue to grow throughout their life so munching regularly on hay keeps the teeth in check. It is recommended to keep hay in a hay rack and typically keep it placed beside where a rabbit goes to do its business. This keeps the hay clean and unspoiled and encourages rabbits to eat more of it as they enjoy nibbling on things whilst pooing.
A rabbit’s diet will typically consist of rabbit nuggets, hay and fresh foods. There is a lot of confliction over exactly how many nuggets a rabbit should get daily, but a rough guide is about 25g per kilogram of weight. Feeding your rabbit nuggets rather than muesli is the healthier option for your pet and it stops them picking out just the parts they like the most.
Rabbits will enjoy fresh foods including vegetables, herbs and fruits, but these should not be given in large amounts. An adult size handful is enough herbs and veg to feed your rabbit in a day and only around 2 tablespoons of fruit is recommended due to sugar content. Here is a very basic guide to safe foods for rabbits:
All food should be removed and replaced every 24 hours as well as fresh water been given at the same time.
Keeping Rabbits Clean And Healthy
As mentioned previously rabbits tend to do the toilet in one or two places which makes it easier to keep on top of cleaning! A rabbit should have a suitable area or litter tray to use and typically filled with litter to absorb urine and reduce smell. Avoid using scented shavings or clumping cat litter as a base, but instead opt for wood pellet cat litter with straw or hay on top.
It is recommended to clean this area as regular as possible. Rabbits can poop up to 300 times a day and urinate often. Dirty bedding that remains for a long time can lead to health complications such as urine scald, where their pee soaks a rabbit’s fur and irritates the delicate skin around their bottom and inside of their legs.
Rabbits tend not to like being cuddled too tightly or picked up as their natural instinct is to be free to run away from danger. If you do have to move a rabbit and it isn’t safe to lead them to the area with a treat, then below is a guide to holding a bunny correctly:
- First of all be confident! If you are nervous and jumpy then the rabbit will sense this and immediately feel unsafe.
- Do not chase the rabbit. Before picking up try to spend a few minutes calming them down with a good head scratch.
- The key is to pick up the bunny in one smooth action. Place your hand under and behind the animal’s front legs and use your other hand to support their bottom. Lift off the ground supporting their weight at the front and at the back equally.
- Turn the rabbit into your chest and secure them there with a hand underneath their tail and on their back.
If the rabbit begins to furiously struggle, drop to your knees to reduce the height from the ground and slowly release the pressure of the hold so they can slip down into your lap and then safely jump to the floor. This will reduce the risk of injury to you and the rabbit.
How To Tell If The Rabbit Is Sick?
As prey animals, rabbits in the wild will try to hide their illness and pain to reduce the risk of being targeted by predators. Our own pet bunnies also have that instinct so it can be very hard to detect when a rabbit needs to go to the vet.
It is crucial to be able to spot a sick rabbit, however, as they can decline in health very quickly and if they don’t eat regularly, they can have serious digestion issues that can be fatal.
One way to help notice a poorly bun is to get into a good feeding and exercising routine. That way if a rabbit suddenly isn’t interested in their breakfast of nuggets or dinner of kale you will be alerted that something might not be right with them.
If the rabbit is also very lethargic or lying stretched out more than normal this could be a sign of a build-up of gas inside their sensitive digestive tract. If their eyes are half shut and they are grinding their teeth loudly or breathing heavily it may indicate they are in pain.
If in doubt it is advisable to seek some veterinary advice. For rabbit care it is better to be safe than sorry.
This is just a basic guide for feeding, cleaning and handling a bunny, but for more information on taking care of rabbit click here
For any further advice or help on rabbit care, please contact our volunteer team here. Please be aware this is a voluntary organisation and our response time can vary. For all urgent enquiries please contact your local vet.
1. Rabbits are NOT rodents!
Many people think that mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits are all very similar, but the truth is they have quite a few differences which separate them.
Rabbits, hares and an animal called a ‘pika’ make up the order known as ‘Lagomorpha’ separate from the order ‘Rodentia’. Where some rodents will typically feast on meat and vegetables, lagomorphs are strictly herbivores. Both groups of animals’ teeth continuously grow throughout their life, but lagomorphs have four incisors in their upper jaw, compared with rodents - who only have two!
As if we didn’t need this information to already know – rabbits are a very special group of animals indeed!
2. Carrots are NOT good for rabbits!
What’s this? Surely not?! But Bugs Bunny was always chewing on a carrot!
Carrots and bunnies go together like dogs with bones! It’s time to end that myth. In the wild rabbits wouldn’t naturally eat root vegetables or fruit, but instead the bulk of their diet would consist of grass.
Carrots are very high in sugar and if fed to a rabbit regularly it can lead to serious health problems such as obesity, digestive issues and tooth decay. Instead, aim to feed your bunny with endless amounts of hay (seriously the more the better!), some leafy greens (kale, spinach etc.), herbs (parsley, coriander etc.) and a small amount of pellets.
3. Rabbits live longer than you think!
Domestic rabbits live on average between 8 and 12 years! Similar to dogs, miniature or dwarf breeds tend to live longer than giant breeds. Taking on a new pet rabbit is a huge commitment and one not to be taken lightly.
4. Rabbits love company!
Bunnies are social animals who love to live in a pair or a group with their own kind. Research shows rabbits are more content and less stressed when they are kept in a bonded group. Pairs between spayed and neutered females and males typically get on the best, but it isn’t unusual for friendships to form between two males and two females too.
The benefits of taking on bonded rabbits mean that they won’t be as lonely, will have someone to help groom those difficult to reach spots and have someone to snuggle with when the temperature drops.
Always make sure your bunnies are bonded before leaving them alone and never introduce two strangers together without feeling confident you can break up a fight! For more advice on bunny bonding click here.
A common misconception though it that it’s ok to keep rabbits and guinea pigs together. Despite this being a popular thing to do years ago, it is now understood this is detrimental to the health of both animals. Guinea pigs and rabbits have different dietary requirements too and with rabbits typically being bigger and stronger than the ‘piggies’ injuries commonly occur.
5. Rabbits need lots of space!
A pet rabbit’s living space should consist of an enclosed sleeping area, litter tray, food and water bowls and plenty of room to move around. It is essential a rabbit can stretch out in all directions as a living space which restricts this movement can cause major health problems including spinal injuries, muscle wastage and obesity.
The minimum living requirements for a rabbit are an overall environment measuring at least 10ft x 6ft, recommended by The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund. This should incorporate a living space and exercise run.
The more room you can provide for your rabbits the happier and healthier they will be! For more information about rabbit enclosures click here
6. Rabbits benefit from neutering
Rabbits love to have babies and will reach sexual maturity by 3-6 months, so it is important to make sure a male and female are neutered and fully recovered before introducing them.
The female rabbit (doe) has a gestation period of between 28-31 days and can give birth to between 1 and 12 kits, depending on the breed. Within hours of giving birth she will be able to fall pregnant again, so in a short time, if you are not careful, you could end up looking after a LOT of bunnies!
Additionally, neutering and spaying your rabbits have many health benefits for the animal including reduced risk of cancer (especially in females) and urinary tract infections. Research shows aggressive and territorial behaviour is also reduced in fixed bunnies!
7. Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes
It is up for dispute, but most people recognise there are over 300 rabbit breeds – this has occurred either through natural selection or, more typically, selective breeding. Rabbits are usually bred for their size, coat or temperament. Some of the most common breeds in the UK are the Lionhead, Flemish Giant, Holland Lop and Netherland Dwarf.
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