Rabbits make great pets. They have character, are intelligent, enjoy the company of humans and are a great way of introducing responsible young children to pet ownership. They are quiet, clean and are easily toilet-trained. But they must be carefully looked after.
While rabbits love company, they can be left alone during the day, and are therefore suitable for people who work or are away from home. A predator-proof enclosure to ensure their safety is essential.
An appropriate enclosure is a large-enough hutch that is divided into two connecting compartments, one with wire mesh top and sides to allow access to natural light and fresh air; while the other is enclosed to provide a 'bolthole', providing protection against threats, weather and which can be a secure sleeping place.
The floor of your rabbit's hutch should be covered with newspaper, with a layer of bedding material like straw, grass, hay or shredded paper for warmth, comfort and to prevent pressure sores on your bunny’s hind legs. Consider extreme weather conditions and ventilation when choosing a location for your hutch.
Rabbits are extremely sensitive to the hot summer temperatures we experience in Australia and may die of heat stroke if their hutch is not in a cool, shady position; or if they are not adequately cooled in hot weather.
Rabbits should have at least four hours outside of the hutch for exercising each day. Handling them will also be of benefit in keeping them tame.
Watch your rabbit's condition. Check your rabbit’s rear end to make sure it's clean and dry, because if wet or soiled, it's prone to fly strike, which can be deadly. Using a firm brush to remove dead hairs, tangles and pieces of garden matter should form part of the routine.
Feeding and nutrition
Feeding is the most important factor in making sure your rabbit stays healthy.
Rabbits are herbivores so their diet should consist almost entirely of grass and/or hay. Also, rabbits have to chew grass or hay to keep wearing down their continuously-growing teeth.
Ideally, feed your bunny about 80-85% grass and/or hay, and up to 12-15% green vegetables, such as Asian greens (bok choy), celery leaves, carrot tops (not the carrot itself), red lettuce and parsley. Check which vegetables are suitable, because many are not. For example, green lettuce and cabbage can cause diarrhoea.
Rabbit pellets can be fed in small amounts, up to 6% of the diet. But choose carefully, because many commercial rabbit foods don't contain enough fibre, and are too high in fats and sugars. The fibre content of rabbit pellets should be 18-20%.
Treats, such as carrot pieces and some fruits, should only be offered in small amounts (1-2 tablespoons per day).
Fresh water must always be available using both a drip-feed bottle and an open container.
Rabbit Calicivirus vaccination
Rabbit Calicivirus vaccination is essential.
Rabbit Calicivirus is a deadly threat. It's always fatal. It's spread by contact with infected rabbits, and infected food and other material, and may be spread by mosquitos.
The virus is routinely released into the environment by some local councils as a way of controlling the feral rabbit population. This presents a clear danger to pet rabbits, who may catch the disease from mosquitoes or from other sources.
Please make sure your pet rabbit is up-to-date with the Rabbit Calicivirus vaccination every six months to ensure protection against this deadly disease.
Desexing is strongly advised.
Female rabbits who are not desexed have a very high likelihood of developing uterine cancer as they age. Rabbits of both sexes may at times become aggressive if not desexed. And of course, rabbits can breed easily unless desexed.
Like all animals, rabbits should have regular veterinary checks, including checking their teeth and claws, as well as ensuring that they're up-to-date with vaccination against Rabbit Calicivirus.
We welcome you to book an appointment with us to check your rabbit's health and vaccination status, and to discuss how best to look after your rabbit.
See also: Rabbit Vaccinations