Rabbit Awareness Week 2018
Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) is an annual awareness week aimed at raising awareness around the five welfare needs of rabbits in order to help improve the welfare of these wonderful animals. This year it ran from the 2nd to the 10th of June.
Work continues throughout the year to help engage owners in the best ways to look after their animals. Founded by Burgess Pet Care in 2006, RAW has been tireless in its work to raise the living standards of rabbits across the UK.
During Rabbit Awareness Week the Kent North West branch of the RSPCA offered free rabbit health checks, in partnership with local vets. Please see the full advertisement here. Please note that this offer is no longer valid.
Rabbits are lovely animals to keep for more than just a few reasons:
Lively – Rabbits are extremely energetic creatures and they’re great to watch running and jumping around.
Social – Rabbits are extremely sociable and highly intelligent. When looked after correctly and provided with both bunny friends and a caring owner, they can become fantastic companions.
Clean – They are great at keeping themselves clean, and can even be litter trained!
If you’re thinking of keeping rabbits it’s important that you understand the commitments involved. Many people get rabbits as they believe they are easy to look after. However, rabbits require a high level of both monetary investment and commitment from their owners. They also have complex dietary needs. We recommend getting some advice from a vet or a local rescue centre if you are thinking of keeping rabbits. If you do choose to get rabbits we would really recommend that you adopt from a rescue centre such as Blue Cross, RSPCA, RWAF or Wood Green The Animals Charity where you’ll get great advice on how to look after your new friends.
Rabbits need extremely high levels of fibre in their diet. Without high fibre foods their digestive systems will not work correctly; their gut should be in constant motion with the right balance of fibre and without this they are susceptible to gut stasis.
Rabbit’s teeth are designed to continually grow as they get worn down by the fibrous grasses they feed on in the wild. If rabbits do not get enough abrasive foods their teeth will become overgrown making it painful for them to eat at all. That’s why it’s so important that as an owner you ensure that your rabbit’s diets are made up of roughly 85-90% high quality feeding hay or grass.
Rabbits also have a tendency to selectively feed, if you feed a muesli style diet they are likely to eat the high starch and sugary elements of the food leaving the higher fibre parts. Selective feeding has been shown to increase the risk of a variety of illnesses. Therefore it is important that you feed a nutritionally balanced high-fiber nugget or pellet in order to avoid this.
It’s also extremely important that you stick to feeding your rabbits according to feeding guides on the pack. Overfeeding nuggets or treats can reduce hay intake and lead to obesity.
Housing and Exercise
How big should my rabbits’ housing be?
Your rabbits’ housing should be permanently attached to a larger space within which they can exercise freely in both daytime and night-time, whether this is a safe bunny-proofed room indoors or a large run outdoors.
The housing itself should be as big as possible but at least 2 feet high, 2 feet wide and 6 feet long.
The run area should be at least 3 feet high, 6 feet wide and 8 feet long so that your bunnies can run around as they would do in the wild. It is always good to give your rabbits as much space as possible so that they can express their natural behaviours.
What goes into my rabbits’ housing?
Your rabbits’ housing should have safe hiding places so that they can hide and feel safe from danger. Make sure you have a secure shelter with plenty of soft, safe bedding, either dust-free hay or special bedding designed specifically for rabbits.
Your rabbits will also need access to an area where they can go to the toilet; this should be separate to the sleeping areas and you can use newspaper and/or a paper based non-expanding litter. There should also be at least one hiding place per rabbit with two entrances/exits.
Your rabbits should have a constant fresh supply of good-quality feeding hay, placed in hay racks and areas that are separate to the bedding area. There should also be fresh, clean water constantly available.
It’s important to provide enrichment items for your rabbits; tunnels, platforms and hiding places all work well.
Where should I house my rabbits?
Outdoors: When kept outside, your rabbits’ housing should: be sheltered from the elements, provide enough warm bedding and be well ventilated, dry and free of drafts. Your rabbits should have secure shelter where they can rest and feel safe, the housing should be secure from predators and escape proof.
Indoors: Rabbits can be kept indoors, but it is important that you gradually get your rabbits used to common household sights and sounds. It’s also important that they are protected from other animals who are their natural predators.
All areas that the rabbits move around in should be fully rabbit-proofed to ensure that they are safe and protected from hazards. For example, all electric cables should be covered and any house plants should either be safe for rabbits or kept out of the way. You should also make sure that the flooring is non-slip as slippy floors can cause rabbits stress.
You should have a little tray for each of your rabbits which is separate from their bedding area; you can speak to your vet for advice on litter training. It’s also important that you provide plenty of enrichment. Ideally, give your rabbits access to a secure area outside so that they can dig and graze on grass. If this isn’t possible the next best thing is to provide ‘dig-boxes’ filled with earth or child-safe sand and pots with growing grass in.
How often should I clean my rabbits’ housing?
You should give your rabbits’ housing a quick clean daily, throwing out wet/dirty bedding, uneaten food and cleaning and refilling food and drink containers.
Each week you should give the housing a thorough clean, removing and replacing all bedding.
Each month you should give your rabbits’ housing a ‘deep clean’ where you take everything out, scrub the housing with an animal-safe cleaner and then replace the bedding.
Behaviour and Companionship
How many rabbits should I keep?
Rabbits are extremely sociable animals and can get depressed without social interaction with other bunnies. You should keep rabbits in at least pairs where possible, adopting siblings is great as they already know each other so are less likely to fight.
If you are introducing rabbits to each other for the first time you should introduce them slowly and follow your vet’s advice. All rabbits kept together should be neutered, even siblings, to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
If one of your rabbits has passed away and you want to adopt another to keep the remaining rabbit company then a good rabbit rescue centre will often help with the bonding process.
How much should I interact with my rabbits?
Rabbits are very friendly and enjoy interaction with humans as well as their rabbit friends. Therefore it’s important that you make lots of time daily to interact with your rabbits.
Can rabbits be aggressive?
Rabbits are not aggressive by nature but they can bite, scratch or kick when they feel nervous. This is most likely to happen when you’re handling them, therefore it’s important that you ensure your rabbits are used to being handled from a young age.
When rabbits who do not know each other are introduced they can be aggressive so it’s important that if you do this you do it gradually following your vet’s advice.
Can I keep rabbits with other animals?
It is unwise to keep rabbits with larger animals as rabbits are prey species and are likely to see larger animals as a threat, becoming stressed. Rabbits should also not be kept with smaller animals, including guinea pigs, as they have very strong hind legs and can accidentally injure their guinea companions. Rabbits also carry a bacteria which doesn’t cause symptoms for them but can cause respiratory issues for guinea pigs.
Health and Wellbeing
How often should I take my rabbits to the vet?
You should take your rabbits for a veterinary check-up at least once a year and check that they are eating correctly and passing plenty of droppings every day.
Rabbits are a prey animal so will hide signs of ill-health which makes regular vet visits really important in order to help spot illnesses.
What should I do if one of my rabbits is acting differently?
If one of your rabbits is showing a change in behaviour or in their eating or drinking patterns you should seek the advice of a vet as soon as possible.
Should I microchip my rabbits?
You should always microchip your rabbits where possible to ensure that if they get lost or stolen they can be identified and returned to you, or at least to increase the chance of it.
Should I insure my rabbits?
You should insure your rabbits to help manage costs to ensure that they receive the veterinary care that they need.
Should I wash/bathe my rabbits?
You should never wash your rabbits with water as the water makes them feel vulnerable. You should however, groom your rabbits daily if possible, which will help get them used to being handled and is a good opportunity to check for signs of ill-health.
Rabbits’ skin is very delicate and therefore you should use soft, delicate brushes, where possible designed especially for rabbits: rabbitwelfare.co.uk has lots of detailed information about how to groom your rabbits and which tools to use. A daily check of your rabbits’ bottoms is recommended to make sure that they are clean. This is especially important in warm weather due to the risk of fly-strike. If you do find sticky droppings on your rabbit’s bottom, gently wash them off of the affected area and ensure that it is dried thoroughly.
You should also check your rabbits’ nails on a weekly basis and seek veterinary advice if they need trimming.
Should I neuter my rabbits?
You should neuter your rabbits to avoid unwanted litters. Additionally, up to 80% of un-neutered female rabbits can develop cancer of the uterus by 5 years – neutering at an early age will stop these cancers from developing. Un-neutered males can be aggressive to other rabbits, whereas neutered males can live happily with both males and females.