Rabbit Care

Rabbit Care

Rabbits are great pets that are highly sociable and enjoy the company of humans.  They are quiet, clean and are easily toilet trained. Rabbits can be safely housed indoors or outdoors. A predator-proof enclosure to ensure their safety is essential.

Fact File
Life span – 5-15 years
Size – Up to 40cm
Diet – Veggies, hay, pellets and fruits as treats only
Home – 1.8m x 0.6m with larger area for exercise

Enclosures

Check that the hutch you are purchasing provides sufficient space and shelter, if a hutch is too small it could restrict your rabbit’s movement. Rabbits should be able to stand fully on their hind limbs and take at least three hops in their enclosure. A hutch should be as large as possible to accommodate active and inquisitive bunnies, with an area to provide protection against weather and a secure sleeping place. Hutches ideally should only serve as an intermittent shelter, your rabbits need a few hours a day of exercise outside of their hutch.

Care and Maintenance
Once you’ve brought your new rabbit home, they might need a few days to settle in. Be sure that their hutch has space for them to hide and get cosy. Once they feel comfortable, you’re likely to hear them being active at dawn and dusk. You should allocate some time for your rabbit to exercise outside every day. Set up a play area or use a rabbit harness so they can explore safely.

If you want to let you rabbit run around your home, be sure you’ve hidden potential health risks, including electrical cords and unsuitable foods. You might want to leave chew toys out for them so they avoid your furniture.

Setting up
Your rabbit’s new hutch must be at least four times the length of your adult rabbit, bearing in mind that the average rabbit is between 20cm and 30cm, depending on their breed. Make sure their hutch is escape proof and includes an area with a solid surface.

When setting up your pet rabbit’s home you have two choices: indoors or outdoors. Outdoor enclosures will need to be weather resistant, provide adequate warmth in winter and enough shelter all year round. The best place for your rabbit is inside the house, in a room that your family spends a lot of time in, as rabbits love being sociable. Position your rabbit away from direct sunlight, draughts, central heating or places that produce a strong aroma, like your kitchen.

Line the hutch with bedding to keep your bunny comfy. As long as the bedding absorbs water properly, doesn’t smell and is soft, your rabbit will be happy.

Your rabbit’s enclosure needs feeding accessories including an easily accessible hay rack, and a drink bottle that you hang on the outside of the enclosure with the stainless-steel spout pointing inside so they stay hydrated. A heavy food bowl is necessary and, of course, toys to keep them entertained.

All hutches should be well ventilated. 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. Enclosures with wire floors may damage their feet - 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 feet.

Usually, rabbits decide on their toilet corner very quickly and stick to it. Clean this corner every day and the entire cage every week or as needed. Remove and replace the bedding, wipe down the cage with hot water and wash the elements, such as toys and drink bottles, in soapy water. You’ll need a substitute home while you clean – a travel cage is perfect.

Rabbit play and well-being

Providing your bunny with a rabbit companion is of great benefit to their well-being. Desexing rabbits that are to be housed together is recommended. Ensuring one rabbit is compatible with another takes time and patience; rabbits are territorial so when introducing rabbits do so in a neutral space first.

Rabbits enjoy investigating new areas and supervised out of cage or outdoor playtime should be offered. Adding hiding places (e.g. cardboard boxes) stimulates play behaviours and provides your rabbit with lots of opportunities to burrow, chew and explore. Food-stuffed toys, apple branches and hay stuffed inside toilet rolls are some ideas to provide environmental enrichment for your rabbit.

Desexing
Rabbits are happy to be kept on their own but it is preferable to house them in groups. Unless they have been desexed, avoid housing males and females together as they won’t hesitate to breed. Desexing your rabbit has many benefits, including the following:

Importantly, it allows your pet rabbit to have a friend without breeding. A desexed male and female rabbit pair will usually get on well if introduced slowly.

It helps to reduce territorial behaviours that have the potential to cause aggression. Desexing reduces grumpiness in females and humping and spraying in males.

It prevents diseases that affect the reproductive system, including uterine cancer and testicular cancer. Non desexed female rabbits have an 80% chance of developing uterine cancer by age five.

Diet

Feeding and nutrition is the most important factor in making sure your rabbit stays healthy. Many commercial rabbit foods don't contain enough fibre and are too high in fats and sugars. Rabbits are herbivores so their diet should consist almost entirely of vegetable matter. Pellets and mixes should not form a main part of the diet. Grass or hay (not legume hay) is an essential dietary component to ensure your rabbit’s health. Apart from providing a high fibre diet, chewing hay wears down their continuously growing teeth and keeps them occupied, preventing boredom. Your bunny’s diet should be 70-80% hay, supplemented with at least three different types of leafy vegetables daily such as Asian greens, herbs or broccoli (lettuce and cabbage can cause diarrhoea). Treats such as fruits, root vegetables (carrots), capsicum and pellets should only be offered in small amounts (1 - 2 tablespoons per day per rabbit). Fresh water should always be available using both a drip feed bottle and an open container.

Appropriate hay should make up 90% of your rabbit’s diet and give them the nutrients they need. Your rabbit will also need to be chewing throughout the day to keep teeth length to a minimum, and veggies will help. The leafier and darker the better! Kale, parsley, coriander and dandelion greens are all great options.

Fruits are a tasty treat you can add to your bunny’s menu. Blueberries, papaya and peaches are a rabbit’s favourite. Bananas or grapes will satisfy your rabbit as well. These treats must be kept to a minimum as they can cause weight gain and, more importantly, upset tummies. Make sure that you throw out any fruit and veggies that have sat in your rabbit’s hutch for more than 24 hours.

Your pet will also feed on dry foods such as pellets, but make sure these are only supplemented with your veggies (not given as substitutes) to maintain a complete and balanced diet and keep your rabbit healthy.

You must check on your rabbit’s water supply every day and change it daily. We recommend using a water bottle dispenser as rabbits are likely to knock over water bowls. When it’s hot, be sure to check your pet’s water twice a day as an extra precaution.

Do NOT feed your rabbit:

  • Beans
  • Cat/dog food
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies
  • Corn
  • Crackers
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Beetroot
  • Rhubarb
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Care

Using a firm brush to remove dead hairs, tangles and pieces of garden matter should form part of your daily routine. Grass seeds can commonly become stuck in their eyes, ears and nose, causing irritation or even infection. Check your rabbit’s rear end daily to make sure it is clean and dry as being soiled puts them at risk of fly strike.

Rabbits groom themselves often and go through shedding cycles throughout the year. Give your bunny a good brush during this time; otherwise they are at risk of ingesting fur. Their claws will need to be clipped regularly. Check your pet doesn’t have faecal matter on their behind. If they do, use wet paper towel to remove it as best as possible.

Preventative Health

Routine veterinary care for rabbits includes vaccination (against calicivirus) and desexing (male and female rabbits can exhibit aggression when mature and females are very prone to reproductive cancers). Please speak to our veterinary staff regarding ectoparasite control for rabbits. Like all animals, rabbits should have regular veterinary checks, especially to check their teeth and nails.

Conduct regular health checks on your rabbit. A healthy rabbit should be alert, sociable and lively with a smooth and regular coat. Signs that your rabbit isn’t feeling well are a withdrawn personality, lack of appetite, reduced or no faeces, a dull coat, raised back, excessive sneezing and skin abrasions or cysts.

Rabbits are susceptible to various health concerns such as respiratory infections, skin ailments, overgrown teeth, fleas and being overweight.

Handling Tips
Handling is very important to establish the bond between you and your rabbit. The first step is to open the hutch door and let them approach you. Lift gently and hold them close to your body, remembering to support their hind legs. Never pick up your pet by the ears of scruff of the neck. Don’t let them jump from your arms or hold them down on the ground, as they may struggle and damage their hind legs. Rabbit’s spines are fragile, make sure their hind legs are secure so they cannot kick out and damage their spine.

Before letting your rabbit run free, make sure the room is safe. Close cupboards and toilets and put away anything they may ingest. Secure loose cords and remove any toxic plants.

When it’s time to return your rabbit to their cage, softly herd them back in rather than ‘catching’ them. Try saying ‘sleep time’ when you want them to head back to their cage.

Vaccination

The most common disease is calicivirus, which is spread by wild rabbits and insects, especially mosquitoes. Vaccinate your rabbit to avoid the contraction of illnesses or diseases. 
 

What is calicivirus?

Rabbits are susceptible to calicivirus, which is a fatal disease. Calicivirus causes haemorrhaging and damage to a rabbit's internal organs, ultimately resulting in death. Calicivirus is highly infectious and can cause death within 24-72 hours of infection.               

How is calicivirus transmitted?
Calicivirus is transmitted through the secretions (saliva, nasal secretions, faeces and urine) of infected rabbits. It can also be transmitted through biting insects, such as fleas and mosquitos, that have come into contact with the disease. If your rabbit spends any time outdoors, it is very important that it is contained in an area that is mosquito-proof and secure in order to prevent contact with insects or wild rabbits.

What are the symptoms of calicivirus?

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Shaking

If your rabbit is displaying any of these symptoms, please seek immediate vet attention.

How can I protect my rabbit from calicivirus?
Due to the emergence of a new calicivirus strain, it is currently recommended that rabbits receive a booster vaccination 1 month after the initial vaccination, then boosters every 12 months