Rabbits are common pets, especially with children – however they do require good nutrition and health care, along with the appropriate housing and veterinary care, to keep them happy and healthy.
Rabbits are social creatures that should ideally be kept with at least one other rabbit for company and to prevent boredom. Bonded pairs of rabbits are ideal, whether two of the same gender, or a male and a female, in which case it’s important to have them sterilised to prevent unwanted breeding. It is also not recommended to keep rabbits and guinea pigs together.
Breeding like rabbits is a commonly used term and it highlights the fact that rabbits can start breeding from only a few months of age, so having pet rabbits desexed at about 3-4 months of age is very important. Chat with one of our veterinary team for further information about having your rabbit desexed.
Handling and housing
Rabbits can scratch if they feel insecure or are not held correctly, so it is important to hold and handle them carefully – supporting their body with two hands, and holding them close to your own body so that they feel safe and secure.
A large hutch is needed to house rabbits, this keeps them safe from other animals, and also provides shelter from the weather. The hutch should be large enough to allow space for exercise and toileting, and have hiding areas or a separate sleeping area that is darker. Ideally the rabbit hutch should be mosquito-proof, as mosquitoes can spread diseases to rabbits.
It is important that the hutch is well ventilated and located in an area out of the extremes of weather – as like guinea pigs, rabbits can be prone to heat stress if they get too hot. If you know that the weather is going to be particularly hot, then consider moving the hutch to a cool area, and you can also provide frozen drink bottles or ice bricks to help reduce the temperature of the hutch. Read more ways to keep your rabbit cool in hot weather.
Providing the appropriate bedding or substrate will help keep your rabbit healthy. Dust-free substrate options include untreated wood shavings or shredded paper. Regularly clean the hutch and change the bedding to remove soiled substrate and ensure that the rabbits have a clean dry area to sleep in.
Rabbits are herbivorous, meaning they eat only plant material, requiring the fibrous material to maintain their teeth and body health. They require a regular supply of grass hay and fresh grass each day for foraging, and you can also supplement their diet with fresh green vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, kale and celery leaves.
Good quality grains and pellets should only be fed in small amounts to avoid the rabbits becoming overweight or sick. Feeding the wrong diet is a common cause of health problems in rabbits. Fibre in their diet is required to help the rabbits wear their teeth down – which are constantly growing, and also to help promote intestinal movement. A lack of fibre can contribute to a condition call gut stasis which is a common health problem in rabbits.
Remember to provide clean fresh water at all times. Chat with one of our veterinary team for further advice on feeding rabbits.
In addition to providing rabbits with the right housing and diet, some of the common health problems experienced by the species involve their teeth, coat and eyes.
Rabbit teeth are constantly growing, so the animals need to be chewing on fibrous plant material such as grass and hay to help wear their teeth down. Overgrown teeth can be very painful and lead to gut problems, abscesses, weight loss and discomfort.
If you notice that your rabbit’s incisor teeth are overgrown, or that their level of activity or weight changes, or they have lots of drooling from their mouth, swelling around their face, discharge from their eyes or become picky with food – then it is very important to seek veterinary attention for them as soon as possible.
Rabbits benefit from regular grooming to keep the coat in good condition and to prevent matting, knots or flystrike – especially around their rear end and feet. Rabbits can also be susceptible to skin parasite problems, such as skin mites – you may notice them scratching, or areas of hair-loss could develop. It is vital to seek veterinary care to manage any skin parasites which may be present.
Another health condition affecting rabbits, is when their back feet or hocks become infected and ulcerative associated with them being kept on hard or wire mesh surfaces. This condition is known as ulcerative pododermatitis, or bumblefoot, and is avoided by ensuring that the rabbits housing consists of a soft substrate such as hay or grass for them to walk on.
Rabbits require regular vaccination to protect them against calicivirus – which can be transmitted by infected rabbits or via mosquitoes.
Baby rabbits require vaccination at 4 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks of age, and then every 6 months for the rest of their life.
Rabbits can also be susceptible to myxomatosis, a disease spread by wild rabbits – however there is unfortunately no vaccination available against myxomatosis.
If you have any further questions about rabbits, please speak with one of our friendly veterinary team at your local Sydney Animal Hospitals on;