Deciding to get a pet rabbit can be an exciting time, but it can also be a bit of a minefield when it comes to knowing exactly what you will need for your new fluffy companion. From knowing what size enclosure to get to how much it will cost each month to feed. Below we cover some of the basics that you will need to know before bringing your new companion home.
Indoor or Outdoor?
For years many people have successfully housed rabbits outside, however often this was in very small hutches and the rabbit was left most of the day with little or no mental stimulation. As we advance in our knowledge about the cognitive ability of our furry companions, we now know that this type of care is not suitable for our rabbits. Housing your rabbit outside is still completely fine, but some considerations need to be made.
- Is your garden fox proof? Foxes will potentially try to access a hutch if they can get into your garden. Foxes could seriously injure your rabbit or potentially spread diseases. So, if you think your garden is frequently visited by them perhaps consider housing your rabbit inside.
- Is your garden big enough to house a hutch? Rabbits require a hutch large enough so they can hop 3 times from one side to the other as a minimum. So, for an average adult rabbit it is recommended to have a hutch at least 6 foot long. As well as the main hutch it is then recommended that the hutch also have an accessible run for during the day so your rabbit can enjoy time outside and enrichment can be provided to allow your rabbit to exhibit its natural behaviours.
- Is your garden sheltered? Rabbits need shelter from the elements, especially in wintertime so making sure you have an area that your hutch will not be fully exposed to the elements is essential. One of the best locations is having the hutch up against a shed or wall so the back of the hutch is protected, and then a tarpaulin can be placed over the front of the hutch at nigh time or during spells of bad rain/wind/snow.
- Will my rabbit have the social interaction needed in the garden? Quite often when rabbits are housed in the garden it is easy for us to forget to spend quality time with them. Rabbits are social animals and do well with interaction with people, so long as young children are not too rough with them. But when housed in the garden it is quite easy to not spend as much time with them compared to if they were housed inside, especially during winter. So it is a good idea to get in to a routine early when you bring your rabbit home of going out to spend time with them as soon as you come in from work or the children come in from school or consider rabbit proofing your home so during the winter months they can be brought inside for some social interaction.
- Vaccinations – if your rabbit is living outside in a garden where wildlife may enter it is important to have them vaccinated against myxomatosis and RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 1+2). They can have these vaccinations from the age of 5 weeks and then regularly throughout their lives.
If you have made the decision to house your rabbit inside, then the main things to consider are the space required for a cage and rabbit proofing your home. The same rule applies, and the enclosure needs to be big enough for your rabbit to hop 3 times. However indoor cages do not need to be as sturdy as outdoor ones. So rather than a wooden hutch there are some fantastic plastic/metal indoor rabbit cages available to purchase. When it comes to rabbit proofing your home the important parts are electrical wires! Rabbits have constantly growing teeth and by nature are chewers. So, covering all cables with cable covers is vitally important, and then consider blocking up areas under furniture and near doorways. Below are some examples of good outdoor and indoor rabbit housing.
What food and bedding to use?
Once you have decided where to house your rabbit and what kind of enclosure to use the next thing to consider is food and bedding. Rabbits are natural grazers, and anytime outside munching on grass is perfect for them. However, wintertime is not great for them to be out unsheltered for long periods and in spring the grass can be a little rich in sugar, so consider picking a couple of small handfuls of grass a day to give to your rabbit. There are lots of commercially available dry rabbit foods on the market that are available and knowing which one is going to be suitable for your rabbit can be tricky. The best thing to avoid are muesli dry foods. These may look nicer than standard pellet foods, however with muesli feeds rabbits will often selective feed. This means that they eat all the nice bits and leave the boring ones, which results in them not having a balanced diet and can lead to health issues. Providing your rabbit with a good quality pellet food will ensure they obtain all the nutrients required. Lastly you can provide your rabbit with a small handful of fresh veg or leafy greens daily like kale, broccoli or spinach, or even in summer weeds like dandelion or plantain. Just make sure any hand-picked weeds are washed thoroughly before feeding to your rabbit. You can feed your rabbit treats of pieces of apple or carrot, but these should only ever be given as treats due to the sugar content. And then the most important component of your rabbits diet is hay! Hay makes up around 80% of your rabbits daily diet. It should always be available to them and you should offer a portion around the same size of your rabbit daily in the morning, and if that is all gone by the afternoon offer another portion. Hay is vital for their digestive health and also helps to keep their teeth healthy. Try to purchase a lust free bagged hay for them to eat as this is safer and usually greener and more sweet smelling than bedding hay and your rabbit will enjoy eating this much more. So, your daily feeding schedule should look like this;
- Morning feed consisting of a portion of fresh hay the same size of your rabbit
- Morning pellet feed of around 1-2 tablespoons depending on the size of your rabbit.
- And lastly a handful of fresh greens twice a day.
For more information on feeding your rabbit the PDSA have created a rabbit feeding leaflet which can be found here;
So, with the food sorted it is now down to the bedding. There are many suitable forms of bedding you can use from wood shavings to straw and hay. The important thing to consider is that the rabbit needs to have a dust free environment to prevent respiratory problems occurring. If your rabbit is housed outside with plenty of ventilation using straw and hay will be absolutely fine. However, if your rabbit is housed inside it wood be better to use a dust free wood saving substrate with a small hay or straw area for bedding. This will ensure they maintain a health respiratory tract. Old towels and clothing can also be a nice change for your rabbits bedding, just ensure you check regularly for any holes or frayed areas that your rabbit could get caught in.
Lastly, we need to consider how to keep your rabbit mentally active while you are out. Enrichment is vital for your furry friend and keeps them active and thinking and prevents boredom. This can be provided in many ways. Some ideas are listed below;
- Digging trays – trays that can be filled with soil/sand and treats hidden inside. Rabbits are natural diggers so this will encourage them to display that behaviour.
- Treat balls – Instead of feeding your rabbit his pellets in a bow, place them in a treat ball that he/she needs to roll around to access. This will help keep them mental and physically active.
- Mineral blocks – as well as providing essential nutrients these will also help maintain your rabbits dental health.
- Grass trays – great for indoor housed rabbits. These can be grown quickly at home and placed in with your rabbit for them to graze on.
- Tunnels – rabbits naturally live undergrown in tunnels and burrows in the wild so providing them with safe, hard wearing plastic tunnels allows them to feel safe and secure and display some of their natural behaviours.
As with any pet you should always consider the cost of keeping an animal. This should include thinking about vet care as well as the basics around housing and feeding. The average costs for a good quality hutch or indoor cage is anywhere from £150 up over, remembering good quality will last longer and be better for your rabbits health. Feeding a rabbit could cost on average £10 – £20 per month depending on the size of your rabbit. And then bedding costs could be around £5 – £10 per month and then if your rabbit is housed outside vaccinations are vital. So cost is definitely something to take into consideration before bringing your new companion home.