Rabbits need lots of space to exercise and to stand up with ears pointed: a hutch is not enough! As well as hutch area, they should have a run large enough to hop 3 paces in a line and, as prey animals, need lots of hiding areas in their exercise space. The minimum recommended area to keep rabbits is 10ftx6ft x3ft. They should, in addition, have free roam access to exercise a few hours per day; the best times for this are dawn and dusk as they feel safest from predators at these times.
Did you know that rabbits are highly intelligent and you can train them to preform tricks and behaviours on cue with clicker training?! There are some good YouTube videos if you search “clicker training rabbits” like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lPE3IAw62g. Training is an excellent way to stimulate your rabbit and to encourage bonding with you.
In the wild rabbits spend their time digging, eating, running and jumping, so it is important that they can replicate these behaviours at home. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, with whom we are a Silver Member Rabbit Friendly Practice, have excellent pictures and ideas on their website (https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-housing/enrichment/). Creating a sandpit/compost box for digging and making them toys to forage food are good ideas. Consider using herbs like parsley, coriander and basil to help encourage foraging and engagement. You can create tunnels and hiding boxes out of cardboard too.
It may be tempting to show your rabbits just how much you love them with treats and extra food however, be careful not to over feed them and risk your pet becoming overweight or end up with diabetes, heart disease or joint disease which are all common as a result of weight gain. You don’t need to use special treats to reward your rabbits, their normal greens will still be a treat for them. Consider scattering their pellets all over their house. This is both mentally and physically enriching, warding off boredom. It is very important to provide a diet that mimics as closely as possible the grass-based diet wild rabbits evolved to eat. This is very important to prevent obesity, dental disease and digestive disease. 80% of the diet should made of good quality fresh hay or fresh growing grass. Lawnmower cuttings should not be given as these ferment and cause digestive problems that can be fatal. Leafy green vegetables should make up 15-18% of the diet: feed one handful once a day of washed dandelions, brambles, dock leaves, cabbage, watercress, rocket, salad leaves (but not iceberg lettuce as this can cause diarrhoea and has little nutritional value), broccoli, carrot tops, kale or spinach. Fruit like apples and carrot should only be used as a rare treat (once a month!) as they are very sugary and bad for their teeth. The remaining 2-5% should be made of complete commercial rabbit pellet or nugget (this equates to just one eggcup of pellets per day). Muesli diets are strongly discouraged because they increase the risk of dental disease and rabbits will only eat their favourite bits and not get a balanced diet.
Hay is essential for good dental health in rabbits: sadly dental disease and subsequent problems are a leading cause of euthanasia in pet bunnies. Make sure your rabbit has constant access to hay at all times. It should compromise 80% of their total diet: this corresponds to them eating a pile of hay the size of themselves ever day! The hay is important because rabbit’s teeth never stop growing and the constant hay chewing keeps them worn down to a safe length. Avoid feeding your bunnies extra treats during lockdown which would detract from them eating hay.
One of the most important things we can do for our rabbits is to make sure they are protected against infectious disease by vaccinating them. At their annual health check appointment, your vet will carry out a full physical health check and let you know what vaccinations they recommend your pet receives. Further advice on vaccinations can be found here; here.
Rabbits are highly social animals and need to be kept with at least one other rabbit, unless advised otherwise by a vet or qualified animal behaviourist. Bunnies from the same litter will generally get along, but unrelated rabbits need to be introduced gradually.
For further advice visit our rabbit advice and resources section of the website or book into one of our complimentary nurse clinics where one of our experienced nurses can help guide you keep your rabbit happy and healthy!