We know that current lockdown and government restrictions are challenging for pet owners. We want to provide some inspiration and advice on how to keep your beloved rabbits fit and healthy during this time.
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?! Whilst in lockdown, this could be a good opportunity to give it a try: there are some good YouTube videos if you search “clicker training rabbits” like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lPE3IAw62g. Trianing 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 whilst at home with your rabbits to show them just how much you love them with treats and extra food! However, 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. Be careful not to feed extra food to your rabbits during this time and risk your pet becoming overweight: diabetes, heart disease and joint disease are all common as a result of weight gain. It is very important to continue 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.