Rabbits

short description rabbit

It is easy to understand why the rabbit is now the third most popular pet in the UK. They make wond erfu l family pets and many more rabbits are coming to live indoors with us. Rabbits can live for 7- 10 years but to maximise this lifespan they need to adopt a healt hy lifestyle - a balanced diet, lots of exercise and the appro priate preventative healthcare.
Diet
The most important thing to get right to have a happy and health y rabbit is diet as many health problems in pet rab b it s stem from poor diet. It is important to remember that rabbits are designed for eating mainly grass. Grass is a low nutr itional plant food and so a rabbit extracts the nut rients it needs by passing food through the digestive system t wice.

Rabbits produce not only small hard droppings of waste but also caecotrophs. Caecotrophs are nutritionally packed soft sticky droppings which the rabbit eats to get the goodness. A rabb it' s gut needs to be constantly moving to enable them to do this and so the ir diet needs to be high in fibre and low in protein.

Rabbits' teeth continually grow and it is by spending lots of time chewing on abrasive grass that the teeth are worn down to the correct length. If rabbits do not get the opportunity to chew on grass or hay their teeth can continue to grow until they are no longer be able to eat. Once a rabbit has difficulty eating the gut slows, making the rabbit seriously ill.

Obesity in pet rabbits is common and obese rabb it s can have great difficulty grooming and reaching to eat their caecotrophs. This puts the rabbit at great risk of Fly Strike , where blow flies are attracted to the dirty skin and lay eggs. These eggs develop int o maggots which eat i nt o the tissue making the rabbit desperately ill.

Most commercial rabbit foods are not a suitable diet for rabbit s as they are low in fibre and high in protein. This not only impacts on the digestive system but with muesli type mixes rabbits can be selective about what parts they eat leading to furt her unbalance of their diet. In view of these problems we recommend that a rabbit' s diet sh ould predominantly consist of grassand good quali ty hay.

If you want to feed "rabbit food" along side this we recommend a pellet type food like Supa Rabbit Excel as each nutritionally balanced piece is the same. You should offer your rabbit no more than 25g of pellet food per kilo of body weight per day. Ideally feed this in two small meal s and r emove what the rabbit has not eaten after half an hour.

Rabbits should be fed vegetables but limit this to two teacup full size portions a day and because of its sugar content fruit should not exceed 1 tablespo on per day per 2kg of body weight.

Ensure that your rabbit also has free access to fresh drinking water every day.

If youneed to make changes to your rabbit's diet this needs to be done gradually over two weeks. A sudden change in diet can create havoc for your rabbit's gut flora, the health y bacteria that help the movement of the gut. If this happens bad bacteria can move in and make your rabbit seriously ill. For the same reason any new vegetables or fruit introduced to your rabbit should be done slowly.

Exercise
Rabbits should get an opportunity to exercise twice a day ideally with 2 to 4 hours of free running time. Rabbits are extremely sociable animals and for their psychological wellbeing they need to have company. Keeping a pair of rabbits is ideal and a neutered male and a neutered female will make the happiest combination but if your rabbit lives alone spend a least an hour a day keeping your rabbit company. As they have different diet requirements and because rabbits can bully guinea pigs they are not suitable to be housed to gether.

Your rabbit needs somewhere suitable to live. The main rule is that no hutch can be too large. When fully grown your rabbit will need to be able to lay down length ways and stand up on its hind legs inside the hutch. The minimum size hutch for two small rabbits is 150cm x 60cm x 60cm and for two large rabbits is 180cm x 90cm x 90cm.

For rabbits living outdoors their hutch should also have two compartments - one area with a wire front where they can eat and toilet andonearea with solid walls so they have somewhere private to sleep. Make sure that the hutch is strongly built with latches on the doors to prevent other animals getting in.

Raise the hutch off the floor slightly to enable air to circulate underneath and make sure it is waterproof in bad weather and shaded during sunny weather.

For rabbits living indoors they should have a suitable sized hutch or cage so they have their own space to retreat to and somewhere to go when you are out of the home.

Rabbits living indoors still need to be able to express their repert oire of natural behaviour - chewing and digging. You need to bunny proof your home to protect your rabbit and your belongings - ensure that all wires are covered, plants are out of reach and that curtains and blind cords are short ened. Provide your rabbit with enough stimu lat ion so that your furniture does not get eaten through boredom - cardboard boxes or t unnels placed in gaps behind furniture can distract from wallpaper str ip ping!

Preventative Healthcare
Aside from vaccinating and neutering your rabbit (see our vaccination and neutering advice sheets) you should carry out daily health checks on your pet. Rabbits are prey animals and are programmed to conceal outward signs of illness to avoid alerting predators. Pet rabbits can suffer because of this trait as by the time they are obviously unwell they can be seriously ill.

By checking your rabbit daily you can detect any problems early and if there is a slight change in their behaviour you can seek advice.

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