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Owning a Rabbit: A beginner’s guide to pet rabbit keeping

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Introduction

Owning a rabbit, are rabbits good pets? Well, they can be cute, affectionate and adorable family pets. But just owning a bunny will not give you the rewards they offer. You will need to earn them with space, love, and dedication to their welfare. Exploring some general information before buying a rabbit, on which to base the decisions you need to make, will help. In this beginner’s guide to owning a rabbit, we will discuss owning a bunny and the essential necessities required for their welfare. However, to fully enjoy the benefits of owning a pet rabbit, you will need to include your bunnies in your daily family life.

Table of Contents

Owning a rabbit - Do You Have the Space?

The space in which you keep them is the first crucial factor for their well-being.

New pet rabbit owners often overlook the space they need. For this reason, animal welfare recommends a minimum space of six square metres to confine one or two rabbits. Therefore, consider less than the recommended space as cruelty. Hence, shutting them in a hutch, or cage, with less than the minimum space is no longer an option!

That being the case, will owning pet rabbits living their whole lives in six square metres be happy? Well, no! Because rabbits can cover almost three metres in a single bound and sprint up to 30 mph. Thus, capable of beating the fastest human sprinter to the finish line. They also love to play by running while jumping and twisting in mid-air. However, all these things they enjoy doing will be impossible in just six square metres.

Therefore, when owning a rabbit, confining it to the minimum space will not help you claim the rewards they offer. Unless you let them out daily, to exercise and be part of the family.

Will a Rabbit be Happy Alone?

Rabbits by nature live in social groups. Hence, one living without another for grooming, playing and sharing body heat will suffer physically and mentally!

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Are two rabbits easier than one? One rabbit living on its own in the minimum space may become a disadvantage to its owner. By becoming stressed, bad tempered, and difficult to manage! While keeping them in pairs with extra space will help with their mental and physical health. As a result, they will be happier, relaxed and more willing to form a trusting relationship with you. Therefore, easier to manage if not dependent on you for company and / or play.

How long can rabbits be left alone? This question doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. It will depend on how you choose to keep them, either alone or in a bonded pair. To clarify, based on my experience, it’s not ideal for a single pet rabbit to live alone in a garden run. Therefore, we will assume it’s living in your home, and you are its company. If left alone for an hour, it will entertain itself. As a result, you come home to find it destroying your carpet, as I did!

Since bonding her with a partner, I can leave them alone for an evening out, with no problems. Providing they have hay, water, and toys to play with. You can leave a bonded pair for longer. However, creating a routine for your pet around your normal daily life will help.

Can rabbits be left for a week? No, since their welfare depends on daily care and attention. If you need to leave them for a week, you must arrange for their daily care.

owning a pet Rabbit - Handling and Feeding.

Rabbits are adaptable creatures that survive by a combination of the needs and instincts of their wild ancestors. Before owning pet rabbits, you should know how to handle and feed them.

Despite their appearance, bunnies are not tough little animals, and need careful handling! They often suffer from broken bones, dislocations, and spinal injuries caused by kicks and rough handling. Then naturally hide their pain. Because in the wild, showing pain makes them vulnerable to attack by predators. Therefore, you must handle them gently while taking care not to kick or tread on them.

Suddenly, lifting them up goes against their natural instincts. In the wild, they only leave the ground when attacked by a predator, and often die from the shock. So, what not to do when handling a rabbit is abruptly grab and pick it up, as in an attack. They may scratch, bite and kick, and be at risk of spinal injury, or dying from the shock. But, picking them up gently while supporting the spine. By placing one hand behind the front legs and the other under the bum, will prevent injury and shock.

Rabbits primarily eat grass as their staple diet! In fact, they eat mostly grass with only small amounts of other tasty foliage. Boringly simple, but exactly what they need! Feeding hay and fresh water, with a small amount of leafy greens and nuggets daily, will meet their needs. However, feeding these pets is not so simple, and covered in my post dedicated to their digestive system and feeding.

Bonding and Pairing

Rabbits are aggressively territorial, do not welcome strangers, and will fight. Therefore, to avoid injury to one or both, pet rabbits need bonding before occupying the same space.

While same sex bonding may be successful, a neutered buck (male) and neutered doe (female) form a better bonded pair. Although bonding is a simple two-stage process, there’s no guarantee of success. However, the failure rate is very low when bonding’s done correctly and not rushed.

Start by keeping your bunnies apart, but close enough to see and smell each other. For example, either side of a wire mesh fence. Until they each accept the others’ presence with no sign of aggression. But, do not rush this first stage. However, before bonding male and female. They must live apart until they have both completely recovered from neutering.

Now, for the second stage, you need a space that neither rabbit will regard as their territory. So, once you are sure they are ready, put them together in this neutral space and watch them. They may chase around, but if they fight, bonding has failed. Therefore, you must separate them, and return each to its own area. If they stop chasing each other, settle and start mutual grooming, their bonding has been successful. Hence, they can now share the same space.

However, rabbits have a social order, so two or more occupying the same space will start humping. This may look violent, but is normal behaviour to establish and maintain dominance, and you should not intervene. Once bonded, they don’t fight, and humping has nothing to do with mating. In fact, mating is so quick that if you blink, you’d miss it. Whereas, dominance may involve chasing and repeated humping.

Bonding with your rabbit

Equally important, is that pet bunnies bond, and form a trusting relationship with their owners.

With a kind hand, soft quiet voice, and hand feeding, rabbits will often bond naturally with their owners. But, this may take some time. Whereas, providing a quiet space with food, water and regular checks with no handling, as recommended. Will have your new pet coming to you for company. Hence, using their body language, a head down posture, may speed up the process.

For example, my first bunny, Babe, stayed in my entrance hall until the following morning. When on opening the door to check her, she ran to greet me. So, I got down on all fours and gently stroked her head with one finger for a minute or two. Then, adopted the head down posture to ask for a groom. As a result, she bonded with me by grooming my head, and we have been inseparable from that point on. Hence, bonding with a single bunny can happen quickly. Whereas bonding with a pair usually takes more time.

Owning a rabbit - Neutering

The first and most important reason for neutering is to prevent them from breeding.

To begin with, a Doe will start breeding at 3 to 6 months old. Then, give birth to an average litter of 5 to7 kittens 28 days later. However, she can become pregnant again within hours of giving birth. That being the case, a single Doe produces an average of 30 kits in one season. So, you could rapidly end up owning more rabbits than you intended.

But preventing breeding is not the only reason for neutering! In short, neutered rabbits are less aggressive, and easier to manage. For instance, during the breeding season, they can be more aggressive, especially the Doe. Because she will defend her territory from any intrusion, while preparing to breed by making a nest.

Despite being neutered, my doe has been with me for four years, and has nested every breeding season. However, shows no aggression towards me, or her partner. So, neutering will change their bodily functions, and aggressive nature, but may not alter their instinct to prepare.

owning pet Rabbits - Outdoors

Before owning a rabbit, decide where and how you will keep it. However, creating a habitat without taking their welfare into account will cause them to suffer!

Rabbits can live outdoors all year but will need extra care, because the weather will affect their wellbeing. To clarify, in the wild, they live in large groups in a series of interconnected burrows, known as a warren. Now, we assume pet rabbits can survive outside, as they do in the wild.

However, living underground in large groups provides wild rabbits with a relatively stable temperature. While sharing body heat in large numbers helps them survive at very low temperatures. Whereas, one or two living above ground will suffer in temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius. As a result, they need your help to maintain their body heat during cold and wet weather.

On the other hand, rabbits can rapidly dehydrate in strong sunlight, and when temperatures rise above 20 degrees Celsius. Therefore, they will need extra shade, ventilation, and regularly refreshed cold water to stay cool and hydrated. For this reason, having their habitat in a shaded area is essential. Whereas, keeping them in an outbuilding, with a power supply, will help you provide a stable temperature. As long as, all electrical cables and appliances are well out of their reach.

However, allowing your pets to free roam in the garden without active supervision will require extra safeguards. Firstly, rabbit proofing to prevent their escape. Secondly, protection from the predators living in your area, for example, cats and foxes.
Read more about keeping rabbits outside.

Keeping pet rabbits in your home.

Do rabbits make good indoor pets? Yes, they do. But all high and low voltage electric cables must be inaccessible to them.

 
Owning pet rabbits that live in your home allows them to benefit from a stable environment. But, must never live in less than the recommended minimum space of 6 square metres. This is often a problem for households unable to provide the space. For this reason, they often live in less than the minimum space in the home or live outside. 

However, there are alternatives you may wish to consider. As long as, you prioritise their safety, Bunnies like cats and dogs will happily live sharing space with their owners. Rabbits that are not confined, and free to explore one or more rooms, make the best pets. Because they are happier, healthier and part of the family.

As a result, free roaming them is gaining in popularity. Which makes owning a rabbit far more rewarding. For this reason, I now share my home with two cute, affectionate, adorable and well behaved standard Dutch bunnies. However, they need to keep their constantly growing teeth short by chewing. As a result, your wooden furniture and soft furnishings will suffer.

Unless you provide things for them to play with, and destroy! For example, woven grass mats, rabbit safe cardboard, wooden toys and sticks. Read more about keeping rabbits indoors.

Owning a Rabbit - Veterinary Care

Rabbits fall under the category of exotic pets and need experienced veterinary care.

As with any pet, owning a bunny comes with the responsibility for its health and welfare. But having annual vaccinations and health checks. While controlling their diet and keeping the environment clean and safe is a step in the right direction.

There are three viruses, myxomatosis, RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic disease) and RHD2, for which, once infected, there is no cure. Unfortunately, while these vaccines are available in the UK and most of Europe, they are not generally accessible worldwide.

I take both my rabbits, Babe, and Bob for their vaccinations, and health checks annually. After checking their weight, heart, lungs, teeth and claws, they have a single combined vaccine injection. So far, the health checks have found no problems. But as rabbits’ teeth grow rapidly and wear unevenly, regular dental checks are necessary.

conclusion

So, there’s more to owning a rabbit than just feeding a long-eared lodger at the bottom of your garden! To ensure your pet’s well-being, provide it with both physical and mental stimulation and veterinary care. Give it enough space, consider neutering and getting it a bonded partner. While, providing them with a secure environment, natural diet and handling them gently.

Then include your bunnies in your daily life and make them part of your family. Only then will you reap the rewards your affectionate, loyal, furry friends offer!

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