Rabbits

Rabbits can make a lovely addition to the family; they are inquisitive and adventurous by nature with each having their own lovely personalities. Rabbits come with many requirements and a commitment of 8-12 years, although some will live for longer.

Environment

A suitable living environment

Diet

A suitable diet

Behaviour

To be able to behave normally

Companionship

To have appropriate companionship

Health

To be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

1

Environment

A suitable living environment

2

Diet

A suitable diet

3

Behaviour

To be able to behave normally

4

Companionship

To have appropriate companionship

5

Health

To be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Did you know?

The likely lifetime cost of owning a pair of rabbits could be up to £16,000. This includes neutering, yearly vaccinations, appropriately sized accommodation and a healthy diet. However, this does not include veterinary fees for illness or injury. When choosing to take on a pet, it is important to remember that under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and similar legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, a child under the age of 16 cannot have legal responsibility for an animal’s welfare – it is the responsibility of the child’s parents or carers to ensure that the animals’ needs are met.

8 - 12 years life expectancy (some will live longer)

Requires the companionship of at least one other well matched rabbit, a good combination is a neutered male & neutered female pair

Herbivores: diet should be made up of 85% hay, 10% fresh forage, 5% dry pellet feed, fresh drinking water

Housing: spacious enclosure to enable behaviours including hopping, running, stretching, jumping and digging

Are Rabbits right for me?

Although rabbits are portrayed as cute, cuddly and an ideal children's pet, they can often find being handled or sudden loud noises and movements very scary & stressful, this is due to them being a prey species. Naturally rabbits would only be picked up when they are under attack. Therefore, they can find being handled and picked up by people scary and stressful. For this reason, rabbits are more suited to children who are slightly older and have a more relaxed approach. With time and patience rabbits can become very loving and affectionate pets, the preferred approach to socialising with rabbits is to sit on the floor of their accommodation and allow them to hop up to you and feed from your hand, they will soon feel comfortable to hop on and off your lap especially if some tasty fresh food or forage is on offer. Keeping handling to a minimum and for health check purposes only will also reduce the risk of injury to yourselves or the rabbits. With any new pet, it is very important to take the time to learn as much as possible about the modern way of caring for your chosen pet.

Not sure where to start? Click on any of the charity links at the bottom of this page for lots of up to date advice and support

Rabbits need an enclosure measuring at least 3m x 2m x 1m high (10ft x 6ft x 3ft high) which comprises of a shelter with attached run.  An enclosure of this size will allow a pair of medium-sized rabbits to perform their natural behaviour such as stretching up fully on their hind legs, running, jumping and digging. Rabbits should have permanent access to all areas of their accommodation to allow for their natural activity patterns. Enrichment such as tunnels, hides, logs and dig trays should also be available. Larger breeds or bigger groups of rabbits will need more space than this.

Rabbits are herbivores, a healthy diet plays a big role in helping to prevent dental disease, fly strike, obesity and digestive problems. They should have constant access to good quality hay; in fact their diet should consist of 85% good quality green hay that is free from dust, 10% fresh forage (such as grass, bramble, leafy cabbage or broccoli), 5% nuggets, and clean drinking water which is constantly available. Muesli type feed and a lack of hay can lead to life threatening dental and digestive disease.

 

Happy rabbits are active and inquisitive, hence why they need constant access to hay to eat and plenty of space to explore. Their day consists of hopping, sniffing, jumping, digging, grooming and sleeping in between. If they are truly happy you should also often see them ‘binky’, which is a leap of happiness into the air with their back feet off the ground. Rabbits are known for digging and chewing, in some cases this can result in the rabbits escaping their enclosure. Microchipping your pet rabbits will aid the safe return of your pet.

 

Rabbits depend on the companionship of their own kind for their safety, comfort and happiness. The best match is a neutered male & neutered female pair of similar size and age. Many rescue centres offer a mixing service for single rabbits. Naturally rabbits would live in large groups; a single rabbit or one paired with a different species is likely to be less happy than one living with a well-matched rabbit companion. 

Rabbits require vaccinations against Myxomatosis and RVHD1 & 2 (Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease strains 1&2); all are fatal and easily contracted if vaccinations are not maintained. Rabbits also require their nails checking regularly and clipped when needed. They should be health checked regularly to spot any early signs of illness. Rabbits kept in small hutches without 24-hour access to a large run are more prone to fly strike, obesity and mobility problems. Rabbits are very prone to dental disease if the incorrect diet is offered. This can be extremely painful, life threatening and have significant financial implications. Neutering your rabbits prevents unwanted litters; uterine cancer in females; and behaviour issues such as spraying and fighting. Males can be castrated from 3-4 months of age and females from 6 months. You should register your rabbits with a vet who will be able to provide you with more advice on things like vaccination, neutering and general health care. Some vets may have more experience with rabbits than others. Check out this rabbit friendly vet list to help you find a ‘rabbit savvy’ vet.

As with any pet, unexpected veterinary costs can be challenging. There are many companies who provide affordable pet insurance for rabbits of all ages.

Check before you buy

Please consider contacting your local animal rescue/rehoming centre first

There is an estimated 67,000 rabbits in UK rescue centres waiting to find their forever homes. Rescue centres find themselves with every breed, age and temperament of rabbit. All reputable rescue centres will have neutered, vaccinated, health checked and socialised every rabbit prior to rehoming and the average fee is often the same as purchasing a rabbit from another source. However, it's likely that rabbits from elsewhere will not have had the above done and may come with considerable financial and emotional implications. The following PAAG members rescue and rehome rabbits: Wood Green the animal's charity, RSPCA, Scottish SPCA, USPCA, Raystede and Blue Cross, with the RWAF offering lots of support and advice on rabbit care.

Ensure you are 100% confident that the rabbit(s) is the correct gender that you have been advised it to be

If you are unsure, speak to your vet for further advice. Unexpected litters & accidental pregnancies make up a large percentage of rabbits finding their way into rescue centres.

Spend plenty of time with the rabbit(s) to ensure their character will suit your family

Don't be tempted to purchase ‘starter pack’ accommodation

In most cases these will be too small to meet a rabbit needs and often poorly built with a short shelf life. Purchase or build large quality enclosures, that with the correct care, should last around 10 years. This may cost between £300-£1000.

Always health check any rabbits you intend to purchase prior to taking them home

Healthy rabbits should be:

  • Alert & inquisitive
  • Hopping about without signs of discomfort
  • Healthy looking coat free from flaky or scurfy skin
  • Eyes bright and not weeping (sign of dental disease)
  • Nose dry and clean
  • Nails not overgrown and curling
  • Bottoms clean
  • Head not tilted or swaying

Always check what they have previously been fed - correct diet is very important for rabbits

Continue with this diet when you take the rabbit(s) home. If you want to change the diet this should be done very gradually over a few weeks. If they have been fed muesli type feeds and had limited amount of hay, they may be more at risk of being in early stages of dental disease, so it is wise to take advice from your vet.

Ask for vaccination cards and neutering proof to ensure you are taking on what has been advertised

Rabbits, like cats and dogs, should be microchipped

Take your new rabbits to your chosen vet at the earliest convenience for a health check and chip scan to ensure all is as should be. Always remember to update microchips if you change your contact details or are taking on pets that have already been owned in the past.

Common Scams

The most common misfortune when taking on pet rabbits is that they are often incorrectly sexed resulting in unexpected litters, or a rabbit that is already unknowingly pregnant at point of purchase

Adopting rabbits from a rescue centre is one of the safest ways to guarantee you are taking on a healthy and happy pet.

So you think you're ready to become a rabbit owner? Visit any of these charity links for the latest advice and support in finding your new pets

Government Codes of Practice on how to meet the five welfare needs for rabbits: