What’s up, Doc? All About Rabbits
Despite what Bugs Bunny would have you believe, rabbits need a bit more than carrots to live a happy life! Rabbits can live for 8-12 years and come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to know how to keep them happy and healthy for this time. Here is your guide to looking after rabbits in the best way possible, important vaccinations to acquire and common illnesses to try and avoid.
A happy bunny home:
A good enclosure is very important to keeping your bunny comfortable. Rabbits are very sensitive to both hot and cold, so since we live in Australia it’s important to make sure that their enclosure is in an area that doesn’t experience extremes either way. It’s a good idea to have two areas set up, so your rabbit can keep cool and warm up when they need.
Depending on whether your rabbit is kept, inside or outside, there are some important things to consider:
|Indoor rabbits||Outdoor rabbits|
|Indoor rabbits are protected from weather extremes, and also aren’t directly exposed to predators or disease. It’s important that you give your rabbit a litter tray, and clean it every day, as rabbits are very clean animals and like to use the bathroom in one place. If you decide to let your rabbit run around the house for exercise, you need to ‘rabbit-proof’ it to minimise any danger to your pet, for example, removing any chewable electric cables from your rabbit’s reach and shutting other pets like cats away during playtime.||Outdoor rabbits have free access to grass ,live in a natural environment and can easily exercise in an outdoor rabbit run. It’s important that their hutch is secure from predators such as foxes, waterproofed and protected from the wind and rain. Outdoor rabbits especially need to be up to date with all vaccinations, as they are exposed to mosquitoes and flies which can transmit diseases.|
New rabbit checklist:
- Secure hutch suited for its indoor or outdoor location
- Hay rack to hold fresh hay
- Safe space – either a hidey-house or indoor portion of the hutch
- Litter tray and litter
- Grooming brush and nail clippers
- Fresh bedding – newspaper, stray or hay are all good options
- Food bowls and water bottle
- Rabbit-proofed home (indoor rabbits) or a rabbit run (outdoor rabbits)
Are carrots good for my rabbit?
Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems and so need to be fed the correct foods to avoid getting sick. Rabbit pellets do not provide all the nutrients they need, so they need to supplemented with other foods. As with humans, variety is always key! Remember, your rabbit should always have access to plenty of clean, fresh water
- Hay: Rabbits should have constant access to hay. The best varieties are timothy, oaten and wheaten hay, as they provide fibre to maintain good digestion, and require lots of chewing which keeps your rabbit’s teeth healthy
- Fresh green leafy vegetables: 2-3 cups daily, such as lettuce, celery, cauliflower leaves, brussel sprouts or carrot tops – rabbits often aren’t fussy with these!
- Good quality pellets: It’s best to avoid sweet pellet mixes containing things like sunflower seeds and sultanas. We recommend giving your rabbit ¼ cup of good quality pellets a day
- Treats: This is where carrots fit in! Your rabbit should have no more than ¼ to ½ a cup of sweeter vegetables and fruit such as apple, carrot, watermelon or capsicum
Foods to avoid:
- Iceberg lettuce or cabbage
- Garden plants, alfalfa or clover
- Potato peel
- Raw beans or corn
- Grains, nuts and seeds
- Processed foods such as bread, biscuits, cereal or chocolate
There are a few important illnesses that rabbits can get, particularly in Australia as the government has introduced some diseases to control the wild rabbit population. Fortunately, there are many things you can do, as well as vaccinations, that can keep your rabbit as safe as possible.
This disease was released in Australia to control the wild rabbit population and is nearly almost fatal in unvaccinated rabbits as it causes massive internal bleeding. The disease is transmitted through contact, so anything that touches an infected rabbit, such as shoes, car wheels, bird droppings or even the wind can spread it. The initial vaccine should be given at 10-12 weeks of age, and then a yearly booster shot for the rest of their lives.
Also released by the government, myxomatosis is spread by flies and mosquitoes. It can cause swelling, ulcers and blindness due to inflammation of the eyes. Rabbits with the disease may also have trouble breathing, loose their appetite and appear lethargic. Unfortunately rabbits cannot be vaccinated against this disease in Australia, but you can still protect your rabbit by keeping them inside, or in a hutch with a flyscreen that prevents mosquitoes from getting in.
Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously their entire lives. If they aren’t constantly ground down, they can grow irregularly and damage your rabbit’s cheeks and tongue, making it hard for them to close their mouth or eat. This can be prevented by providing your rabbit with lots of fibrous foods such as to help grind down their teeth.
If a rabbit’s digestive system slows down, bacteria builds up and releases gas. Rabbits cannot vomit or burp, so this causes painful bloating and can be fatal very quickly. The most common causes of this condition are from low-fibre or seed-rich diets, dehydration, hairballs or stress. Gut stasis can be prevented by adopting a healthy diet for your rabbit, providing them with lots of water and brushing them regularly. However, if you notice that your rabbit’s behaviour changes, they are bloated or in pain, consider it an emergency and bring them to your veterinarian as soon as possible
Rabbits as pets:
Rabbits make perfect pets – not only are they beyond adorable, but they have vibrant, distinct personalities which make them a joy to watch and interact with. Like all pets, it’s important to give your rabbit love and attention, and spend time with them so that they become accustomed to your company. This way they can be the friendliest, quietest and snuggliest pet for you and your family.