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How to fulfil your rabbits' needs

Rabbits may seem like a low-maintenance pet but it is important to ensure that you are meeting their needs. We outline here the major welfare requirements that should be fulfilled for all rabbits. If you want to know more, the vets at your local Healthy Pet Club practice will be happy to help.

Welfare needs

For any animal, good welfare centres on 5 main topics:

  • Environment
  • Diet
  • Behaviour
  • Companionship
  • Healthcare.

Meeting these needs is actually a legal requirement.

Environment

Your rabbits should have a secure, well-ventilated living environment that provides:

  • Shelter from rain, sun, heat, cold, wind and draughts
  • Areas to sleep, rest, hide and exercise
    • The rabbits should be able to hide from each other if they want
    • Resting area: large enough to allow them to lie down and stretch out, stand up on their hind legs without their ears touching the ceiling, and move about easily
    • Exercise area: should allow them to stretch up to their full height and run (not just hop), and should contain raised areas
  • Enough safe, edible bedding (e.g., dust-free hay or straw) to keep your rabbits warm
  • Protection from predators
  • Toilet area/litter tray.

You must keep their environment clean – the living area should be cleaned daily, with a more thorough clean once/week.

Diet

You should provide:

  • Fresh, clean water and high quality hay/grass all the time
    o Hay and/or grass should represent the majority of your pets’ diet
    o Do not feed grass from dirty roadsides, or vegetation that may contain pesticides
  • Some leafy green vegetables, herbs or safe weeds every day.

It is OK to feed rabbit pellets, but only in small amounts; muesli-type feeds, commercial rabbit treats and human foods are not appropriate. Do not overfeed fruits, carrots (high in sugar) or allow your rabbits to become overweight.

Behaviour

It is important that your rabbits can exhibit normal behaviour. This includes:

  • Providing access to a large, secure exercise area, preferably all the time, but particularly at dawn and dusk
  • Giving opportunities to play with chew toys, and friendly rabbits and/or people
  • Providing somewhere to dig.

Companionship

It is extremely important that all rabbits have another rabbit for company. Introducing unfamiliar rabbits may be tricky, though, so take expert advice. Also, be sure to play with your rabbits every day – they will enjoy your company.

Healthcare

Check your rabbits daily. In particular look for:

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Poor appetite
  • Long nails or teeth
  • Injuries
  • Urine, faeces or flystrike round your rabbits’ bottoms and tails (do this twice/day in summer).

It is also important that they are fully vaccinated, and have an annual veterinary health check.

If you notice anything unusual, contact your vet immediately.

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