A guide to keeping rabbits as pets
When choosing a pet, many people opt for a small animal, such as a rabbit, which is thought of as undemanding and easy to care for. However, keeping rabbits requires a lot of time and knowledge in order to properly care for these animals and give them a life in keeping with their needs. With the principles of animal welfare in mind, rabbits should always have at least one companion, and should be kept in an outdoor enclosure that is arranged to resemble their natural habitat as closely as possible.
- Rabbits are not cuddly toys! The pleasure of having rabbits as pets should come from watching these fascinating animals enjoy their lives. This means that they are not suitable pets for children under ten.
- The life expectancy of a rabbit is between seven and ten years.
- Where to get a pet rabbit: Give a nice new home to a rabbit from an animal sanctuary or rescue centre. Please, do not buy rabbits from pet stores or other commercial sources, as this will only support the industry’s poor breeding and keeping conditions!
- Keeping: it is essential to give rabbits a species-appropriate enclosure of at least ten square metres, which is arranged to resemble their natural habitat. Only this will allow them to live and behave naturally.
- Breeding: rabbits are ready to breed from the age of ten to twelve weeks. Bucks should be neutered before this. Adult females are ready to become pregnant again immediately after they give birth.
- Time: Looking after these animals takes at least one hour per day.
- Allergies: Rabbit fur, straw and bedding can trigger allergies in humans.
- Holidays: Before you get rabbits, make appropriate arrangements as to where and how they will be looked after when you go away on holiday!
- Costs: Alongside the costs of acquiring the rabbits, buying and equipping the enclosure (one-off costs of around at least £200), and organic food and bedding (monthly around £20 per rabbit), come the veterinary costs for vaccinations. Note also that rabbits often suffer from tooth displacement!
- Food: No grain foods, please. Fresh hay is the staple food of rabbits. Fruit and vegetables, together with twigs from fruit trees bring variety to their diet.
Keeping in an outdoor enclosure
- The enclosure should be well insulated and offer enough protection from the weather.
- Two rabbits will need at least ten square metres.
- Rabbits love to dig and jump, so the fence of the enclosure should extend at least 50cm below ground, and be at least 150cm high.
- The enclosure should be easy for the owner to clean (include a door that can be securely closed) and should keep prey animals out.
FOUR PAWS does not recommend keeping rabbits indoors. The following advice is for people who already own rabbits, but cannot keep them permanently outside.
- All the indoor and outdoor cages and hutches available as standard are too small, and unsuitable for rabbits! To keep a rabbit indoors the minimum acceptable arrangement is an indoor run of at least ten square metres.
- The rabbits should be able to eat, dig and hide away. Cables and poisonous plants should be kept out of the way.
- The rabbits’ living area should be quiet and bright, and away from draughts and strong sources of heat. Balconies are not suitable due to the danger of heat build-up.
Read up all you can about the right way to keep rabbits.