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I just got a new rabbit. Can you give me some general advice on its care?
There are about 30 breeds of rabbits, ranging in colours, shapes and sizes but all need similar care and attention.The following provides some general advice about rabbit care.
A rabbit needs a good-sized hutch or cage preferably with two compartments. Provide a hutch/cage as large as possible with plenty of space to move around freely. One part should provide a safe place to sleep and hide. This compartment should be enclosed to protect the rabbit from draughts and rain. The floor should be covered with newspaper with a layer of bedding material placed on top of the newspaper (straw, grass hay or shredded paper) to provide warmth, comfort and to prevent the rabbit from developing pressure sores on their feet.
Floor and bedding material should be replaced when it becomes soiled. The hutch should be thoroughly cleaned every week or as required.
It is also very important that the hutch (whether indoor and outdoor) uses fly screen wire or mosquito netting to keep out mosquitoes which can infect rabbits with deadly myxomatosis or calicivirus. Flyscreen wire or mosquito netting is also essential in order to keep out flies which can cause 'flystrike'. Flystrike is a condition where flies lay their eggs and hence maggots on the rabbit and this can be fatal, so blocking flies and mosquitoes out is critical. Some rabbit owners put a mosquito net over the hutch for protection.
Hutches need to be well-ventilated. Hutches must be cleaned regularly to prevent ammonia build-up and this will also help to reduce attraction of flies to the area.
Please ensure the area where rabbits are kept will not become too hot as rabbits are prone to heat stress which can be fatal.
Having more than one pet rabbit is recommended as they are sociable animals and require companionship. Suitable mixes include two females or mixes of neutered rabbits. To avoid having any unwanted/unintended litters of baby rabbits avoid keeping entire male and entire females together.
Feeding the right diet is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a healthy rabbit. Rabbits are herbivores (they eat plant material). Providing a constant supply of grass and/or grass hay (e.g. timothy, oaten, wheaten, pasture, paddock, meadow or ryegrass hays) is paramount in providing a balanced diet.
Please see our article 'What should I feed my pet rabbit?' for more details about rabbit nutrition below.
Regular grooming will help to keep your rabbit's coat in good condition. This also means that the rabbit will ingest less hair themselves and thus helping to prevent hairball blockages in their gastrointestinal tract. This is especially important for long-haired breeds. While brushing, take the time to check their fur for any parasites or dirt, especially under the tail because if left it can lead to a fatal condition called flystrike. Check the length of your rabbit's toenails regularly and if they are too long, have them clipped.
When you first obtain your rabbit, check it is healthy. A healthy rabbit is alert, its eyes bright and bold and its movement free and easy. The rabbit should not feel “bony” and the muscles along either side of the spine should be firm and full. Make sure the coat is in good condition and that there are no sores on its body, or discharge from its ears, eyes or nose. Rabbits can live for up to 10 years provided they are well cared for. You should get your rabbit vaccinated against calicivirus to protect it and desexed to prevent unwanted litters. Take your rabbit to the vet if you notice symptoms like weepy eyes, sneezing watery eyes, diarrhoea or any scratches or cuts. During hot weather, rabbits can suffer from heat exhaustion which can easily be fatal. Make sure they have plenty of water and shade and adequate ventilation. On very hot days you should keep your rabbit inside (where it is cooler) for the day.
Pet rabbits should also be vaccinated each year against rabbit calicivirus disease.
Rabbits enjoy being handled but they need to be treated gently and are not fond of rough games. Never lift a rabbit by its ears. This is cruel and can damage the muscles and other structures in the ears.
This website provides general information which must not be relied upon or regarded as a substitute for specific professional advice, including veterinary advice. We make no warranties that the website is accurate or suitable for a person's unique circumstances and provide the website on the basis that all persons accessing the website responsibly assess the relevance and accuracy of its content.