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Is a rabbit a good pet - Important read Have you got what it takes?


Rabbits are a popular choice for many families with an estimated 1.5 million rabbits kept as pets in the UK. And it's no surprise as rabbits are highly intelligent, curious animals. Owning rabbits' can be extremely rewarding.

Rabbit's come in a variety of breeds, shapes and sizes

Rabbit's come in a variety of breeds, shapes and sizes and each bunny has there own unique personality.

Rabbits are intelligent.

Pet rabbits can be taught to respond to commands using positive reward-based training.


Rabbits have strikingly distinctive personalities. They can be as playful and silly as puppies or kittens, as independent and fascinating as cats, or as loyal and openly affectionate as dogs. And long-time rabbit owners claim that domestic rabbits are, in their own way, every bit as smart as cats and dogs.


Rabbits can quickly learn to respond to their names, as well as to simple words, and they learn to use litter boxes readily.



Rabbits are fragile

"Young children and rabbits do not mix, and this fact cannot be emphasised enough.”


Children are naturally loving. However, “loving” to a small child often means holding, cuddling and carrying an animal around—behaviours that make most rabbits feel insecure and frightened, as they would in the grasp of a predator.


Many rabbits are accidentally dropped by children, resulting in broken legs and backs. When mishandled, rabbits who scratch or bite to protect themselves are often surrendered to rescues, where they may be euthanised for “bad behaviour.


But this doesn’t mean that rabbits and children can never coexist happily. It does expect that an adult should always be the primary caretaker and should supervise any children who interact with the rabbit. Children who learn from adults how to interact appropriately with rabbits often form lasting bonds with these small family members and develop a respect for animals that carry into adulthood.

Rabbits have fragile bones and need support if picked up

Choosing the right bunny friend


Naturally sociable, rabbits like companionship and prefer to live in pairs or compatible groups and their behaviour will reflect this.


Never place a rabbit with a guinea pig.

Children who learn from adults how to interact appropriately with rabbits often form lasting bonds with these small family members and develop a respect for animals that carry into adulthood.

The animals are different species, do not “speak the same language”, and often a rabbit will inflict severe injuries on a guinea pig. Some pet shops display these animals in the same cage when they are available for sale. Despite this, they should not be bought as a pair.

There are many breeds to choose from, although a rabbit of mixed breeding can offer just as much fun and companionship. Rabbits with long fur take much more looking after as the coat can become matted quickly and therefore requires daily grooming.


Most rabbits are happy living either indoors or outside but, if choosing to keep them as house rabbits, extra care must be taken to keep them safe in their indoor environment. All cables must have a protective covering, and house plants should be removed as they may be poisonous.


It is essential that rabbits are able to exhibit their natural behaviour, so they must be kept in accommodation which allows them to hop, stretch and play. Think carefully about whether you have the time, money, facilities and knowledge to care for rabbits as they can live for up to ten years.


Allowing them to Get to know you


Rabbits are individuals – some will enjoy being stroked while others prefer to be left alone. As they are prey animals, rabbits always prefer to interact with you on ground level, where they will feel far happier and safer. If you sit quietly, most will happily come over and see you – especially for the occasional treat!

Rabbits always prefer to interact with you on ground level

Rabbits that are regularly and correctly handled from an early age can learn to tolerate the experience, but remember that most will never feel comfortable, as it is not natural for them to be lifted up with their paws off the ground.


When you do need to pick up your rabbit, the safest way is to slide one hand underneath the body and in-between the front legs, with your other arm around its hindquarters, supporting its body weight. Place the rabbit against your body with its head towards your arm. Never pick a rabbit up by its ears or by the scruff of its neck. Always put a rabbit down gently, hind legs first, on a non-slip surface.


Before deciding to buy/acquire rabbits, make sure you find out how they have been bred, what they have been fed and how they have been cared for. Also, check out if any of them they have had (or may be prone to) any health or behaviour problems before you take them on and always ask a vet for advice if you are unsure about anything.


Benefits of Adopting a Pet Rabbit over buying

1) You are saving a life.

You are providing an animal with the second chance they deserve. Many have been rescued from horrific circumstances such as cruelty, neglect and abandonment, or quite commonly their owners were no longer able to look after them due to illness or a change in the situation.


Continually overrun with abandoned rabbits, local shelters and rescues are the best places to find a new pet bunny. Not only will you save an animal needing a home, but there are also several additional benefits.


2) Wide choice and known health issues

Rescues often have rabbits of varying sizes, breeds, and ages. So, if you were looking specifically for a young, agouti mini lop, you will most likely find a good fit at the local rescue. But, you also might surprise yourself and fall in love with an older mixed breed rabbit once you start looking.

Aside from the ability to choose from a wide selection of different kinds of rabbits, adopting from a rescue is also very convenient. Volunteers at rescues take the time to acclimate rabbits to living in houses. In this way, the time you would have to take to train the rabbit is cut down considerably.

Furthermore, because a lot of rescued rabbits live in foster homes, many are accustomed to living in households with children and other pets. So if your household situation is similar, adopting a rabbit who is already comfortable in that environment makes the transition easier for both you and the rabbit.


3) Adopting over buying will be cheaper

Shelters often microchip, spay, neuter and vaccinate the animals that come into their care. This saves you a lot of money because you don’t have to pay for the procedures yourself and it ensures the pet you are taking home is healthy. Also, the prices of adopting a pet from a shelter are often a lot lower than the rates charged by breeders.


Rabbits make great house pets

Ideal home comforts for rabbits, can you spare the space?

Rabbits Living in a draughty, damp, hot, poorly ventilated or dirty environment can cause them to suffer and become ill. Providing housing that meets rabbits’ complex environmental and behavioural needs is an integral part of responsible ownership.


Outdoor rabbits need plenty of room with a hutch large enough to be able to stand on their hind

legs, have the opportunity to stretch out, and hop around.

The minimum hutch size for small or large rabbits is 183cm x 90cm floor space, by 90cm tall. Gone are the days when rabbits were kept at the end of the garden in a hutch with no facility for exercise.

There must also be a private compartment for them to retire to when they wish for some privacy. The minimum hutch size for small or large rabbits is 183cm x 90cm floor space, by 90cm tall. Gone are the days when rabbits were kept at the end of the garden in a hutch with no facility for exercise.


A good choice of accommodation for rabbits is a small wooden Wendy house with either a large run attached or a fenced area surrounding it to allow the rabbits to exercise as and when they feel the need. Benefits of this type of accommodation are it gives owners the opportunity to observe them exhibiting more natural, happy behaviours.


Rabbits kept in a housing which is too small often become ill-tempered and challenging to handle.

This may be because they are suffering from skeletal pain as a result of being confined. If your rabbit’s behaviour changes in this way, consider their accommodation but also seek veterinary advice.

Holiday time - Do you like going away?

If you are going away, try to find someone to care for, and meet all your rabbits’ welfare needs within their familiar home. If boarding your rabbits, try to ease the move by keeping paired/grouped rabbits together and leave them with familiar-smelling items, such as toys.


Transporting rabbits

When you transport your rabbits make sure they are comfortable and safe at all times. Putting familiar smelling items in the carrier and the new environment can help make your rabbits feel at more ease.

Rabbits that live together and are friends should be transported together to give reassurance and ensure the same scents are transferred to all rabbits, helping to avoid the potential problems associated with reintroducing rabbits after a period apart.


Daily care for your rabbit, add up the cost carefully.

There is no one ‘perfect’ way to care for all rabbits because every rabbit and every situation is different. It’s up to you how you look after your rabbits, but you must take reasonable steps to ensure that you meet all their needs.


Under the Animal Welfare Act, pet owners are legally obliged to care for their pets properly – as most owners already do – by providing the following five basic welfare needs.

  • A suitable place to live.

  • A healthy diet, including fresh, clean water.

  • The ability to behave normally.

  • Appropriate company, including any need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals.

  • Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

A cosy bed

Your rabbits will need enough bedding to keep them comfortable and warm – it should be safe for them to eat so provide suitable insulating bedding materials such as dust-free hay and shredded paper.

Rabbits are very clean and will only toilet in one area.

Your rabbits’ toilet area(s) should be cleaned every day. The whole home should be thoroughly cleaned regularly, approximately once a week.

Rabbits need enough space to stand, stretch out and stand on it's hind legs

Cleaning is potentially stressful for rabbits so after cleaning, a small amount of the used bedding should be placed back into the toilet area and shelter as this will smell familiar to the rabbits and help to reduce the stress caused by cleaning. Only non-toxic cleaning products should be used, and the housing should be dry before the rabbits are replaced in it.

The toilet area which should be separate from where they sleep. If you provide litter trays, provide a tray for each of your rabbits (with ideally one more besides) and use absorbent materials such as newspaper, hay, shredded paper and/or natural wood or paper-based non-clumping, non-expanding litter.


Rabbits are grazers, and in the wild, they eat only grass and other plants – in fact, your rabbits’ digestive systems must have hay and/or grass to function correctly.


Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life and need to be worn down and kept at the correct length and shape by eating grass, hay and leafy green plants – if they don’t eat the right sorts of food they can suffer from serious dental disease.

Your rabbits’ digestive systems must have hay and/or grass to function correctly.

They produce two types of droppings – hard, dry pellets, and softer moist pellets which they eat directly from their bottom and which are an essential part of their diet. Rabbits tend to eat for long periods, mainly at dawn and dusk when they like to graze, forage for food and be sociable, so try to feed your rabbits during their active period.


How much an individual rabbit needs to eat depends on his/her age, lifestyle and general health. But if a rabbit eats more food than he/she needs, he/she will become overweight and may suffer.

Rabbits tend to eat for long periods, mainly at dawn and dusk when they like to graze, forage for food and be sociable

Your rabbits need fresh, clean drinking water at all times – without access to water, they can become seriously ill. Check their water supply twice a day and make sure it doesn’t freeze if they live outdoors in winter.


Good quality hay and/or grass should make up the majority of your rabbits’ diet and should be available at all times. Each rabbit needs at least a ‘rabbit-sized’ bundle of good quality hay every day which should be sweet-smelling and dust-free.


Feeding some hay from a hay rack or hanging basket keeps it clean and above floor level. Placing a hay rack above your rabbits’ litter tray may encourage them to eat more hay.


Find out which plants are safe to feed your rabbits. Offer them a variety of safe, washed leafy greens or weeds every day – ideally five or six different types. Safe plants include cabbage, kale, broccoli, parsley and mint.


Don’t feed them lawnmower clippings as these can upset their digestive system and make them ill.


A rabbit’s diet doesn’t naturally include cereals, root vegetables or fruit but you can give apples or root vegetables like carrots, in small amounts as an occasional treat.


Avoid feeding any other treats as these may harm your rabbits.


You can also feed a small, measured ration of good quality commercial rabbit pellets or nuggets to help to ensure your rabbits get a balanced diet but remember that hay and/ or grass are much more important and must be available at all times. Make sure that any pellets/nuggets you provide are high quality and contain high fibre levels.

If you feed pellets/nuggets, for a healthy adult rabbit, allow 25g (an eggcup-full) of pellets per kg of each rabbit’s body weight but take care to adjust the amount given according to individual rabbits’ needs, based on their lifestyle, activity levels, age and state of health. Growing, pregnant, nursing or underweight rabbits may need a more substantial portion of pellets/nuggets.

Make sure your rabbits have finished the whole portion before giving them more, i.e. don’t keep topping up the bowl/food dispensers, as this may result in them not eating enough hay and/or grass.


Muesli-style foods are associated with health problems in rabbits and should not be fed.


Take note of the amount each rabbit eats and drinks every day, and watch out for any changes in an individual’s eating, drinking or toileting habits. For example, if the number of droppings gets less or stops, or if soft droppings are sticking to his/her back end, talk to your vet straight away as your rabbit could be seriously ill.


Don’t make any sudden changes to your rabbits’ diet as this could make them very ill. Introduce new foods and make any necessary changes gradually to avoid upsetting their digestive systems. By keeping a careful eye on your rabbits, you will be able to adjust how much you feed them to make sure they don’t become underweight or overweight.


MAKE SURE YOUR RABBITS ARE PROTECTED FROM PAIN, SUFFERING, INJURY AND DISEASE

Rabbits feel pain in the same way as other mammals, including people, but they are not very good at showing outward signs of distress and may be suffering a great deal before you notice anything is wrong.

A change in the way a rabbit normally behaves can be an early sign he/she is ill or in pain. If a rabbit is not eating or is more quiet than usual, he/she is highly likely to be sick, or in pain, in which case you should talk to your vet immediately.

Rabbits are vulnerable to many infectious diseases and other illnesses, especially dental disease. They can catch deadly contagious diseases from wild rabbits so you should prevent your rabbits from having contact with wild rabbits or areas where wild rabbits have been.


Some breeds of rabbit have been selected for exaggerated physical features which can cause them to suffer and reduce their quality of life, while certain breeds are particularly prone to inherited disorders and diseases.


If you are thinking of looking after rabbits?


So you’ve really researched their welfare needs, and you’re committed to taking care of them for the whole of their lives, please think about giving a home to some of the many rescue rabbits available for adoption.

©2017 by Yorkshire Animal Welfare Society.

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