Rabbit Petcare Information
Rabbits live on average between 5-8 years. Depending on breed and gender, they generally weigh between 1-8 kg.
Rabbits are induced ovulators (similar to cats, the female will remain in season until she is mated). This makes them extremely fecund, with females usually give birth to between 4 and 12 offspring. Rabbits reach sexual maturity at a relatively young age, between 16-24 weeks of age. Thus it is important that non-desexed male and female rabbits are not housed together unless you want your rabbit collection to multiply!
Rabbits are intelligent and rewarding pets. They are very inquisitive, and very skilled at digging and chewing. Rabbits should always be supervised when out of their hutch, especially if they are around electrical wires.
We recommend that all rabbits are vaccinated against Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD). Rabbits can be vaccinated as early as 10 weeks of age, and after this the vaccination is given once a year.
RCD is a nasty infection that leads to clinical signs within 24 hours. The disease progresses rapidly, with almost 100% of infected rabbits dying from cardiac or respiratory failure, generally within 36 hours. Unfortunately there is no treatment for rabbits with RCD, and vaccination is the only form of protection.
Feeding your Rabbit
Rabbits should be fed unlimited good quality grass hay, as well as fresh fibrous vegetables. Fresh grass is also appreciated by most rabbits. It is important that the hay is fed from a feeder (preferably raised and protected from rain to prevent faecal contamination and mould). Straw should only be used as bedding – it holds no nutritional value. We don't recommend feeding premixed diets containing pellets, seeds and fruits. Most rabbits will choose to eat pellets over hay, and this can result in severe dental disease and overgrowth of teeth. Seeds are very high in fat and can lead to obesity, whilst fruits are not well digested by the rabbit's gastrointestinal tract and can cause diarrhoea.
Food and water should always be fresh, and dishes cleaned daily. Rabbits require a minimum of 100-150 mL of water per kilogram body weight per day, and more water should be provided on hot days.
Rabbits tend to eat in the early morning and at night. Rabbits are coprophagic (consume their own faeces). This allows the gastrointestinal tract a second chance to break down the partially digested nutrients in 'first pass' faeces, resulting in higher nutrient absorption. Coprophagy commences within several hours of eating.
Most pet rabbits are housed in a hutch. These can be readily purchased, or constructed in a DIY situation. It is important that the hutch has an enclosed sleeping area that is protected from the elements (and predators), as well as an open area for play and feeding. The hutch should be cleaned daily to remove toilet waste and leftover food scraps. Rabbits can be quite easily litter trained and this can help to maintain optimal hutch hygiene.
Always ensure that there is suitable floor-space available (0.3 metres squared for a small rabbit, with an extra 0.2 metres squared for each subsequent rabbit of the same size). Larger rabbits will need extra space. The height of the hutch should be sufficient for the tallest member to stand fully upright on its hindquarters, and the length of the play area should be at least three times the length of a large bunny-hop.
The hutch should be placed in a sheltered area, avoiding excessive sunlight, wind and temperature extremes. Rabbits are very susceptible to heat stroke – keeping them cool on hot days is vital.
Rabbits and your other pets
Care should be taken to not leave cats and dogs unsupervised when the rabbit is out of its hutch. Guinea pigs should not be house with rabbits, as rabbits can carry a certain species of bacteria that is harmless to themselves but can kill guinea pigs.