Some breeds of rabbit are too large for children to handle. The smaller and dwarf varieties are more suitable. The long hair Angora rabbit requires a great deal of grooming on a daily basis. The average life span of a rabbit is 5 to 10 years, but they can live as long as 15 years.
Rabbits are social animals and in their natural state will be found in family groups. One lone animal may not thrive. Two or three young female rabbits could be a good choice, or a female and a neutered male. Two male rabbits can also live happily together, provided they are from the same litter and are neutered. Un-neutered male rabbits over the age of 3 months will almost certainly fight. Talk to your veterinarian about de-sexing your rabbits.
Most ready-to-buy rabbit hutches are too small. In its natural habitat, the wild rabbit moves swiftly and may cover several miles in a day. To confine the domesticated pet rabbit to a small hutch, with little opportunity for freedom, is unnatural and may cause unnecessary suffering.
Rabbits are easy to house train and can easily be kept in a secure garden (secure from neighbouring dogs, as well as secure from bunny escapes) with access to an overnight house. They also make good indoor pets with garden access.
A good roomy hutch, say, 4ft/5ft in length x 2ft x 2ft with two connecting compartments is essential. One third of the hutch should be enclosed for cosy, draught-free sleeping quarters. The other two-thirds are for daytime and should have a strong wire-mesh front to admit light and air. Each compartment should have a separate door well fitting with good hinges and catches, to facilitate easy cleaning.
The roof should be sloping and covered with roofing felt, tiles etc. for good weatherproofing and should overhang the hutch to keep its sides dry and to prevent driving rain from saturating the interior. The hutch should be on raised legs to give protection from predators and should be in a well ventilated, but not draughty position, out of strong sunlight. Facing the morning sun is best.
A warm, dry, comfortable bed is of the utmost importance to animals that have to spend a good deal of their time in a hutch. The sleeping compartment needs a layer of peat moss, cat litter or wood shavings about 5cm deep with a deep layer of straw or shredded paper to provide warmth, insulation and an opportunity for burrowing. Avoid wood chippings that might have a high content of volatile oils or preservatives, as these can be poisonous. Avoid, too, artificial fibre bedding which can cause severe digestive problems or even death. The floor of the day compartment needs a layer of litter spread on top of newspapers that will absorb the urine. Rabbits urinate heavily and tend to use one special place for toilet purposes. Clean the damp corner and droppings each day.
A ramp or steps leading from the daytime compartment of the hutch to the ground of a strongly fenced enclosure will provide a more natural environment for your pets. Sink the perimeter fence 18" below ground level or cover the floor area with mesh to prevent rabbits burrowing out.
An alternative is a portable ark approx. 6ft long by 3ft wide will enable your rabbits to have access to grass and an opportunity to run about. This ark should be moved to a different area of grass each day. Part of the ark should be covered to provide shelter from sudden showers or hot sun and water should be provided. To prevent your rabbit burrowing out, the base should be covered with wire mesh. At night, your rabbit should always be shut safely in its hutch.
As rabbits usually soil only one corner of their living area, some owners enjoy having them indoors for exercise. Keep their litter tray or newspaper in the same spot, but do not expect your rabbit to be house-trained unless you have it indoors on a regular basis. Also ensure when inside that doors and windows are left shut and that cats and dogs are not bothersome. (Generally your rabbit will let you know where he wants his dirt tray/newspaper left.)
Rabbits need a diet consisting almost entirely of vegetable matter. Variety is essential and the food offered must be fresh. Special pellets are available from pet shops and form a good base for the diet which must include green stuff - i.e. puha, dandelions and dock leaves. Also vegetables such as carrots, swede, turnips, cooked potatoes and cooked peelings. And fresh fruit such as pears and apples.
Good quality hay is important and should be kept in a rack to avoid soiling.
Fresh water should be supplied daily via a drip feed bottle rather than an easily contaminated bowl.
Use heavy earthenware containers for food to avoid spillage.
Avoid sudden changes of diet, which can cause digestive problems.
A gnawing block should be provided. (Refer "Teeth")
Poisonous Plants: Do not feed rhubarb leaves, raw potatoes, potato tops, roots and seeds of dock or grasses from roadsides where there is any possibility they have been sprayed with herbicides or insecticides.
Rabbits need firm but gentle handling from an early age. Rabbit should never be picked up by their ears. Place one hand under the chest, the forelegs gripped between two fingers, with the hindquarters supported with the other hand, then cradle against your body. Never allow a rabbit to struggle violently as it may break its backbone. Remember rabbits have powerful hind legs with strong claws and can kick out and scratch if frightened.
The female rabbit, or doe as she is called, may be bred from when she is between 6 - 9 months. Female rabbits are induced ovulators meaning that the presence of a male, or buck rabbit, is necessary to stimulate the urge to breed. They do not have a specific season but once puberty is reached they will mate whenever they are introduced to a buck rabbit and can produce 2/3 litters a year. Gestation is 30 - 32 days. The kittens as they are called usually number 6 - 8 in any one litter. They are born naked with their eyes closed. Fur commences growth about 4 days later and their eyes open around the 7th - 10th day. They will leave the nest when they are 15 - 20 days of age and should be weaned at 7 - 8 weeks.
Rabbits are prolific breeders. Unless you are absolutely certain that you can find good homes for the offspring, it is unkind and irresponsible to breed from pet rabbits. If, after careful consideration, you decide to breed a litter, there are facts you should be aware of which space prevents us from outlining in this pamphlet. Talk with a breeder or borrow a book from your library.
Rabbits pass 2 sorts of droppings. Hard fibrous pellets (usually excreted during the day) and soft faecal pellets (usually excreted during the night) which are eaten again. This is a normal part of the rabbit's digestive process and is in no way indicative of ill health.
Parasites/Discharges: Daily handling will give you a chance to check for mites, sores, wounds and discharge from eyes, ears and nose. If anything unusual is evident contact your veterinarian.
Diarrhoea: If a rabbit has diarrhoea for more than 24 hours, consult a veterinarian, as there are a number of serious diseases that can cause diarrhoea in rabbits.
Nails: If your rabbit does not have the opportunity of wearing his nails down, get professional advice on how to trim them correctly. Care must be taken not to cut into the blood and nerve supply.
Teeth: A rabbit's front teeth (or incisors) continue to grow throughout its life. Overlong teeth must be cut back regularly by your veterinary surgeon or the rabbit will not be able to eat. Try to avoid the problem by ensuring your rabbit has sufficient hard food, as well as a 'gnawing block" such as a piece of deciduous wood, permanently in its hutch (but don't use chestnut, laurel, privet or yew)