Rabbits! They are cute, soft, cuddly and absolutely adorable. They are full of personality and they make great pets too. You may be aware of keeping rabbits outdoors, but did you know they make get indoor pets too? Rabbits are social animals and they love to be part of the action and might just be the perfect new addition for your family.
Lifespan – generally 5 to 8 years but can be up to 12 years
Average adult weight – 2 to 6kg
Gestation – 31 days
Litter size – 1 to 12 kits
Male rabbit – buck
Female rabbit – doe
Young rabbit – kit
Rabbits in Australia
Rabbits are not native to Australia, they are an introduced species and their wild counterparts have become a pest to the Australian environment. In Queensland, keeping a rabbit as a domestic pet is illegal. According to the National Museum of Australia, wild European rabbits were introduced to Australia in 1859, so that they could be hunted for sport. Initially, just 13 rabbits were released and within 50 years, rabbits had spread across almost the entire continent, with devastating implications for Australia’s indigenous flora and fauna.
Many methods have been used in an attempt to control rabbit numbers in Australia, including the release of fatal rabbit viruses such as myxomatosis and calicivirus (also known as viral haemorrhagic disease). While many wild populations of rabbits have developed a resistance to the viruses, domestic rabbits are at risk of contracting them. Both of these viruses are spread via mosquito’s so pet rabbits need to be protected from mosquito exposure, especially at times of the year when they are plentiful.
Whilst there is no vaccine available to prevent myxomatosis, domestic rabbits can be vaccinated against calicivirus. They can receive their first vaccine at 4 weeks of age, and will need to have booster shots every 6 months to maintain immunity. These vaccines can be provided by your local veterinary clinic.
Home for a bunny
Many people choose to house their rabbit outdoors. So that the rabbit is protected from predators such as cats and dogs, they will need a secure hutch. Their outdoor home needs to be protected from the weather and needs to include a dark, dry area lined with bedding such as hay. This will provide the rabbit with a comfortable place to retreat to. The open area of the hutch should be light filled and large enough to allow for separate toileting and exercising areas. Wire floors can be bad for rabbits’ feet, but it’s okay as long as only part of the floor is wire and there is a solid section available to stand on.
i.Pet 100cm Tall Wooden Pet Coop
When choosing a hutch, remember that baby bunnies become big rabbits, so; their hutch should be suitable for a full grown rabbit. The hutch should be at least 4 times the length of your bunny stretched out and twice as wide as your bunny.
The hutch should be cleaned at least every second day, as a dirty hutch can lead to health complications such as respiratory infections, skin ailments and infestations from fleas or mites.
In order to give your rabbit a bit more space to run, a puppy play pen on the lawn can be a good option. It will give your rabbit the opportunity to dig and forage and they will certainly enjoy grazing on the grass.
The position of your rabbit’s hutch is an important consideration as rabbits can suffer from heat stress, especially once the temperature rises above 28⁰C. Signs of heat stroke in a rabbit include, weakness, in-coordination, convulsions or even coma. It is important not to place the hutch in direct sunlight during the warmer months. Keep it in the shade even on warm to cool days as it doesn’t take long for heat to build up in small spaces. On hot days it may be necessary to provide an ice brick in the bedding area of the hutch to reduce the temperature. Indoor bunnies may benefit from their hutches being placed in an area where there is a breeze, such as by an open window.
Welcoming your bunny indoors
If you choose to keep your rabbit indoors you will definitely need to do some bunny proofing, especially if he is free reign in your house. You may choose to keep you indoor bunny in a hutch or a puppy play pen and let him have some supervised exercise time around the house. Rabbits love to chew and scratch and household objects are definitely fair game if they are left unprotected. Some items that rabbits find particularly appealing include computer cables, wire, mouldings, rugs and couch piping. If wiring and cables can’t be kept out of reach from your rabbit, they can be covered with hard plastic sleeve or flexible plastic tubing. Mouldings can also be protected with plastic covers. Important papers are also in danger if they are not kept out of bunnies’ reach. A bored rabbit will become destructive, so enrich his day by providing fun things to explore and chew, such as a cardboard box filled with empty toilet paper rolls, phone books and other paper products.
Just like cats, rabbits can be litter trained! A small cat litter box or even just a plastic container make great toilet options for a bunny. Just make sure that the sides aren’t too high. The litter box can be lined with a thin layer of a recycled paper based litter product. Avoid using clay based or clumping litter products as they can affect the rabbit’s respiratory system. A layer of hay can be added over the litter as rabbits like to have a snack while using the toilet.
Some rabbits may choose to mark his territory by pooping or spraying urine everywhere. To avoid this, it is a good idea to get your rabbit spayed/neutered. This behaviour is best avoided, especially for indoor bunnies.
While de-sexing may be primarily used to prevent unwanted pregnancies it can help to calm the rabbits’ temperament and reduces the risk of some serious diseases. Female rabbits will benefit from being spayed as it prevents uterine cancer.
Keep me company
Rabbits are social animals and will benefit from being kept in pairs. De- sexing will prevent unwanted pregnancies in female – male pairs. Two males may fight but this is less likely if they are introduced at a young age. Supervision is the key when introducing new rabbits to each other. Keeping them temporarily separated by mesh fencing will also help two rabbits become familiar and more comfortable with each other before they are housed together.
If you are not able to keep two rabbits, you will need to be your rabbits’ companion and provide enrichment activities and toys to entertain them if you are absent for long periods of time. Rabbits are most active during the early morning, late afternoon and evening, so this is the best time for you to play with your rabbit.
Rabbits make great pets for children but it is important to supervise children when handling a rabbit, so that no one gets hurt. Children are at risk of being bitten or scratched if the rabbit doesn’t feel safe and secure. The rabbit on the other hand, is at risk of being squeezed too tightly or even dropped, so it’s advisable to always hold the rabbit with two hands, close to your chest or in your lap.
Rabbits eat a fairly basic, high fibre diet consisting of 70% grass/oaten hay, 20% leafy green vegetables and 10% high quality rabbit pellets. Fresh green vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, broccoli and celery should be included in their daily diet. High fat and high sugar foods such as carrots, other root vegetables, and fruit should only be fed in small amounts. In addition to food, fresh water must be provided at all times. Lawn clippings must not be fed to rabbits, as they ferment rapidly and can cause digestive upset.
A poor diet can lead to digestive issues and dental problems. It is important that rabbits are constantly chewing on something, either grass, hay or a gnawing block to help keep their teeth at a comfortable length. Their teeth grow at a rate of 2 to 3mm per week and overgrown teeth can lead to weight loss, severe pain and discomfort.
If you have kept a rabbit in the past why not post a photo of your hutch set-up to our socials. Building a hutch can be a fun part of keeping a rabbit and especially rewarding with children.
Rabbits are a often overlooked pet, but are surprisingly adaptable and can be litter trained. Why not look into a rabbit as your next pet, they are a cute, fluffy companion with a lot to offer.