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The right pet for you?
Rabbits are difficult to look after. They need lots of space, and large homes that can be expensive to create. Before getting any pet, think very hard about whether you can provide everything it needs.
What do rabbits need?
- Companionship - to be with other rabbits or humans. The widespread practice of keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together is not recommended.
- A mixed diet of grass, rabbit pellets, apples, carrots, dandelions and a good quantity of hay.
- A constant supply of fresh, clean drinking water in a drip feed bottle with metal spout.
- A large weatherproof home off the ground, out of direct sunlight and strong winds. Move to an indoor area or porch in cold weather. Many homes sold in pet shops are too small.
- A separate covered sleeping area for each animal.
- A clean layer of wood shavings and plenty of hay or shredded paper for bedding.
- Daily exercise in a large, safe grassy area.
- Rabbits burrow, so ensure the enclosure is sunk into the ground, escape-proof and safe from predators.
- Their home to be cleaned every day and bedding changed weekly.
- A gnawing block to wear down long teeth.
- To be brushed every day if they have a long coat.
- To be neutered at an early age. Ask your vet.
- Injections to prevent serious diseases.
- To be taken to a vet if they are ill or injured.
- To be looked after when you are on holiday.
Rabbits live for up to ten years.
Rabbits still retain much of their natural behaviour, which makes them unsuited to life in captivity. In the wild, rabbits live in large social groups, and it is unkind to keep just one. Male and female rabbits can be kept together as long as they have been neutered. Females from the same litter can also be kept together, but will have fewer medical problems if they are neutered.
Approach the rabbit from the front. Gently hold the scruff of its neck with one hand but take the weight in your other arm, which should be around the hindquarters. Lift the rabbit towards you and rest it against your body with its head towards your shoulder. Never pick up a rabbit by its ears or the scruff of its neck. Put a rabbit down slowly, hind legs first, on a non-slip surface.
The GSPCA strongly advises that you do not breed from rabbits. Keep the sexes apart, although rabbits can be neutered to stop them producing unwanted young. Neutering is a straightforward operation that can be arranged with a vet. A female rabbit can have several litters a year, with as many as eight babies in each litter.
Young rabbits should be vaccinated and given regular boosters. Your vet can advise.
Rabbits should be checked regularly for overgrown claws and teeth - these can be trimmed by a vet.
Young rabbits may be affected by a highly infectious disease called coccidiosis. Symptoms include a yellow look, diarrhoea, dullness and loss of appetite. Keep the rabbit isolated and seek veterinary advice straight away.
All rabbits may suffer from the potentially fatal disease flystrike, caused by flies laying eggs in soiled fur. Make sure the rabbits' home is cleaned every day, the bedding changed regularly and the rabbit has a good quality high fibre diet. Groom them every day, checking their fur for dirt, especially under the tail.
Rabbits may suffer from parasites. Treatment is available from your vet.
If a rabbit is sneezing and has a discharge from its nose, it may have snuffles. This is highly infectious and could lead to pneumonia. Keep the rabbit isolated and seek veterinary advice straight away.