Rabbit Awareness Week 2021
This year’s Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) runs from June 28th to July 4th, and celebrates RAW’s 15 year anniversary! This year’s theme is ‘Hopping Through the Years’, and there’ll be regular discussions on how to adapt your rabbits’ care throughout their lives. Follow the RAW website for all the activities taking place on their social media pages!
THE 5 WELFARE NEEDS OF RABBITS:
The need for a suitable environment
Rabbits need plenty of space and enrichment in order to be happy. Housing should be permanently attached to a larger space within which they can exercise freely both day and night, whether this is a safe bunny-proofed room indoors or a large run outdoors. Housing should be as big as possible, but at least 2 feet high x 2 feet wide x 6 feet long, with a run area of at least 3 feet high x 6 feet wide x 8 feet long.
Safe hiding places should be provided so that your rabbits can hide and feel safe from dangers (rabbits are naturally a prey species). A secure shelter with plenty of soft bunny-safe bedding should be provided, along with a separate toileting area. Enrichment items such as tunnels, platforms and hides are important considerations to mimic a rabbit’s natural environment.
The need for a suitable diet
In the wild rabbits feed on high levels of fibrous grasses. Their digestive systems are designed to be kept in constant motion to get the most out of this diet, so it’s important that you feed your rabbits a balanced diet that gives them the nutritional and emotional benefits they need to live a happy and healthy life.
Rabbits’ teeth are designed to grow continually, as they should be worn down by the fibrous grasses they feed on. If rabbits do not get enough abrasive foods then their teeth will become overgrown making it painful for them to eat at all. Your rabbits’ diet should be made up of approximately 90% high quality dust-extracted feeding hay.
Rabbits also have a tendency to selectively feed if offered a muesli-style diet, choosing the tasty high starch and sugary elements, whilst leaving the high fibre pieces. Selective feeding increases the risk of various illnesses, so it’s important you offer a nutritionally balanced high fibre nugget or pellet to avoid this. It is also important to feed your rabbits according to the feeding guide, as overfeeding of nuggets/pellets can reduce hay intake and lead to obesity. Nuggets should be regarded as a supplement to the diet to ensure your rabbits get all the minerals they need, with the majority of the diet made up of hay as discussed above.
Fresh greens such as dandelion leaves, kale and spring greens, can be offered in small amounts (small handful) each day to add variety to your rabbits’ diet. Fruit and veg such as carrot, apple, spinach and parsley should only be offered as occasional treats.
Remember to always ensure a plentiful supply of fresh, clean drinking water, and ensure it has not frozen during the winter months.
The need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
For rabbits to display their natural behaviours, and therefore be happy, they require some basics:
- Water – Always ensure fresh clean water is available for your rabbits
- Food – Access to their body size in hay and a small bowl of nuggets daily
- Space – Large housing with spaces to hide and access to a run large enough for them to run around in
- Companions – Rabbits should always be kept in at least pairs
- Enrichment – Toys and activities
Instead of giving your rabbits their food in the same place every day, encourage natural foraging behaviour by hiding their food in different places or by sprinkling herbs in their hay. Provide environmental enrichment by giving your rabbits tubes to hide in and boxes to climb on. Rabbits are extremely playful so it’s important that you provide them with lots of rabbit safe toys to keep them occupied. You can buy rabbit safe toys from pet shops, but great, inexpensive options are willow balls and cardboard tubes.
The need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
Rabbits are highly sociable animals and should be kept in at least pairs. Like us, rabbits can become lonely without social interaction, which can have a negative effect on their behaviour and health. Rabbits do enjoy spending time with their owners, however they naturally prefer the company of other rabbits and therefore should be kept with at least one other.
The best combination of rabbits tends to be a male and female that have both been neutered. Adopting a brother and sister is ideal as they already know each other so are less likely to fight. Other combinations of rabbits can also live happily together, if they are introduced correctly and neutered.
The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
You should take your rabbits for a veterinary check-up at least once a year and check that they are eating correctly and passing plenty of droppings every day. Rabbits are prey animals so will hide signs of ill-health which makes regular vet visits really important in order to help avoid illness.
Vaccinations: Myxomatosis and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) are life-threatening diseases, so rabbits should be vaccinated as soon as possible. Here at Stanhope Park Vets, we are using the new combined Nobivac Myxo-RHD Plus, which provides protection against Myxomatosis and RHD strains 1 and 2 in a single vaccination given just once a year.
Neutering: Neutering your rabbits will avoid unwanted litters. Additionally, up to 80% of un-neutered female rabbits can develop cancer of the uterus by 5 years – neutering at an early age will stop these cancers developing. Un-neutered males can be aggressive to other rabbits, whereas neutered rabbits can live happily with male and female rabbits. Here at Stanhope Park Vets, we recommend neutering of rabbits from 4 months of age.
Insurance: There are now a number of pet insurance companies that provide policies for rabbits. At Stanhope Park Vets, we strongly believe in the benefit and value of pet insurance, and given the number of common health problems seen in our bunny patients (such as gut stasis and dental disease), we would certainly recommend investing in pet health insurance.
For more information on rabbit health and welfare, visit www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk/health/