Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW), the largest campaign dedicated to improving the lives of the UK’s pet rabbits, returns on 26 June. There’s never been a better time to find out how you can give your bunnies the five star treatment they deserve.
By Peter Lancaster, head of marketing at Burgess Pet Care
We humans benefit from getting plenty of exercise and eating a well-balanced diet. Rabbits do too – and yet, despite being the UK’s third most popular pet, they are one of the most mistreated and misunderstood, according to the organisations involved in RAW. Peter Lancaster, head of marketing at Burgess Pet Care, the organisers behind RAW, says that rabbits’ neglect “is mostly through a lack of understanding rather than deliberate cruelty.
Being social creatures, rabbits need a companion as well as plenty of space for exercise, but the reality is that they’re often kept alone in a small hutch with not enough room to hop or display natural behaviours.” Peter explains that whilst rabbits make wonderful pets, it’s important that their complex needs are fully understood: “Many people believe that rabbits are easy to look after.
However, rabbits require significant monetary investment and commitment from their owners. They also have complex dietary needs. We recommend getting some advice from a vet or a local rescue if you are thinking of keeping rabbits, and please consider adopting from an animal welfare charity or centre such as Blue Cross, Raystede, RSPCA, SPCA or Woodgreen Pets Charity, where you’ll get great advice and support on how to look after your bunnies.”
KEEPING YOUR RABBITS IN TIP-TOP CONDITION
Peter stresses the importance of checking that rabbits are eating correctly and passing droppings every day. “Rabbits are prey animals so will hide signs of ill-health, which is why good diet, correct housing, and preventative health care such as vaccinations and neutering are really important to help avoid illness.”
As well as microchipping and insuring your pet rabbits, Peter says that they should be neutered too: “The theme of this year’s RAW campaign is Neutering: Protect & Prevent, which not only prevents unplanned litters, but research shows that around 80% of unneutered female rabbits develop uterine cancer after the age of three years, so it also helps bunnies live longer, healthier lives. Rabbits can live to the ripe old age of 12, or even longer!
“There are other benefits too, with neutered rabbits often being calmer. If you have indoor rabbits, you’ll find that if they’re neutered, they are less likely to exhibit marking behaviours around your home.”
A good diet is the cornerstone of your rabbits’ health – but what can rabbits eat? The key is to provide rabbit food based on what they would eat naturally. Your rabbits’ feeding plan should consist of:
- 85% – 90% unlimited fresh grass or high quality feeding hay (not bedding hay, which may have poor nutritional value). As a guide, provide each rabbit with at least their own body size in feeding hay every day.
- A small handful of rabbit-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs.
- Around one egg cup of nuggets a day per rabbit. Brightly coloured muesli mixes may look more appealing but are not a healthy choice for rabbits.
You can also include some tasty, healthy treats, which are great for training and hand feeding, and can help with bonding. Rabbits must also have constant access to lots of fresh water to keep them nicely hydrated.
The Good Practice Code for the Welfare of Rabbits recommends they should have a suitably sized enclosure that allows permanent access to both a secure shelter to rest in and a safe exercise area. The recommended minimum dimensions are 3m (L) x 2m (W) x 1m (H) for a pair of small to medium sized rabbits.
Your bunnies must have room to perform all their natural behaviours, including running, hiding, jumping, standing on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof and lying down stretched out without touching the sides of their enclosure. They should also have space to choose to be apart from each other as well as together.
BONDING WITH YOUR BUNNIES
It’s probably no surprise that rabbits who bond with their owners are likely to live longer and happier lives, but just like people, no two bunnies are the same! Woodgreen Pets Charity advises that,
“Rabbits come with big characters and a variety of needs. Although they do not enjoy being handled, with time and patience, rabbits can form very close bonds to their owners and often choose to hop up for a treat or a chin rub hello. Rabbits enjoy the companionship of humans; they can become very affectionate and enjoy taking tasty fresh forage from your hands.”
Every year Burgess Pet Care runs its Rabbit Awareness Week campaign which helps to educate rabbit owners and potential owners about the welfare needs of these wonderful animals.
Proudly supported by the RAW charity partners, Burgess has produced a Rabbit Care Guide covering bunnies’ welfare needs, which is free to download at https://rabbitawarenessactiongroup.co.uk