7 important things to know about rabbits
Are you considering buying a pair of rabbits? Or are you just curious to learn a little more about rabbits in general? Great! Maybe you are wondering what rabbits eat, how they should live and their life expectancy? Here is our list of 7 of the most important things you need to know about rabbits!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced, UK registered vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
✓ Included free as part of many pet insurance policies
✓ Help, treatment and if you need it, a referral to your local vet
✓ Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
1. Rabbit life expectancy
Rabbits, guinea pigs and most small rodents are social animals and should be kept as a pair. This also gives them the perfect friend to snuggle up with and keep warm. In fact, a new research study (published in May 2020) has shown that housing rabbits together reduces stress-related behaviour and helps keep them warm in winter. The life expectancy depends on both breed and size but is on average about 8 years. The larger breeds have a shorter lifespan, while small rabbit breeds can live to 10-12 years old.
2. Rabbits can be kept both indoors and outdoors
Some owners choose to have their rabbits outside in the summer and inside in the winter. Advantages of having rabbits outdoors are that they get fresh air, sunlight, and the opportunity to graze grass. In addition, it is often easier to give them a really large space outdoors compared to indoors.
Having rabbits indoors increases the contact between animals and humans while making it easier to keep an eye on them. If the rabbit is to roam freely in your home, the indoor environment must be secure. Cords and poisonous houseplants should not be accessible to rabbits.
Dimensions for rabbits living areas can be found on the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) website. Remember that it is a minimum size - it can never be too big! All animals feel both physically and mentally well when able to move freely.
3. Rabbits are very sensitive to temperature changes
If the rabbits live outside in the summer, it is very important that they have access to a cool and shady place in the garden. Heat stroke is unfortunately a common cause of sudden death during the summer.
In winter, rabbits must have access to a draft-free place and an elevated crawl space where they can live in plenty of insulating straw. Keep in mind our good feeding guidelines to ensure that your rabbits stay warm during the winter. The cold can be harmful to rabbits!
Be extra careful with drinking water in both high and low temperatures. Bacterial growth and ice must be avoided and the water changed daily. At temperatures below 0°C, rabbits should be offered warmed drinking water at least twice a day.
4. A safe and well-maintained floor
It is important to have a safe surface that does not wear away the protective fur on rabbit’s paws. If this occurs, rabbits are at risk of skin damage and deep infections on the soles of their feet. Line the space with newspapers to soak up urine and water, and place a really thick layer of straw on top.
It is advisable to have some form of absorbent litter because straw does not absorb liquid very well. Do not use cat litter, as it can get stuck in the intestine if eaten by rabbits. All litter and surfaces on which the rabbits live must be dust-free and hygienic.
It is important to regularly change the absorbent layer and bedding. The litter in the toileting area and corners must be changed daily, and other surfaces at least once a week. Poor cage hygiene can cause skin and respiratory problems, due to the strong and corrosive ammonia vapours from urine.
5. Food and water
Hay and water must be placed so that it is kept clean. Hay racks protect the hay from getting dirty but can pose a risk of leg fractures if rabbits get stuck in them. A lid on top of the hay rack can reduce the risk of accidents. To avoid problems, there should be at least one hay rack per rabbit. Water bowls should be difficult to overturn and placed away from toileting areas. The water must be changed every day in both water bowls and bottles. The spout of the water bottle should be washed thoroughly. Please read our good feeding guidelines for detailed information about how best to feed your rabbits.
6. Rabbits differ from rodents
You might think that rabbits are rodents. They do have many similarities but they have certain differences that give their own species group, called Lagomorphs. This also includes hares and pikas. They differ from the rodent family in that they have four incisor teeth, rather than two. Lagomorphs are also almost completely herbivorous. They lack pads on their feet so that the skin there is protected instead by thick fur.
7. Rabbits are prey animals
Rabbits are prey animals that need hiding places and opportunities to keep an eye out for danger. Therefore, there should be at least one hiding place per rabbit. Hiding places can consist of wooden houses, cardboard boxes, bushes, tunnels and spaces under shelves. In addition, there must be enough shelves for all the rabbits to be able to sit on them at the same time without competition. Shelves can be the roof of a wooden house, a drawer or a small stool. In order for the rabbits not to get bored, it is also important to include environmental enrichment, which may include branches to gnaw on from apple trees and various interactive toys. A sandbox is also usually appreciated, as many rabbits like to dig.
When should you contact a vet?
If you suspect that your rabbits are not feeling well, always contact a vet for advice. If you are worried about anything else about your rabbits. Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.