Easter is nearly upon us; most of us probably associate Easter with chocolate eggs and the Easter bunny and at this time of year we see an increase in the number of Rabbits kept as pets
It is important to remember that Rabbits can live for up to 10 years and so require the amount of care and dedication that other pets such as dogs and cats do. We would discourage the gifting of rabbits to children as an Easter present (chocolate bunnies are much easier to look after- and tasty!) However if you feel that you are ready to give a bunny a home here are some tips on ensuring that their behavioural wellbeing is tip top.
Companionship- Every bunny needs some bunny
Rabbits are very social creatures and live in large groups in the wild. As rabbits are prey animals they rely on other members of the group to alert them to danger; a rabbit living on its own may feel anxious and unable to relax as normal. For this reason pet rabbits should not be kept singularly but should be kept in bonded pairs or small groups. Contrary to popular belief it is best not to keep rabbits and guinea pigs together, your rabbit will be much happier with another rabbit as a companion as they have the same requirements and exhibit the same body language meaning that they can understand each other better.
Building a pair bond can take some time and it is not recommended to house two unknown rabbits together. If you need any advice on the process of pair bonding or introducing new rabbits to each other please call us to discuss.
Housing- A hutch is not enough
Rabbits are active, athletic animals and being confined to a small hutch does not allow them to exhibit normal behaviours. Rabbits love to run, jump, dig and forage and so need to be kept in an environment that allows them to express these behaviours.
Being kept in a small hutch for long periods of time can cause behaviour problems such as stress and aggression and can also cause health problems such as spinal pain and limb problems.
The rabbit welfare fund recommends that a hutch should be at least 6 foot in size to allow rabbits to act like rabbits.
Just like dogs and cats rabbits can show aggression for a number of reasons and it is important to understand the reason behind the behaviour so that you can help your bunny. Pain can be a cause of aggressive behaviour in rabbits and we would recommend getting your rabbit checked over by one of our vets if they are showing uncharacteristic aggression or if the aggressive behaviour has started suddenly.
Hormones can also play a role in aggressive behaviour in rabbits so we recommend neutering pet rabbits to reduce the risk of hormones causing aggression. Neutering will also reduce the risk of aggressive behaviour towards rabbits living together.
Lastly, Fear could cause a rabbit to bite or scratch, especially if they are not used to being handled or are in a new environment. It is vitally important to ensure that your rabbit is handled regularly from a young age to reduce the stress associated with handling. Remember that a rabbit in a hutch has no form of escape and so may exhibit aggressive behaviour if approached when frightened.
If you would like further advice on how best to care for your bunny or ideas on how to provide for their behavioural needs as well as their physical needs go to the rabbit welfare fund website at www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk. I also mention enrichment feeding for rabbits in my article on mental stimulation for pets.