Rabbit's come in a variety of breeds, shapes and sizes and each bunny has their own unique personality. Most domestic rabbits can easily live to be 8 years old, but with proper healthcare many can live longer - up to 12 years. From diet and housing to vaccinations and grooming - we’ve put together our 12 top tips for helping your rabbit live the long happy life they deserve.
1. Desex your rabbit:
Spaying or neutering is a crucial element to your rabbit’s health. Not only does desexing decrease the risk of illness and disease, but, it also enables rabbits to live a longer & happier life. Neutering allows rabbits to live in pairs or groups without the risk of hormone related fighting or unwanted pregnancy and also helps protect them against some diseases such as uterine cancers.
Speak to your local Animates Vetcare Vets for more information on desexing your rabbit.
2. Feed a healthy diet
Hay and grass should form the basis (80%) of your rabbits’ diet - along with fresh greens and some vegetables (15%) and a small amount of pellets (around 5%). It is vital rabbits are fed a nutritious diet to keep their teeth (upper and lower incisors) strong, healthy, and trimmed. Speak to your local Animates team for any additional nutritional advice for your pocket pal.
3. Keep vaccinations up-to-date
Just like other household pet, your rabbit should be vaccinated by a registered vet. Rabbit vaccinations will protect against the deadly calicivirus, which is highly contagious. Your rabbit should be vaccinated at 10-12 weeks of age, with an annual booster after that. Talk to your local Animates Vetcare team to organise your rabbit’s vaccination.
4. Keep a close eye on your rabbit’s teeth
Rabbits’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. Dental problems can occur frequently so it’s important to keep on top of their dental hygiene for their overall health and wellbeing. Biting, chewing, gnawing and grinding of food will help keep your rabbit’s teeth at a healthy length. Dental treats and toys for rabbits can also support oral health.
Tip: Take a look at your rabbit’s teeth at least once a week. They should be white, smooth, and aligned (top and bottom rows should meet neatly). If you find your rabbit is reluctant to eat or is drooling, this could indicate a potential dental or other health problem that should be checked immediately by a vet.
5. Annual vet check-up
Rabbits are experts at hiding pain and discomfort, so it’s not uncommon for a bunny owner to realize there’s a problem when it’s too late to fix. One way around this is to arrange annual healthcare checks so that any potential problems are diagnosed earlier. During their annual vet visit, your bunny’s weight will be checked, their teeth evaluated, and any health tests necessary can be run.
Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to bunny health care. If treatment is administered early, they’re more likely to remain healthy.
6. Maintain a healthy weight
Any sudden decrease in weight is likely to indicate a health issue and you should visit a On the other hand, an overweight rabbit is at much higher risk of developing health issues like cardiovascular problems such as heart disease. Obesity can also result in the development of arthritis and other joint issues. This combination of issues will mean they cannot groom themselves resulting in matted fur which is unhygienic and causes discomfort. To help prevent these health issues, it’s important to monitor your rabbit’s weight and seek veterinary advice if they’re overweight or underweight.
Is my rabbit a healthy weight?
A rabbit that's a healthy weight should have a smooth curve from neck to tail, and from hip to hip. You should be able to feel the spine and ribs but they should feel rounded not sharp - like they have a thin layer of padding. Other causes for concern are if there are fatty pads on the shoulders, legs and groin of the rabbit, or if a rabbit is wider than it is long.
7. Grooming routine
A rabbit’s coat should be thick and shiny. If they have dandruff, which can mean your rabbit has mites or fleas, your vet can advise a safe treatment.
Important: Never use a cat flea collar on your rabbits, as this can be fatal with the incorrect treatment dosage.
To keep your rabbit’s coat nice and healthy, groom them regularly with a soft brush- particularly if you have a long-haired rabbit. When rabbits are moulting, a few times a year, they’re likely to require additional brushing.
Claw maintenance is an important part of your rabbit’s grooming routine as their nails are likely to need clipping regularly (about once every six to eight weeks). Your vet can show you how to do this properly, as it is easy to do it incorrectly and cut through the sensitive tissue in the claw, causing bleeding and a lot of pain. Paving stones, or similar, placed where your rabbits will regularly travel over can help reduce trim their nails naturally.
8. Appropriate housing
Rabbits are very active animals and so they need lots of space to stretch, hop, reach up and run. When picking a hutch or living area for your rabbits, it’s very important to make sure they have plenty of room. As a general rule, they need access to an area of space that is at least 3m x 2m x 1m, at all times.
9. Keep the hutch clean
Keeping your bunny’s cage clean is vital to their long-term health. Not only is the odour of a dirty cage harmful to the sensitive bunny noses, but the unsanitary conditions can also lead to many health problems.
We recommend that you spot clean your rabbit’s enclosure daily to remove faeces, urine or unwanted food, and thoroughly clean the enclosure each week. A ‘full clean’ involves removing and disposing of all substrate and lining, clean the walls, doors and flooring with an animal friendly detergent - plus wash all bowls and water facilities before replacing them with fresh supplies. A reminder that water bowls and bottles should be cleaned in warm water daily then refilled to prevent algae build-up.
10. Provide companionship
Rabbits are social animals and live together in large groups in the wild for warmth, comfort, protection and companionship. The company of other rabbits helps reduce their anxiety and stress, keeping them If rabbits are alone, they can feel socially isolated and become bored, frustrated, destructive, and anxious.
We recommend keeping rabbits in a bonded pair, ideally a neutered male and neutered female, or small group. Rabbits should never be kept together with other species of animal, such as guinea pigs. Not only do they have very different needs, they also can’t communicate with each other or provide the social support they need.
11. Regular exercise
Daily exercise is vital for your rabbit’s health, as it helps them maintain a healthy weight, and keeps them happy. With bags of energy to burn each day, staying in a hutch all day long gets really dull and frustrating for rabbits.
The average rabbit needs around three hours of free-roaming each day and should be divided into two sessions. First, in the morning when they’re most active, and then again in the early evening. The best way to get your rabbit exercise in the morning is to set up a playpen in the yard. Your bunny will need to be watched, as they are master escape-artists!
12. Pay close attention to any changes
Rabbits are experts at hiding their symptoms, as a sick rabbit in the wild is easy prey. Pay close attention to your rabbits’ appearance and behaviour - sometimes a rabbit who just looks ‘a bit down’ is actually very unwell.
Things to look out for:
- Appetite changes: Loss of appetite is a huge signal your rabbit may be ill. Similarly, a sudden increase in water or food intake can also be a warning sign, so keep a close watch on their daily intakes.
- Unusual posture/positions: Sick rabbits may hunch over, sit stiffly, or press their bellies into the floor.
- Unusual behaviour: Withdrawal, lethargy, crankiness, unusual vocalizations, and a reduced interest in play are all red flags.
- Loud tooth grinding: Rabbits tend to grind their teeth loudly if they are unwell, in pain, or stressed.
- Drooling: If you notice your rabbit dribbling, it’s likely that something is wrong. It can be hard to spot - look out for wet fur and hair loss around their mouth and chin.
- Body temperature: Rabbits use their ears to regulate their body temperature. If you find your rabbit has very cold ears, or they’re warmer than usual, it may signal body temperature changes, which are a common symptom of illness.
- Weepy eyes: Your rabbit’s eyes should look shiny and clear -weepy eyes are often a sign of a problem.
- Respiratory problems: Coughing, wheezing, sneezing, and/or difficulty breathing are clear warning signs for bunnies. A runny nose or eyes are also red flags.
- Weight loss: Rabbits should remain roughly the same weight through their adult years. If they’re suddenly losing weight, it’s due to a problem with their care or health.
- Changes in droppings: Stool irregularities include, diarrhoea, out of shape droppings, excessive fur or hair stuck to it are all indicators of a health issue. The output in the litter-tray says a lot about your bunny’s health, so keep a close eye on it.
- Poor grooming habits: Bunnies are known for keeping themselves clean so any signs they’re not cleaning themself, such as faecal matter staining paws or matted fur, is a clear sign they’re unwell.
- Tummy troubles: Rabbits can’t vomit, so digestive issues are very painful and dangerous for them. Diarrhoea and constipation are definitely a warning sign for bunnies. You may notice your rabbit’s stomach seems hard and/or bloated if this happens.
If you see any of these symptoms, or anything else you’re concerned about in your bunny, please contact your vet immediately.
The faster an issue is caught and treated, the better for your rabbit! If you are ever in doubt, you should talk to your local Animates Vetcare team.