This week on Ireland AM, we discussed keeping rabbits as pets. You can watch the video segment by following the link below.
Tips on rabbit keeping
- Rabbits should be kept in pairs or small groups. Companionship is key to the welfare of rabbits – without the company of another rabbit they get lonely and bored. In the wild, rabbits are social creatures, a fact that doesn’t change just because they are kept as pets. So although they have traditionally often been kept as single animals, this should not be the aim for new rabbit owners. Get two or three!
- All rabbits should be vaccinated. There are two important viral diseases that need to be covered. Both diseases are invariably fatal which is why vaccination is so important. Rabbits can get the viruses from other rabbits (eg wild rabbits sniffing them in their hutch) but they can also get VHD from the virus being dropped from passing birds, rodents, or even on people’s feet or on bags of food from pet shop etc. That’s why vaccination is so important.
A) Myxomatosis – a single vaccine given from 12 weeks of age then an annual booster is needed
B) Viral Haemorrhagic Disease – a vaccine must be given at 12 weeks of age (can be combined with the Myxo vaccine in the same syringe) to cover VHD1 but a new variant of this, VHD2 has arrived in Ireland in the past couple of years and it is important to protect against this too – that means a second vaccine must be given, two weeks after the first, combined vaccine. And again, an annual vaccination against both is recommended.
In particular, there has been a recent outbreak of VHD2 in wild rabbits and hares, which is why hare coursing meetings have been suspended nationally to prevent this from destroying the hare population in Ireland.
- All rabbits should be spayed (female) or neutered (male). If this is not done, they can be surprisingly aggressive (both males and females) and females may get pregnant, and importantly, cancer of the uterus is very very common in older females.
- Many people mistakenly think vegetables, fruit and carrots are the most important food for rabbits. Whilst a small daily amount of green veg is good, a diet based solely on vegetables, fruit and carrots does not provide all the nutrients that rabbits need, leaving them malnourished. In fact fibre, in the form of hay and grass, is the most vital food for rabbits – it’s essential for their digestive health, and they can die without it.
- As well as hay, rabbits should have a complete “concentrated” diet. The pelleted type of food (I will bring sample) is better than the muesli type of food, as rabbits can be selective eaters, taking only the bits they like out of the muesli so that they can end up with an unbalanced diet.
- An unbalanced diet can lead to serious problems such as weight loss and dental disease.
- Dental problems are common in rabbits – including overgrown front teeth, and sharp spikes on the back teeth. So they should learn to examine and check their rabbits’ front teeth from an early stage. I will demonstrate this tomorrow.
- People need to budget for rabbit care! Rabbits can cost over €3000 to keep over a lifetime: 90% of owners are not aware of this possible financial cost. Apart from illnesses and accidents, rabbits need to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and the cost of food alone can add up to more that you’d imagine (e.g. 50c/day = €180/year = over €1000 in 6 years).
- Rabbits have long lives: whereas smaller pets like hamsters might only live 2 – 3 years, rabbits can live for 6 – 10 years. You need to think about this when you get one for a child, who’s very likely to “outgrow” their pet.