things to consider before buying a bunny

We are a nation of animal lovers, though sometimes I do wonder

Rabbit with floppy ears on the grass

The three most popular pets in the UK are dogs first, then cats and bunnies third. Sadly, there are hundreds of rescue centres across the country that take in abandoned unwanted pets and the MOST neglected pet is the rabbit.

Rabbits are often bought on a whim with the new owners unaware of their new pet's needs. Some people think they can chuck them in a hutch and throw them the odd carrot. Other people get them for their young children because they look cute and within a few weeks they get bored with the rabbit because "it doesn't do anthing" so it gets left alone in a small hutch and ignored.

There are nearly 70,000 rabbits in rescue centres looking for the right home because they were bought by the wrong home.

It is also the fault of breeders. We've all heard the expression "breeding like rabbits". In the wild the reason for this is survival. Wild rabbits will have many litters, often giving birth to 10 kits at a time. Out of those 10, maybe one will live to adulthood. This is mainly because they are prey animals so are eaten by a multitude of other animals.

Domestic rabbits do the same. Unless they are neutered, they will have many litters with just as many kits but they are not in the wild so they won't be eaten! This is where breeders add to the problem as their breeding rabbits continue to have babies and the cycle continues. There are also lots of back street breeders who add to this. In fact, we do not need breeders. There are enough bunnies out there that need homes without adding thousands more.

why do rabbits have different needs to cats and dogs?

Rabbit with long ears on green grassDogs were predators thousands of years ago when they were wolves. They are now completely domesticated and tap into their owner's needs. They have evolved to do this over thousands of years and they are now firmly ensconced in our homes. They are easily trained and their main goal in life is to be part of the family and love us!

Cats are also predators but can be independent from us. They love their creature comforts but everything is on their terms!

Bunnies are prey animals so their needs are very complex in a domestic environment. They are nervous by nature and have an instinct to flee. They are not curious as curiosity can be fatal. They need to have somewhere safe to run to when feeling threatened. They don't like to be picked up because instinctively if they are being picked up they are going to be eaten. They will not interact with you immediately like a puppy or kitten. They need a lot of time to feel safe in their new home and it takes a while to socialise them. I spent hours, days and weeks sitting on the floor waiting for my bunny to come up to me and trust me.

In the Second World War, rabbits were bred for food and kept in tiny hutches and fed up so they would provide a good meal. The practice of keeping them in small hutches sadly continues today. In the wild, a rabbit will run the equivalent of 4 football pitches every day so being cooped up in a hutch for all its' life is a very cruel thing to do. Rabbits also live in large groups in warrens so keeping a bunny on its' own in a small hutch is, as you see doubly cruel. Rabbits can live up to 12 years old quite easily, if not, longer.

Rabbits need space to exercise

I got my bunny, Oscar from the Dorset County Show. I bought him on a whim, l had no idea about his needs, feeding regime, etc. When I got him home I really didn't have a clue. A friend lent me their dog crate so in he went. After an hour or so I let him out to run around and I could see he was amazed that he was "free". So from then on he was never kept in a cage. Oscar is now nearly six years old.

european rabbits playing on the lawnI've learnt so much about rabbits from books, the internet and the bunny forums that I joined. But mainly from Oscar himself. Being an indoor, free roaming house bunny I have studied him at great length. He is a funny, affectionate, clever and loving little chap. He loves attention and grooms me. He has to be part of everything so follows me around the house - probably in the hope of getting a treat!

I did struggle with the fact that he was a single bunny so last year I adopted Yasmin. After 5 years of being a solo bunny I didn't know if he would accept another bunny. Being very territorial creatures, in general you can't just put two rabbits together and let them get on with it. They have to go through a "bonding" process. Some bunnies (which is more rare) will bond straight away. Others, it can take months! I knew I couldn't do it so they went away for 2 weeks to be bonded as it has to be done on neutral territory. They came home good friends and are now inseparable.

Yasmin is a totally different character to Oscar. She's definitely the dominant one as most of the females are in their world. She's very sweet but also very mischievous. She will sit by me to be stroked for hours. She also hates to be picked up but sometimes you have to to check them over.

She was just over one years' old when I got her last year. Her previous owner kept her in a small hutch outside without a run and she was on her own. When they came home from bonding, I noticed she walked, rather than hopped as most bunnies do. She had no strength in her back legs and she couldn't stand up (like a meerkat does). This was due to her having no exercise. She had muscle wastage in her back legs as she was unaccustomed to moving around. This is the result of being kept in a small hutch.

There is a minimum requirement for rabbit hutches which is 2ft wide by 2 ft high by 6 ft long. This is the absolute minimum and should have a large run attached to it. Personally I think this is too small but it is a better size than some out there on the market.

Yasmin now runs around the house like a bunny possessed when she has her mad 5 minutes or when chasing Oscar. It has taken nearly a year to have her legs back to full strength and only three weeks ago, she actually managed to jump up onto the sofa. So we can see how debilitating it is to keep rabbits, or any animal in a small confined space.

What Rabbits should eat

rabbit looking around with flower in mouth on the grassRabbits' diets should consist mainly of hay which must be available at all times, a small amount of fresh food and an egg cup of nuggets and fresh water.

Hay is vital to prevent serious gut problems and also wears down their teeth as they grow continuously. So my two get breakfast and dinner of a small amount of greens, one slice of carrot, half a baby corn and a small amount of cabbage. They sometimes have kale too, and a small egg cup of nuggets and there is always copious amounts of hay for them. Their digestive systems are very delicate and can easily get blocked which can lead to gut statis which can be extremely dangerous and even fatal.

Pet shops sell a lot of treats with grain and or seeds in it. This is very bad for rabbits' digestion and should be avoided. Shops often sell inappropriate foods for animals so research is the key.

They can have other vegetables but anything new needs to be introduced slowly. They generally have a sweet tooth too so a small amount of fruit, like apple, pear, strawberries and my two love bananas. They only get this very occasionally as it gives them runny poos - rabbit owners are obsessed with their droppings as this shows how healthy they are!

Some people take their rabbits out on a harness. It is not recommended to do this as if they get spooked, they will want to run and if the harness pulls heavily it could break their backs. I would also never recommend leaving a rabbit tied to a post or wall outside as they are a sitting duck for any animal to attack.

Considerations when getting a rabbit

There is a lot of advice out there if you are thinking of getting a rabbit. I'd like to list some pointers though myself.

  • dark rabbit under a tree in AutumnA rabbit can live up to 12 years old just like cats and dogs so a very long commitment
  • Rabbits are best kept as a bonded neutered pair
  • Male and female rabbits should be neutered. It helps calm them down as when their hormones kick in they can become aggressive. Also females are prone to uterine cancer if they are not neutered as well as other health issues
  • Rabbits need to be cleaned out every day if they live in a hutch as they pee and poo a lot. If they are house rabbits, their litter trays also need cleaning every day.
  • Outdoor rabbits need a secure house - a shed is a great space plus a large run for exercise attached
  • Rabbits like to chew and dig so if they are house rabbits you need to bunny proof your home
  • Rabbits get bored so they need stimulation too. Toys and interaction with others is important 
  • Rabbits are not any "easy option pet" to get. They are actually harder work than dogs or cats
  • It is best to adopt from a rescue rather than get one from a shop, there are so many that need forever homes
  • Rabbits need yearly vaccinations and vet visits
  • The cost of owning two rabbits easily gets up to £100 per month
  • Rabbits are not just for Easter, they are for life

A bunny is not just for Easter - do your research

If you are thinking of getting a rabbit as a pet, please get two and do some research. www.actionforrabbits.co.uk www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk.These organisations are there to help and advise. There are forums on facebook too.

Having my bunnies has been an absolute joy. They are difficult creatures to initially understand but once they settle with you your heart will always belong to bunnies! I only wish for them to have a good, healthy and safe life. Sadly there are loads out there who don't. They are called "the silent sufferers". They don't have a voice like a dog (barking) or a cat (meowing).

A lot of that is down to lack of education and if I have given just one person some information about the right way for rabbits then that's great.


Many thanks to Vanessa White for this article.

March 2017