Rabbits as Pets
Rabbits can make a nice alternative to a dog or cat – they are usually not aggressive, do not have to be walked and may learn to use a litter tray. Their average lifespan is 6-10 years.
Early spaying and castrating at 3-4 months of age is recommended to decrease both medical and behavioural problems. This is particularly important as rabbits are known for their easy breeding abilities; pregnancy lasts about 30 days and the average litter size is 4-10 kits, litters as large as 16 being known.
Choosing Your Rabbit
There are many breeds of rabbit to choose from and their characters can vary greatly so it is often beneficial to discuss your choices or consider available options before making your final decision. There is a wealth of information on breeds and breeders available from the British Rabbit Council.
Although rabbits may easily be obtained from pet shops there are also many rabbits available from rescue shelters. Rescue rabbits are often already bonded with a companion and may also have been neutered, making their future temperament more predictable than a youngster.
Alternatively, rabbits may be obtained from breeders where the parents of the rabbit should be met to check their health and temperament. The breeder should be able to provide an idea of what the young rabbit may be like as an adult and will be able to tell you what vaccinations or other treatment the rabbit has had.
Wherever obtaining a rabbit, check that the animal is in general good health
- the teeth should be short and straight
- the fur clean all over (particularly around the rear end)
- the rabbit should not be either thin or overweight.
- The eyes and nose should be free from discharge
- the fur free from parasites and matting
- the rabbit should be generally bright and alert.
Rabbits have large ears, which give them an excellent sense of hearing. The ears also serve as a way for the rabbit to regulate its body temperature. The ears contain large veins which are often used by the veterinary surgeon when drawing blood for diagnostic tests.
Rabbits have a digestive tract that is adapted for digesting the large amount of fibre that is required in their diet. They have a large sack-like organ call the caecum which allows bacterial digestion of food and the production of caecotrophs – the small soft faeces that rabbits re-ingest to enhance the amount of nutrition that they draw from their diet.
The teeth of the rabbit are quite unusual in that they have two pairs of upper incisors (the second pair is hidden behind the first). Their teeth grow throughout their life and may need periodic trimming by a veterinary surgeon if dental misalignment (“malocclusion”) should occur. Providing your rabbit with a correct diet from the start should prevent overgrowth and malocclusion occurring.
Proper handling of rabbits is important – rabbits have a lightweight skeleton compared to many animals and their powerful hind legs allow them to kick with a lot of strength. If held improperly, a swift kick can easily cause a rabbit to break its back, resulting in euthanasia for the paralysed rabbit. A rabbit should never be picked up by its ears.
Rabbits have a dense fur coat with strong guard hairs over a softer thicker undercoat. The whole coat moults completely once or twice a year. The female can have a large fold of skin under her chin (the dewlap) which forms part of the area that they pluck fur from when nesting.