Guide to Rabbits The male rabbit is called a Buck and the female is called a Doe. The young are called Kittens and they reach sexual maturity from 16 – 24 weeks. The average life span for a domestic rabbit is 5 – 10 years. The buck should weigh 1 – 5 kg and the doe 1 – 8 kg this all depends on age and breed. They are herbivorous and need 60 – 70grams of food per rabbit per day. Rabbits require two vaccinations to ensure they stay fit and healthy. The first is Myxamatosis which is extremely contagious and lethal which needs to be done every 6 months. The second is VHD which needs to be done annually. All our rabbits are micro chipped and vaccinated. We will inform you of when the next vaccine is due and transfer the microchip information over to you as soon as possible. History Originally the European rabbit was found in the wild, in regions of Spain, Portugal and North West Africa. Rabbits were introduced to England in the 11th Century and used for sport, meat and, in some cases, fur (such as the Angora rabbits whose fur was spun for wool). Along the way, the process of domestication began by keeping rabbits in hutches for breeding and meat production. Gradually rabbits were bred for colour and also to enter into friendly competitions. The 19th Century saw rabbits become household pets. The Latin name for rabbit is “Oryctolagus cuniculus”. Oryct is Greek for digger, lag is Greek for hare and cuniculus is Latin for burrowing. Breeds There are a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colours and coats (over 100 different breeds altogether). Some rabbits have been bred for particular characteristics such as long ears (lops), long coats (Angoras) and there are dwarf breeds that have shortened noses and faces. The most common breeds kept as pets are the Dutch, Dwarf Lop and the Nether land Dwarf. Care We normally re home rabbits as pairs or groups, as they should never live on their own. It is a common misconception that rabbits and guinea pigs live happily together, they do not. Either one can become injured or bullied so we do not allow this. However if you already have a rabbit we will re home a same sex or spayed / neutered rabbit to pair with your existing pet. Rabbits, like all animals, should be allowed to express their natural behaviour patterns to keep them happy. You will need a hutch; the minimum size should be 6ft x 2ft x 2ft high for 2 medium / large rabbit. It should be around 4 – 5 times the length of your rabbit when it is stretched out, and should always be high enough to enable them to sit upright, with its ears pricked up, without touching the top of the hutch. The hutch should be positioned somewhere sheltered, out of direct sunlight. Extremes of temperature can cause stress, which may lead to illness. In cold weather there must be adequate protection from draughts, wind and rain. Plastic sheets over the front of hutch can prevent rain from driving into the cage, but should allow for ventilation. You will need to provide fresh safe bedding that is highly absorbent, to keep your rabbit safe and warm. Hutches should be cleaned out on a regular basis; we aim to do ours at least once a week (every 7 days). This is especially important in warmer weather in order to prevent flies being attracted to the hutch and animal(s) as this can result in an infestation of maggots. In the winter months, bedding can become damp and mouldy from extreme weather. We provide our rabbits with either straw or plenty of shredded paper for their bed quarters with a layer of sawdust underneath this to absorb any liquid. We avoid newspaper as the print can come off and we don't like our rabbits digesting the ink. For the main hutch we use a thick layer of sawdust as we 'poo pick' daily when we feed to help keep the flies away. If your rabbit has problems with sawdust we recommend a paper based cat litter instead. Exercise As mentioned before we encourage all our animals to express their natural behaviour. Sitting in a hutch all day is not natural for rabbits and so we provide them with a secure cat and fox proof run so they can enjoy the garden and eat grass and certain weeds. Grazing like this is essential to keep rabbits teeth in good condition, as they need to be worn down constantly. Being a prey animal rabbits are naturally frightened of large open spaces, so we recommend placing boxes, flowerpots, drainpipes and logs in the run to keep them entertained and feeling safe. Exercise is vital to ensure your rabbit has good muscle tone and general wellbeing. Lack of exercise or poor diet can lead to problems with teeth and obesity which results in lethargy and hygiene problems considerably shortening the lifespan of your pet. Feeding In their natural habitat rabbits eat a range of grasses, weeds, leaves, shoots and twigs as well as the bark off shrubs, bushes and trees. They are herbivores and their digestive system has evolved to be extremely efficient, with the ability to eliminate indigestible fibre rapidly and ferment those fibres that are digestible. Due to their special digestive system, rabbits need a balanced diet with high levels of fibre to keep their gut healthy. A high fibre diet also encourages teeth grinding to keep their continually growing teeth in trim and to ensure that they stay healthy. If your rabbit seems off his favourite foods then see a vet immediately, if they do not eat in a 24hour period their digestive system shuts down completely causing death. Treating your pet Your rabbit will love a treat and as long as they are good for them there is no reason why you shouldn't feed one or two occasionally. It is a great way to build a friendship and trust between you, you can also try brushing your pet, try laying down on their level rather than picking them up. Try hiding some treats in the hutch too, as this will encourage them to forage. Handling your rabbit The best way to pick up your rabbit is to talk to it as you approach on the same level. Crouch in front of the rabbit and let it come to you, presenting the back of your hand for it to sniff. Gently take hold of it under the shoulders with thumb and forefinger, and support the weight of the animal by scooping up the rump with the other hand. Place the rabbit on your lap or hold it to your chest and very slowly stand up. Please try to bear in mind that rabbits are prey animals so the sensation of being lifted is similar to being picked up by a predator. Common Illnesses Dental Problems Rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout their life, at a rate of 2 – 3mm per week. Rabbits require a high fibre diet to ensure the teeth are evenly worn and to prevent overgrowth. If the teeth are not worn down, they grow incorrectly leading to discomfort, abscesses, anorexia, etc. Indication of dental problems may be saliva around the mouth, on the chest or front paws, an inability to eat or teeth grinding. Ensure that the diet contains sufficient fibre and hay. Flystrike Flies are attracted to rabbit droppings, either in the hutch or around the rear end of the rabbit. Fly eggs will hatch into maggots and will initially feed on the faeces and will then burrow into the rabbit and eat its flesh, this results in obvious discomfort, pain and, often death. Avoid flystrike by removing droppings regularly from then hutch, grooming your rabbit daily and ensuring good ventilation to the hutch, as this will prevent flies becoming attracted, and then trapped in the hutch. When cleaning the hutch, remember the walls, bars and doors as these all get dirty. Using a good animal friendly anti-bacterial spray will also help deter flies and eliminate bacteria. In the event of an attack seek veterinary advice immediately. Snuffles/Pasteurella This is a condition caused by bacteria and can be related to stress (such as high temperature, draughts, weaning etc). The animal will develop cold-like symptoms, with a runny nose, breathing difficulties and discharge from the eyes. Snuffles can lead to more serious problems, such as pneumonia, head tilt and tooth root abscesses. Keep your hutch well ventilated and at a fairly constant temperature (around 16ºC). Avoid leaving damp bedding in the hutch, keep stress to a minimum and spray the hutch with a good quality Anti Bacterial spray. Gastro-intestinal Disorders This may be caused by such things as inappropriate diet, stress, the presence of parasites, etc. If your rabbit exhibits symptoms such as bloat, constipation or diarrhoea, or a combination of these, it is extremely important that rabbits are treated quickly during this period to prevent dehydration of the condition worsening. A rabbit’s health can deteriorate very quickly. Contact a vet for advice on treatment. Myxomatosis This disease is transmitted by fleas, or from contact with other infected rabbits or objects. Symptoms are usually swollen eyelids and thick discharge from the eyes and nose. The rabbit will become very subdued and stop eating. This condition is usually fatal. Take your rabbit to the vet immediately if he shows any of these signs, and isolate him from any other rabbits, ensuring you thoroughly wash your hands before attempting to touch any other rabbit. Remember vaccination of your rabbit can control strains of this disease. Keeping the hutch clean, dry and regularly treated with a good antibacterial should give your pet rabbit the best chance of a long and healthy life. Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern.