Rabbits provide just as much companionship as more traditional house pets. Basking in front of the fire, snuggling up for cuddles, jumping onto laps, begging for treats and licking owners are all standard houserabbit repertoire!
Keeping your rabbit indoors actually makes it easier to meet the fundamental needs of the domestic rabbit. They are social animals, and we know that houserabbits show much more natural behaviour than hutch-kept rabbits. They also get much more exercise, thus avoiding skeletal problems and obesity.
Working people find that a houserabbit fits a busy lifestyle better than a dog or cat. They’re not the ultra low-maintenance pet that some books suggest, but they do need less time devoted to them than dogs.
Choosing a houserabbit
Any rabbit can be a houserabbit, cross-bred or pure-bred, male or female. The advantage of a pedigree rabbit is that you know what it will grow into in terms of both size and temperament. With over 50 breeds ranging in size from 1 kg up to the giant breeds pushing 10 kg, there’s bound to be something to suit you!
You don’t have to start with a baby; rabbits over a year old are often easier to housetrain. Watching a baby rabbit grow up is fun, but there are always adult rabbits desperate for new homes, and it is easier to assess if you ‘bond’ with a particular rabbit if he’s already grown-up. Contact Foal Farm or GBH Rescue for details of rabbits needing new homes.
Most rabbits use a litter tray without any prompting at all. Put a litter tray filled with wood-based cat litter into his cage, and shut him in until he is reliably using his tray. Then let him out for increasing periods, closely supervised at first. Don’t expect miracles from a baby rabbit; they are easily distracted and need time to learn. And do respect his territory- don’t venture into cage when he is in residence. Wait for him to come to you. Keep an eye out for an article devoted to house-training your rabbit, in this section of our web page, in early March.
Rabbits, like cats, must be neutered if kept indoors. Otherwise bucks will spray, and both sexes leave droppings scattered about as territorial markers especially if you keep more than one rabbit. This tends to start at 4-6 months of age, when a previously well-trained bunny suddenly starts leaving calling cards!
Rabbits chew. They can and do learn not to chew forbidden objects, but it takes time and vigilance. Give your rabbit lots of chewable toys (loo roll inners; cardboard boxes; a wicker basket full of straw; old telephone directories) and distract him if he starts chewing something he shouldn’t. Houserabbit owners soon learn not to leave books, documents and clothes on the floor.
However well-trained your rabbit, electrical cables are too dangerous to leave unprotected. Cover them with plastic water piping from the hardware shop, slit lengthways.
Rabbits and young children
Rabbits are not really suitable pets for young children. Although you should train your rabbit to accept routine handling, most rabbits hate being restrained. Children naturally like to hold and cuddle their pet, whereas rabbits are ground-loving creatures by nature, obviously not an ideal combination! Rats and guinea pigs make much better pets for young children.
What about other pets?
Houserabbits enjoy the company of other creatures as much as we do. Most dogs and cats can be trained to accept a houserabbit and they may well end up best friends. Don’t leave them together unattended until you are absolutely certain it is safe to do so, and bear in mind that some breeds of dog e.g. terriers and lurchers, might never get to this stage. If your cat hunts wild rabbits, think about choosing a large breed as your houserabbit. It helps if the rabbit is confident and doesn’t run away from the cat.
Having your rabbit neutered is one of the best things you can do to help him or her live a long and happy life as a member of your family. Teenage rabbits can be very trying (the ‘bunny from hell’ syndrome), so when your young rabbit suddenly turns into a spitting growling monster, you know it is time for him or her to be neutered, usually about 4 months for bucks and 6 months for does.
Neutering of both sexes is routinely conducted at the practice and has many health advantages for your rabbit. As up to 90% of unspayed does develop uterine (womb) cancer by the age of 6, spaying saves their lives. It also cures the mood swings and aggression seen in most adult female rabbits.
Cages and Equipment
You can use a normal rabbit-hutch indoors, but indoor rabbit cages are now available, specially designed for houserabbits. Make sure you choose one big enough! Another alternative is a fold-up puppy-pen, which looks very smart: the 21 x 24 x 31” size is perfect for rabbits up to about 4 kg.
You’ll also need a cat-litter tray, food bowl, water bottle, hay rack, and either a towel, cotton rug or piece of wool carpet for your bunny’s bed: much less messy than woodshavings!
A good-quality rabbit food, plenty of hay and wood-based cat litter completes the shopping list, although you’ll probably want to buy your rabbit some toys too.
All pet rabbits need vaccinating against Myxomatosis, the only practical
way to protect your rabbit from a horrific death. It is also sensible
to vaccinate against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD or HVD), a new disease
that has now spread across the whole country.
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