Pet parenting 101: How to take care of a rabbit (and why you don't need a whole bunch of carrots)

Pet parenting 101: How to take care of a rabbit (and why you don't need a whole bunch of carrots)

Owning rabbits can be surprisingly rewarding and great fun, but it's a big responsibility and a long-term commitment

Many who think of rabbits as easy pets for young children buy them on impulse. Owning rabbits can be surprisingly rewarding and great fun, but it's a big responsibility and a long-term commitment.

Wild and free

Domestic rabbits come in almost as wide a range of sizes as dogs, from Flemish Giants almost as large as a small child, to the Netherland Dwarf, which could sit on the palm of an adult's hand. These rabbits, though, are not too distantly removed from wild rabbits. If we think about how wild rabbits live, it makes understanding how to care for pet rabbits easier.

Bunny body clocks

Rabbits are prey animals, and in the wild they are eaten by everything from eagles to weasels. They are most active at dawn and dusk, and spend most of the day underground to avoid predators. Your pet rabbit will be most active in the morning and energetic again in the evening.

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Carrot-less cuisine

Surprisingly, wild rabbits' diets do not include carrots! Very small amounts of pellet food can be fed to your pet rabbit, but avoid treats like chocolate. Easy access to water is vital.

Amazing grazers

Rabbits are grazers, and wild rabbits eat only grass and other wild plants - in fact, they are such specialised plant eaters that they must eat hay or other tough plant material for their digestive systems to work properly. Their teeth also grow continually throughout their lives and they often suffer from severe dental disease if they don't wear them down by chewing on hay or grass.

Every rabbit should receive a "bunny-sized" bundle of hay every day, along with a small selection of washed green vegetables such as bak choi, parsley, mint and broccoli.

Dropping in

You might not have known this, but rabbits produce two different sorts of droppings: normal hard, dry pellets, and softer pellets that the rabbit eats directly from its bottom! While this may sound pretty gross to human ears, they are an important part of the diet because they contain essential vitamins.

Bouncing around

In the wild, rabbits live in underground tunnels called warrens which range over very large areas so the animals cover long distances. Rabbits have very powerful back legs and use them to stand tall and look out for predators and to hop, so they can cover a lot of ground very quickly.

Sadly, most of the rabbits in Hong Kong are kept in tiny, cramped cages that do not even allow them to stand up properly or to do a single hop. The minimum cage size for a pair of rabbits would be around 2 square metres, which is way too large to fit in most Hong Kong flats. The solution to this problem is to have house rabbits.

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Staying sociable

House rabbits are allowed to roam freely at home in much the same way as dogs and cats. They are very easy to toilet train and can use a litter tray just like cats. With some simple rabbit-proofing at home, your pet will have space to express normal behaviour and interact with you and your family. When your bunnies have room to move, you will be surprised by how much personality they have and how easy they are to train.

These are sociable animals and it is cruel to keep them on their own. Rabbits are famed breeders, so if you have a boy and a girl, you will end up with babies (known as kits) if you're not careful! The best combination is a boy and a girl who have both been neutered.

Your vet will be able to advise you on this. If you treat your rabbits properly, you could have fascinating little personalities to welcome you home for eight years or more, and will be amazed by the joy they can bring.

 

Michael Bradley is a vet with Stanley Veterinary Centre, and also works with local Hong Kong wildlife, as a consultant for groups including Ocean Park Conservation Foundation. He has kept almost every sort of pet over the years.

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