I have to start this post with the total caveat that I am neither a vet, nor a rabbit expert at all. But as I get a fair few questions on twitter and over email about what it’s like to have house rabbits and how to care for them I thought it might be helpful to deviate from my usual beauty-focus and do a little post sharing a few tips about house rabbits as pets and some things I’ve learnt along the way…
(Plus I get to totally self-indulgently share some cute photos)
First up, a little re-intro to the two little balls of fluff that I live with and adore… first is Charlton, he’s the darker coloured one. He used to be nicknamed ‘giant bunny’ as he was always the bigger of the two…but now there doesn’t seem to be as much in it. I actually don’t know his specific breed, but he’s a lop (floppy ears) and isn’t tiny, so wouldn’t say he was a dwarf. He’s the oldest of the two bunnies we have and we have had him since late Spring 2010 when we got him as a young rabbit (he was around 12 weeks when we brought him home).
Then there’s Chip – the white coloured one who was always ‘Little Bunny’, but as above…she’s sort of grown into herself and isn’t all that little any more. Her head does look small though compared to Charlton… Again, I don’t know her specific breed, but she’s also a lop and we also took her home at around 12 weeks old. She’s been part of the family since Christmas 2011.
As with all animals, they each have their own personality – Charlton has mellowed as he got older, he used to be a total nutter, running all over but he’s now quite happy hopping around and chilling out in the living room. Him and the boy have a very cute bond, he will sit next to him for ages having his nose rubbed and follows him all over. Chip is a little more jumpy but still very affectionate, she will be the one to hop up next to me on the sofa and always nudges me with her nose (apparently a sign of affection in bunny world…)
So with that little bit of background I wanted to share a few tips of things I’ve learnt in the past few years of living with these two…
1. Their main diet should be hay, and then nuggets… it’s all too easy to over feed a rabbit nuggets (especially these two as they go mad for it every time we feed them) but the staple diet should be hay and they should always have a plentiful supply to keep them eating. Rabbits have to eat constantly to keep their tummy healthy, so hay and lots of it is the answer.
2. It’s not just in cartoons that they love carrots…these two love it (they’re also partial to bit of spinach or green beans) but it’s another one that it’s not good to over feed them on as it’s very sweet. For treats we also feed them things like beaphar beetroot crunch treats (which they love and are good for their teeth) and apple drops that we get from Pets at Home (we call these rabbit crack as they go mental for them).
3. Bonding takes time… I never would have guessed a few years ago that I’d ever be able to sit here and write about bonding rabbits. But when you introduce two new rabbits it can be very complicated and can result in a few balls of fur being thrown…or worse, if you don’t do it properly.
It took quite a while with these two, but well worth it. They went from not being allowed out together, to being allowed out but having to be watched carefully, to being allowed out and being fine to now finally living together in the same cage and loving it. It probably took around three months of proper ‘bonding’ to get them there but now they’re so adorable together (and we have more of the living room back thanks to not needing two cages) it’s well worth it.
Bonding is a point that a whole post could be dedicated to – for this, the Internet is your friend and I’m more than happy to answer any questions about it from my own experience. But my main tips, take it slow, be careful (we used a sieve to separate them if needed when we first started) and persevere – we thought it might never happen but these two are like two peas in a pod together now and seem loads happier for it! But rabbits are generally happier in pairs, so consider this if you’re thinking of getting one.
4. Give them toys… Rabbits get bored easily. These two stay in their split level cage (more space for them) when we’re not home so we give them toys to keep them entertained. Charlt’s loves his rope ball (picking it up and dropping it) and Chip likes to chew toilet rolls… each to their own and whatever keeps them happy! I like to hide treats for them too, as they love a bit of digging around.
5. Lots of exercise… we always notice that if they’re not allowed out daily then when we do let them out they’re more naughty. So give them lots of exercise to keep them happy and entertained.
6. The downsides…things to be aware of if you’re thinking of getting house rabbits:
– They can get smelly if not cleaned out often enough. So think about how realistically you are going to manage this. Ours are currently cleaned out two to three times a week as I tend to have the nose of a blood hound and notice as soon as there’s a hint of smell! It’s not a long job, but it’s also not a fun one… but does need to be done it you’re taking them on as pets.
– Holidays. As with any pet, when going away you need to factor in someone to feed/exercise/clean them. We’re lucky that we have family to turn to when we do go away – but we do have a bit of a mission as without a care to transport them there, it’s no mean feat. But overall, well worth it for us.
– The cost. Again, I don’t think rabbits are expensive as far as pets go and for the reward of having them, worth the money. But it is something to consider – the monthly cost for us is around £20-£30 including food, hay and bedding. But there’s the additional potential of vets bills – we have had both neutered/spayed and that’s not a cheap operation. Plus both needed after care. Neutering/spaying is essential in both sexes, so another cost to consider as not optional.
– They can chew stuff. Our two are actually pretty good overall, they don’t tend to chew most things but we have lost a MacBook charger, a lamp cable and a couple of DVD covers to them (and the in-laws lost their broadband to wireless connection…but that’s another story). You do need to be aware of their propensity for chewing and make sure you rabbit proof as much as possible (hide wires, avoid wicker furniture, don’t leave books or magazines on the floor…). Again, just something to be aware of if you’re thinking of adding a rabbit to the household!
7. Find a good vet that knows rabbits… we were lucky to find a great vet not far from us (Canonbury Vet) who have been absolutely fantastic every time we have had to take them in. From the operations (neutering/spaying) to aftercare to simple nail clipping. They have been great and very patient – plus they have convenient opening times and never struggle to get an appointment. It’s worth looking around for a vet to find one you feel comfortable with.
8. Rabbits don’t really like to be picked up… but do it as much as you can when they’re young. It makes things like travelling (putting them into a carry case) or taking them to the vets much easier. Plus if you ever do need to give them medicine or cut their claws yourself (we do this now after being shown by the vets) then you need to pick them up. Charlton hated it, and we tried but he struggled so much we gave up at first. But then we had to take him to the vets and give him some daily anti-biotics, which meant we needed to pick him up twice a day. He doesn’t like it, but he’s use to it and when it’s up he doesn’t struggle at all. On the other hand with Chip we picked her up from the start and she’s always been pretty easy to handle. She does run away but you can pick her up from her cage no problem. So my tip – get them used to it early and gently persevere if they do struggle.
There’s my main tips for you! Overall, I think house rabbits are absolutely amazing pets – we would love a dog, but with working full time plus having no garden it just wouldn’t be an option. Rabbits on the other hand don’t require the space dogs do, but offer a lot of the benefits! They have loads of personality, they’re really adorable (and quite funny at times) and relatively low maintenance. They’re quiet, so suitable for flats and far more interesting than the average hamster.
If you are thinking of getting a house rabbit and have any other questions then feel free to comment below or drop me a tweet or an email! Happy to help 🙂
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