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Rabbits

Domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are becoming increasingly popular pets. They are friendly creatures and easy to keep.

Rabbits are getting more and more popular. They used to be kept mainly as children's pets but are now being kept by many adults as well. They may be kept indoors or outside in hutches and runs. When kept as indoor pets they are surprisingly easy to house train, but do have a tendency to chew on electrical wires!

There are many different breeds of rabbit to choose from but they tend to fall into two main types; the fancy breeds and the fur breeds. The fur breeds are further segregated into three types; the normal fur breeds (coat consists of an undercoat of down hairs with coarser outer hairs), the rex breeds (with shorter guard hairs which makes a lovely velvety coat), and the satin breeds (all hairs have an altered structure). The fancy breeds vary considerably in size and conformation. For example the adult Netherland dwarf weighs about 1 kg whereas the adult Flemish Giant can weigh a whopping 8kg! If you would like to see the different types of rabbit available it is a good idea to visit a show where you may be able to talk to owners and breeders before you decide which type of rabbit is for you. If you choose a long haired type you will need to groom it.

Rabbits are usually friendly and if used to being handled will generally not object. However some rabbits (especially bucks) may be aggressive and all rabbits can occasionally get frightened, (remember that they are essentially prey animals and we have been their predators for thousands of years). Rabbits can inflict painful bites and scratches, (watch out for those powerful hind legs with long claws), also a struggling rabbit may injure its own spine and cause itself permanent paralysis, it is not unknown for rabbits to have a heart attack in this situation either. Therefore you must handle your rabbit calmly but firmly. Various methods of restraint are useful; they may be held by the scruff with the hind legs supported or one hand could be placed under the chest securing the front legs and providing support while the other hand supports the hindquarters. Rabbits should be held securely against your body when being carried, tucking their head under your arm may calm them. If in any doubt or your rabbit starts to struggle it is best to place the rabbit immediately back onto a firm supportive surface and let it go!

Rabbit hutches are usually used to house rabbits although some indoor pets are allowed to roam free in the house. A hutch should be long enough for your rabbit to lie fully stretched out and high enough to allow him to stand up on his hindquarters. The flooring should be solid if the rabbit is housed outside to help protect your pet from the elements. An indoor hutch may have a mesh floor if you wish and this will make cleaning easier. When solid flooring is used the rabbit should always be provided with bedding. This may be straw, sawdust, wood shavings, hay or newspaper. A separate nesting area should be available to the rabbit with fresh, dry hay as bedding. In the UK many pet rabbits are kept outside in their hutches, the hut should have sufficient insulation and bedding to prevent the rabbit becoming too cold in winter, but should be in a shaded area so that it will not become too hot in the summer.

Rabbits should be cleaned out daily if possible and should be checked for soiling around the tail area twice a day in the warm summer months as this will help to prevent fly strike.

Male rabbits may fight if they are kept together and if does and bucks are kept together you may end up with many more rabbits than you bargained for! However rabbits are happy when kept in small groups if possible as this allows them to have some social interaction. Does may be kept together and neutering males (or females) may be an option to prevent breeding and help prevent fighting.

Rabbits should have fresh clean water available to them at all times. The water is most easily kept clean if a water bottle with a sipper tube is hung from the side of the cage, make sure all your rabbits can reach this! Pelleted commercial food is probably the easiest diet to feed your rabbit. If you choose the mix type of foods then take care that the rabbit eats all of it and not just the most tasty bits! Rabbits which are allowed to be picky about such foods will miss out on essential nutrients. The diet may be supplemented with good quality hay, carrots, cabbage and other green stuff. The rabbit will also benefit from supervised time out in the sunshine to graze on the grass (keep your rabbit in a run or you could use a lead and harness if your rabbit is used to it, but NEVER tie your rabbit up and leave it outside as it could easily strangle itself, be attacked by a fox or have some other mishap). Do not feed your rabbit waste food or grass clippings these can cause gastrointestinal upsets. Do not change the diet of your rabbit suddenly as this may also cause tummy problems; introduce new foods gradually over a period of several days.

Enjoy your visit to the rabbit section.



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