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Rabbits As Pets

General information

RabbitHaving rabbits as pets (both indoor and outdoor) has stemmed from as far back as the Victorian times. To date, they are the third most common pet in the UK. There are many advantages to having a rabbit as a pet. They make good house pets, and are relatively easy to litter train (sometimes better than cats!). 


Similar to chinchillas, rabbits are herbivores and hind gut fermenters (meaning they digest most of their food in an area of their gut known as the caecum). It’s vital for their nutrition and dental health that they are fed on a diet mainly consisting of a good quality hay (timothy hay), around 80%, and rabbit pellets (15%). The rest of their diet can consist of vegetables and fruits such as lettuce, apples, cucumbers and carrots. Be aware of foods high in calcium (i.e. Alfalfa hay), as calcium can very easily and quickly build up in their bladders and kidneys, leading to further problems (see below). A diet of such high fibre content is important for their teeth. Each one of their teeth is in a constant state of growth, so needs grinding down on a regular basis to prevent the overgrowth of teeth. Affected teeth can develop sharp ‘dental spurs’ along their edges. This is often painful for the rabbit as the spurs can irritate their inner cheeks and tongue. It can be sore enough to put your rabbit off their food and water.

The stomach and intestines fill roughly three quarters of the inside of your rabbit. It’s vital these guts are constantly stimulated to move and function. A diet high in fibre will do this.

Sudden changes in your rabbits diet should be avoided. Provide your rabbit with fresh water daily via a water bowl (one smaller than the size of their body) or a water bottle.

Rabbits are coprophagic, meaning they consume the first faeces/ droppings they produce. This allows them to absorb as much nutrition and energy for their diet as they can, before producing their normal firm droppings. Their first droppings are usually softer than their last.


Some rabbits can breed from as early as 3 months of age. This is important to be aware of when grouping two rabbits of separate sex together in the same cage. Litter mates grouped together from a young age usually get on very well. It’s wise to neuter the males and females within the group to prevent unwanted offspring. After parturition, the female rabbit will usually reject and attack their offspring. When introducing neutered rabbits together, it should always be supervised and done over a prolonged period of time. Ensure there is adequate space within the cage or hutch to allow each member to move around freely.

Indoor rabbits should have somewhere safe to sleep within the owner’s home. Electrical wires should be kept out of your rabbit’s way as they usually have the desire to chew through them, thus are a source of danger.

Outdoor rabbits are usually kept in a hutch. Ensure the hutch is of an adequate size to allow movement. Ensure it is of suitable material to avoid damp and drafts. Ensure the hutch is not in direct sunlight which can cause the hutch and accompanying rabbit to overheat. Outdoor rabbits are at risk of predator attacks, mainly from foxes. So ensure their living conditions are secure to prevent this from happening.

Suitable bedding materials include sawdust, wood shavings, straw and shredded newspapers.

Often, rabbits are paired up with different species companions like guinea pigs. This is not recommended. Their size difference can result in bullying and dominance issues.


Rabbits are well known for the way the hop around from place to place. However, don’t underestimate the power of their back legs. Rabbits are a prey animal, so easily feel threatened and are easily spooked. Take great care when handling them. They only bite when in a state of fear. They can often jump out of your hands and arms, so ensure you have a secure hold of them.

When lifting a rabbit, it’s important their chest is supported with one hand, and their back end is supported with your other. Alternatively you can transport a rabbit by holding them securely against your chest with one hand and supporting their back end with your other hand. It’s important that the rabbit you are handling feels secure.

Unlike most rodents, you should never pick up a rabbit by the scruff of the neck, nor by their ears. This can cause the skin in these areas to break off, resulting in serious damage.

Common conditions

In their natural wild habitat, rabbits are a prey specie; they are usually hunted by much bigger animals as a source of food. Because of this, they have become masters of hiding tell-tale signs of illness and weakness. This is of importance in pet rabbits, as sometimes it can be hard to know if your rabbit is unwell. Common signs of illness include; off their food, off their water, failure to defecate, diarrhoea, grinding their jaws together, crusty eyes and increased effort to breath. Common rabbit conditions include:

  • dental disease (usually from the development of ‘spurs’, mal- alignment of teeth or tooth root abscesses)
  • respiratory disease (pneumonia)
  • gastrointestinal disease (diarrhoea, ileus/ gut stasis and blockages)
  • urogenital disease (blocked bladders and mammary tumours)
  • skin disease (mites, lice and fleas)
  • infectious diseases (E. caniculi, myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease)

It’s important to be aware that rabbits can have annual vaccinations against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease virus. For more information, phone your local Pets‘n’Vets practice.

Fun facts

Rabbits can’t vomit. A wild rabbit has roughly half the lifespan of a domestic rabbit.


For further information on your pet rabbit, or if you’re concerned about them having any of the conditions/ symptoms mentioned above, come in and see us at your nearest Pets‘n’Vets surgery.

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