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Rabbit FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions:

Introduction and General Information

The following Frequently Asked Questions and answers have been kindly provided by Celia Haddon and Anne Mitchell (Rabbit Welfare Fund) with additional information from Rabbit Welfare Fund leaflets.
  • Links are provided to pages containing further information for rabbit owners, veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons.
  • Veterinary nurses should consult the Rabbit Notes for Nurses
Published Guidelines linked in Wildpro

Especially for children:

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Getting a Rabbit - Where and What Breed?

WHERE CAN I GET A RABBIT?
Celia Haddon says: "Don’t buy one in a shop. Caring breeders don’t sell to pet shops, so you may not be getting a baby that has been carefully prepared for life as a pet. Never buy on the internet – you don’t know where it’s come from. Go to a rescue centre. About 33,000 bunnies need new homes every year in the UK. At shelters you can get an adult rabbit. They always have adults (best for older children) and will also have babies at regular intervals. A good rescue centre will help you choose a compatible pair of rabbits, or introduce a new rabbit to your existing one. Children who are taken to a rescue centre are usually thrilled and excited to help animal welfare and they learn that a rabbit is not a commodity to be bought over the counter. Consult www.rabbitrehome.org.uk for UK rescues. A good rescue will tell you of any problems." (W720.Dec08.w1)
  • First talk to other rabbit owners, veterinary practices etc. and make sure that a rabbit is the right choice for a pet for you. (B620)
  • If you want a particular breed, talk to several breeders and wait until you find a breeder you are happy with. (B622.3.w3)

WHAT BREED SHOULD I BUY?
Celia Haddon says: "Pet shops often don’t know what breeds they are selling or, if they do know, don’t know how big the rabbit will be. Avoid fluffy little babies which grow into long haired rabbits that need 10 minutes grooming daily. English lops have huge ears that trail on the ground and often get injured. Giant breeds need giant houses and runs, which are very costly. Do some research on the internet before you decide. Never buy on impulse or out of pity. Some breeders don’t socialise their babies so always ask if you are buying from a breeder." (W720.Dec08.w1)

  • Research and find out about temperament, special husbandry requirements (e.g. regular grooming for long haired breeds, particularly careful handling of Polish rabbits). (B620)
  • Crossbred rabbits which have been born e.g. following accidental pregnancy of a pet doe and raised in a house and likely to be used to normal domestic noises and people. (B622.3.w3)
  • For pictures of different breeds and basic information, including weight (size) information and information on temperament for some breeds, go to: Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus - Domestic rabbit 

WHICH IS THE BEST BREED TO PURCHASE FOR A CHILD?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"There is no perfect breed for any child. I would recommend the very large breeds, as if a child cannot pick up a rabbit, then it cannot be dropped. Do not fall into the mistake of obtaining a Netherland Dwarf or Polish rabbit because they are small. Both breeds are highly strung and not for little hands. Avoid the Rex rabbit, as the claws are very needle like." (V.w136)

  • Note: rabbits are not ideal as pets for young children. If a child does have a pet rabbit, an adult must retain responsibility for the rabbit. (B620)
  • Remember that a rabbit may live for seven to ten years - the child may have left home while the rabbit is still alive. (D348)
  • Consult the following, written especially for children:

I WANT A BABY RABBIT
While baby rabbits are cute, an adult (more than a year old) is easier to train if you want a houserabbit. In particular, the problems seen at puberty (urinating and leaving dropping everywhere), are avoided. (B620, D349, N36.Jan2005.w1)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro
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Baby Bunnies - Rearing and Hand-rearing

I WAS SOLD TWO FEMALES BY MY LOCAL PET SHOP AND THIS MORNING WE HAVE FOUND A LITTER- WHAT SHOULD WE DO? SHOULD WE LEAVE THE BUCK WITH HER AS WE HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT SHE CANNOT GET PREGNANT AGAIN WHILE SHE IS FEEDING THE YOUNGSTERS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"The buck should be removed immediately, although you may find that it is too late and the doe is already pregnant. In 31 days she may present you with a second litter. Arrangements should be made to have the buck neutered as soon as possible, bearing in mind that he will be fertile for at least three weeks following castration." (V.w136)

CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME ADVICE ABOUT HAND REARING BECAUSE MY DOE APPEARS TO SHOW NO INTEREST IN THE LITTER AND I THINK THEY HAVE BEEN ABANDONED?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:

  • "Check the nest for any dead kittens and then leave nature to run its course. It is unlikely that the litter has been abandoned. The doe will only feed her kittens once or twice during the night and you may not see her show any interest." (V.w136)
  • Further information is available in Rearing of Mammals

WE HAVE A LITTER- WHEN CAN WE BEGIN TO HANDLE THE KITTENS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"I would suggest that you begin to handle the kits as soon as they leave the nest, although some experienced breeders handle them from the first day. Studies say that early handling is best done before 6 weeks of age. " (V.w136)

WHEN CAN WE BEGIN FEEDING THEM GREENS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"As I have always fed my rabbits fresh food daily, any youngsters that have been born here have been used to nibbling odd bits of their mothers greens. However, baby rabbits can suffer from digestive upsets, so ensure that anything fed is done so in moderation. Sweet treats such as apple or carrot which have a higher sugar content should be avoided." (V.w136)

FROM WHAT AGE CAN YOUNG RABBITS BE VACCINATED?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"Vaccinations against myxomatosis may be given from 6 weeks of age or from 8 weeks of age for VHD, although are usually given from 10-12 weeks of age. The vaccinations should be given 14 days apart." (V.w136)

AT WHAT AGE SHOULD THEY BE SEPARATED FROM THEIR MOTHER?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"Baby rabbits may be separated from their mother between 6 weeks and 8 weeks of age." (V.w136)

AT WHAT AGE CAN I RE-HOME THEM?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "
Eight weeks is generally the age when baby bunnies are re-homed, although some breeders will re-home at 6 weeks. Larger rabbits eg Continental Giant and British Giant benefit from remaining with the breeder until they are 10 weeks of age." (V.w136)

I HAVE FOUND A WILD BABY RABBIT IN MY GARDEN. WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH IT. COULD I KEEP IT IN A CONVENTIONAL L HUTCH AND RUN AS IT DOES NOT SHOW ANY FEAR OF ME?

Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:

  • "If you are sure that the eyes are clear and that there is no possibility of the rabbit being injured or suffering from myxi, then it should be released. Like keeping a blackbird in a budgie cage, it is unfair to keep a wild rabbit in a hutch." (V.w136)
  • If the rabbit is injured, call the RWA/F help line as they hold a directory of wildlife centres who may be able to give you further advice." (V.w136)

MY HUSBAND HAS JUST DUG INTO A NEST OF WILD RABBITS AND THE NEST IS COMPLETELY DESTROYED. WHAT SHOULD WE DO WITH THE YOUNG?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Neutering

SHOULD I NEUTER OR SPAY? 
Celia Haddon says: "ALWAYS neuter and spay your rabbits. If you don’t you will have far too many babies – and there are too many rabbits needing homes already. Un-neutered male rabbits bonk you or sexually harass their companions. Unspayed females get womb cancer and die early. So neuter and spay, just like you would a cat or a dog. If your vet advises against this, find one that understands rabbits." (W720.Dec08.w1)

IS IT NECESSARY TO HAVE MY FEMALE NEUTERED AS MY BUCK HAS ALREADY BEEN CASTRATED?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "There are many benefits to having the female neutered. The female often becomes territorial and aggressive when she reaches sexual maturity. She may become frustrated with the male and turn on him, or she may have false pregnancies. Up to 80% of unspayed females develop uterine cancer by the age of 5 years." (V.w136)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro
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House training and Litter trays

CAN I HOUSE TRAIN MY RABBIT?
Celia Haddon says: "Litter training is usually not difficult. Rabbits normally urinate in one place. Scoop up some of the soiled material from there and place it in a litter tray. Put the litter tray over the latrine area. (If the rabbit is in a hutch and there is not room, you are keeping it in far too small a hutch). Don’t keep the tray too dirty or too clean. When cleaning litter put a few poos or some soiled material back into the clean tray to remind bunny where he must go." (W720.Dec08.w1)

WHAT SHOULD I PUT IN THE LITTER TRAY?
Celia Haddon says: "Never use clay-based clumping cat litter, conifer or pine shavings or litter made from corn cobs. Special litter, Science Carefresh is available on www.russelrabbit.com A cheaper version is to put a thick wad of newspaper and lots of hay in the litter tray. The hay is there to give your rabbit something to munch on, so it doesn’t chew the newspaper. There should be enough hay so that the rabbit isn’t in direct contact with the newspaper." (W720.Dec08.w1)

FOURTEEN REASONS WHY YOUR HOUSE RABBIT MAY STOP USING THE LITTER TRAY.
Celia Haddon says: 
"1. Your rabbit is ill. Urinary infections, bladder stones and other diseases make rabbits unreliable with the litter tray. If a previously litter trained rabbit starts missing the litter tray, it is important to consult a vet.
2. The litter tray is in the wrong place – too near the rabbits' bed or food bowls, in too busy an area like a corridor, or too far away from its normal living space.
3. You are cleaning the tray too much so it no longer smells like a latrine. Put back a fragment of used litter each time.
4. You are using deodorants or scented cleaning fluids. The tray must smell like a rabbit latrine not a hairdressing salon. Don’t use them.
5. You have changed the litter type. Change it back to the one bunny is used to. If you must change, then change a handful at a time over four weeks.
6. You have moved the location of the tray. Put it back. If you must move it, move it a few inches a day.
7. The litter tray is too small for your rabbit – your rabbit has outgrown it and its bottom is over the side. Get a bigger one.
8. There are not enough litter trays. For house rabbits there should be one in every room.
9. There are too many rabbits per tray. There should be one litter tray per rabbit and one over.
10. Something has frightened your rabbit while he was in the litter tray. A loud noise? An ambush by your cat? An attack by another bunny? He thinks the tray caused the fear. Try putting down a new tray with some soiled litter to see if this works.
11. Your rabbit’s toilet habits can be upset by moving house, a new human, a new rabbit or a change in routine. Confine your rabbit in a small area with the tray so he starts using it again then let him back into a larger area.
12. The sides of the tray may be too high. Your rabbit is elderly or has arthritis and it hurts to get into it. Get a lower sided tray.
13. The sides of the tray may be too low. Rabbits lift their tail to urinate and if the litter tray is too low, they will pee over the top of the sides.
14. Your rabbit poos outside the tray. Well, they just do. Litter trays work for pee but not for all the poo. Add some hay to the litter tray so your rabbit stays there munching. They enjoy eating while they poo (like we enjoy reading in the loo). It will reduce the number of droppings outside the tray. If there are lots of moist night droppings outside the tray, consult the FAQ on dirty bottom."
(W720.Dec08.w1)

HOW DO I CLEAN UP RABBIT PEE?
Celia Haddon says: "A solution of biological washing powder/liquid is best or use diluted white vinegar. Never use scented cleaning products. To us they smell clean. To a rabbit they smell like pee and the rabbit will just mark over them. Disinfectants that turn cloudy when diluted are poisonous to animals. Buy a petsafe disinfectant not a human one." (W720.Dec08.w1)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Disease and Vaccination

I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT MY HOUSE RABBIT DOES NOT NEED TO BE VACCINATED AGAINST VHD OR MYXOMATOSIS AS IT DOES NOT GO OUTDOORS AND WE DO NOT LIVE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE WHERE THERE ARE WILD RABBITS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "VHD can be carried on your feet and your clothing and therefore even the contained House Rabbit is at risk from this virus. Myxomatosis is spread by blood sucking insects eg fleas and mosquitoes. If you have a neighbour with a garden pond or you live near a stream or have any stagnant water close by, your bunny could be at risk. It is imperative that all domestic rabbits are vaccinated." (V.w136)


FROM WHAT AGE CAN YOUNG RABBITS BE VACCINATED?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Vaccinations against myxomatosis may be given from 6 weeks of age or from 8 weeks of age for VHD, although are usually given from 10-12 weeks of age. The vaccinations should be given 14 days apart." (V.w136)

DESPITE BEING VACCINATED MY RABBIT HAS MYXI. CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME NURSING GUIDELINES?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "An infected rabbit should be brought indoors and kept warm at all times. Your vet should prescribe antibiotics, a painkiller and eye cream. Use a small aromatherapy oil burner in the room mixing two drops each of Tea tree, Elemi and Eucalyptus oil. Smear vapour rub onto a piece of card and place on top of a covered hot water bottle. For more information check out the website www.guppy.freeserve.co.uk or telephone the RWA/F help line." (V.w136)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Boarding kennels and Rehoming

I am going on holiday shortly and have been let down by a neighbour. Do you have a directory of boarding kennels for rabbits?

Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "As a member of the RWA/F you will have access to the boarding co-ordinator who holds a list of boarding establishments, their charges, hutch sizes and conditions You may also check the notice boards at your veterinary surgery or pet shop. Yellow pages may have a list of pet sitters."

Can you help me find a new home for my rabbit because…?
· The children have outgrown it.
· I am allergic to rabbit fur.
· I am moving from a house to a flat / I am moving abroad.
· The rabbit bites my three year old when she tries to pick it up.
· The rabbit digs holes in my lawn.
· I am pregnant and cannot cope.
· I am on benefits and cannot afford the vet bills.
· The rabbit is vicious.
· We have a new puppy and I cannot prevent the puppy from chasing the rabbit, so it is better that we get rid of the rabbit.
· The family next door have a litter of baby rabbits and we would like to donate our adult rabbit to you, so that the children can enjoy a baby rabbit again.
· My rabbit has lost its partner and as the children have grown up we might as well find a home for the one that is left.

The Rabbit Welfare Fund says:

  • "Please never advertise them in a local paper or pet shop as 'free to good home' as there are many horror stories about what has happened to rabbits given away in this manner. If you are re-homing them privately, i.e. to a friend or colleague, make sure you 'vet' any potential homes. Ensure that the rabbits will have roomy accommodation and plenty of opportunity to exercise as well as a good diet, vaccinations etc. Rabbits should also be kept in the company of their own kind, so please do not re-home rabbits to live a solitary life." (W716.Dec08.w2)
  • Alternatively, contact:
    • "Your local vet - they may know of a suitable client who is looking for another bunny, and most vets are happy to let you advertise them for re-homing on their notice board." (W716.Dec08.w2)
    • "Your local rescue centres - they may have space to be able to take them off you, or may get back in touch with you if they do not have space immediately. You may have to ring round a few before you find one that can help, as unfortunately most rescue centres are often inundated with rabbits."  (W716.Dec08.w2)
    • "Websites such as: www.rabbitrehome.org.uk [Rabbit Rehome] - who specialise in re-homing unwanted rabbits, or www.dogpages.org.uk, who have a cats & other animals section where you may be able to find a suitable adopter. (Having a digital image of them that you can post on the website is helpful)" (W716..Dec08.w2)
  • NOTE: 
    • "However you advertise the rabbits, please make sure that you ask questions of the potential owners and satisfy yourself that they are going to a good home." (W716..Dec08.w2)
    • "To enhance your chance of finding a new home ensure your rabbits vaccinations are up to date and they are neutered, this will increase the chance that someone will be able to integrate a new arrival into their home. Promoting responsible ownership starts at home!" (W716.Dec08.w2)
    • "Every pet rabbit deserves to have a life worth living, so if you do find yourself in a situation where you need to re-home your own rabbit/s please make sure you do the best for them and ensure they will go to a permanent home that can give them all they deserve." (W716..Dec08.w2)
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Plants

Could you give me some advice about which plants I can safely plant in the garden and which plants are poisonous?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "
Although many plants are reputedly toxic to rabbits, reports of poisoning are quite rare. Please see the RWA/F leaflet Going Green which gives you some idea of the plants to avoid. An excellent book for all rabbit owners bookshelves is Greenfoods for Rabbits & Cavies which contains 14 pages covering Dangerous plants ,shrubs and trees to be found in the field and garden (Obtainable from the RWA/F bookshop)." (V.w136)
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro
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Leg Rings

How do you remove a ring from a rabbits leg?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"Using a pair of strong cutters first snip half way through the ring and then snip through the opposite side of the ring. If you are not confident, ask your veterinary surgeon to do this for you." (V.w136)

I have found a rabbit. It has a ring on its leg- What does this mean?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"I suggest that you contact The British Rabbit Council They hold records that will enable them to check their records and to be able to advise you the name and telephone number of the breeder. The breeder may also have a record of the name, address or telephone number of the person that the rabbit was sold to. Telephone 01636 676042" (V.w136)
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Fur and Grooming

DO RABBITS NEED GROOMING? IF SO HOW?
Celia Haddon says:
"All rabbits should be groomed weekly. Ask an experienced rabbit owner or your veterinary nurse to show you how. An ordinary plastic human comb is what many rabbit owners use. Make sure there are no mats. If any form, you need to groom more often. Either tease mats out gently with your fingers or cut them out with blunt scissors while somebody holds the rabbit. Comb your rabbit’s tummy, armpits, and underneath its back legs. Pay special attention to its backside. If this is dirty you may be feeding too rich a diet – see FAQ on Dirty Bottom. Rabbits with dirty bottoms risk fly strike in summer." (W720.Dec08.w1)

HOW DO I GROOM A LONG HAIRED RABBIT?
Celia Haddon says: "Long haired breeds need daily grooming for between 10 to 30 minutes every single day. If you don’t do this, they will develop knots in about 24 hours. Knots then turn to mats, these tighten, and sores can develop on the tender skin beneath. Be gentle and thorough. If the rabbit has already matted badly, a vet should be willing to de-mat it under anaesthetic. Some people clip long -haired varieties – check with the Rabbit Welfare Fund before you do this and make sure you have the right equipment and good advice on how to use it." (W720.Dec08.w1)

Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Begin with a wide toothed comb, then repeat with a finer toothed comb. Any heavy matts can be either cut out with round edged scissors or the matts teased out with your fingers, Pay attention to the area at the base of the spine and around the tail as this is where the hair is thickest. A small fine toothed comb should be used on the legs, under the chin and around the vent."" (V.w136)

WHAT DO I NEED TO DO AS WELL AS GROOMING?
Celia Haddon says: "Check your bunny’s face, eyes, ears, paws, and nails every week. Look for bumps, lumps, dirt or parasites. Also check for sore hocks, clean ears and no patches of missing fur. If your rabbit has weeping eyes, a runny nose, a dribbling mouth or chin area, or permanently wet paws, take him to a vet. It may be teeth. Check his bottom every day to make sure it is clean and dry. Wet or dirty bottoms put him in danger of fly strike – read the FAQ on dirty bottoms on how to change his diet. Nails will need trimming every few months – get your veterinary nurse to show you how to do this." (W720.Dec08.w1)

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Fly Strike and Dirty bottoms

HOW CAN I STOP FLY STRIKE?
Celia Haddon says: "Fly strike kills thousands of rabbits. Flies lay their eggs on the rabbit's dirty bottom. The eggs hatch into maggots which eat their way into the poor rabbit's flesh. The rabbit dies from being eaten alive - a slow horribly painful death.

Fly strike is a veterinary emergency. A rabbit can die rapidly so get it to the vet as soon as possible.

You can protect your rabbit by cleaning the hutch every single day in warm weather and carefully inspecting its bottom twice daily in hot weather. If there are moist night droppings in the hutch, then see the earlier FAQ about dirty bottoms and adjust its diet.

Buy Rearguard, a special spray for its bottom, which will protect it from fly maggots for several weeks. You get this from your vet and follow instructions. Another possibility is Xenex Ultra, a spot on containing permethrin, which kills or repels adult blowflies before they lay their eggs. (This is toxic to cats)

Still clean the hutch daily and inspect the bottom twice daily in summer as well. Be particularly careful with long haired rabbits. Insect repellants and fly screens sold over the counter are no substitute for Rearguard or Xenex Ultra."

(W720.Dec08.w1)

  • Veterinary information on flystrike is provided in:

WHAT SHOULD I USE IF MY RABBIT GETS FLEAS OR MITES?
Celia Haddon says: "Get advice from your vet because it is so easy to get it wrong with possible fatal results. If your rabbit has mites and fleas, it may be run down or sick so ask your vet to check for tooth problems and illness, rather than just asking for a flea treatment. Choosing which flea or mite treatment is tricky. Some poison rabbits. 

NEVER use an over-the-counter flea treatments sold for dogs or cats. Many of these kill rabbits. Even prescription treatments for dogs and cats can also kill. Remind your vet of this when you are asking him for an anti-flea treatment. Ask your vet for Advantage (Imidaclopid), which is safe for rabbits. 
Fleas can pass myxomatosis from one rabbit to another so zap them fast, as well as vaccinating against this fatal disease. As well as treating the rabbit, you may need to treat the environment (hutch, run or your house) so ask your vet for a spray, which is safe for rabbits. Follow the instructions EXACTLY. Treat the whole house if the rabbit is a house rabbit. Treat the whole hutch and run if it is an outdoor rabbit. 

Stronghold (selamectin) from your vet can treat mites. In the UK the spot-on Xenex Ultra (permethrin) (see fly strike FAQ above) will also control fleas and Cheyletiella mites. But it is poisonous to cats which might be a concern in a household which includes rabbits and cats. Another UK spot-on, Xeno 450 (ivermectin) kills pests under the skin surface like the sarcoptic mange mites, ear mites etc. It will also kill Cheyletiella and ticks. Vets get irritated by clients who ask for drugs by name so use some tact here!"

(W720.Dec08.w1)

WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT A DIRTY BOTTOM?
Celia Haddon says: "If your rabbit has a dirty bottom, with bits of sticky poo on it, you need to take it to the vet. If the usual daytime droppings are still dry, this is not diarrhoea. These sticky poos are the special droppings called caecotrophs which are EATEN by healthy rabbits. Yes, nature has designed the rabbit to eat its special droppings. They turn round and take each dropping as it comes out of their back passage. The caecotrophs usually appear four hours after a meal, and are mostly done around about noon or lunchtime.

A rabbit with a dirty bottom is not eating its caecotrophs, as it should. There are several possible reasons. 

  1. She is too fat to reach her bottom. An expert rabbit vet says “the most common reason for fat rabbits is that they have a permanently full bowl of food in front of their noses.” Your rabbit needs to diet and eat mainly hay and grass. A vet can prescribe diet rabbit food and give you advice. You must also give her a run and fun things to do so she can become more active.
  2. He has arthritis or is in pain so he cannot reach his bottom because of pain. Back pain and spinal problems are often linked to osteoporosis caused by the wrong diet, small cages, aging or sometimes genetic inheritance. He needs veterinary treatment, the correct diet, and a lifestyle with more space and activity. 
  3. Your rabbit has teeth problems and therefore cannot eat her hay properly. When she tries to eat the caecotrophs, her tongue hurts and it’s hard for her to lick them into her mouth. Your vet should check her teeth. 
  4. Your rabbit is eating too rich a diet and therefore is too full up to eat his poo [caecotrophs - the sticky poos]. He needs much more fibre in hay and grass. Start reducing the amount of rabbit mix or pellets that you give him day by day until you are only giving only a small amount each morning. Keep reducing until there are no sticky poos visible. The rest of the day it should eat good sweet hay or grass. (See the early FAQ about what to feed your rabbit)."

(W720.Dec08.w1)

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Behaviours and Problem Behaviours

WHAT IS MY RABBIT SAYING WHEN HE…. Celia Haddon says: 
  • LICKS me. This is a sign of affection like kissing.
  • NUDGES. Sitting close to you or another rabbit is also a sign of affection.
  • THUMPS his back legs. This is a warning sign. Something has upset him.
  • EARS forward. He is relaxed and interested.
  • GRUNTS. He is definitely fed up with something. 
  • NIPS. A gentle nip may simply be the way a rabbit tells you to get out of the way.
  • BITES. This is to make you retreat. He may be frightened.
  • GROWLS. He is definitely angry and perhaps frightened too.
  • CHINS. He is marking his territory with the scent glands under his chin.
  • PURRS or gentle teeth clicks. He is happy.
  • GRINDS his teeth. This is usually noisier than teeth clicking and the rabbit’s body doesn’t look relaxed. His eyes may be bulging. Teeth grinding can be the sign of a sick rabbit.
  • BINKYING. This is the amazing moment when he leaps into the air and twists round before landing. He is joyful and playful.

(W720.Dec08.w1)

WHY IS MY RABBIT RUNNING ROUND ME IN CIRCLES GRUNTING?
Celia Haddon
says: "If she’s female and she’s circling round you with little grunts, she fancies you. She’s probably in season. Get her spayed NOW." (W720.Dec08.w1)

WHY DOES MY RABBIT BITE ME? 
Celia Haddon
says: 

  • "Your rabbit isn't vicious. It's usually frightened. Any kind of punishment will simply make it worse. It may be terrified of you, particularly if you haven't had it long or if it hasn't been used to human handling. Many rabbits don’t like being picked up.
  • A female rabbit may be defending the nest territory. One way to diminish the female instinct to defend its nest will be to get a female rabbit spayed. Some male rabbits, however, will continue to bite even after being neutered.
  • If the rabbit’s house is indoors, give it a little ramp or a couple of boxes to jump down to ground floor level –so it does not have to be handled. If it is outside, use a cat travel box, with a front entrance. Put the rabbit's favourite food in it each time, and say to it "Box" every time you want it to get into it. 
  • To gain its trust, spend a lot of time with it on the floor. Start petting it there and giving it favourite titbits, putting the food in the palm of your hand not between your fingers. Then once it's learned to trust you, start picking it up. 
  • When cleaning the rabbit house, lure the rabbit into the sleeping compartment with a food treat while cleaning the other area – and visa versa. In all, keep handling to a minimum.
  • Some rabbits are possessive about food and will bite while guarding their food bowl. Place a new bowl with food, before taking out the old. Change where you put the bowl, so that it is not always in the same place.
  • A usually tame rabbit who starts biting may be in pain -- get your vet to check for ear mites, dental problems, broken limbs or arthritis. Rabbits who are kept in hutches with nothing to do often develop limb deformities and are in constant pain."

(W720.Dec08.w1)

WHY IS MY RABBIT PEEING ON ME? 
Celia Haddon
says: "He fancies you. This is male rabbit courtship behaviour. It’s the rabbit equivalent of giving you a box of chocolates. Get him neutered NOW. (W720.Dec08.w1)

MY RABBIT LIVES INDOORS BUT CONSTANTLY URINATES ON THE SOFA OR MY BED. HOW CAN I STOP HIM FROM DOING THIS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "It is most common for a rabbit to target either the sofa or the bed as he is over marking your smell. This is where you spend the majority of your time, either sitting or lying down. This habit must be broken very quickly and the area must be placed out of bounds and the area’s cleaned. Unfortunately using the wrong cleaning product can encourage the rabbit to overmark the smell. Do not use an ammonia based cleaning agent because ammonia, one of the components of urine is in bleach. Wash the stained area with a warm solution of biological washing powder- rinse with cold water and dry. Access to the area should be restricted or it should be blocked off with boxes, piles of books or even the cushions removed from the sofa. (The bedroom door should be kept closed) Eventually the cycle should be broken and the rabbit should learn that the sofa and the bed are out of bounds." (V.w136)

MY RABBIT CONSTANTLY CHEWS THE CARPETS, SKIRTING BOARD AND FURNITURE. HOW CAN I PREVENT HIM DOING THIS?

  • Rabbits chew - they may ruin furniture and rugs, ingest toxic materials or substances which will block the gastrointestinal tract, and may bite through electrical cables, resulting in electrical burns (Burns and Smoke Inhalation) or Electrocution. (B606.1.w1, J34.24.w3)
  • You need to protect both protect items which you don't want chewed and provide the rabbit with things it can chew on happily.
    • Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Rabbits are programmed to dig and to chew and therefore you must give him lots of things to occupy him. A box of hay or shredded paper to dig in. A large box with a door cut out of each end for him to run through. The huge cardboard rolls that carpets are delivered on. Check out your local carpet warehouse. These can be cut up and placed behind your sofa for the rabbit to run through, thus preventing him from digging into the back of the sofa. Bind the legs of your table with twine. Inner rolls from the kitchen or loo roll that he can chuck about. Raffia coasters. There are now lots of willow toys available that allow the rabbit to show its normal behaviour of being destructive."
    • Keep all electrical cables out of reach of rabbits, or protected inside conduits. (B339.8.w8, N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • See also: Rabbit-proofing the house (below)

HOW CAN I STOP MY RABBIT DIGGING? 
Celia Haddon
says: "You can’t. Rabbits need to dig so give them a place where they can do so. Buy a child’s plastic sandpit and fill it with half sand half peat. Or make a digging box with peat inside and a hole half way up the side. A rabbits sand pit should be wide enough for her to turn round and deep enough for her to dig down her own height." (W720.Dec08.w1)

HOW CAN I STOP MY RABBIT CHEWING THE FURNITURE / CABLES / RUGS?

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Bunny buddies & Introducing Rabbits

HOW SHOULD I INTRODUCE A NEW RABBIT TO AN EXISTING BUNNY?
Celia Haddon says: "Don’t just stick him in the enclosure. There will be a fight. If you are getting your new rabbit from a rescue, ask them to handle the introductions. They will choose a rabbit which will bond with yours. They can meet up in the rescue and you can finally take them home together.

If you are going to do the introductions yourself, you must introduce them on neutral territory - a new pen, the kitchen floor or the bathroom, the back of a van, or perhaps a room in a friend’s house. There must be enough room for them to get away from each other.

Scuffles, mounting and chasing are normal in the beginning. Let them get on with it as long as there isn’t severe aggression like biting or wounding. 

If there is severe aggression separate them if necessary by spraying them with water from a water pistol or making a loud noise. It could be that the individuals are incompatible.

A slower way of doing an introduction is to let them smell each other for a few days through a partition first: i.e. rig up a baby gate or something similar to divide them from each other. Mix their scents by taking bedding from one of them and putting it into the other’s area. Then after a couple of weeks introduce them on neutral ground. Introductions make take time but will be worth it since they will never be lonely again." (W720.Dec08.w1)

MY TWO RABBITS GROOM EACH OTHER CONSTANTLY AND ONE NOW HAS A SORE PATCH ON THE SHOULDER. WHAT SHOULD I DO AS THEY DO NOT APPEAR TO MIND?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Firstly, I would have them checked by the vet to ensure that there are no problems with their teeth or diet (sometimes the over grooming is a sign of dental problems or a lack of fibre in the diet). If the problem still continues, I would introduce more enrichment into their lives – perhaps more access out of the hutch, ways to increase the amount of time they spend feeding, more emphasis on hay in the diet and increasing the three dimensional feel of their home with platforms and hiding areas. If this fails, then I would suggest separating them for a short period of time to see if you can break the habit. Allo grooming (as it is known) is used to strengthen relationships but you have to be careful with fly strike if the skin is broken by repeated behaviour." (V.w136)

I WOULD LIKE TO INTRODUCE A THIRD RABBIT TO MY BONDED PAIR WHO HAVE LIVED TOGETHER FOR THREE YEARS. IS THIS POSSIBLE?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Yes, depending on the individuals and the environment that you have. Successful pairings are more likely if you have lots of space and plenty of areas for the rabbits to avoid each other. Ideally, the rabbits should be introduced in a neutral area, such as the garden, a room of the house, or a garage, and this can be repeated until you see some grooming between the individuals (a good sign). Opposite sex relationships work well with pairs and we would suggest that you introduce a neutered animal to your existing pair." (V.w136)

MY TWO FEMALES HAVE LIVED HAPPILY TOGETHER FOR TWO YEARS AND HAVE NOW BEGUN TO FIGHT. WILL THEY EVENTUALLY SETTLE?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "It is hard to say if you are not sure of the reason as to why the fights started. Occasionally females will start to fight during the breeding season (January to June) but they can also fight following a change to their environment; following a stressful event (presence of a predator, loud noise); or when competing over food. I recommend opposite sex relationships for this reason. You could try separating them and then gradually re-introduce them somewhere neutral to see if this helps." (V.w136)

MY RABBITS HAS BEEN HOSPITALISED FOR THREE DAYS AND NOW HE HAS RETURNED HOME, HIS PARTNER IS ATTACKING HIM. SHOULD I SEPARATE THEM?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Yes. We recommend asking your vet if a paired rabbit can go into the surgery with the patient, as this problem is quite common. Your sick rabbit has basically come home smelling different, so your existing rabbit is reacting adversely. If you can separate them until the sick rabbit is better you should be able to re-introduce them somewhere neutral." (V.w136)

I AM ATTEMPTING TO BOND A THREE YEAR OLD MALE WITH AN EIGHT WEEK OLD FEMALE AND IT DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE GOING WELL.
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "I would suggest that you wait until the female is older and has been neutered. If her early experience is of aggression then she may not develop into the most confident adult." (V.w136)

SHOULD A RABBIT LIVE WITH A GUINEA PIG - I HAVE BEEN RECEIVING CONFLICTING ADVICE?
Celia Haddon says: "Guinea pigs are so much smaller than rabbits than they can be severely harassed or even seriously wounded if a rabbit kicks them. Neuter and spay your rabbits, then you can give your bunny a rabbit friend who speaks the same language." (W720.Dec08.w1)

Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: 

  • "Both guinea pigs and rabbits are social creatures and need company. Modern day anaesthetics allow both species to be neutered and to live with their own kind. Rabbits and guinea pigs have different dietary needs as the cavy is unable to synthesise its own vitamin C. As the rabbit is generally the larger of the two animals, it is common for the guinea pig to be kicked or bitten and often they have their earflaps chewed off by the rabbit. Some have internal injuries that prove fatal."
  • Rabbits can carry bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica, which may cause no symptoms in the rabbit but can cause fatal or serious respiratory disease in guinea pigs."" (V.w136)

WHICH IS THE BEST COMBINATION: TWO FEMALE RABBITS?; TWO MALES?; OR ONE MALE AND ONE FEMALE?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "The easiest pairing is a neutered male with a spayed female. If you already have one rabbit, choose a companion of the opposite sex. Same sex pairs can be difficult, but it is possible especially if they have been raised together, e.g. a pair of siblings or two young rabbits of 8-10 weeks of age from different litters. It is vital that both rabbits are neutered as soon as possible before any fighting has occurred." (V.w136)

MY RABBIT HAS JUST LOST HIS PARTNER. I AM TOLD THAT I SHOULD LEAVE THE BODY WITH HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE. SHOULD I LOOK FOR ANOTHER FRIEND OR WAIT AND SEE IF HE MISSES HER?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "If a bunny is put to sleep at the vets and does not return, then its partner will not understand why and may continue to look for his friend. It does help if the body can be returned and left for thirty minutes. The rabbit that remains, may simply hop off and show no interest. Perhaps it is his way of understanding that the soul has departed the body. It is never too soon to look for a new friend and many rescue shelters will do the pairing for you." (V.w136)

HOW CAN I INTRODUCE MY NEW PUPPY TO THE RABBIT AND CAN CATS AND RABBITS BECOME FRIENDS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Introducing a dog and a rabbit can take effort and time and much depends who was in residence first. You will need a cage for the rabbit, muzzle and lead for the dog. The dog will have to be taught three or four useful commands. Highly recommended is Living with a House Rabbit Dykes & Flack which has an excellent chapter on introducing a rabbit and a dog and a small section on a cat and rabbit friendship. Obtainable from the RWA bookshop." (V.w136)

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Hutches

WHAT SIZE HUTCH DOES A RABBIT NEED?
Celia Haddon says: "Think BIG when buying your rabbit’s home. A rabbit needs a sleeping compartment, and an eating area. As well as this, there should be an exercise run. The bigger the breed, the bigger the house. Giant breeds need giant houses. Wendy houses, garden sheds, aviaries, summer houses, dog kennels with runs, or even chicken houses offer more room than the traditional hutch. Starter hutches sold in pet shops are ALWAYS too small so are most of the hutches on sale. Buy the biggest in stock or better still order an even bigger one. Minimum size hutch per average rabbit is 5 foot by 2 foot by 2 foot. Double this for two rabbits. Consider a penthouse from http://www.pethouse-uk.com or the largest ark from www.forshamcottagearks.com (remembering that a rabbit can’t reach the outside of an ark), a villa house from www.sprcentre.co.uk or even a dog kennel from www.derbyhouse.co.uk Choose the largest of these houses, not the medium or smallest." (W720.Dec08.w1)

WHERE CAN I PURCHASE A HUTCH THAT MEETS THE MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS OF THE RWA AND RSPCA AS MOST PET SHOPS ONLY SELL INADEQUATELY MADE AND SMALL SIZED HUTCHES?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: The RWA and the RSPCA recommend a minimum size of 6x2x2 and all hutches should allow an adult rabbit to be able to take three full hops in any direction and be able to stand up at full stretch on their back legs. Unfortunately many pet shops do not have the space to accommodate these sizes. I suggest you check out your garden centres and the larger chains of pet super stores." (V.w136)

CAN YOU RECOMMEND A WOOD STAIN FOR MY HUTCH AND RUN?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "This is difficult, as some cans will tell you – Safe for children and pets- However this does not include rabbits and cavies who are programmed to chew. My suggestion is to use a water based stain and paint the exterior only." (V.w136)

DOES A HOUSE RABBIT NEED A HUTCH?
Celia Haddon says: "No. An indoor house rabbit needs a secure den where he can retreat for privacy and sleep. This must be lockable, so that the rabbit can be locked in at times for his own safety. Depending on the size of your rabbit, a crate sold for dogs might be the ideal. This must be big enough to contain a sleeping box, food bowl, hayrack, water bowl and litter tray. Crates are useful for taking in the car or on visits. There are some UK ones on www.shawspets.co.uk or www.croftonline.co.uk Plastic dog beds turned upside down make nice bunny retreats in rooms away from the bunny’s den." (W720.Dec08.w1)

WHAT SHOULD I PUT ON THE FLOOR OF THE HUTCH?
Celia Haddon says: "A deep layer of soft barley straw is the warmest most comfortable bedding for an outside hutch. Beneath this, you can put wooden shavings particularly in the latrine area (if you are not going to litter train your rabbit) or special rabbit litter. Indoor house rabbits don’t need such a large amount of straw and some people just put a fleece in their sleeping area." (W720.Dec08.w1)

HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY RABBIT ISN’T TOO COLD IN WINTER? 
Celia Haddon says: "The simplest way of keeping rabbits (and guinea pigs) warm and their bottles unfrozen, is to move their living quarters indoors or into a shed or unused garage (not a used garage because of car fumes) during cold weather. Any temperature lower than –7 degrees centigrade may be dangerous to rabbits but temperatures above that but below freezing may cause them discomfort if the hutch is either damp or the prevailing wind blows into it. It’s vital that any outdoor hutch is dry and weatherproof with plenty of hay. If you have a damp hutch you should buy a new one anyway. 

  • The ideal temperature range is 15-20 degrees [Centigrade] above freezing. Put bubble wrap round the water bottle but the nozzle may still freeze in really bad weather. So change the water bottles five times a day to make sure the rabbits get enough unfrozen water. In an emergency, you can keep the hutch temperature higher by insulation at night. Staple heavy duty polythene between two broom handles and use this to cover the hutch. Put both broom handles under the roof, with clips for both, letting one hang down in front like a blind in severe weather. During the day roll up this bottom broom handle and put it back into the clips. Fix a blanket between the front of the hutch and the polythene at night. If the hutch is covered in this way it MUST be uncovered every morning.
  • You can also keep the rabbits warm at night with a SnuggleSafe microwave heat pad available from www.snugglesafe.co.uk They are wonderful for humans too) It’s important to follow instructions, not to overheat, and to cover the device with cloth as well as hay so it cannot burn the rabbit. They are firm plastic discs but it is possible you might rig them up in some way near the bottle. In any case they will raise the hutch temperature in general. A reader writes " I have made wooden panels for the front of my hutches, attached by small swivel pegs for use at night. The cap left by the water bottle on the door leaves enough ventilation. I then drop the plastic sheeting over the hutch with a wooden strip stapled on to the bottom to give it some weight." (W720.Dec08.w1)

CAN MY RABBIT GET TOO HOT IN SUMMER?
Celia Haddon
says: "Yes. If the desired temperature is between 15-20 degrees above freezing then any temperature above 20 degrees will begin to stress a rabbit. Getting too hot is probably more dangerous for a rabbit than being too cold. They can’t pant or sweat to get rid of the heat. At 28.3 degrees they get dangerously hot. This is why shade must be provided in the run. Hot hutches also make a rabbit vulnerable to fly strke and good hygiene is essential in hot weather. Daily cleaning out of all dropping and soiled material is a must. A rabbit’s bottom should be checked twice daily and Rearguard used. 

DURING THE WET PERIODS WE OPEN UP OUR HUTCHES TO FIND SLUGS HAVE CRAWLED INTO THE FOOD BOWLS. HOW CAN WE PREVENT THIS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Slugs cannot abide the touch of copper. Copper rings can be purchased from garden centres or seed catalogues and the leg of the hutch should be placed within the ring. They are usually available in 10cm and 17.5 cm diameter sizes; these are guaranteed to last a lifetime. You may also be able to purchase copper tape, which can be bound around the leg of the hutch." (V.w136)

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Rabbit-proofing the house

HOW CAN I BUNNY PROOF MY HOME AGAINST CHEWING, AS MY INDOOR BUNNY HAS CHEWED THROUGH THE COMPUTER, LAMPS, TV AND TELEPHONE CABLES? 
Celia Haddon says: 
  • "A block of untreated pine nailed to the skirting board or piece of furniture will also reduce damage round the home. Clear plastic Perspex from DIY shops can be installs up to the stretching height of the rabbit. Use paint instead of wallpaper.
  • Buy plastic tubing in various diameters from DIY stores, to protect the wires. Rabbits rarely chew these plastic tubes, and, if they do, there is time to stop them before they reach the wire. If you have moulded plugs, split the tubes sideways to get the wire in. Transparent carpet coverings are also available from DIY shops. Cover chewed carpet with this. Put clingfilm round the legs of furniture and then cover with cloth to protect against chewing.
  • Anti chew sprays sometimes work but are expensive. Check they are safe for rabbits. Try lemon juice or eucalyptus oil. But check it won’t damage the area.
  • To stop burrowing behind sofa, buy big cardboard rolls of the kind used to keep carpets on, or large plastic or earthenware tubing from DIY or builders merchants. Or take a wool (not nylon) carpet offcut and tape it into a roll with the carpet inside. Put this behind the sofa so your rabbit can run and hide in it, but the sofa won’t be chewed.
  • It you catch your rabbit ACTUALLY in the act of chewing (never before or after as this gives the wrong message) then clap your hands or stamp your foot or spray with water. Sometimes this helps. But never shout or smack since the rabbit will then be terrified by YOU and will never trust you again." (W720.Dec08.w1)

Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: 

  • "All wires must be bunny proofed. DIY stores sell cable covers or plastic conduit which holds the wires and which can then be tacked above your skirting board. Piping used for fish tanks may be purchased from aquatic centres and is obtainable in different colours and diameters. Remove the plug, push the wires through the tubing and then re-attach the plug. If you have a moulded plug, split the pipe lengthwise and insert the wires." (V.w136)
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Predator-proofing

HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY OUTDOOR RABBIT IS SAFE FROM FOXES?
Celia Haddon says: "Don’t rely on chicken wire on the run or hutch if you are making your own. A fox can get through this. Use Twilweld aviary netting, preferably 16 gauge, from garden centres or DIY stores. "Chicken wire was designed to keep chickens in, rather than foxes out," says Trevor Williams of the Fox Project. Also check the hutch locks. Foxes can lift latches and open swivel locks. Foxes can also dig under a run. If your run is static, you should run the Twilweld into the earth to a depth of about 8 inches at an outward angle. The other alternative is to place cheap flagstones round the edge of the run. If it is a moveable run you could move the flagstones with it, but it would probably be easier to buy a hutch on legs and put the animals there at night. If possible put up a solid fence round the garden – foxes are less likely to go for something they can’t see. Artificial tunnels and pipes will also offer protection inside the run. Do not leave rabbits out unsupervised in any area visited by foxes, badgers, cats or dogs." (W720.Dec08.w1)

HOW CAN I KEEP MY RABBITS SAFE FROM BADGERS?
Celia Haddon says: "Badgers will eat hutched rabbits and once they learn to do so will come back for more. Get rid of latches and put on bolts. Foxes can lift latches, and so do badgers occasionally. "You need to add wldmesh or chain link, with wire that is two and a half milimetres in diameter. Badgers can get through chicken wire." advises Penny Cresswell Lewns of the Badger Consultancy (www.badgerconsultancy.co.uk). "Keep the chicken wire in place because the chain link will be too wide a mesh to keep the rabbits inside." (W720.Dec08.w1)
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Feeding

WHAT SHOULD I FEED MY RABBIT?
Celia Haddon says:
"Three quarters of a rabbit’s diet or even more should be good sweet hay. Rabbits need lots and lots of fibre. The richer the diet, the worse it is for them. Feed unlimited hay from a hay rack and unlimited grass (never grass clippings). The best hay is coarse Timothy hay sold in long strands rather than chopped short. In addition to this feed a small amount of pellets (not mix) so that your rabbit eats a good balanced diet. These need to be high-fibre pellets. Don’t leave a bowl full of pellets throughout the day. Feed in the morning - just enough for your rabbit to finish up completely before noon. Or, if you are not there to check this, feed two small portions a day that can be eaten in five to ten minutes while you wait. If the bowl isn’t cleared, then feed less the next time. Ignore all high protein mixes, mixes with fruit in them, all luxury mixes. Richer means worse." (W720.Dec08.w1)

WHAT CAN I GIVE MY RABBIT AS TREATS?
Celia Haddon says: "NEVER give sticky treats, dairy treats or any treats with honey. The best treats are wild plants like sow thistle, groundsel, parsley plantain, clover, dandelion, brambles, etc. Or garden veg like carrot, swede, turnip, broccoli. Be sparing with fruit – only teaspoonful of apple, pear, strawberries etc. Don’t feed lettuce. Hay cakes are really good treats. Do not feed locust beans. These are sometimes still sold as treats but the seeds which are sometimes left in them can get stuck in the small intestine and kill the rabbit." (W720.Dec08.w1)

WHAT FOOD IS BAD FOR RABBITS?
Celia Haddon says: "It is important to feed rabbits grass and wild foods but do not feed rhubarb stems or leaves, potato or tomato leaves or stems, buttercup flowers or leaves, runner beans or runner bean leaves. Do not give conifer branches or leaves and only feed lettuce in small quantities as a special treat. Many human foods like chocolate or alcohol are poisonous. Even safe human foods are too rich for rabbits. You wouldn’t eat rabbit pellets so why feed them human cake? Never give human drugs to rabbits. These could kill them. For a longer list look at the Rabbit Welfare website." (W720.Dec08.w1)

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Picking up Bunny - Handling and socialising

HOW DO I PICK UP MY RABBIT?
Celia Haddon says: 
  • "Most rabbits do not like to be held as it is threatening for them to be up in the air. Many of them don’t like being cuddled much either. You need to start accustoming a rabbit to handling as soon as possible, but be patient and slow. To pick up a rabbit first stroke it on the head to relax it. Then put your left hand behind its front legs and your right hand on its bottom above the tail. Scoop it up, and transfer the left hand to its head, with the thumb in front of the ears and the fingers resting over his shoulder.
  • Hold it with its head in the air, and its body against your chest. Your right hand should be under its bottom above its tail. Its feet are, as it were, resting on your tummy. Your left hand thumb should be in front of its ears and the fingers resting over its shoulder. If you are holding it correctly, it should be unable to kick out as all his feet are pressed against your body. Always give the rabbit a treat as soon as you put it down, so that it associates picking up with a reward. Some rabbits will never ever enjoy cuddling, just as some cats don't. Accept your rabbit as he is.
  • Many rabbits struggle when they are picked up, or about to be put down, so hold on kindly but firmly. Vets see rabbits with broken legs that were dropped by their handler."

(W720.Dec08.w1)

My rabbit was such a cute cuddly little thing when I bought him from the pet shop, but I now find it difficult to pick him up, especially when I wish to put him back into his cage, Can you explain how I should handle him.
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "It maybe that the bunny associates you picking him up with being returned to the cage and objects, It may be that he was not handled during the early stages by the breeder, Maybe he does not feel secure when you pick him up. If the rabbit does not feel secure when being handled he will automatically struggle or will do everything to avoid being picked up. Begin by spending some time with him, perhaps hand feeding healthy treats- A handful of clover or dandelion, a small slice of carrot or apple. Let him begin to enjoy your visits. The correct way to handle is to have rabbit facing you on the floor. Slide one hand underneath his front legs and at the same time slide the other hand down the spine and under his bottom. Lift him to you quickly and scoop him close to you so that his feet are touching your body and your arms engulf his body so that he feels secure. When you return him to his cage, feed him again, so that he associates this with something nice happening." (V.w136)

HOW DO I SOCIALISE MY BABY BUNNIES? 
Celia Haddon says:

  • "Baby rabbits should be handled by human beings daily between the age of four to six weeks or even earlier in order to become tame pets. If this hasn’t been done they may always be scared of humans – one reason why rescue shelters are better than breeders with rabbits in outside hutches.
    Spend time with them from the start. Bring them small vegetable treats, feed and develop the human-rabbit bond. Handle them and pretend to groom them with a soft brush. Look at their nails so they get used to nail inspection. But remember babies need their quiet times too.
  • If they are going to be house rabbits get them used to household noises like washing machines, doorbells, laughter, and music – anything from rock to Mozart. Some house bunnies enjoy watching TV.
  • Start gently training your bunny with tiny food rewards. Rabbits will respond to human words such as “No”, “Stop”, “Come”, “Bedtime”, and ‘Into your Box.” You can even clicker train them."

(W720.Dec08.w1)

CAN I TRANCE MY RABBIT? 
Celia Haddon says: "Old-fashioned books, old-fashioned rabbit keepers and occasionally even old-fashioned experts sometimes recommend trancing a rabbit by putting it into a state of tonic immobility. Ignore them. A rabbit in a trance is playing possum, ie playing dead, the last desperate gamble of an animal trying to escape a predator. Don’t be tempted to make your rabbit do this. The rabbit looks as if it’s just hypnotised or unconscious to us but the rabbit shows signs of extreme stress throughout. Your rabbit may never come out of the trance. I know of one rabbit that died during trancing. It’s dangerous." (W720.Dec08.w1)

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When does my Rabbit Need to see a Vet?

WHEN DOES MY RABBIT NEED TO SEE A VET? 
Celia Haddon
says: "Rabbits don’t make many signs when they are ill or in pain. They don’t whimper or cry. So if you notice any signs of illness you need to get help immediately. Any of these symptoms need urgent veterinary investigation: 1. Your rabbit stops eating. This is an emergency. 2. Diarrhoea. All droppings are wet. 3. If your rabbit is immobile, hunched, lethargic. 4. Tooth grinding. 5. Bleeding, noisy breathing, or floppiness. 6. Wet paws, weeping eyes, dribbling mouth. 7. Biting when handled – if the bunny usually doesn’t bite. This probably means pain somewhere. 8. Over-grooming or self mutilation." (W720.Dec08.w1)

The Rabbit Welfare Fund leaflet "Bunny M.O.T. How to keep your rabbit running smoothly" lists the following as emergencies about which you should ring the vet immediately:

  • "Rabbit has difficulty breathing; or blueish lips and tongue
  • Rabbit is limp, floppy, cold, or hasn't eaten for 12 hours
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Flystrike
  • Severe diarrhoea
  • Fractured back or leg
  • Rabbit is in pain"

(D357)

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF TOOTH TROUBLE? 
Celia Haddon
says:
"Any of these symptoms –weeping eyes, damp or frothy mouth, damp paws, lack of appetite, hunched posture, lethargic demeanour, matted fur from lack of grooming, dead hair in coat, poor condition. You may see it run towards its food because it is hungry, then hesitate to eat because of the pain. Any of these symptoms are a veterinary emergency and need instant vet’s attention. A rabbit that hasn’t eaten for a day is seriously ill. It is not easy for ordinary rabbit owners to spot tooth difficulties inside the mouth. Teeth should ALWAYS be checked by the vet during ANY rabbit consultation including vaccination time. If your vet doesn’t do this, change your vet." (W720.Dec08.w1)

HOW CAN I PREVENT TOOTH TROUBLE? 
Celia Haddon says:
"Teeth problems are common because many rabbits don't have enough to chew. Small breeds like the Netherland dwarf are particularly likely to get dental problems. It may be partly a hereditary disorder. If the teeth aren't worn down by chewing, the teeth start growing backwards into the jaw. It causes awful pain to the rabbit. Take it to a vet rapidly. Read the earlier FAQ on what to feed a rabbit. Remember a rich diet is a bad diet. (W720.Dec08.w1)

RABBITS WHICH MUTILATE THEIR PAWS OR FLANKS
Celia Haddon says: "Self mutilation by rabbits is rare but not unknown. It may start with an itch, then develop into compulsive licking/chewing. They can start biting themselves anywhere they can reach but the paws, particularly the front ones, are the most usual site. It is more common in late summer and autumn." (W720.Dec08.w1)

Further information - Celia Haddon says: 

SYMPTOMS
Persistent chewing/licking by rabbit. There are patches of bare skin. The area chewed is wet. Blood on paws or bloody pawmarks. Eventually the toes may drop off exposing long claws. Rabbit "boxes the air" or shakes its affected feet. 

The vet needs to rule out atopy (allergy), contact allergy, foreign body reactions, localised skin parasites like cheyletiella, sarcoptes, neoplasia, bacterial or fungal paronychia. 

CAUSES
It may be any of the following:

1. Ergot from contaminated food.
2. Stress and boredom because of poor conditions, no activity in a small hutch. Gnawing the foot is something to do.
3. Pain from arthritis. Rabbits confined in small hutches often develop bone disease and arthritis due to lack of exercise.
4. Inflamed nerves after anaesthesia.
5. Nervous damage because of injuries etc. this may occur as a result of intramuscular injections.
6. Hereditary condition. A tendency seems to run in families. 

DIAGNOSIS
Careful veterinary examination, blood tests, Xrays etc. These will rule out some of the possibilities. Make sure any possible causes like parasites are treated anyway.

TREATMENT
Depending on the cause, try pain killers like metacam, antihistamines, steroids, antibiotics. Heloperidol (Dozic) has been used at a rate of 0.2-0.4mg/kg on lab rabbits with the heritary problem. Surgery for the affected feet. Animals may need treatment for the rest of their lives. Occasionally, even when medication is continued, the animal starts attacking another foot. Like an addiction, it can break out again.

(W720.Dec08.w1)

See: Self-mutilation in Rabbits

Could you recommend a rabbit friendly vet because?

  • I have recently moved to the area
  • I am a new rabbit owner
  • I do not feel that my current practice is experienced enough with rabbits

Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund has a directory of rabbit friendly practices, but you may have to be prepared to travel to find a rabbit expert. Please contact the help line 0870 0465249"

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Toys and Training

WHAT MAKES A GOOD RABBIT TOY?
Celia Haddon
says:
 
  • "Within the play area give him cardboard boxes to hop in and out of, chewing toys like apple tree branches or pine cones, toss toys like old cardboard rolls from toilet paper, or throw away things like tissue or cereal boxes, phone directories. Make a digging box full of hay or straw. Make your rabbits work for their food. If they eat pellets hide them so they have to hunt for them. Hang up a carrot so that the rabbits have to nose them about.
  • Special toys include straw plaits, chew rings, and twig balls. There are toys from the shop at www.rabbitwelfarefund.co.uk and toys and a play castle from www.bunnymail.co.uk . Willow balls and other chew toys available from West Wales Willows www.westwaleswillows.co.uk.
  • Toys made with whole sweet corn kernels are sometimes sold in pet shops but they are dangerous to rabbits. Plastic toys are also a danger – if bits are swallowed or get stuck in teeth. Bunnywarren tunnels from www.snugglesafe.co.uk
  • Try training your rabbit. Use tiny pieces of herbs, groundsel, parsley, apple, swede, carrot as treats. Rabbits can be clicker trained (www.clickertraining.com ) or even agility trained. Train very slowly, never punish, and never force behaviour. Do not let children do this without adult supervision."

(W720.Dec08.w1)

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Travelling

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL A RABBIT?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "A rabbit is best travelled during the evening or at night, especially in the summer months when it is cooler. Do not put the rabbit in a large container as he may be thrown around during the journey. He is best travelled in a darkened box using a towel to prevent any oncoming headlights from frightening him. Make regular stops to offer water and put a carrot or damp greens in the cage." (V.w136)

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Miscellaneous

CAN MY RABBIT USE A CAT FLAP? 
  • Yes, rabbits will readily learn to use a cat flap for indoor/outdoor access. (B339.8.w8)

Celia Haddon says: "Some rabbits learn to use a cat flap if it is a light one. NEVER stuff a reluctant rabbit through it – that will put them off for life. Try holding the cat flap open using a wooden clothes peg. Slowly lower the flap, making it only half open, over several weeks so that rabbit has to push with its head to open it. Never let a rabbit out unsupervised into an unprotected garden if there is a chance of foxes, cats or even birds of prey." (W720.Dec08.w1)

HOW SHOULD I CARE FOR MY ELDERLY BUNNY? 
Celia Haddon says: "Elderly bunnies will benefit from being weighed regularly to make sure the weight isn’t creeping on. Make sure she can still hop over the side of the litter tray or get a lower tray. Keep her warm in winter and cool in summer. Check her teeth. Small dog ramps are available from www.vetbed.co.uk if she is arthritic. Use a travel box for moving her. Being picked up can hurt an arthritic bunny so use the travel box to move her around." (W720.Dec08.w1)

I DREAD BONFIRE NIGHT. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR RABBITS (AND GUINEA PIGS) LIVING OUTDOORS?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:

  • "If possible, bring the cages into an unheated room, shed or garage. Ensure that the car is left outside, as fumes from the exhaust are dangerous. If the cage is too big to move and you have a travel cage, bring the rabbit indoors in this.
  • If not, cover the cage with a heavy tarpaulin to block out the flashes.
  • Give plenty of extra straw and hay for the rabbit to bury down in and feel safe.
  • If there is a lot of noise put a radio on in the shed or garage and spend as much time as possible with the animal to provide reassurance.
  • Do you have a patio with glass doors to a conservatory? Move the hutch so it faces inwards, leaving the light on in the conservatory so that the animal can see you and be reassured.
  • If your bunny lives in a shed, cover the window with a thick blanket and leave a light on.
  • Do ring your local radio station and ask them to appeal to everyone to think of the small animals, wildlife and farm stock living outdoors." (V.w136)

I NEED TO REPORT A CRUELTY CASE.
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says: "Unfortunately we [The Rabbit Welfare Association] do not have the power or the authority to visit any pet owner. You must contact your local RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals]. Their call centre telephone number will be listed in your local telephone directory." (V.w136)

I HAVE A RAT PROBLEM AND MY NEIGHBOURS ARE INSISTING THAT I RE-HOME MY RABBITS. I CANNOT PUT DOWN BAIT. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE THAT MIGHT HELP ME TO GET RID OF THE RATS AND KEEP MY BUNNIES?
Anne Mitchell (RWF) says:
"Because you have rabbits, it does not mean that your animals are the cause of the problem. Many people feed the birds and forget that nuts and bread attract vermin. Obviously you will need to keep all food in plastic storage containers or dustbins with lids. Sweep the area regularly. According to Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence – rats are easy to get rid of without bait or traps. Simply trace their run, cut down any grass and leave a milk bottle in the track. Rats hate strange objects. After a week change the object to maybe a house brick and after another week, change the object again. I gather that the rat will eventually move off to find a new home providing you change the objects before the rat loses its fear of it." (V.w136)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5) - based on information from Celia Haddon and Anne Mitchell (Rabbit Welfare Fund) with additional information from Rabbit Welfare Fund leaflets.
Referee Frances Harcourt-Brown BVSc FRCVS (V.w140)

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