With having had to source a mate for Flymo this year we had to research into how to introduce a second rabbit. It’s not as simple as sticking rabbit #2 in the hutch and letting them get on with things; each rabbit is different and a gradual bonding process works best. Anyway, in doing this research I discovered lots of other things about rabbits that I didn’t know before despite having kept them since I was a child. So here’s my list of 13 things you probably didn’t know about bunnies but do now…
Bunnies are the 3rd most popular pet in the UK
After dogs and cats – we love our furry bunnies :)
Bunnies should be kept in pairs or groups
Rabbits are social animals and naturally keep together in groups in the wild. Rabbits kept alone are easily bored which can make them destructive (Flymo hasn’t tried to dig out since we got Rosie!) and can lead to health problems due to inactivity and loneliness.
70-80% of a bunnies diet should be hay/grass
Despite what Bugs Bunny would have you believe, the core of a bunny’s diet should actually be good quality hay and/or grass. Carrots are high in sugar and should be an occasional treat only.
Pet shop hay is expensive and often short-stranded. If you have animals like rabbits and guinea pigs, I highly recommend finding a local farm or equestrian centre who may be able to provide you with baled hay at a fraction of the cost it’s found in shops.
Rabbits need constant access to their hay/food
Rabbits that stop eating because they have no access to appropriate foods can very quickly go into gut stasis (slowdown of the digestive system) which, simply put, if not caught and treated quickly can be fatal.
Bunnies perform a digestive process called caecotrophy
Without going into too much unwanted detail, this basically means that they produce a special sort of poo which they then eat, allowing the goodness etc to be re-ingested. (Eurghh!)
The RWAF recommend a 6ft x 2ft x 2ft hutch with an attached 8ft run as a minimum living area for 2 rabbits. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, pet owners are required by law to meet their animal’s welfare needs; these include providing a suitable environment. The RSPCA believes the traditional method of keeping rabbits permanently confined in small hutches is totally inappropriate for the long-term housing of rabbits kept as pets.
Most pet shops, including larger retailers like Pets at Home do not stock hutches big enough for rabbits to move around, stretch up, exercise etc. Most of the hutches currently for sale on P@H are not big enough for guinea pigs, let alone rabbits! Specialised retailers of suitable hutches are out there, e.g. The Welfare Hutch Company
Rabbits don’t make good pets for children
Rabbits are prey animals, and this means they don’t like being picked up. While some rabbits can be gently encouraged into it with regular handling, some rabbits will never let you pick them up (like Flymo). As such, children very quickly get bored of them because they can’t cuddle and pet them.
Rabbits can live for an average of 7-10 years
In that time, rabbits will accrue costs including: hay (and supplementary veg/pellets/etc), hutch and run (or costs for securing the garden) including maintenance to keep them weatherproof, castration, yearly vaccinations, toys and vet check-ups.
Bunnies of both sex should be neutered
Aside from the obvious reduction of unwanted pregnancy (and you shouldn’t want a bunny pregnancy – you’ll read why in a second) female rabbits are at risk of uterine cancer when unspayed: up to 80% of un-neutered female rabbits develop uterine cancer by 5 years of age. Un-neutered male rabbits can be overwhelmed by hormones making them sexually frustrated and miserable (not to mention more territorial, more aggressive and more likely to spray).
Rabbits can have a litter of babies each month
If left unspayed/un-neutered, rabbits can reproduce at a rate of one litter each month. With a range of 1-14 baby bunnies per litter and the long lifespan mentioned above, it’s unsurprisingy why there are…
..over 33,000 rabbits in rescues up and down the country
Rescues, both those owned by organisations such as the RSPCA and those owned by Joe Public, are full of rabbits desperate to find homes. Every rescue I spoke to in researching this post said that they are at capacity for rabbits, turning away rabbits every day.
Here are quotes from some of the rescues I spoke to:
I hold the rabbit waiting list and it is currently running at about 70 – which is has been at for some time. It is a very, very worrying responsibility trying to prioritise which ones need to come in most urgently. Our average monthly bill is £3000 – over £2000 of this is vet bills.
our capacity is 30 rabbits … at the moment we have 32 rabbits in
I volunteer at a sanctuary every sat and work exclusively with the buns. We have about 90 rabbits at the moment, and about 50 cages. I am tasked with increasing this to 70ish as we are under pressure to take more in all the time. We have taken in about 40 in the past month.
Despite this situation, which is only getting worse…
…I count over 30 breeders in a 25 mile radius selling through preloved
Continued breeding means that not only do those rabbits already in rescue get overlooked, but more numbers are added to rescues when owners get bored of their new pets / don’t have time to look after them anymore / move away / whatever other reason people use.
Not only that, but…
…Pets at Home continue to breed rabbits for sale in store
Despite making a loss on animal sales (alexn – 04-22-2013, 02:54 PM animals are still bred “on a scale that is large enough to supply us […] have many separate breeders across the UK”, sold alongside the cages that are too small to adequately house them according to their needs.
OK, so those last few might not quite count as rabbit facts, but it’s pretty plain to see that we’re in a crap situation when it comes to homing domesticated rabbits in this country. While pet shop / back yard breeding remains legal and encouraged, we will see a continued increase in the pressure on rescues to provide for unwanted bunnies.
I post this not to guilt anyone who has ever bought a pet shop bunny (Flymo came from Pets at Home) but to think again before buying into the pet shop trade. Not everyone can afford to buy a bloody great big shed to house their bunnies, but most people can afford to stop and do their research before taking on an animal. (I’ll follow this up soon with a post on how you can help, even if you can’t take on rescue bunnies of your own.)