If you have pet rabbits, it‚Äôs important to make sure they‚Äôre safe and happy and that their needs are met. Pet rabbits are often confined for long periods of time, so ensuring they have enough stimulation and environmental enrichment ‚Äì as well as enough food, water and space ‚Äì is crucial.
Don‚Äôt leave me alone!
Rabbits are an incredibly social species. In the wild, they actively look to spend time with their own kind so they can graze, play and explore with other rabbits, as well as grooming each other.
If you‚Äôre keeping a rabbit as a pet, they simply can‚Äôt be on their own. Leaving a rabbit on their own will make them bored and lonely. Even if you can spend lots of time with your pet rabbit, it‚Äôs still no substitute for the company of their own kind. And in any case, none of us can spend 24 hours a day with our rabbit, so they need a friend.
The best way to improve their quality of life is to keep rabbits as part of a bonded pair. This is a process that involves slowly introducing a compatible pair to each other and getting them relaxed and well-acquainted. Bonding can sometimes be quick and sometimes take more time ‚Äì it depends on the individual rabbits ‚Äì but it‚Äôs essential if you want to make sure your pet rabbit is happy rather than lonely, bored and frustrated on their own.
Expressing natural behaviours
All animals kept as companion animals should have appropriate environmental enrichment ‚Äì that‚Äôs an environment that provides them with a way to express natural behaviours in order to promote their physical and psychological well-being.
With rabbits, that starts with having an enclosure that‚Äôs big enough for them to hop, jump and run. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund in the UK recommend a minimum size of 3 metres (length) by 1.5 metres (width) by 1 metre (height) ‚Äì but bigger is always better! Rabbit enclosures should allow for rabbits to stretch and lie down, including under shelter, so they can choose where to spend their time.
Rabbits should be encouraged to express natural digging behaviour, which you can do by putting shredded paper, straw or hay on top of newspaper-covered flooring. Ramps and hiding places will help to encourage play and exploratory behaviour. It doesn‚Äôt have to be expensive ‚Äì cardboard boxes make great hiding places and food wrapped in paper makes great toys.
Of course, regular quality time spend with your rabbits is a great way to ensure they have appropriate environmental enrichment. Letting them out of their enclosure for natural foraging, exercise and exposure to sunlight is a good idea ‚Äì just watch out for predators, toxic plants, and unfamiliar rabbits.
Choosing the right food
There are some myths around what you‚Äôre meant to feed rabbits, so we‚Äôre here to set the record straight. For starters, you should provide a constant supply of good quality fresh grass and grass hay, which should make up about 80% of the overall diet.
The rest should mostly be fresh leafy greens and vegetables. As a guide, feed around two packed cups of leafy greens per kilogram of body weight per day. Good vegetables include broccoli, celery, Brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, bok choy and herbs such as coriander, basil, dill and mint.
Treats, such as most fruits, root vegetables and capsicum may be offered in small quantities ‚Äì think one to two tablespoons per rabbit per day.
There are a number of common household foods that should not be fed to rabbits ‚Äì we encourage you to read our Knowledgebase article to find out more.
Want to know more?
Rabbits make great companion animals, but just like with any animal, you need to make sure all their needs are met. The RSPCA has plenty of advice on how to keep your rabbit happy. You can read more on the RSPCA Knowledgebase.
A version of this article was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers