By Phil Burns BVetMed MRCVS
You may know that rabbits are the nation’s third most popular pet, but did you know rabbit owners have a legal duty of care to meet their rabbits’ welfare needs? So how can we ensure we don’t fall foul of the law?
Pet rabbits are very similar to wild ones so it is important we consider and understand the behaviour and environment of their wild cousins to ensure their health and happiness. If not, our pets may display abnormal behaviour and become depressed, pull out their fur, show aggression, altered patterns of feeding, drinking, toileting and circle their enclosures or chew the bars excessively. This sounds awful but is relatively easy to prevent:
• Provide an interesting home with lots of hiding places (they are prey animals so need to be able to run and hide if they feel threatened!) and toys. It must be escape and predator proof and have shaded and hiding areas. A digging area with sand or earth may help to save the lawn but ensure it has a wire or stone base to prevent escape!
• Provide daily access to a large area in which to exercise so that they can dig, jump and run, their natural territory can be as big as several football pitches! If it is on grass they can also graze as they would in the wild.
• Spend time with them, they are social animals that need to interact with other rabbits and their owners and training them can be great fun (try a clinker).
• Allow and encourage your pets individuality!
• Provide a well balanced diet with lots of hay, grass and high-fibre snacks to encourage natural foraging behaviour. Dispense food in interesting and stimulating ways using racks, boxes and treat balls to keep your pet busy and stimulated.
• The hutch is only your rabbits’ bedroom, it should be as big as possible to allow your pet to lie down and stretch in all directions, stand up without their ears touching the roof and hop at least three paces. It should provide a draught-free, predator proof, warm and cosy environment, it should be permanently attached to a large run or exercise area so he/she can exercise at will. If you use a ramp ensure it is wide enough to avoid your rabbit falling off.
• Provide lots of “safe to eat” bedding and ensure it is dust free remembering to line the hutch with newspaper for absorbency.
• In winter or very cold periods consider moving the hutch to a warmer place e.g. a garage, shed or outbuilding.
• If possible house rabbits in pairs or friendship groups but remember they do need individual sleeping compartments, however, make one larger sleeping area available in case they do decide to sleep together.
All these things will help to ensure your pet is emotionally and physically fit. Remember how you might feel locked up in a small room most of the day.
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