Updated November 29, 2020
If there’s one thing that always makes me sad it’s ‘hard rubbish’ time. I ride my pushbike to work past the unwanted gear piled up on the kerbside and it gets an animal lover down.
It’s not the waste or mess that bothers me; it’s something common and very specific that we vets don’t usually get to see. These things.
These two were on the same street. Once you notice them, you’ll see them everywhere.
You see, here’s the depressing thing: these hutches are the only sign of the forgotten majority of rabbits. We see lots of well-cared for rabbits, but none of them live in outside hutches like these.
These rabbits are probably bought as pets for children. Sometimes the thinking goes: dogs and cats take a lot of commitment, and live a long time, so why not get an animal that’s easier to keep. Other times, the children (or even adults) actually preferred a rabbit and just didn’t understand the needs of this species. These people believe some or all of these myths:
- Rabbits are easier to look after than dogs or cats.
- You can keep a rabbit in a small outside hutch.
- Rabbits only live for 6 to 8 years.
- Rabbits don’t need to go to the vet.
- Rabbits are good pets for kids.
Here’s The Truth About Rabbits:
Rabbits are much harder to look after than any other common pet.
Rabbits require very specific feeding and housing. If you are thinking of looking after a rabbit, don’t be put off: nothing worthwhile is easy. Please read our Guide to Rabbits and you’ll see it’s not rocket science; it’s just not what you’ve always been told.
Rabbits need exercise and stimulation just like everyone else.
Rabbits are smart, social animals. I have no doubt they are as intelligent as any dog or cat if you give them the chance. They often look less intelligent because, as a prey species, they are easily scared. Those who have socialised a rabbit have a fun, house-trained pet as funny and full of personality as any dog, cat or ferret. Read our Guide to Rabbit Husbandry for more information.
Rabbits can live to well over ten years of age.
It’s actually true that most rabbits die between the ages of six and eight. Sometimes it’s no-one’s fault, but in order to give rabbits a long life they need:
- Prevention of calicivirus and myxomatosis
- Protection from extremes of temperature
- Good rabbit nutrition
Even more than for humans, a good rabbit diet is important for a long life. Most rabbit diets are frankly terrible; read our Guide to Feeding Rabbits to learn how to give them what they need.
It’s not just that we often see rabbits older than 10 years of age. Recently a though occurred to me that makes me certain that I’m right about their lifespan. All large mammal species at their full lifespan get arthritis, but the rabbits under 8 don’t seem to have it yet. We usually don’t treat arthritis in rabbits until about 9 or 10 years old.
Regular vet care is just as important for rabbits.
Rabbits should get checkups at least every year. Early in life, we’ll help you get their diet and health care in perfect shape. We’ll desex them, vaccinate against calicivirus, check their teeth and nails (rabbits’ teeth actually grow) and monitor their weight. Later, we’ll be finding and treating age-related problems. Read three rabbit stories from our clinic here.
I know I’m preaching to the converted here but perhaps you will meet someone who has rabbits or is thinking of getting one. Rabbits are unlucky to have been given the label of the easy kids’ pet that can be confined in small spaces. We wouldn’t do this to a dog, cat, or even a battery hen, and neither should we to any other species.
Once you read our guides you’ll probably agree that rabbits also aren’t a good children’s pet unless an adult takes responsibility for their care and supervises their handling. But to those who know, they are one of the secret treasures of pet ownership. Our clients who have been lucky enough to live with a tame house rabbit discover a special relationship few others get to see. Not ‘just a rabbit’ at all.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!