Your rabbit's welfare needs
The five key welfare needs are:
- Environment – the need for a suitable environment and place to live.
- Diet – the need for a suitable diet.
- Behaviour – the need to express normal behaviour
- Companionship – the need to consider your pet’s social needs.
- The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Welfare worries for rabbits**
Loneliness – rabbits are highly social animals, yet only 18 per cent have the company of another rabbit.
Cramped housing and no exercise – many rabbits live in hutches that are too small for them to move comfortably. And although rabbits need at least four hours a day of exercise, only 36 per cent of rabbits are allowed out of their hutches daily. Seven per cent are never let out of their hutch at all.
Boredom – rabbits need to dig, run and play every day. Yet 34 per cent of rabbits don't have access to toys or other objects they can manipulate, 26 per cent never receive opportunities to forage, and 25 per cent never have an opportunity to dig.
Diet disaster – rabbits need to eat their own body weight in grass hay each day, yet 39 per cent of rabbits aren't given any hay to eat. Instead, 30 per cent of rabbits are fed rabbit muesli, which can cause dental disease and nutrient deficiencies.
Neglected health – rabbits require vaccination, dental care, grooming, desexing and other preventative health measures. Thirty-seven per cent of owners don't vaccinate their rabbits, 36 per cent do nothing to maintain their dental health, and 35 per cent of owners don't take rabbits to the vet for a checkup.
Hot and bothered – rabbits are extremely heat sensitive and can die from heat stress. Eighteen per cent of rabbits don't have access to a cool, shaded area when the weather is hot.
Top tips for rabbit owners
Ease your rabbit's loneliness and consider getting a second rabbit for company. The best combination is a desexed male and a desexed female. Make sure you follow guidelines on safely introducing a new rabbit to your existing pet to prevent aggression.
Check your rabbit’s hutch. Is it three hops long? A hutch needs to be big enough to lie down and stretch in all directions, as well as high enough for it to stand up on its back legs without its ears touching the roof. Make sure your rabbit has a secure exercise area that he or she can access for at least four hours a day.
Make some simple toys for your rabbit. You can find most of the things you need already around the house. For example, cardboard boxes with two or three rabbit sized entrance holes cut in the sides. Rabbits should have the opportunity to chew, dig, forage and run every day.
Check your rabbit’s diet – is your rabbit eating his or her own bodyweight in grass hay daily? This is essential for dental and digestive health. Rabbits need to chew continuously throughout the day. Make sure to leave enough hay for your rabbit when you are not home. Your rabbit also needs a handful of fresh greens morning and night. Vary the greens offered.
Good food choices include spinach, bok choy, cauliflower leaves, cabbage and brussel sprout leaves. Carrots and fruit should only be fed occasionally and in small quantities as treats because they are high in sugar and can cause obesity. Don’t feed rabbits muesli – this causes dental decay and nutrient deficiencies.
Book your rabbit in for a check-up with your vet. Your vet can advise you on vaccinations, desexing, internal and external parasite control, dental health and grooming.
Plan ahead for next summer. When temperatures get above 28°C, you will need to move your rabbit to a cool, shaded and well-ventilated area. You can also provide frozen water bottles for rabbits to rest against. Alternatively, on hot days, you can bring rabbits inside the house.
Doing just one of these things today could make a big difference to your rabbit's life!
**Bennett, P.C., Mornement, K., & Howell, T. (2013). Pet-care practices in Victoria, 2013: a survey of bird, cat, dog and rabbit owners. Unpublished report, La Trobe University, Australia.