Temperament: generally placid. Some breeds are flighty
Lifespan: 8-12 years
Maintenance: medium – high
Recommended for: enthusiasts, supervised kids or older children
Kids just love bunnies, and they come in many different varieties, from small short-coated breeds to the large fluffy ones. But not all types suit small children. A good rule to go by is ‘bigger is better’; they’re usually less flighty and have a better temperament for children.
For children aged from 5 up to 12 years the Cashmere Lop, Dwarf Lop, Satin and Dutch are most suitable.
The smaller breeds such as the Netherlands Dwarf, Mini Lop, Mini Rex and the larger Rex are not recommended as pets for young children. The German Angora is also a high maintenance rabbit best suited to those enthusiasts with time to groom the coat regularly.
As a general rule, breeders recommend the larger breeds as more suitable for children. Smaller rabbits are more likely to be flighty and may bite and scratch, especially if not handled correctly. As all rabbits have very powerful hind legs and sharp claws, it is best to ensure that a more placid breed is matched with children, especially as kids are inclined to pick up their small friends.
It is important to handle your bunny correctly, otherwise it is likely to be injured or may lash out with its feet or bite. A rabbit should never be picked up by its ears or the scruff of its neck. Put one hand under its belly and the other hand under its hind legs near its bottom. Support its weight and hold it firmly. It is recommended that children be sitting down and should never grab at, or run, whilst holding a rabbit.
The type and size of the housing will largely depend on the breed. Ideally, the rabbit should be able to stand up on its hind legs inside the hutch. This allows it to stretch its legs whilst confined. However, rabbits in very large hutches are likely to become less manageable as they will have more space to evade handling when required. The ideal hutch is about three times the size of the rabbit and at least as tall. It is not recommended to keep more than one rabbit per cage as they may fight and injure themselves. Wooden hutches are recommended as they don’t conduct heat as much as the alloy ones. Some rabbits may chew the wood however if provided with a sufficient diet and proper chewing branches this can be minimised. If the hutch is kept outside, it should be covered with flyscreen mesh to prevent exposure to mosquitoes carrying myxomatosis or calici virus. Bedding and ground cover includes straw or saw dust (saw dust is preferred as rabbits may eat soiled straw if mixed with lucerne roughage). Solid floor cages will help maintain a rabbit’s nail length as the hard surface is more abrasive. Mesh floors however will allow the bunny to pick at grass growing through the hutch floor. Ensure that the hutch will guard sufficiently against predators such as cats, dogs and foxes.
Rabbits are susceptible to extremes of heat and cold. Keep cool in summer by freezing water in soft drink bottles and placing in the hutch. Alternatively lay wet towels over the hutch. Position the hutch making use of breeze and shade areas. Ensure that the hutch has an enclosed area which allows the rabbit protection from heat and cold and ensure the hutch is in a draft free area in the cooler months.
If you allow your rabbit to wander in the garden, supervise it; and remember, cats and dogs are not compatible with rabbits. Certain plants may also be poisonous. A hutch will cost between $30-$150.
The staple diet should be rabbit pellets high in protein. Specialised multi-grain diets are also available but are best fed in winter as a warming ration. Feeding too much cabbage may cause bloat. Lettuce, which is 90% water may also cause gastric disorders. Treats, given every 2-3 days include; apples, carrots, banana, strawberries, corn, and small amounts of cauliflower. Breakfast wheat biscuits and muesli bars (especially the yoghurt covered ones) may also be given as a treat. A water bottle with nipple feeder will prevent the bedding from becoming saturated. Ensure that the water dispensing valve does not become jammed closed. Fresh grass clippings are ok as long as no pesticide or herbicide has been used. Lucerne hay provides good roughage.
Short coated breeds should be given a light brush once or twice a week. Cashmere and long coated breeds should be groomed at least twice weekly but require a more extensive brushing. Rabbits will usually moult once a year, requiring regular brushing to remove the shedding coat. When a rabbit is in moult, provide it with additional roughage. This will help it digest any fur it may swallow. When brushing the lop eared breeds, check for ear mites as they prefer these longer eared breeds. Nails should be clipped every four weeks depending on cage type and breed.
‘Breed like rabbits’ is not an understatement. A pregnant doe will give birth to a litter of kittens in about 28-32 days. The litter size will depend on the size of the rabbit; small breeds will produce 1-4 kittens, medium breeds 4-8 and large breeds up to 12 kittens. A doe may produce up to 50 kittens per year. If you keep mixed sexed rabbits together, expect the doe to fall pregnant. Rabbits may be desexed.
Rabbits can be toilet trained to use a litter box. Indoor rabbits are becoming more popular but it is not without its downfalls. House rabbits will invariably chew at power cords and wooden furniture.
Myxomatosis is a disease fatal to rabbits and a vaccine is not available. It is carried by mosquitoes and rabbit fleas so minimise exposure to these pests. Calici virus vaccinations should be provided. Respiratory conditions similar to the flu may also occur if the rabbit is housed in a dirty environment. Check regularly for ear mites and fleas and make sure you don’t expose your rabbit to extremes of heat or cold.
When selecting your bunny, go for the active one. Look for a bright coat and eyes with no sores or scabs. Select the rabbit with the cleanest coat, it is likely to remain a clean rabbit as it grows and is less likely to lie in its own soil. Buying a young rabbit from a pet shop can make it difficult to predict what size it may grow to. If you are not sure what size rabbit you want, speak with a breeder. Try and get a sample of the feed the rabbit is eating so that you may slowly change the diet if you choose, rather than dramatically changing the diet after taking the rabbit home. A quick change in the diet can cause gastric disorders.
Rabbits will range in price depending on the pedigree and type. Well bred cashmere and angora rabbits are most expensive, some fetching up to $200, whilst lop eared rabbits may be bought from a breeder for as little as $25.
A rabbit can make a great pet for those who want something quiet and undemanding. Selecting one of the short coat breeds will ensure that grooming is kept to a minimum and routine care should be hassle free. Rabbits aren’t ideal lap pets but the quieter breeds will accept gentle handling. Although not suited to sole responsibility or handling by young children, rabbits are a good way of introducing young kids to animals if supervised.
It is illegal to sell or keep rabbits in Queensland.
We filmed this segment in Sydney with the help of Leonie Kelly, President of the Rabbit Breeders Association of Australia. Leonie can be contacted on (02) 9820 2516.
ACT: Canberra Rabbit Club Inc
Secretary – Christine Carter
Phone: (02) 6231 5862
SA: South Australian Rabbit Association
Secretary – Sally Turner
Phone: (08) 8369 2970
TAS: Rabbit Breeders Association of Tasmania
President – Joan Eastley
Phone: (03) 6362 2340
VIC: Victorian Rabbit Association Inc
Secretary – Lorraine Landry
Phone: (03) 9786 3501
WA: Southern District Rabbit Club
Secretary – Sue Iwanyk
Phone: (08) 9490 2807