Temperament: Placid & docile
Cost: $50 plus
Lifespan: 8-12 years
Recommended for: Kids & enthusiasts
Maintenance: Medium to high
While most pet rabbits sold are intended for children, not all are temperamentally suited to being patted, cuddled, picked up or carried around. Never leave young children unsupervised with any rabbit.
Breeds for children (always with supervision): Dwarf Lop, Satin, Silver Fox, Dwarf Cashmere Lop, Californian.
Breeds for children over 10 years and adults: Netherlands Dwarf, Angora, Rex, French Lop.
Temperament: Many longtime rabbit owners say as a guide, the larger the rabbit the more docile its personality. Lops – those bunnies with the floppy ears – are also quite docile and can be a good choice for children.
Must be vaccinated annually against the calicivirus; Mosquitoes and rabbit fleas can carry myxomatosis, a fatal disease for which there are no vaccinations in Australia. Screen hutches and use flea powder if exposed to wild rabbits; Susceptible to extremes of heat or cold, especially if kept permanently outdoors; Most other health problems are related to inadequate diet.
Handling: Never lift a rabbit by its ears. Instead, place one hand under its front legs and the other hand under the bottom and lift, holding it firmly and supporting its body. If held firmly the rabbit should feel secure and not wriggle.
Never allow children to grab the rabbit, run with it or be rough with it. Rabbits can and do retaliate and have been known to bite off a child’s fingertip.
Feeding: Commercial rabbit pellets are sold by most pet stores and produce merchants. It’s essential that fresh water is always available. Vegetables such as cauliflower, parsley, spinach, corn on the cob and carrots can be offered weekly, while hay and straw should be provided daily. If possible, move the hutch around the lawn to provide fresh grass but avoid grass which has been sprayed with herbicides.
Housing and space: Most rabbits in Australia are kept outdoors in movable hutches made of timber or metal. These should be enclosed with mesh, and preferably with an insect screen to prevent mosquitoes spreading disease. One end needs to be enclosed to provide shelter for the rabbit and a hinged lid will help when cleaning the hutch each week.
Of the many commercial hutches available (ranging in price from about $80) many owners prefer timber cages because the metal versions can get hot in summer. Hutches should be located in a sheltered area of the yard in warmer months. It is very important that the hutches are secure against attack from cats, dogs or foxes.
Housepet potential: In the USA literally thousands of rabbits are kept indoors, much like we keep our cats. Owners of “house rabbits” as they are called, say they can be toilet trained to litter trays but avoid using clay-type litters as these can cause digestion problems if nibbled. The biggest problem house rabbits cause is biting through electrical cords. Breeders suggest bunny-proofing homes before release.
Grooming: Most popular short-coated breeds need only casual grooming, although brushing the coat when it is moulting after winter reduces hair shed on furniture and clothes. Purebred Cashmeres and their dwarf varieties shed a soft fluffy baby coat usually between eight to 12 weeks which can knot, and needs to be brushed out. Some Cashmere crossbreeds produce a mixed fluffy coat which knots and matts and will need weekly grooming or clipping. Angoras need daily grooming.
Breeding: Rabbits can be desexed for about $100 (roughly the same as cats) and is recommended for pets. Otherwise, with more than one rabbit and only a rough idea of sex identification, one doe (female) could produce 50 kittens annually. Dwarf varieties produced two to four kittens, larger rabbits up to 12 per litter. Lops are born with upright ears which soften and droop as they age.
Uses: Rabbits are primarily a companion animal. They are seen as pets which can be cuddled, brushed, housetrained, are clean and relatively cheap to feed, don’t kill wildlife, and fertilise the lawn.
Legalities: While it’s still illegal to keep a rabbit in Queensland unless you are a magician, most other states will allow them as pets. Some states may require a permit so please check with local authorities for special requirements.
Canberra Rabbit Club
Sue Sowden, phone: (02) 6258 2218
Rabbit Breeders Association of NSW
Leonie Kelly, phone: (02) 9820 2516
Rhonda Pitkin, phone: (08) 8739 7045
Rabbit Breeders Association of Tasmania
Joan Eastley, phone: (03) 6362 2340
Victorian Rabbit Association
Vija Hone, phone: (03) 56 299 549