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Rabbits as Pets for Children

Rabbits are cute, furry and cuddly, and surely an ideal first pet for a child.  They are (fairly) simple to care for, and children can learn the responsiblity of looking after a living creature. 

Rabbits can be kept as house pets, but it is far more common for rabbits to be kept in a hutch in the garden. 

Being simple undemanding creatures rabbits can suffer from neglect, especially if their sole carer is a young child.

Rabbits can live up to ten years if they are properly cared for. Buying a rabbit is a long term commitment!
The best advice is to just keep one rabbit and ensure that it is given lots of stimulation in the way of exercise, games (hiding treats around its cage for example, and lots of attention. 

Keeping two together does mean they have company.  Litter mates often get on better than trying to introduce a new rabbit into the territory of an existing one.  However, you do need to be aware that two male rabbits will probably fight - neutering them may help, but there's no guarantee.  Two females will be company for each other, but keeping an unneutered male and female together is a recipe for lots and lots of baby rabbits!  Breeding rabbits can be interesting for children, but there is absolutely no money to be made by doing so, and you could end up keeping far more rabbits than you intended to.  If, however, the male and female are neutered, then this is probably the best pairing. 

Be careful where you buy your rabbit from - sexing a young rabbit is not that easy, and you may well end up with a brother and sister when you expected two girls!  Neutering, or separate housing, will be the result.
Baby rabbit
To keep a rabbit you will need a hutch, and preferably one with a run attached to give it more room, or a separate run which you can move around the garden.  Both sexes of rabbits will burrow, so a rabbit may well escape if you keep the run in the same position on the lawn.

Rabbits need hard feed and greens to stay fit and healthy, and fresh water must be given every day.  Rabbits are quite clean animals, and will usually mess in the same corner of the hutch or run, meaning it is fairly easy to keep them clean.  Rabbits rarely stale their bed, but will eat it, so you will need to keep it topped up with straw.  Hay is not a good bedding, as this is a food substance, and will quickly disappear. 

A Word of Warning!

And this cannot be stressed too strongly!  In our experience, almost every family with rabbits suffers the same fate.  The children lose interest in these soft gentle creatures, and it is the parents who end up cleaning them out week after week.  Whatever the weather.

If you, as a parent, do not care for rabbits, or do not want to spend your time looking after one, do not purchase this pet.  It it cruel to neglect any animal, and animal shelters are full of unwanted rabbits.  During the lifetime of the rabbit your child will grow, develop new interests and may forget about their pet living in the garden. 

Although the rabbit can nominally be the child's pet, an adult must take responsibility to ensure it is fed daily, cleaned out at least weekly, and that it is checked regularly to make sure it is healthy.  As well as feeding and cleaning, the rabbit's emotional needs must be satisfied.  It should have the opportunity to run and play, and, if an only rabbit, have quality time with its keeper.
Dwarf Lop and baby rabbits
Dwarf Lop and babies

Suitable Rabbit Housing

A rabbit should be housed in a purpose built hutch.  Hutches have a closed in area for a bed, and an open 'day' area.  We prefer hutches which are two storey, and which have a run underneath for exercise.  Alternatively you can purchase a separate rabbit run, and move this around on the grass.  Beware that both males and females may dig and burrow - apart from the danger of them escaping, this can cause unslightly holes in your lawn! 
Rabbits should be given straw as bedding, and sawdust in the day area.  A rabbit is a fairly clean animal, and will keep a separate corner for its toilet.  It is unusual for an adult rabbit to soil its bedding, but you must make sure that the straw is topped up, especially in cold weather, as the rabbit will nibble the straw away!  The hutch should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once a week - with the droppings being removed at least every couple of days to keep the rabbit clean and healthy. 
Male Dwarf Lop Eared Rabbit
Male Lop Ear

Feeding Rabbits

Rabbits live up to ten years, and need feeding daily.  A staple diet will be provided by rabbit mix available from every pet shop and also your local supermarket.  If you are looking for economy you can buy a 5 kilo sack from a pet food wholesaler which will work out much cheaper than the smaller bags.  Rabbits should also be given roughage.
The spare leaves from your vegetables and carrots will be a favourite food, as will certain weeds such as dandelions and clover.  Grass will be enjoyed, but do not feed grass cuttings as these will quickly ferment.  Also avoid giving lettuce as there is little food value in this, and it can cause diarrhoea.  Rabbits should be given something to graw on - you can either buy special treats or give suitable bits of wood from the garden.  Wood from fruit trees for example. 

Rabbits can scratch - if they don't like being picked up they will try and scrabble away, and they do have sharp claws which can hurt.  Getting your rabbit used to being handled from an early stage will mean it gets used to being picked up and cuddled.  Young children must be supervised when handling rabbits to ensure that they are not inadvertently hurting them by squeezing too hard, or being rough.  Rabbits should be able to be held securely by a child, and must not be dropped if they wriggle.  Children must be watched carefully, particularly if showing off their new pet to friends! 

Like all animals, children must learn to practice simple hygeine (washing their hands) after handling, feeding or cleaning their rabbit out.

Rabbits must be watched to make sure they are staying clean and fit.  Long hair breeds in particular can get dirty around their rear, and this will attract flies.  Flies lay eggs on the matted dirty fur, and maggots hatch out and eat into the rabbit.  This causes a nasty and life threatening condition known as Flystrike, which is easier to prevent rather than treat.  Keeping the rabbit in clean conditions, as well as being vigilant,  will help prevent this nasty condition.

Rabbits should be vaccinated yearly again two diseases which are normally fatal - Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haermorrhagic Disease (RHD). 

A rabbit's teeth continue to grow throughout its life.  As long as it is fed some kind of hard food and has the opportunity to gnaw on something then they should not need attention.  Regular checks should be made to look for overlong teeth - if the teeth get too long they will not be able to eat properly, and will need a vet's attention.  Some rabbits as they grow develop problems with their teeth being out of alignment, which means they never get worn down naturally.  A vet will need to clip teeth in this condition regularly, otherwise the rabbit might starve to death. 

Rabbit Health

Long haired rabbits, in particular, should be groomed regularly.  Although very attractive, Angora rabbits need daily attention to keep their fluffy hair healthy.  Matted hair will mean a dirty rabbit, and one more likely to attract flies and develop flystrike.  A regular grooming routine for any rabbit should be established from very early on.

Other Considerations

Breeding Rabbits

If you want to breed, or end up with a male and female by mistake, breeding rabbits can be fun and a good experience for children (as long as you can make sure that they do not interfere with the nest!  The next page discusses rabbit breeding in more detail with pictures of baby rabbits as they grow.
Breeding Pet Rabbits