Rabbit care

Rabbit care

Rabbits deserve their reputation as great pets — they are friendly, inquisitive and content to interact with their owners. With the correct diet, care and handling, you and your rabbit will have a long and happy time together. Rabbits can live for up to ten to 12 years (depending on the breed), but some may live for longer.

There are estimated to be around 1.7 million rabbits kept as pets in the UK (according to the PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2012), making them the third most popular pet after cats and dogs.
 There are many different breeds and varieties of pet rabbit, varying in size, body shape and personality.

Most rabbits don't enjoy being picked up or handled, but with effort, time and training, many people can teach their rabbits to tolerate or even enjoy being handled.

Where should I get my rabbit from?

If you have decided that you can care for a rabbit properly, and you are fully committed to his needs, you will then need to consider where to find your rabbit. It is highly recommended that you purchase your rabbit from your local rescue centre. Marie Channer, head of small animal welfare at Wood Green, says: “It's estimated that there are between 35-40,000 rabbits in UK rescue centres alone at the moment. If you go to a rescue centre the rabbits in there will have been thoroughly health checked, vaccinated and neutered prior to rehoming. The charity can also show you how to properly health check your rabbit and how to trim his claws too.”

Rabbits in rescue centres should have already been paired up with a suitable rabbit companion too so you won't have to worry about your two rabbits not getting along. If you are looking for a companion for your existing rabbit you may even be able to take him with you to the rescue centre to find him a suitable friend.

Buying a rabbit from a pet shop

If you choose to buy a rabbit from a pet shop, firstly remember that you are looking for a pair of rabbits. Ideally the pair will have been living together prior to purchase so they will both get along. The pet shop should be keeping their rabbits in the right conditions — the rabbits should be bright, alert and happy — if you are in any doubt about the rabbits' health, walk away. A sign of a good pet shop is good staff. The staff should be knowledgeable about all aspects of rabbit care and be happy to offer you plenty of advice on how to look after a rabbit. A book on rabbit care should also be an essential purchase.

Remember that life in a pet shop may have been quite stressful for your rabbits so allow more time for them to settle into their new home. Remember to ask whether or not your rabbits have been neutered and vaccinated, if not get this scheduled in for as soon as is suitable when they get home.

If you buy a rabbit from a breeder you are likely to purchase a well-socialised, healthy rabbit that will be happy to be handled. Again look for a knowledgeable owner with healthy looking, curious rabbits.

What breed of rabbit should I get?

When choosing which breed of rabbit to buy (remember, you should always keep two rabbits together), many people often think that the smaller dwarf breeds of rabbits are more suitable for children as they are easier to handle. In reality the dwarf breeds are often more difficult to handle as they can be more nervous, more fragile and prone to injury.

Richard Saunders, BSc(Hons), BVSc, MSB, CBiol, DZooMed (Mammalian), MRCVS says: “For first time rabbit owners I would recommended that you avoid the larger and smaller breeds that require more specialised care and expertise. Look for a rabbit which has characteristics similar to a wild rabbit. You should be looking to choose a rabbit that is happy and alert with a glossy coat and wide eyes. They should appear inquisitive and sociable.”

Different rabbit breeds

Average size: 1.5-2.4kg.
Average lifespan: Six years.
Grooming requirements: During moulting only. 
This is one of the most popular breeds kept as pets. They are easily recognisable due to their white markings which can be matched up with a variety of different colours; the most common of these being black.

Average size: 2kg.
Average lifespan: Up to eight years.
Grooming requirements: During moulting only. 
This is an old breed renowned for having a nice temperament, but can be slightly aloof. Their distinctive markings on their ears, nose, legs and tail can be found in black, blue, chocolate or lilac, all with a white body. They have pink or red eyes.

Netherland Dwarf
Average size: around 0.9kg.
Average lifespan: Up to eight years.
Grooming requirements: During moulting only. 
The Netherland Dwarf is one of the smallest breeds. They have short ears and a pear-shaped face. They can be flighty and take time to build their trust so are not ideal pets for small children. They can be prone to dental disease so teeth should be regularly checked.

New Zealand 
Average size: 4-5.4kg.
Average lifespan: Five to seven years. 
Grooming requirements: Weekly, daily when moulting. 
Your stereotypical big white bunny! They do moult profusely so be prepared for lots of hair.

Average size: 1kg.
Average life span: Eight to ten years. 
Grooming requirements: Only when moulting. 
The Polish is small and very lively. They are active and intelligent and unlikely to sit on your knee for more than a few seconds so are not ideal for children. They are found in a large variety of colours, with albino being a popular choice for showing.

Average size: 2.7-3.6kg. 
This is one of the oldest breeds and is also known as the Old English and English spot. They are known for being friendly and lively but are very active so will need plenty of space. The markings include a butterfly-shaped mark on the nose, coloured ears, eye circles, spine marking (which is herringboned), a spot on each cheek and a chain of spots along the body. Solid or self colours are also found as well as ‘charlies’ that are white with coloured heads and a stripe down the back. Only the spotted varieties are accepted in the show ring.

English Lop 
Average size: 5-5.5kgs. 
Average life span: Five years. 
Grooming requirements: Only when moulting. 
The English Lop is slender built rabbit with long ears. They are friendly rabbits but can be quite inactive, making them prone to weight gain.

French Lop 
Average size: 4.5kg.
Average life span: Five years. 
Grooming requirements: Only when moulting. 
The French Lop is generally a good tempered rabbit that can make a good family pet but some occurrence of bad temper is known and they can grow quite large so may not always make the most suitable family pet.


Before buying a rabbit consider the following:

Is a rabbit a good pet for you?

Many rabbits don't enjoy being picked up or cuddled, and can kick and scratch out of fear. Rabbits should only be handled when it is necessary to do so — although with a lot of patience, training and effort from you, some rabbits will tolerate or even enjoy handling. Rabbits can also live for up to ten to 12 years (depending on the breed) and are a big commitment. You should consider both of these points when considering taking on a rabbit as a child's pet.

Do you have space for a rabbit?

Wild rabbits cover many miles a day searching for food and will live in large groups of up to 30 in rabbit warrens. Pet rabbits also need a large amount of space to live in and a hutch to shelter and rest in. A suitably-sized rabbit enclosure will take up a large area of your garden — do you have the space for it?

Can you afford to care for a rabbit?

In addition to the costs of setting up a suitably-sized enclosure for our rabbit, which can be up to £300, you will also need to budget for yearly vaccinations and insurance for your rabbit in case of injury or illness. It has been known for rabbit vet bills to add up to over £1,000.

Do you have time to care for a rabbit?

Will you have time in your day to socialise with your rabbit, perform daily health checks, feed and clean out your rabbit's enclosure?

You'll have to get two rabbits!

Rabbits need the company of another rabbit in order to stay happy and healthy — if you choose to own a rabbit you'll need to be willing to own two — that's twice the cost, space and time needed to look after your rabbits!

Find out more below...

Pet care advice