Rabbit care

Here are some frequently asked questions about rabbit care:

Should rabbits be kept in pairs?

YES! Rabbits SHOULD NOT be kept alone, they need the company of their own species in order to stay happy and will find living alone stressful. It is not recommended that you keep rabbits and guinea pigs together. Guinea pigs use various squeaks and noises to communicate, especially when they are happy, whereas rabbits will only squeak when in pain. Essentially rabbits and guinea pigs speak a different language and will find living together stressful.

Wood Green recommends that the ideal pairing for rabbits is a castrated male and neutered female — two males or two females living together are likely to fight. Same sex pairs of rabbits may be able to live together, but they should be neutered or castrated at around four to six months old. If neutering is left much later, it is likely that your two males or females will start to fight, or your male or female may mate and have their own litter. It is important to ensure that both your rabbits have plenty of their own space and their own facilities, including water and feeding stations, to avoid any conflict. 

Neutering is especially important in female rabbits who are at increased risk of uterine cancer if left unneutered, this should be done by the time your rabbit is nine months old at the latest. After nine months of age, fat is laid down around the uterus which can make the surgery more difficult.

Do rabbits moult?

A wild rabbit will moult twice a year but domestic rabbits have more variable moult patterns, while some will moult continuously. Moulting rabbits require daily grooming to help remove the old coat and prevent them from digesting too much of their own hair when grooming, which can cause a digestive blockage.

Shorthaired rabbits will not require much grooming other than at times of moulting, remember though that the longhaired breeds of rabbits will require daily grooming to keep the coat clean and tangle free. Older rabbits, who may begin to struggle to groom themselves easily may also benefit from extra grooming sessions.

How do you clip a rabbit's claws?

Claw clipping can be a job that rabbit owners dread, but it needn't be a scary job. Rabbits need their claws trimming regularly; long toenails can be painful and can cause mobility issues if not treated. 

Try to trim nails little and often, that way you won't need to remove large amounts at one time which may make you more likely to trim the nail too short. If you are worried about where to make the cut, move your clippers back towards the end of the nail to avoid cutting too short. If in doubt about how to trim your rabbit's nails, ask your vet or local rescue centre to show you how.

Do rabbits enjoy being handled?

According to Wood Green, rabbits generally find forced handling stressful and any handling should be limited only to transporting and when carrying out the necessary health checks, unless your rabbit decides to approach you for attention.

Rabbits that have not been properly socialised or handled will be likely to scratch and bite, and could become very aggressive — a common reason why many rabbits end up needing to be rehomed. It has been suggested by some people that when a rabbit is handled they go into a trance, but Wood Green says this is in fact a fear state adopted by the rabbit as a last ditch attempt to escape. In the wild, a rabbit that has been caught by a predator will go momentarily very still in the hope that the predator will relinquish its grip for a moment so that it can escape. This 'trance' state is highly stressful for a rabbit.

While holding or petting your rabbit may not be a suitable way to interact with him, socialisation is still important. Your rabbit should know that you are not a threat to him and this can be achieved by spending time with him every day. Use your rabbit's fresh food and vegetables to encourage socialisation time. Find a comfortable spot in your rabbits enclosure and sit down, legs flat to the floor. Place his fresh food around you to encourage your rabbit to move towards you. If he approaches, let him do so but do not go to grab or touch him as this will scare him. Let him move around you, jump in your lap and move away at his pleasure without limiting any of his movements. Once he knows that he can approach you without being grabbed or touched he will become more confident around you.

Once your rabbit is comfortable coming towards you, progress to holding some of his favourite fresh food for him to eat. Again, keeping movements and noise to a minimum. Within a couple of weeks your rabbit should be comfortable around you and approach without much fear. At this stage you can progress to gently stroking your rabbit. Place your hand on your rabbit's shoulder blades first — not directly in front of him as he will be unable to see your hand and may bite. Gently stroke your rabbit a couple of times and then stop so that he does not feel the need to move away from you. Stop if your rabbit moves away or appears to be stressed by the touch. Eventually you should be able to stroke your rabbit and pick him up when required.

Picking up a rabbit

Remember, rabbits should only be carried when necessary. Do not chase your rabbit into a corner to catch him, this is very stressful. Take your place in your rabbit's enclosure and allow your rabbit to approach you. Touch his shoulder blades gently to let him know that you are there, then place the other hand behind your rabbit's back end. Scoop him and place him against your body, supporting his back end and legs.

Pet care advice