Category: owning a rabbit

Rabbit proofing your home

Living with a house rabbit isn’t something that happens with little or no preparation, and one of the most important things you need to do before moving a bunny into your home is to make the environment safe for them. Remember that chewing and digging are natural behaviours for rabbits and they generally aren’t fussy about what they test their teeth and claws on, so it is up to you to ensure you possessions are rabbit proofed.

Domestic rabbits have retained many of their wild ancestors natural behavioural traits, including chewing and digging!

Wild rabbits chew on coarse material, such as tree bark to ensure that their continually growing teeth are kept at the correct length. Pet rabbits often don’t have such means of keeping their teeth in tip-top condition, so rely upon other methods.

In the wild rabbits dig extensive burrow systems, and again very few pet rabbits live in such a set-up, so find other methods of expressing this natural behaviour.

You can’t and shouldn’t try and stop a rabbit from chewing or digging. These are natural behaviours and if you bring a rabbit into your home you must expect some wear and tear on your possessions. However, it isn’t unreasonable to not want to have teeth marks or scratches over your entire house!

Firstly, always ensure that your rabbit has a constant supply of good quality, fresh hay to eat. Not only does hay provide the vital high-fibre diet, essential to keep a rabbits digestive system working properly, but the abrasive texture of hay helps to ensure correct dental wear, as well as keeping the rabbit occupied and hopefully diverting their attention away from things they really shouldn’t be chewing!

You can also give the rabbit a selection of toys, such as tough plastic baby rattles, balls, boxes of straw and hay to dig in, pine cones or any of the toys now on the market that are designed for rabbits.

Putting them in a safe enclosure in the garden for several hours, whenever possible, where they are allowed to dig in the earth and chew on toys placed in the enclosure, may help to satisfy their need.

Rabbit proofing your home serves two main purposes; to protect the rabbit from dangerous situations and to protect your possessions.

Firstly a look at what hazards our homes may hold for our pet rabbits:

Electric cables

All electric cables must either be put out of the rabbits reach (remembering how tall the rabbit is when they stand on their back legs and that rabbits are experts at getting into small spaces).

If this isn’t possible then the wires must be protected. Rabbits have very sharp teeth and a wire is often too good to resist a nibble on, with often-fatal consequences.

Cables can be protected by placing them inside tough, durable plastic tubing, these are usually available from aquatic stockists (used as tubing for ponds and fish tanks).  If the plug comes off the appliance you can remove this and slide the wire into the tubing.  If the appliance has a fixed plug, simply slit the tubing down one side so you can open it up to put the wire inside it. You must check tubing regularly as rabbits may still attempt to chew at it and it may need replacing from time to time.

Electrical items (computers, TVs, washing machines, etc)

It has already been mentioned above, that any electrical item may cause a danger to your rabbit, unless all of the cables are placed out of the rabbits reach or protected, and it is also in your own best interests to adhere to this, to protect your electrical items, as well as your rabbit.

Telephone/internet cables

Although these don’t pose an electrocution risk to rabbits, you may want to place them out of their way, or protect them in the same way as suggested for electrical cables, otherwise you may be spending a small fortune on continually replacing them and many house rabbit owners have had their telephone conversations or internet connection abruptly ended by a bunny chewing through the wire!

Poisonous plants

A variety of plants and flowers kept as houseplants are deemed to be poisonous to rabbits to some degree or another, with possible consequences of ingestion ranging from: dribbling from the mouth, fits, loss of balance/consciousness or even death. Rabbits are unable to vomit, so any toxic substance that is eaten, cannot be eliminated in this way.

Plants/flowers that may be toxic to rabbits if eaten include: Chrysanthemum, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, lily, poppy and rhododendron. However, a wide variety of many other plants and flowers are also harmful, so all houseplants are best kept well out of the reach of rabbits.

Accidental injury

Rabbits like to run around your feet, as well as playing under tables, behind sofas and generally anywhere else they can gain access too and which looks fun!

It is all too easy to accidentally kick a rabbit or even shut a door on them, as they make little or no noise as they move. So, always ensure you tread very carefully, paying attention to what you are doing to make sure that there is no bunny in the way, before you shut doors, move chairs, open cupboards or make any movements.

Now onto protecting your possessions – It has already been established why rabbits chew and dig and some methods on how you can try to stop them destroying some of your possessions. However, it is useful to know exactly what may be tempting for them to nibble on and other ways of trying to stop untoward behaviour.

Your furniture

Cupboards, sofas, chairs, tables etc may be targets for chewing. It is easiest to deny the rabbit access to these areas, or only allow them access under supervision.

If this isn’t possible then you can try an anti-chewing repellent, which can be purchased from pet shops or your vet, however the majority of people report minimal success with anti-chewing repellents when used for rabbits, but some people have reported success with putting lemon juice onto paint or woodwork. Before spraying the whole area, be sure to do a sample test on a small area to ensure the product isn’t going to damage your furniture.


Never leave any books or magazines lying around the place, unless you want nibbled corners or missing paragraphs! Having a houserabbit does force you and your family to pack things away when you have finished with them, otherwise they may not be in the same state you left them in when you come to find them again!


Rabbits will often have one or two places which they will decide to use as a digging area, often much to an owner’s annoyance!

A cheap and simple solution is to get hold of some carpet samples, which are frequently thrown out by carpet shops, and place these over the affected areas. These are cheap and easy to replace and the rabbit can use them to dig on to their hearts content. Plastic carpet covers are another useful solution to cover problem areas. Although neither may look pleasant to the eye if situated within a prominent area of the house, they will at least spare your carpet.

Chewing and swallowing pieces of carpet can be harmful to rabbits if the carpet accumulates in the digestive tract, it may cause the digestive system to slow down or stop which is a very serious health concern and requires immediate veterinary treatment.


Swallowing wallpaper can be just as dangerous, as wallpaper paste may contain chemicals that are harmful to rabbits, and there is also the possibility of the paper swelling up inside the rabbit.

You can try blocking off the rabbits access to any problem areas, by relocating furniture over the area (which may also work with carpet chewing), although this may simply not be practical.

One solution, although this is often not a very attractive solution, is to cover the affected area of wallpaper with clear, plastic perspex up to the stretching height of the rabbit and if all else fails you can try painting your walls instead of using wallpaper!

By and large, the simple answer to destructive behaviour from rabbits is that they are bored or simply enjoy doing it as it satisfies their natural instincts, but excessive chewing may also be a sign of dental problems, so you should ensure that your rabbit has a thorough veterinary health check, paying special attention to the mouth and teeth (which may require sedation to get a proper look at the back teeth), to rule this out as a cause.

Catching them in the act!

If you catch your rabbit chewing or digging at something they shouldn’t be then a quick spray of water, aimed at their body, or clapping your hands or stamping your feet are usually enough to stop the rabbit in its tracks, and the rabbit shouldn’t associate the punishment with you. If you offer the reprimand immediately, they should learn that if they perform a particular behaviour, in a particular place, then something unpleasant might happen. But you have to be instant with your reaction and repeat it each time. Any time delay will only confuse the rabbit as to why they are being told off.

However, you must never, ever shout or smack a rabbit. Rabbits are naturally timid animals with humans being one of their natural predators, so any behaviour that reinforces their belief that you are a threat to them will damage your relationship with your rabbit.

If you have tried all the possible solutions and have ruled out a health problem you have two possible courses of action:

  • You can ask for a referral to a behaviourist who has specialist knowledge in rabbit behaviour and may be able to help you more on a one to one basis with advice aimed specifically at your rabbit. Your vet should be able to put you in touch with a suitable behaviourist, or the Rabbit Welfare Association will be able to.
  • If you don’t wish to pursue the option of further help, then having the rabbit as a house rabbit may not be the best option and it may be better for not only yourself, but also the rabbit if they moved from the house to a suitable outdoor enclosure with another rabbit for company.

Rabbit companions

Rabbits are social animals; in the wild large groups will live happily together, providing company, security and physical grooming to each other. Company of their own kind is just as important for pet rabbits too. However, to ensure that the bonding process is as trouble-free as possible, there are some simple, but important guidelines that should be followed.

The most successful combination tends to be a male (buck) and female (doe), with both individuals neutered (around 4-5 months for bucks and 5-6 months for does). Obviously if neither animal is neutered you’ll soon end up with lots of baby bunnies!

If only the doe is neutered the buck will constantly try and mate with the doe, which will antagonise her and lead to possible conflict between the two animals. If you just neuter the buck, the doe may actually try and mount the buck, which again will cause upset between the two rabbits, and the doe will also still be at an increased risk of uterine cancer; affecting up to 80% of unspayed does by the age of 5 years. Some occasional mounting behaviour is a normal display of dominance, even between two neutered rabbits.

Rabbits of the same sex can live together but bonding two rabbits of the same sex is often much harder, takes a lot longer, has a higher failure rate, and any fights are likely to be much more serious and vicious. If you are attempting to bond two rabbits of the same sex, then ideally they should be introduced at a young age and neutering of both animals is essential.

Up until a few years ago, many rabbit books recommended keeping guinea pigs with rabbits for companionship reasons, but the tide has turned and now the majority of rabbit and guinea pig books, as well as rescue centres, animal organisations and vets, agree that the two should be kept with their own kind and not mixed.

Provided all the rabbits and any male guinea pigs are neutered, they can cope quite well together. But guinea pigs are rodents and have different dietary requirements from rabbits. Guinea pigs are unable to synthesise their own vitamin C, so require fresh foods high in vitamin C (dark leafy vegetables such as dandelion leaves, spring greens, kale, etc). These foods also provide rabbits with essential fibre.

Even docile rabbits will often bully and molest guinea pigs; chasing them, biting them, mounting them or even sitting on them, which can cause serious and fatal injuries to the guinea pig, not to mention the stress they endure. The majority of this is sexual frustration and is avoided if the rabbits and male guinea pigs are neutered.

Even the smallest of rabbits is going to be comparable in size to a guinea pig, with powerful back legs, which are more than capable of causing serious injury to a guinea pig. Having a hideaway where only the guinea pig can fit into isn’t a satisfactory compromise as there may be occasions when the guinea pig is unable to reach its safe area, e.g. if it is backed into a corner. However, in the rabbit’s defence, it has also been known for guinea pigs to bully rabbits!

Having ascertained that rabbits should live with other rabbits and that company in the form of another bunny is preferable, how do you actually go about trying to bond rabbits?

The bonding process is the same if you are attempting to bond two rabbits of the same sex or one of each sex, though as has already been aforementioned, one doe and one buck is usually easier and quicker to bond and bonding of two same sex rabbits is liable to fail.

Rabbits are often very territorial and introductions need to be done carefully. Firstly both rabbits must be neutered; if the rabbits aren’t old enough to be neutered then continue at stage 1 until both have been neutered and recovered from their operations (baring in mind that a buck may still be able to impregnate a doe for at least 3 weeks after castration, so keeping a doe and buck apart for around 4 weeks after neutering is advisable).

Stage 1

Place each rabbit in a cage, where they can see and smell each other through the wire of the cages, but cannot get at each other to cause injury. Swap their litter trays and toys over every day, so each bunny gets used to the others scent.

Stage 2:

When you are happy that the rabbits are both at ease with each other and showing no aggression you can begin mixing them for supervised, short periods of time in a neutral place – somewhere where neither rabbit has been before, so could claim as their territory, i.e. a room in the house, bath-tub, new run, etc.

Place lots of toys in the area (rattles, tunnels, boxes to hide in, balls etc, which has neither rabbits scent on) to help distract the rabbits attention from each other and at least two feeding bowls so the rabbits don’t feel they have to compete for food.

Some chasing, nipping or mounting is perfectly normal. Continue putting the rabbits together like this on a daily basis or several times a day if possible, until the rabbits seem to accept each other. Leave them together for as long as possible (always supervised), increasing the time when you feel they are comfortable with each other.

Sometimes rabbits can just ‘fall in love at first sight’ and if this happens, followed by mutual grooming of each other, they should be OK to be left together unsupervised, as this is the stage that you want to achieve.

If serious fighting breaks out, separate the rabbits immediately (being very careful not to get bitten yourself – use blankets, cushions or cardboard sheets to push between them) and revert back to stage 1, until the aggression disappears, and then move back onto stage 2 again (this may have to be repeated several times).

Car journeys:

If the rabbits seem accepting of each other, but are still showing some nipping and chasing of each other, you can also try taking them for car journeys. Place the bunnies in a large enough carrier for two bunnies and take them for a short car journey. This is a stressful experience, so the rabbits will rely upon each other for support, rather than attempting to fight, and begin to form a bond. If any tension is shown then separate the rabbits immediately, but the journey times can be gradually increased if both rabbits seem okay. This can be done daily or as often as you feel necessary, for as long as necessary.

Stage 3:

The aim is to get the rabbits to accept one another and rely upon each other for support and company. Once the rabbits have begun grooming each other you can be pretty confident that no real aggression will be shown from this point on, but it is very wise to keep a close eye on them both for several weeks afterwards.

There are no set rules for bonding rabbits it can be an instant attraction or take many weeks or months of hard work. Sometimes you may never be able to bond two specific rabbits together.

Rabbits do have distinct preferences as to who they want to live with and will sometimes not bond with a specific rabbit, only to happily accept the next bunny you try and bond to them. Even bonded pairs may have tiffs when an increase or return of nipping, chasing and mounting may be seen (usually around spring). This is normal and as long as no real aggression is shown they shouldn’t be separated. However, it is wise to keep a closer eye on both rabbits at these times.

Yes, even rabbits who haven’t set eyes on another bunny for many years can happily accept a bunny pal and often a younger pal will give an elderly bunny a new lease of life in their twilight years.

This is largely dependent upon how much time you are able to spend with your rabbit. For people who work all day, it may be worth considering getting your rabbit a friend to keep him company whilst there is no-one in the house. But if you are at home for a large percentage of time, and able to spend time giving your bunny company then you may feel that he doesn’t need a bunny pal.

This rarely works and can seriously damage the bond between the two existing rabbits so is not recommended. The saying twos company, threes a crowd is very true! If you have enough space and time, mixing two already bonded pairs can be easier than adding a single rabbit, but each pair needs its own personal territory so be prepared for lots of nipping and chasing!

A rescue centre is usually the best place. Often the rabbits are already neutered and some will also allow you to take your bunny along to select a friend for an existing bunny. Be certain that your rabbit’s vaccinations are up-to-date before taking it along.

Another added advantage is that if you really can’t bond a rabbit from a rescue centre to your existing bunny, the rescue centre should be able to take the bunny back and you can try your rabbit with another from the centre.

Bonded pairs should never be separated; what illnesses one rabbit has the other is liable to already have anyway. If one rabbit has to go to the veterinary surgery, or be hospitalised, then take its mate along for company. Often having their mate there will give the sick rabbit encouragement to carry on and taking their mate away when they are ill will only depress and upset both rabbits.

Frequently, bonded pairs who are split up, for even a short amount of time will have to be re-bonded when being introduced again and may not accept each other again, so it is imperative that pairs are never separated unless it is detrimental to one or both of their health to stay together.

When the sad time comes you will be understandably very upset, but your rabbit may also be affected and there are things that you can do to make this time easier on them.

Try and let the rabbit that has been left behind, spend some time with their companion’s body. This enables the rabbit to realise that their friend has gone. The rabbit may initially nudge the body trying to get them to move. This can go on for seconds, minutes or hours and if possible it is best to leave the body with the remaining rabbit until they lose interest in it and move away from them. At this point you can remove the rabbit’s body.

Watch the rabbit closely for any changes in their behaviour. They may seem more lethargic and depressed and not want to eat as much. Ensure that they keep eating, drinking, urinating and passing faeces and if you are concerned about their health then contact your vet straight away.

Spend more time with your rabbit. They are used to having a constant companion so will be feeling lonely, confused and maybe scared. Offer them their favourite foods, play games with them or just sit, stroke and talk to them gently.

Consider getting another rabbit as a companion. This may feel like the last thing on your mind but it may be the best option for the rabbit that has been left behind. Rescue centres always have rabbits that are in need of a loving home and will often come fully vaccinated and neutered and many rescue centres will undertake bonding introductions so you can see if the rabbits are going to get along together.

Things to remember

  • Introduce only neutered rabbits, regardless of sex.
  • One buck and one doe is the most successful combination.
  • Introduce rabbits on neutral territory.
  • Never split up bonded pairs unless serious fighting occurs.
  • Introduction a third rabbit into a bonded pair rarely works.
  • Some nipping, chasing or mounting is normal, even in bonded pairs.
  • Immediately separate rabbits if serious fighting occurs.
  • It may not be a good idea to mix rabbits and guinea pigs.
  • Try and go to a rescue centre to acquire a bunny-pal.
  • It may be love at first sight but it could also take months of perseverance.

Is a rabbit right for me?

Rabbits are now the third most popular pet animal in the UK. TV programmes like Pet Rescue and Animal Hospital and organisations like the British House Rabbit Association are educating people about responsible rabbit ownership. This is resulting in a change in attitude from the rabbit as pet confined to a hutch at the bottom of the garden to one which is as much a part of the family as a dog or cat.

Some possible answers to this question are:

  • Rabbits are cute and cuddly.
  • Rabbits don’t need much looking after.
  • Rabbits make ideal pets for children.
  • A rabbit will keep our guinea-pig company.
  • Rabbits don’t take up much space.
  • Rabbits are cheap to keep.

If any these answers match the reasons why you want a rabbit then, unfortunately, a rabbit may not be the best pet for you. It may surprise you, but owning a rabbit will demand as much commitment from you as owning a cat or dog.

Rabbits are very cute, particularly when they are babies. However, many ‘cute’ baby rabbits are bought from pet shops on impulse and their new owners have not considered the reality of owning a rabbit. For example, the average lifespan of a pet rabbit is 7-9 years which represents a big, long-term commitment.

Also, rabbits are not usually cuddly in the way that soft toys are! As ground-dwelling animals, they often feel insecure when picked up, and so do not enjoy being held and cuddled. If the rabbit is not securely held it will struggle and may be dropped. Unfortunately this commonly results in injuries such as fractures to the limbs or spine which can be fatal.

Rabbits do adore being stroked and will allow you to stroke them for hours – providing that they have all four paws on the ground! Owning a rabbit means that you have to learn to interact with your pet in a way that makes it happy. Happy rabbits will respond by licking their owner’s hands. Some rabbits learn to come when their name is called, and can be taught tricks such as begging for treats.

When you own any pet, its needs and requirements must come before your own. It is a common misconception that rabbits don’t need much looking after. Rabbits require at least 3 hours of your time every day:

  • They need to be checked at least twice a day for feed and water.
  • They need access to a run or enclosed garden for exercise for at least 2 hours every day (except in bad weather).
  • They need at least 1 hour of interaction (stroking, play etc.) with you to build up their confidence with humans.

No animal should be thought of as a ‘toy’ for children. Rabbits are particularly not suitable pets for children because they do not enjoy being picked up and if they are not being held properly (as is often the case when a large rabbit is picked up by a small child) they often scratch or bite. Remember that rabbits can live for 7-9 years and unfortunately children can lose interest or grow out of wanting to look after them.

Guinea-pigs, mice and rats are much more suitable pets for children as they are easier to hold. Rats and mice can also be taught tricks.

Rabbits and guinea-pigs do not mix! They are very different animals and have different behaviour and requirements:

  • They need very different diets – guinea-pigs need a diet that is very high in Vitamin C and they will develop severe medical problems if fed only a commercial rabbit mix.
  • They have different health problems – rabbits carry a type of bacteria which does not affect them, but which can cause severe respiratory infection (like bronchitis) in guinea-pigs.
  • They behave differently – rabbits can ‘bully’ guinea-pigs!

A rabbit should not be kept on its own as they are social animals and need other rabbits for company. Rabbits live in groups in the wild and it is extremely unnatural for them to live a solitary existence. The best combination for rabbits is a male-female pair, but this will require both rabbits to be neutered as soon as possible to prevent unwanted litters. Same-sex pairs are possible but only if the rabbits were littermates or were introduced at a very early age. If the pair do not bond, both animals may need to be neutered.

A rabbit hutch can never be too large. Rabbits need a large hutch – with both a living area and a sleeping area. A combined floor space of 150 x 60 x 60 cm has been suggested for a hutch for two small rabbits. Avoid placing the hutch in a site which is in direct sunlight during the summer or where it will be exposed to draughts.

Rabbits also need to be able to exercise for at least 2 hours per day. This can be either in a large, secure run or ‘ark’ placed over grass, or if your garden is securely enclosed, they could be allowed to run free in it.

Before you can bring your rabbit home, you need to invest in a hutch, a run, a food bowl, a water bottle, sawdust and straw for bedding, and food such as rabbit mix, greens and hay. You may also wish to have your rabbit neutered in the first few months.

On-going costs of keeping your rabbit are feed and veterinary care. Rabbits require at least two vaccinations a year, they are also prone to developing chronic health problems, such as snuffles or dental disease, which can require months of treatment. Pet insurance is available for rabbits to protect against large vet bills and this should be considered.

Housing your rabbit

Whether your rabbit lives indoors or outdoors it needs somewhere to call home. Hutches and runs come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Choosing the right one is important to ensure that you have a happy rabbit.


No hutch can be too large. The days when it was thought acceptable to keep rabbits in cramped, confined hutches are over. Two small rabbits should have a minimum hutch size of 150 x 60 x 60 cm, and two large rabbits will need 180 x 90 x 90 cm. Your rabbit needs to have room to lay down lengthways and stand up on its hindfeet.


There should be at least two ‘rooms’ in your rabbit’s hutch. The larger one should have a wire-fronted door and this is the area where your rabbit will eat and toilet. The other area should have solid walls and will be more private. Your rabbit will want to sleep here so provide it with lots of straw bedding.


The hutch should be raised off the floor slightly to allow air to circulate underneath it. The roof of the hutch must be waterproof. You can treat the outside of the hutch with wood preservative or paint to make it waterproof but do not paint or treat the wood on the inside – your rabbit will probably chew this and some chemicals can be harmful if eaten.

The hutch should be strongly built and secure to protect your rabbit from cats, dogs and foxes. Bolts are the best fasteners for the doors – they cannot be opened accidentally and will be safe against other animals.

Traditionally, hutches had wire floors – allowing the droppings to fall through and be cleared away. These are not suitable for pet rabbits as they can cause sore feet.

If you are going to use a second-hand hutch, you must disinfect it well with an ammonia solution (diluted bleach) and let it dry thoroughly before adding the bedding.


Lining the floor of the hutch with a layer of newspaper will help to protect the wood from being soaked. Next, add a thick layer of woodshavings – but take care which type you use: some woodshavings, e.g. cedar, may release fumes which can irritate the eyes and respiratory tracts of rabbits. Do not use sawdust as the particles are very small and can easily enter the eyes causing irritation. Finish off with a layer of straw all over the hutch, but add extra straw to the sleeping area so your rabbit can make a bed.

It is essential to clean the hutch regularly to keep your rabbit in good health. Most rabbits are very ‘clean’ – they will use one corner of their hutch as a toilet. This area should be cleaned out daily – use a dustpan and brush to sweep out the droppings. Then every 7-10 days, the entire bedding in the hutch should be replaced. Move your rabbit to an outdoor run while you do this. Ideally leave the hutch empty of bedding for a couple of hours to allow the wood to dry out.

Rabbits that are kept in unsanitary hutches are likely to develop conditions such as snuffles, sore feet, urine scalding, dirty bottoms, and fly strike (a condition where blow flies lay their eggs on the rabbit and the maggots bury into its skin).


Runs allow your rabbits to freely exercise and graze on grass. Ideally, your rabbit should have 2 hours of exercise in it’s run every day (except in bad weather). There are no recommended dimensions for a run – some people can make a secure, safe run for their rabbit out of the whole of their garden – others prefer a smaller run which is lightweight and can be moved to a fresh piece of lawn every day.


Runs need to be very secure – your rabbit must not be able to escape and other animals (dogs, cats etc) must not be able to get in. The weight of the run is quite important – it must be too heavy for your rabbit to tip up, or for a dog to nudge over. Wire pegs are a good idea – these will pin the frame to the ground. Some runs have the wire netting extending over the floor of the run – the advantage of this is that your rabbit cannot dig its way out! The disadvantage is that the wire may cause sores on your rabbit’s feet.

Runs are usually constructed with a wooden or metal frame with wire netting placed over this. It is important to provide your rabbit with some shelter in the run so it is protected from sun or rain. A sturdy cardboard or plastic box on its side with some straw inside or a piece of plastic drainpipe will allow your rabbit to shelter and feel secure.

Don’t forget that your rabbit can still get thirsty while it is in the run – remember to add a bowl of water or a drinking bottle.

Choosing a rabbit

Choosing a new pet is a very exciting time but you should take care not to make decisions about a new rabbit on impulse!

Pet shops are the traditional places to buy pet rabbits but, unfortunately, they are not always the best places. Rabbits in pet shops are often stressed and, as a result, are susceptible to disease. Also, you will be unlikely to have information about the rabbit’s parents, which is particularly important in breeds that are prone to inherited diseases.

A list of registered rabbit breeders is available from Pet Plan or the British Rabbit Council. For non-pedigree rabbits contact your local animal welfare charity, or look at the advertisement board in your veterinary practice, newspapers and your local post office or newsagents shop.

When choosing a baby rabbit (called a ‘kitten’) try to see it with its mother and littermates as it is easier to judge its temperament in a natural setting. Also ask about the health of the parents as this may alert you to potential problems.

If you get a rabbit which is already carrying a disease, it may never recover full health and the treatment may be expensive.

A healthy rabbit will have clear bright eyes, clean nostrils and ears and a shiny coat. If your rabbit has runny eyes, sneezing or a nasal discharge it probably has a severe respiratory infection. Being able to see the third eyelid (a membrane in the corner of its eyes nearest the nose) or a dull coat are also signs of ill health. Avoid taking on a rabbit with dirty ears which may be infected with bacteria or ear mites or an animal which is thin.

If you are in any doubt, ask to have the rabbit examined by your vet before agreeing to take it on. In any case make an appointment for any new rabbit to be examined by your vet on the second or third day in your care. Your vet will check that your rabbit is healthy, and give you advice on feeding your rabbit, vaccination and neutering.

Before taking a rabbit home find out about the type of care it was getting. Baby rabbits can leave their mothers from about eight weeks of age. Ask if it has received any vaccinations, if so, you should be given a vaccination record signed by a vet (with details of the rabbit’s identity). You also need to know what sort of food it has been eating. Feed the same food for a few days and reintroduce new foods very gradually over a period of at least 2 weeks (if you need to) so that your rabbit’s digestive system does not get too much of a shock.

Have all the necessary equipment ready before bringing a new rabbit home. You should have the following: a carrying box, food and water bowls, food (including rabbit mix, fresh vegetables and hay), a grooming brush and comb, nail clippers, rabbit toys, and a secure enclosed run. If your rabbit is going to live outside it will need an outdoor hutch with sawdust and straw bedding. If it is going to live inside it will need an indoor cage and a litter tray with rabbit litter.

The first days away from its mother and littermates are understandably stressful for most rabbits. Outdoor rabbits should be confined to their hutch for the first 2-3 days before allowing them out in the run. Indoor rabbits should be kept in their cage in a quiet room for the first few days. If there are young children in the house they must not become overexcited or treat the rabbit like a toy.

Once its first course of vaccinations are completed your rabbit will need two annual booster vaccinations. Regular daily grooming for long-haired rabbits is recommended to keep their coat in good condition and short-haired breeds will also benefit from grooming, particularly when they are moulting. Coat brushing is easier if your rabbit is used to it from an early age.

Rabbits are usually neutered between the ages of four and six months. Some female rabbits can be fertile from the age of four months so make sure you arrange to have your rabbit neutered promptly to avoid adding to the mountain of unwanted baby rabbits that are produced every year.

Register your new pet with your vet as soon as possible and visit the practice to get advice on routine health care and neutering before problems develop.