How to be a gold-star indoor bunny owner
While they may roam your lounge rather than the great outdoors, indoor bunnies still need all the things that wild rabbits enjoy – from company of their own kind and opportunities to exhibit their natural bunny behaviours to providing them with the right nutrition. Indoor bunnies are popular pets – the recent PDSA Animal Welfare (PAW) report reveals that 44% of UK pet rabbits live predominately inside – but are they given everything they need to live their best (indoor) bunny life?
If you’re a devoted bunny owner, you’ll want to ensure you’re providing the five welfare needs for your pets, as outlined by the Animal Welfare Act 2006:
- Health – protection from pain, injury, suffering and disease and treated if they become ill or injured.
- Behaviour – the ability to behave naturally for their species – for example: play, run, dig, jump etc.
- Companionship – to be housed with, or apart from, other animals as appropriate for the species – for example: company of their own kind for sociable species like rabbits or guinea pigs, or to be housed alone for solitary species like hamsters.
- Diet – a suitable diet. This can include feeding appropriately for the pet’s life stage and feeding a suitable amount to prevent obesity or malnourishment, as well as access to fresh clean water.
- Environment – a suitable environment. This should include the right type of home with a comfortable place to rest and hide as well as space to exercise and explore.
To help you, we’ve set out six ways you can become a gold-star indoor bunny owner by giving your rabbits all the things that are super important to them:
1. Providing a space of their own
Even if your house rabbits often have the run of the house when you’re around to supervise them, they also need you to create a safe space they can call their own. Whether this is a specially designated room, or an area partitioned off with a large run or enclosure, territorial bunnies will feel much more content with their own rabbit pad where they can explore, play and snooze in peace.
As prey animals, house bunnies also like to have somewhere safe to dive into if something startles them – cardboard boxes with cut-out entrance and exit holes are ideal. Nap times should mean the chance to snuggle down in a place that feels a bit like a burrow, with a roof and an entrance and exit route and a fleecy blanket to lie on and dig at.
2. Ensuring they have a bunny buddy
The PAW report findings show a gradual reduction in the number of rabbits kept alone, but the proportion is still sadly very high. Half (49%) of UK pet rabbits live on their own, a reduction from 54% in 2018, continuing a gradual decline from 65% in 2012. Rabbits are highly sociable animals and, in wild, live in complex social groups. As well as enjoying the time they spend interacting with their human family, they also need company of their own kind. Find out more about introducing a new bunny buddy here >>
3. Giving them chance to do important rabbit stuff
Just because they live indoors, house rabbits still need to be able to exhibit their natural behaviours – digging, running, hiding, jumping and foraging. Think about creating a digging box (a large litter tray or plastic storage box partially filled with some chinchilla sand and hay) and providing opportunities to forage. Use a treat ball to feed them and they will enjoy nosing it around to get the pellets. Willow tunnels and willow balls stuffed with hay and herbs or paper bags filled with hay and special rabbit treats to discover will keep them happily occupied.
Rabbits also like to chew so, to avoid them chewing furniture or rugs, provide lots of tasty alternatives such as gnaw sticks and some willow, hazel, apple and blackthorn branches to nibble on.
Rabbits adore exploring stuff so keep a selection of bunny-safe toys in a box and bring them out in the morning and evening when they are naturally most active. Bunnies can get bored quickly so alternating toys will grab their attention and give them something new and exciting to investigate. The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) has more great enrichment advice here >>
4. Keeping them out of harm’s way
Rabbits are curious and surprisingly cunning explorers who need you to ensure they stay safe. Here are a few things to be on your guard about:
- Electric wires – burrowing wild rabbits chew through roots and, unsurprisingly, they will treat wires in the same way. Cover them with cable protector, available from DIY stores, or pieces of hosepipe.
- House plants – many are poisonous to rabbits and so, to be on the safe side, keep them well out of reach of bunny nibblers.
- Human feet– rabbits will often put themselves exactly where your foot is about to land. You’ll have to learn to tread carefully to avoid accidentally treading on your bunny chums.
- Escape routes – bunnies can squeeze through the smallest of spaces so you’ll need to check the areas they will spend time in very carefully so they don’t disappear into a dangerous outside environment.
- Other pets – as prey animals, rabbits will need to be introduced to other animals in your family such as dogs or cats very carefully. Ask your vet for advice.
5. Providing the right nutrition
When it comes to what to feed your indoor rabbits, there are some nutritional challenges to meet. Worryingly, the PAW report identified that 26% of owners didn’t provide any hay as one of the main foods for their rabbit and 21% fed muesli (which can encourage selective feeding where rabbits eat some (high starch/sugar) components of the muesli diet, while rejecting the more fibrous pellets, causing health issues) as part of their rabbit’s main diet.
Burgess in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes explains: “Indoor bunnies still need to get everything from their diet that a wild rabbit would. With this in mind, we’ve used our expert rabbit nutrition knowledge to develop nuggets specifically for them, based on beneficial ingredients bunnies would forage for in the wild.”
Excel Indoor Rabbit Nuggets include:
- Dandelion and nettle, which are delicious sources of vitamins and minerals that support all round health
- Prebiotics to help support the immune system and healthy gut bacteria
- 40% beneficial fibre – a balance of indigestible and digestible fibre, which is crucial in maintaining a healthy digestion
- Vitamin D to support healthy skin, teeth and bones
Dr Moyes says: “Research has shown that indoor rabbits may have lower levels of vitamin D due to lack of exposure to sunlight. Burgess Indoor Rabbit Nuggets have been formulated to supply the appropriate level of vitamin D to meet the animal’s needs. We would strongly recommend that owners do not add any extra vitamin D supplements to their rabbits’ diets.” She also has some handy feeding tips to ensure that your house bunnies get the most from their diet:
- 85-90% of your rabbits’ diet should be high quality feeding hay or grass to help wear down their continually growing teeth and to keep their gut moving to reduce the risk of digestive problems. Rabbits also need constant access to grass/hay to express their natural grazing behaviour.
- Rabbit nuggets should be fed in small portions, as a supplement to a hay and grass- based diet. Follow the feeding guide on the back of the pack and adjust as necessary to keep your rabbits in a lean, active condition.
- A handful of dark, leafy greens such as basic, broccoli, dark green cabbage and curly kale can be fed daily for additional nutrients and as a treat. Find more rabbit-safe vegetables and herbs here >>.
- Clean, fresh water should be constantly available.
- Your rabbits’ diet should not be changed overnight. If you’re moving onto new food, do so gradually, mixing a little bit in at a time over a course of 10 days.
6. Ensuring they have regular health checks
The PAW report reveals that one in seven (13%) of rabbit owners don’t provide any preventive healthcare, compared to 1% of cat owners and 1% of dog owners. Dr Moyes advises: “From initial vaccinations to regular boosters and protection against potentially fatal diseases that can affect both outdoor and indoor rabbits, regular vet check-ups are an essential part of caring for your rabbits. Owners also play a huge role in keeping their pets healthy and happy. Keeping a close eye on your buns and getting into the habit of carrying out regular health checks is the best way to ensure all is well. If something seems not quite right, always act promptly and consult your vet.”
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Sources: rabbitwelfare.co.uk, pdsa.org.uk