Rabbits As Pets

Pete Wedderburn
9th June 2020 - 3 min read

Rabbits are increasingly popular pets in Ireland, and not just for children. In the United States, the rabbit is a close third to dogs and cats in the popularity stakes of family pet ownership. The same situation is beginning to develop here. Dogs need space and a time-commitment. Cats are fine, but some people just don’t like them. Rabbits are seen as an easy-to-keep, safe, cuddly alternative.

little girl in pink with white rabbit

The Perfect Pet

Rabbits are under-rated by most people. They are seen as fluffy, floppy, dim-witted creatures who are content to sit quietly in a hutch all day, nibbling grass and carrots. It is true that if a rabbit is confined to a small space, he cannot do much more than sit there. However, if a rabbit is given a sizeable run, or is allowed to be ‘free-range’,  a completely different type of animal is seen.

Rabbits are intelligent, inquisitive, lively, friendly, and loyal. They can become part of the family in a very similar way to dogs and cats. They have strong, distinctive characters, if only they are allowed to express themselves.

We used to have a pet rabbit living free-range in the back garden of our veterinary hospital. He was called Buck, and he viewed that garden as his territory, which nobody else should dare to enter.

Rabbits Have No Fear

We used the garden to exercise dogs which had been hospitalised, and we were always careful not to let those dogs off their leads. This was not because we were afraid that they might hurt Buck, but because we were worried about what Buck might do to them! Buck used to rush at dogs, leaping into the air at the last minute, and lashing out with his feet. Several dogs who dared to approach him too closely ended up with scratched muzzles. Fortunately, Buck was not big enough to inflict any more serious injuries.

Trouble-Free Pets

Many people who keep rabbits have similar stories to tell about their pets. I know of rabbits who roam freely inside houses, coming and going as they wish, through a ‘rabbit flap’ in the back door. They are trouble-free pets to keep. Their urine and faeces are relatively odour-free and innocuous, although house training is not always easy.  I knew one rabbit who had an annoying habit of chewing through telephone wires, but most pet rabbits are not destructive in any way. It does make sense to “rabbit proof” your house as much as you can, concealing exposed wires and removing anything chewable from the rabbit’s reach.

Rabbits are social creatures and have evolved to enjoy the company of others of their species. They should never be kept on their own: they are much happier in pairs or small groups. Spaying and neutering of females and males are recommended, to stop breeding, and to lessen the risk of hormone-induced fighting.

Common Diseases

Rabbits should also be vaccinated by your vet: there are two diseases that need to be prevented. First, myxomatosis, a killer disease that’s spread by fleas, and secondly, Viral Haemorrhagic Disease, a fatal illness caused by a virus that can be spread on people’s clothes and hands. Both of these diseases are almost impossible to treat effectively if they develop, so prevention by vaccination is definitely the best answer.

Our friend Buck was so possessive of his garden that if we tried to lie down on the grass to enjoy sunshine on a sunny day, he would sidle up to us, thumping his back feet menacingly. Buck never attacked a human, but nobody felt safe in his company when he was in his territorial mood. Never under-estimate a rabbit!

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