Rabbit Breeds

Pedigree rabbits are classified as normal fur breeds which include Chinchillas, Californians and New Zealands; fancy breeds, including English, Dutch, Angoras, Lops, Netherland Dwarfs and Flemish Giants and the Rex and Satin breeds.

The smaller rabbits whether mongrel or purebred, are to be preferred as pets to the larger breeds, which may be very difficult for a child to handle. Rabbits such as the English, Dutch and Netherland Dwarfs have proved to be suitable household pets.

ACQUIRING A RABBIT

Young rabbits — known as kits — are born very imma- ture and helpless after a pregnancy of about thirty—one days. If there is any undue disturbance of the nest the doe is liable to kill its own young. During the third week of life they begin to leave the nest of their own accord, but they are not ready to be taken from the mother until fully weaned at about eight weeks.

The bucks and does must be kept apart after they mature sexually, which is at nine months in small breeds and six months in large breeds, to prevent recurring pregnancies and many unwanted litters. The bucks normally need to be housed on their own to prevent fighting although several does may live together peaceably.

FEEDING

By nature grazing animals, in captivity rabbits need a daily mixture of crushed oats, flaked maize, mixed corn and bran, either fed dry, or made into a crumbly mash with hot or cold milk or water. Wholemeal bread also makes a satisfactory base for a mash.

In addition, a rabbit needs to graze during the day or have another meal consisting of green and root vegetables, fruit and suitable wild plants, such as dandelion, clover, sow thistle and groundsel.

It is essential for rabbits to have hay, which should be of the best quality and offered in a hay net or rack to stop it being trodden underfoot.

Rabbits must be provided with clean water in a drip- feed bottle. The amount taken may vary according to the amount of fresh green-stuff eaten.

ACCOMMODATION

A good rabbit hutch should measure at least 150 x 60 x60 cm (60 x 24 x 24 in) and be sturdily constructed with two compartments. It needs to stand off the ground at about table height and be designed to make cleaning easy.

The floor will need some protection from urine and a thick layer of newspaper covered by wood chippings, peatmoss litter or cat litter will keep it dry.

Inside the sleeping area there will need to be lots of straw for bedding but even that will not be sufficient in severe weather. Then the hutch needs to be moved into the shelter of an outhouse or at least covered over at night to make it frost-proof.

Wild rabbits are considered hardy but they are free to burrow deep under an insulating layer of earth. The smaller breeds of tame rabbits in particular may be at risk in harsh winter weather.

EXERCISE

No matter how good the hutch it provides insufficient accommodation for a rabbit. There also needs to be a safe place in which to exercise and if possible to graze. Ideally, part of the garden should be made rabbit-proof and the rabbits allowed free run of a big enclosure.

If a safe enclosure cannot be made, then a portable ark, is recommended, as it will allow a little exercise to be taken and give some scope for limited grazing.

GROOMING

All but the Angoras can groom themselves but some grooming is recommended. Overgrown claws may need trimming and overgrown teeth can sometimes be avoided by providing a gnawing block.

HANDLING

Support a rabbit’s weight when lifting it, particularly one of the larger breeds. If a rabbit is returned to its hutch hind first it cannot kick out at its handler.

INOCULATION

Tame rabbits in rural areas may be at risk from an outbreak of myxomatosis. Veterinary advice should be sought about possible protection by inoculation.

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