Sustainability and a growing awareness of wildlife are two of the key gardening trends identified by the Royal Horticultural Society for 2020, with gardeners in a position where they can make a substantial impact regarding environmental issues.
Rabbits make great pets, they are fun to have around, not difficult to keep and appeal to all ages. There are plenty of breeds to choose from, each with their own characteristics such as size, colour and temperament. Whichever you prefer, the perfect place to keep them is in the garden.
You may think of the likes of Harry Houdini and other illusionists when you hear the term 'escape artists' but rabbits are the definition of that! As they are prey animals, they are in constant need of feeling safe and won't hesitate to bolt to safety when feel threatened. Making the garden they live in a happy and safe place is critical in making your rabbit happy and healthy. There are a few guidelines to bear in mind, the type of housing rabbits require can be very simple and, if you have the tools, they can be quite easy to build.
Hutches come in many shapes and sizes, they should to some extent mirror the rabbit’s natural habitat and the perfect one is a combination of what’s right for your rabbit and its suitability for your garden. If you have a small garden, you might prefer a tiered hutch which gives your rabbit more room to hop about. For larger gardens, a single tier that’s long and wide might be better. Regardless of its size, the hutch must be safe! The wood used should be high quality and substantial in case your rabbit is a wood gnawer.
Practicality is also key when selecting a suitable hutch. If you’re willing to give your rabbit access to grass constantly, you may consider purchasing a hutch with a built-in run underneath which no flooring - allowing your furry friends to graze to their heart’s content. The Rabbit & Guinea Pig Hutch & Run by Zest4Leisure is a good example of this type. If you choose not to have a hutch with an integral run, this isn’t a problem. Many external runs are available which you can attach and position in various locations within your garden. We currently sell a wide variety of Rabbit Hutches with or without runs.
The size that a hutch needs to be depends entirely on two things; how many rabbits you have and what breed they are. Two rabbits require about 10 sq mtrs, and a quick rule of thumb is that a hutch is too small if they aren’t able to achieve three hops in a row. Rabbits need plenty of space for them to eat, sleep, relax, hide and go to the toilet. Each of these areas should be spaced out and not cramped together. A good idea is to always purchase a hutch that is comfortably big, rather than buying a cheaper smaller option.
With a hutch positioned outdoors, it will need many features to keep it sustainable all year round. One with large doors and easy access is essential for cleaning. Every corner in your hutch should be within reach so that you’re able to clean and disinfect. During the colder months, a thermal cover is imperative. Although rabbits cope better during colder weather than warm, exposure to very cold temperatures with strong winds over a long period of time could be fatal.
Heavy duty galvanised mesh walls are important for fresh air, together with secure latches it also provides much-needed protection against predators. Being able to hide is important for rabbits and to accommodate this, there should be a sheltered area which you can’t necessarily see inside. We’d commonly associate this with a ‘sleeping area’ and is clearly apparent in most hutches such as the Bateman Rabbit Hutch.
Positioning a hutch on grass is not essential but is the most popular option. However, many people do not have access to grass and have to place the hutch on a patio or balcony which is also fine with the correct bedding. The sunlight also plays a huge factor in where you should position your garden. You should not position the hutch where it will be in direct sunlight as it could cause your rabbits to overheat. Most rabbit owners like their hutches to face a window in one of the back rooms so that they can easily glance outside to see what their pets are up to. If you choose to position the hutch on grass we’d recommend moving it every other day as urine will damage the grass and also fresh grass will be great for eating.
Like with most outdoor pets, basic tools are needed to take care of your rabbits. A pair of gloves to make sure your hands stay clean along with bin liners and an old dustpan and brush to make sure every corner of the hutch is cleaned. We’d recommend purchasing a pet-friendly disinfectant which you can get at your local pet shop such as Pets At Home. This will eradicate germs and keep the hutch hygienic. A continuous supply of water is required, if housing two or more rabbits you should purchase a large water bottle however if you only have the one rabbit then a standard size is sufficient. This will need to be checked daily and topped up. A food bowl is also needed so that you’re able to feed your rabbits a bowl of dry food every day.
In order to keep a healthy and happy rabbit, the type of food that you feed them is obviously very important. Over time you’ll come to learn what foods your rabbits like and those they’d prefer not to eat. Many pet shops sell suitable dry food in the form of muesli or nuggets/pellets. Most rabbits prefer the latter. Both dry and fresh food must be given once a day. The dry food bowl should be over half full at all times. Fresh greens can be purchased at every supermarket and it’s important to know which ones are suitable and what ones aren’t.
As the media portrays, rabbits love vegetables. The most popular vegetables that rabbits like to eat are Curly Kale, Spinach, Carrots (Carrot Tops too) and Brussel Sprouts. A handful of fresh greens should be given daily. Although it’s not considered a food, fresh Timothy Hay is very beneficial and should make up 80-90% of your rabbit’s diet, this will keep their digestive system moving and chewing hay grinds their constantly growing teeth to keep them at a safe level. Available from the pet shop, rabbits need a constant supply as they eat their body size in hay every day.
No matter how much you don’t want them to, rabbits will eat anything that they deem to be food if it’s poisonous or not. If you’re in doubt whether or not something is harmful then don’t let them eat it. Herbs can taste quite strong to rabbits but also have many health benefits so they’re good for a treat. The following are suitable; Basil, Coriander, Dill, Mint (Peppermint), Parsley, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage & Thyme. If you have a free roaming rabbit in your garden you should be mindful of the wild herbs, weeds and flowers that your pets might nibble.
Before letting your rabbit roam free in the garden we’d recommend double-checking which plants are suitable for eating. There are many popular garden plants that your rabbit can eat such as; Chamomile, Clover (leaves & flowers), Coltsfoot, Dandelion, Lavender, Nettle, Nasturtium, Yarrow and Plantain. Some plants in your garden may look harmless to be eaten but they could be extremely poisonous and cause lots of problems for your rabbit. Some poisonous plants to avoid are; all bulb plants, Buttercup, Delphinium, Foxglove, Hellebores, Lily of the Valley, Lupin, Oak Leaves, Poppies, Potato Tops, Ragwort and Rhubarb Leaves.
As foxes roam mostly after dark, protective measures will need to be put in place to keep your rabbit safe overnight. You should know when a fox is about as rabbits often bang their back feet on the floor in order to scare a fox away. It makes a surprisingly loud sound for such a small animal. Your hutch must be fitted with heavy duty galvanised wire to stop a fox from getting in and attacking your rabbit. A fence, 5ft - 6ft in height with a further 18ins buried underground to prevent tunnelling, would be sufficient to prevent foxes accessing your garden and there are several other means of deterring foxes that can be utilized.
Although purchasing a purebred rabbit is often preferred, adopting can be a more rewarding experience. Many rabbits are abandoned and are put up for adoption because they’re bought not realising how much work they demand. We’d recommend visiting your local pet shop or visiting Support Adoption For Pets. Remember rabbits can live up to ten years, so they are definitely not just for Easter!
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