ANIMAL MAGIC: A weekly column from Alder Veterinary Practice, of Spalding and Bourne
Easter weekend certainly lived up to its reputation weather-wise but hopefully it hasn’t dampened too many traditional celebrations.
Easter is, of course, a religious celebration for Christians but has also become a holiday time for families around the country.
There are many traditions that surround Easter but a more modern one is the hunt for Easter eggs. Eggs were forbidden in the run up to Easter, so they were saved and decorated for Easter Sunday.
The rabbit also became a symbol of Easter as it represents new life because it produces large litters. Starting in the 19th Century, the Easter rabbit brought chocolate eggs and hid them for children to find and thus the modern tradition of the Easter bunny began.
So, it has also become a time when parents buy rabbits for their children as pets and as the holidays are here they can be settled into their new homes.
Rabbits, though, are not easy pets and, for young children, may be completely unsuitable. Many buy dwarf rabbits in the belief they are easier to handle, but these are often much faster and bouncier than expected.
Larger rabbits such as Lionheads and Lop-eared rabbits are usually more docile though heavier to handle.
Giant rabbits are a recent phenomenon and really are for specialised owners as they have greater housing and health needs.
Rabbits need a large shed with a run attached. A small hutch with a miserable bed section and open fronted area is far too small. Even those with two tiers do not cater for a rabbit’s needs although it does allow them to have a separate toilet area – rabbits are hygienic too.
Rabbits need plenty of space to run around, stretch, jump and behave as rabbits do. In open runs, place tubes and boxes for them to jump over and hide in. Remember, a rabbit in the wild can be hunted by birds of prey as well as foxes, so in open ground they can feel vulnerable without a quick and easy hide.
Rabbits also need company and you should never buy just one; pairs of rabbits are best. Just do make sure you know which sexes you are buying, as many owners have come a cropper when they’ve bought two rabbits and one morning there are suddenly six in the cage.
Sexing young rabbits can be very difficult though, so if you are unsure of what you have, bring them to the surgery for a second set of eyes. If you are keeping one of each sex, then at least have the male neutered, for obvious reasons!
Rabbit obesity is becoming a real problem in this country as many assume the normal shape of rabbit is like Peter Rabbit. Rabbits should be lean to be healthy so NO MORE than an egg cupful of pelleted food a day.
Think of this as a treat rather than the main food. Unlimited, good quality hay not only keeps a rabbit’s guts healthy, it is important in maintaining good dentition.
Rabbits’ teeth grow all the time and they are designed to constantly grind down hay and grass to stay the proper shape and angle (never give grass clippings though as they ferment in the guts). Veg and herbs such as broccoli, spring greens, dandelions and parsley are delicious for rabbits. And of course, fresh clean water every day.
Vaccinations are a whole article in themselves, so I will save that for later this month. I hope you had a wonderful Easter despite the weather.