Rescuing rabbits: what you need to know

Rehoming a bunny is a major long-term commitment. We talk to the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund to get the facts about adopting rabbits from a shelter.

Rabbits are not starter pets that simply live in a cage. They are a delicate prey animal with unique needs, requiring time, attention, companionship and a special diet, not to mention the need for a rabbit-savvy veterinarian nearby.

But if you’re prepared for the work and the care, adopting abandoned rabbits from a shelter can be much more rewarding than buying a baby bunny from the store – especially if you’re looking for a companion for an existing rabbit.

We spoke with the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund to find out more about rescuing or adopting rabbits.

Why rescue rabbits rather than buy them from a pet store?

‘We opted for rescue rabbits because we wanted to give someone a good home,’ says Chris Hawton, who adopted a pair of rabbits around six years ago. ‘They were, of course, very beautiful and sweet and I fell instantly in love, but rescuing felt like a morally good thing to do. Plus, it was more cost-effective as the adoption came with medical needs, such as neutering, already handled.’

There are many reasons to adopt a rabbit from a shelter, rather than buy directly from a pet store:

  • Rescue rabbits are already health-checked, neutered and vaccinated.
  • Rescue shelters provide back-up that you’re unlikely to get from a pet store in terms of advice and a bonding service.
  • The shelter will be able to tell you about the rabbits’ temperaments.

Rescue shelters only want what’s best for the animals. It’s worth noting that many won’t rehome rabbits at Christmas due to extra hazards in the home, such as Christmas trees, decorations and lights. So if you’re thinking of adopting a rabbit during the festive season, it might be best to wait till the new year.

How to adopt rabbits

Identify a good rescue

Check that the shelter neuters and vaccinates their rabbits, and that they rehome in pairs or as a pair to an existing rabbit. There are a lot of good rescues out there – many are run by people from their own back gardens. As they concentrate solely on rabbits, they have a lot of experience.

Rehoming policies

Each rescue has its own rehoming policies, with the rabbits’ interests put first. Expect to have a home check, and you might need to make changes in order to pass muster. Try not to take this personally – it’s to ensure the rabbits are safe and happy with you. Any good rescue will only re-home rabbits in pairs or bigger groups, or as a companion to an existing rabbit that has been bereaved.

The home check process

The way your home is checked will vary. You might receive an actual in-person visit. Or you might have to provide a reference from your vet. It could even be a case of sending photos. All these checks are designed to establish whether the home on offer is suitable for the rabbits. Rabbit-proofing your house – for example, by hiding or protecting stray cables – will be essential.

Plan for the cost

Remember that neutering costs around £100 per rabbit on average, and vaccinations around £50. So, expect to pay a decent adoption fee in recognition of the work the shelter does. You can also add additional rabbits to your pet insurance to help cover veterinary fees when unexpected issues crop up.

Preparing your home for your new family members

There is so much more to keeping rabbits than leaving them alone in a hutch. The RWAF’s ‘A hutch is not enough’ campaign draws attention to the five welfare needs of rabbits:

  1. Health: the rabbits must be neutered, vaccinated and provided with health care by a rabbit-savvy vet. If your rabbit stops eating for any reason, it’s an emergency that requires an urgent vet visit.
  2. Behaviour: rabbits should have the ability to behave naturally for their species, which means playing, running, digging, chewing, foraging and hiding as they want.
  3. Companionship: rabbits need to live with another compatible neutered rabbit, ideally of the opposite sex.
  4. Diet: a diet based on 85% hay or grass, 10% greens, and 5% pellets (not muesli).
  5. Environment: rabbits require 24/7 access to a safe area that is 3m x 2m x 1m high, whether it’s inside or outside. Free range on top of this is good, but should not be instead of this area.

Rabbits’ status as a prey animal does mean you will need to be careful around them. Even after they get to know you, they may not like being picked up and held. This means they are not good pets for young children. Improper handling can cause serious injuries to a rabbit.

Remember: a rabbit is a long-term commitment

Living with rabbits can be a beautiful experience – they are curious, loving and playful, and they have distinct personalities. But rabbit ownership is a multi-year commitment, and the cost of healthcare, food and entertainment does mount up. Make sure you consider life beyond the initial excitement, and you’ll be rewarded with a friend for life.

Are your rabbits a rescue? Send us a snap on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #PethoodStories as we'd love to see them!

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