Rabbits are a popular pet in Australia and a much loved addition to any family. They are easy to look after and make a wonderful first pet for a child. It’s a great way to introduce the responsibility that pet ownership brings.
There are many different breeds of rabbits available but the most important thing is to ensure you get your rabbit from a reputable breeder. In-breeding can create a number of health problems, particularly malocclusions where the top and bottom teeth are not aligned and the teeth grow so long the rabbit can no longer chew.
Some of the most common rabbit breeds in Australia are the Dwarf Lop, Mini Lop, Rex, Dutch and Satin. The word Lop refers to rabbits that have drooped ears though they are usually upright when they are born and droop as they get older. These cute bunnies are extremely popular and there are a wide variety of breeds that display this feature.
The distinction between a dwarf rabbit and a mini is weight. A mini lop is no heavier than 1.6kg, while a dwarf can reach 2.5 kg. Dwarf and Lop rabbits have only been in Australia since 1998 but they have been extremely popular since their introduction. Lop rabbits have thick, soft velvety fur which is a delight to touch.
The Rex is around 3kg in weight and is a medium sized rabbit. The name Rex refers to the gene which makes hair thin, sparse and curly. Cats can also be affected by this gene and while cat breeders have used the gene to create almost hairless cats, Rex rabbit breeders have thickened up the hair. The result is the finer longer guard hairs are the same length as the under hairs which gives the rabbit a shorn appearance. The Rex also has curled whiskers, and where the hair grows longer, such as at the back of the head, the hair can take on a crimped appearance.
Rex rabbits come in a large variety of colours and have an easy temperament. They are not as nervous as the smaller breeds but they may have a tendency to nip, particularly the males, so it is best to have them desexed before they reach four months of age.
Dutch rabbits are highly recommended for families with children as these docile and hardy rabbits love lots of attention. They are considered to be one of the most intelligent breeds of rabbit and love to play. Dutch rabbits were developed in England and have classic upright ears. Dutch rabbits also have the distinctive patches around their eyes, white chest and feet and a colour patch on the back half of their bodies.
Satin rabbits are an average sized rabbit with a distinctive coat. They have translucent hairs which give the coat a satin sheen. Widely used for their fur commercially these rabbits are also a popular family pet. The dwarf and mini lop varieties are hardy animals, despite their small size and can by handled by young children with supervision.
Rabbits need a varied diet to ensure they have adequate nutrition. Poor diet is often the reason they experience health problems. Common problems include diarrhoea, hairballs and bladder problems, all of which stem from a poor or inadequate diet. Ensure you rabbit has about a half a cup of specially formulated rabbit pellets each day and a selection of fresh vegetables such as carrot, cauliflower, corn and spinach. Avoid lettuce as it will give your bunny the runs. Providing hay bedding will also give your rabbit plenty of fibre to add to their diet.
Rabbits of every breed generally get along with other family pets, particularly guinea pigs. They do need to be introduced properly to your other pets, particularly if you have a dog or cat. Your rabbit may be personable towards others but will the feeling be mutual? Exercise caution, particularly if your existing pet has a jealous streak or has hunting genes!