In order for rabbit guardians to provide a high standard of care they should be aware that rabbits are social animals. People are not always aware of this judging by a report from the PDSA which found that half of all pet rabbits in Britain live alone. Living alone is unnatural to a rabbit because in the wild they form large groups and forage for food.
Dan O’Neill, a veterinarian at the Royal Veterinary College said:
“In rabbits we have a social species that is kept in isolation. That’s the ultimate punishment.”
If left alone, rabbits can develop abnormal behaviours.
Like cats and dogs, rabbits need to be socialised to people and to other animals. This is vital if they are to fit into family life and it is carried out in the first weeks of life.
A well socialised rabbit should at least have a companion rabbit for company. Rabbits brought up together normally get along well but if introduced to each other for the first time as adults they may fight. It’s important therefore that they are introduced gradually and under supervision as is the case for introducing new cats into a resident cat’s home.
Rabbits treat cats and dogs as natural predators. Therefore they will normally be frightened of them. If cats and dogs live with rabbits they should be socialised to rabbits in order that they do not treat them as prey.
If a domestic rabbit does not have a companion rabbit with whom he gets along, the owner needs to step in and be a companion. Under these circumstances, there is a responsibility for rabbit owners to interact daily with their rabbit.
As is the case for domestic cats, rabbits need a hiding place where they can get away from other rabbits that they don’t like or any stressful situation and experience. This should help to reduce stress
It should be said that rabbit breeders might argue that domestic rabbits are bred to be solitary animals. That’s a contentious point as the inherited traits from the wild ancestor cannot be removed by selective breeding in my view. They can only be modified.