Creating better tomorrows for all pet rabbits

BBC Trust me I’m a Vet

At the start of the year, we were asked to help find a single rabbit and a family that wanted to improve the life of their rabbit and who would be willing to take part in a TV programme.

The RWAF had the pleasure of working closely with Dr Nicola Rooney from the University of Bristol, School of Veterinary Science, during this process.

Peppa and his family agreed to take part in the show. Peppa was a very friendly 4-year-old male, an entire rabbit who a lovely family rescued in Bristol. Peppa’s family had recently rescued him and knew they wanted to improve his life, but this can be a bit daunting for new rabbit owners.

This is what we did step by step:

We started off getting Peppa health checked and his vaccinations updated. Several weeks after that he was neutered. We then had a four week period for his hormones to settle down before he went off to be paired up.

During this time, we ordered the shed and all the wood and wire we needed to make the exercise area. Runaround kindly supplied everything we needed to allow the rabbits to access the run from the shed, the pipes and the ‘hay hutch’ hiding place. We also acquired the turf, accessories and flagstones that we would need and had everything delivered to Peppa’s family.

Peppa was taken to Windwhistle Warren. We always support rabbit rescue; if you want to find out which rescue is closest to you, try Save a Fluff. Windwhistle had several potential matches for Peppa, all of whom were already neutered and vaccinated and ready to be rehomed. He was introduced to a couple of them before we decided that Betsy was our best bet! Of course, a lot of this was filmed, so you might see some of it when the programme airs. Peppa and Betsy stayed with the lovely Alice at Windwhistle for two weeks so that we could be sure that they were well paired up before they moved back home and to their new accommodation.

This was the hutch that Peppa arrived with when he was rescued

In the meantime, we had a very busy three days in the garden! The old hutch was taken to the tip! Its place was taken by a 6×4 ft shed. A converted garden shed makes a brilliant rabbit home. We lined this shed with ply, added a shelf, some steps made from decking steps cut to size (this is easier for some rabbits than a ramp) and then added the holes and Runaround fittings so that the rabbits could get from the shed to the run and vice versa. You can see that we added two holes. This is because rabbits like to have two entrances and exits so that they feel safe. They know that if one entrance gets blocked, they have another, and you will often see them resting somewhere between two escape routes if they have that option.

We really wanted to do a good job of this because it was such a great opportunity to get the messages and ideas out to other rabbit owners, so the cost of all of this was met by the RWF. Here are a few photos of the transformation.

The shed was built and lined to provide insulation
The shed was then lined with the flooring  then, toys and runaround holes added
We added wire under the turf so that the rabbits could not dig out
Next, we added the turf, the pipes and the platforms
Lookout platform and digging pit, two entrances and exits from the shed/run
Another platform and a hiding place, grass to graze, litter tray and apple branch

This was the finished accommodation

In the meantime, at Windwhistle, Peppa was meeting potential partners, and it was being filmed!

Florence meets the crew

Because Peppa had only been neutered 4 weeks earlier, his hormones were still settling down. He had previously enjoyed ‘playing’ with a football (if you know what we mean), so he was trying to ‘play’ with the rabbits he was introduced to in the same way. Whilst we were under pressure of time for the filming schedule, we did not want to risk any injuries or stress because of his unwanted behaviour. For the first of their two weeks at Windwhistle, Betsy and Peppa lived side by side to get used to each other. This is called ‘split pairing’. You can read more about this process on our website.

Peppa and Betsy ‘split pairing’ at Windwhistle

Some ‘mounting’ is however a normal part of the pairing process, and we provided Betsy with tunnels and escape routes so that if she got fed up with him, she could avoid his advances. Alice noticed that Betsy always chose to sit next to Peppa and that, very quickly, they were becoming inseparable.

Peppa and Betsy getting on well at Windwhistle

After another week at Windwhistle, Peppa and Betsy went to their new home together.

Betsy checks out the new shed
Peppa quickly works out how to get into the run

Once back at home, the rabbits were closely monitored. This was not only because we wanted to be sure that they were happy together, but also because they were being filmed for footage for the show, in the hope that we would see a new range of behaviours from the ones Peppa had displayed previously.

Cameras were set up in the shed and run to film all the action (the wires were out of reach when the rabbits arrived!)
Dr Rooney watching the footage to see what kind of behaviours had occurred overnight

Everyone was really delighted with the results.

Peppa went from being a single rabbit in a small hutch to a neutered and paired-up rabbit with a fabulous converted shed and purpose-built run in the space of 6 weeks. His family are amazed at how much happier he seems and has observed lots of positive behaviours from both rabbits. Betsy went from being one of 67,000 rabbits each year that are looking for homes in the UK to a TV star.

A Hutch Is Not Enough.

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