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How to keep rabbits and guinea pigs happy

Living

HUTCH SWEET HUTCH A well-designed hutch for rabbits and guinea pigs. Note the plastic igloo, which gives them a welcome bolt-hole if they get startled. These 'prey' animals are instinctively always on the look out for danger and will feel more comfortable to go out onto the grass if they know they have somewhere to run into.

Naomi Clarkin

Almost every child’s wish on seeing a fluffy bunny is to stroke and cuddle it. Learning to care for, cuddle and love a pet certainly helps with children’s emotional development, and rabbits and guinea pigs do make good pets. I would say that they’re more suitable as children’s pets than the naturally nocturnal hamster.
Howevaer, unlike hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs are naturally gregarious creatures and so, if you want to avoid sentencing them to a lonely life of solitary confinement, they require hutch buddies.
This could be either of the same species ­– making sure both friends are of the same sex, or having one of them neutered – or mixing rabbits with guinea pigs, who can also become firm friends. It’s generally better to bring them together from a young age, but it is possible to make careful introductions of future hutch mates by sitting them in separate hutches beside each other for a time – a week or so – first.
It’s also important to give them a suitable home. The traditional hutch has several limitations – they’re small and and they have no access to grass. Grass naturally makes up a huge proportion of these animals’ diet, and it is important that they get to graze for long periods of the day. So a hutch design like that in the picture, which has a ‘bedroom’ upstairs, kept cosy with plenty of fresh hay, particularly throughout the winter; and a ladder down to the grass, makes a really great home for them. It can be lifted and moved around the garden. If done methodically, your furry friends can also become your lawnmowers and lawn fertilisers!
As well as relieving boredom, being outside and munching on grass all day is very good for these animals’ teeth and digestive tracts. They are designed to spend hours nibbling on grasses and herbs of various types. Their teeth continuously grow, so they need this constant biting and chewing to keep them worn. As vets, we commonly see problems associated with too little grazing time, resulting in overgrown, painful and infected teeth. Very sadly, at times these dental problems can prove fatal.
When it comes to choosing a healthy diet for your furry friends, it’s important to mimic their natural diet as much as possible. Foodstuffs made up of pellets of dried grass are much better for them than the course, muesli-type mix that is often presented by pet shops. Guinea pigs need a diet made especially for them, rich in vitamin C, as they lack the ability to make the vitamin. Pellets made for them have extra vitamin C added.
Both guinea pigs and rabbits would appreciate a daily treat of some fresh vegetables; helping you to get rid of your off-cuts. They’ll the greet ends of carrots and cucumbers, and stems of broccoli, with a happy, welcoming squeak.
Lastly, not being able to go find it for themselves, these animals need constant access to clean water either from a bowl or special drinking water bottle. In winter, a bottle can freeze overnight, and if it’s on the shady side of the hutch it could stay frozen all day. So when you put the kettle on for that morning cuppa, please remember to check if your furry friends would like a drink too.

Naomi Clarkin is a vet working with David Fabby, Tom Fabby and Killian Ó Móráin at The Veterinary Surgery in Church Lane, Westport, which can be contacted at 098 25618.