Rabbit Care

Rabbits are very social as well as active and playful, forming close bonds with their owners. As long as you know what to expect from a pet rabbit, they have the potential to be wonderful pets.

What You Need to Know Before Deciding on a Rabbit

  • Being social animals, rabbits need a great deal of interaction with their owners and/or other rabbits to be happy. Daily playtime and exercise outside of their cage is a necessity.
  • Rabbits are not low maintenance – it takes a good deal of work to properly care for a rabbit.
  • While they are generally quiet pets, rabbits may not a good match for active young children who may not be careful enough when picking them up or playing around them.
  • Rabbits like to be near their people, but they often would rather not be held.

Housing

Choosing the right kind of housing for your rabbit is extremely important. A roomy cage, pen, or cube condo are all good options. Cages that are spacious enough, easy to clean, and easy for your rabbit to get in and out of, will make sharing your home with a rabbit so much easier. A front opening door is preferable to allow your rabbit to come in and out on their own. Shelves are recommended, as rabbits love to climb and hop around. Shelves will also give the rabbit a place to hide. Your rabbit will also need a large litter box, a heavy water bowl or bottle, and a food dish. A cage that is large enough is important for the well-being of your pet rabbit, but it isn’t a substitute for exercise and social time out of the cage.

As your rabbit gets used to his new home, and is litter trained, you may want to consider the free roam option. As long as your house is sufficiently bunny-proofed, your rabbit can be allowed free run in the home, or part of the home. Bunnies often like to chew on wires, baseboards, furniture, your clothes, and so on, so bunny-proofing is very important, for your own comfort as well as the rabbit’s. Your rabbit will still need a location where they can find their litter box, food and water, so you can keep a cage with the door open, or even just the cage bottom, for this purpose. The more room your rabbit has to run around in, the more delightful you will find them as a companion!

Under no circumstances should rabbits be housed outside, or left alone outside after dark. If you have a suitable outside enclosure you can take your rabbit outside for exercise and fresh air, but make sure they are supervised. It can take only seconds for a neighbour’s dog to jump the fence or another predator to attack and frighten your rabbit. Also make sure that the grass is not sprayed with pesticides and there are no poisonous plants around.

Cube Condo

storagecubes_my-bunnies-storage-cube-cage_2290161b463bd24_740These cube condos are made from wire storage cube panels that can be purchased at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Canadian Tire and many other stores. These cages are ideal because they can be custom made to any size, shape or formation, and are relatively inexpensive. The cubes are held together with connectors that come with the grids, and cable ties for extra support. You can use extra wire grids, wooden dowels, plywood, foam mats, coroplast or spring clamps to make the shelves. For more information on how to build a cube condo, click here.

 

Exercise Pen

PenAn exercise pen is a series of metal fencing panels connected by hinges that are sold at most pet stores (ask for a puppy pen or x-pen). This allows the bunny to have more space while still confined to a safe area when you aren’t around. The exercise pens are versatile, allowing you to shape a circle, or divide a room in half for two critters to share. When the bunny is out, the pen can be used to protect a zone you want to keep off limits. These pens are also great for outside exercise time!

 

Store Bought Cages

CageWhile store bought cages are not always ideal, they can still be used as long as the bunny gets lots of out-of-cage exercise time. There are several variations of these cages available, however most of the cages labeled as rabbit cages are too small. Be sure to get the biggest cage you can find, no less than 46″ in length, no matter how small the rabbit. Please consider this is where your pet will have to live so it will be happier in the biggest size possible.

 

Free Roam

Free RoamThis is the best option! If you have a well behaved bunny that is litter trained, and your home has been sufficiently bunny-proofed, your rabbit can have free run of your home (or part of your home) even when you are not home. Even a rabbit that has a lot of room to roam can still get bored, so make sure you have lots of things to keep him entertained. A bored rabbit is a naughty rabbit. Cardboard boxes, baskets, wooden crates, phone books, etc., all make good rabbit toys. While it may seem like a lot of work, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a happy bunny “binkying” through the air!

Feeding your Pet Rabbit

A rabbit’s diet should be made up of good quality pellets, fresh hay (timothy or oat hay), fresh vegetables, and water. Fiber is vital to the normal function of the digestive system in rabbits. Fresh hay and vegetables should make up the bulk of their diet. Roughage also aids in the prevention of hair balls and other blockages. A good quality pellet should be timothy based and relatively high in fiber (18% minimum). Most of the “gourmet” rabbit pellets that are available in pet stores, that have seeds and other things added, are the equivalent of feeding junk food to your rabbit. Feeding a diet consisting mainly of pellets may result in obesity and increase the likelihood of digestive problems. Pellets should make up less of a rabbit’s diet as he or she grows older, and hay should be available 24 hours a day.

Anything other than hay, vegetables, and pellets is considered a treat and should be feed in strict moderation. This includes fruit, carrots (other sugary vegetables), and store bought treats.  The digestive system of a rabbit is very susceptible to serious upsets if the diet is inappropriate. The amount of pellets should be restricted, especially in overweight rabbits, but any reduction in pellets should be made up with a variety of fresh vegetables and unlimited access to hay.

Hay
Hay (grass hays such as timothy or oat hay) should be available at all times. Some rabbits may not eat much hay at first. Adding fresh hay a couple of times a day may help, and as the amount of pellets is reduced the rabbit will likely become hungry enough to eat the hay.  Adult rabbits should be eating timothy hay, not alfalfa. If your adult rabbit is used to alfalfa hay, try mixing alfalfa with a grass hay to start and gradually reduce the amount of alfalfa.

Baby rabbits (up to one year of age) need alfalfa hay as well as pellets. As the baby ages (7 months to one year), gradually decrease the alfalfa and add in timothy hay and fresh vegetables.

Vegetables
Vegetables should make up a large portion of a bunny’s diet. Depending on the size of the rabbit, 2-4 cups of fresh veggies should be given per day. A variety must be fed daily to ensure a balanced diet. If a rabbit is used to eating mainly pellets, the change must be made gradually to allow the rabbit’s digestive system time to adjust. Only add one new vegetable to the diet at a time so if the rabbit has diarrhea or other problems it will be possible to tell which vegetable is the culprit.

Suggested vegetables include dark, leafy vegetables and root vegetables. Some suggestions are carrot tops, parsley, broccoli, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, turnip greens, endive, romaine lettuce, kale and spinach. However, kale, spinach and mustard greens are high in oxalates so their feeding should be limited to 3 meals per week. Beans, cauliflower, cabbage, and potatoes may cause problems and should be avoided. Iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value so should be avoided. Rhubarb should also be avoided . Wash vegetables well, and only feed dandelions that you know are pesticide free.

Pellets
Pellets are quite high in calories and as a result, house rabbits fed unlimited pellets may end up becoming overweight and have health problems. Pellets do have a place in rabbit nutrition, as they are rich and balanced in nutrients. However, experts recommend restricting the amount of pellets which are fed, and compensating with fresh vegetables and grass hays.

For adults, the amount should be carefully regulated, depending on the size (weight) of the rabbit. As a rule, give about 1/4 cup for rabbits 5-7 lb, 1/2 cup for 8-10 lb rabbits, and 3/4 cup for 11-15b lb rabbits. Baby rabbits can be fed pellets free choice (available at all times), decreasing to 1/2 cup per 6 lb. of body weight by around 7 months.

Toys for Rabbits

Rabbits can be very playful, and most enjoy playing with toys. In fact, toys are an important part of a healthy rabbit’s life.

Toys provide:

  1. Mental stimulation. Without challenging activities to occupy your rabbit when you’re not home, your rabbit, especially a solitary rabbit, will get bored.  This could lead to depression and/or excessive destruction. The creative use of toys can extend your rabbit’s life by keeping him interested in his surroundings, by giving him the freedom to interact with those surroundings, and by allowing him to constantly learn and grow.
  2. Physical exercise. Your rabbit needs safe activities to keep her body in shape as well as her mind.  She needs things to climb on, crawl under, hop on and around, dig into, and chew on.  Without outlets for these physical needs, your rabbit may become overweight or depressed, or may create jumping, chewing, or crawling diversions with your furniture.
  3. Bunny proofing for your home. Toys are not just for your rabbit, they also keep your house safe.  Providing your rabbit with a selection of toys is a big part of bunny-proofing your home.

Here are some good rabbit toys:

  • Cardboard tubes – paper towel or toilet paper rolls make a great chew toy. Try stuffing them with hay and watch your rabbit have fun pulling or chewing the hay out.
  • Cardboard boxes – will be fun for your rabbit to crawl into and chew on.
  • Untreated wood – rabbits love to chew so any untreated wood in the form of a small block or stick will make most bunnies very happy.
  • Shredded paper –  boxes full of shredded paper, junk mail, flyers, phone books, are all great materials for digging.
  • Small stuffed animals – can be fun toys for some rabbits and they love to toss them around in their cage.
  • Cat toys – balls or any other toys that roll or can be tossed around
  • Dried branches or twigs – from fruit trees can provide another source of free chew toys for your rabbit. Just make sure they are a safe wood for bunnies. Stay away from cherry, peach, apricot, plum and redwood, which are all poisonous.
  • Dried Pinecones – another tree product that many rabbits love.
  • Baby teething toys – made of hard plastic, key rings, are another toy for bunnies.
  • Toys with ramps and lookouts for climbing and viewing the world

Grooming

Periodic nail trimming is required to prevent harm to you and your family, as well as to other pets. Rabbits have sharp nails and can easily scratch when they kick out their back feet, often quite forcefully. Have your vet show you the proper technique and remember to handle your rabbit properly during the procedure.

Regular brushing, especially of longhaired breeds, is important to remove excess dead hair and prevent your rabbit from developing hairballs. Rabbits cannot vomit and hairballs are prone to cause intestinal obstructions.

Rabbits should never be given baths. When a rabbit gets wet, it takes a very long time to dry and this can lead to health issues for your rabbits. Bathing is also very stressful to a rabbit. If your rabbit does get dirty for some reason, spot cleaning the dirty area with a damp cloth is the best option. Never (unless your vet advises it) give a sick rabbit a bath.

Handling

Being prey animals by nature, many rabbits don’t like to be picked up or held. They can kick or launch themselves off of you, which is dangerous to both you and the rabbit. The safest way to initially approach a rabbit is to stroke the top of the head. Do not offer your hand for a bunny to sniff like you would to a dog, because bunnies find this offensive and may lunge at you. Most rabbits do not like to have the tips of their noses, chins or feet touched.

Rabbits should never be lifted by their ears or scruff of the neck. To safely lift a rabbit, approach him slowly and put your hand on his head as if to pet him. Bend your torso close to him and place one arm along his side with your hand under his chest. Use your other hand to support his bum. Scoop him to you and hold him firmly against your chest. The key is to shorten the in-air stage so they rabbit feels secure with you. Once you have the rabbit up, make sure to hold him securely with all four feet flat on your chest, and one hand supporting his bum. The more you practice, and the more your rabbit gets used to being picked up and held, the more readily your rabbit will accept your cuddles!

Socializing

Some rabbits tend to be aloof, withdraw from human contact, and may nip when picked up. There can be many reasons for this, but it is most often because they have lacked human contact and affection in the past. Socializing your rabbit and getting him to trust you is a very rewarding experience. To start, make sure your rabbit is comfortable with you. Pet him on the top of the head gently. Most rabbits can’t resist a head rub. Be gentle, don’t force him to accept your attention. Approach him on his level, get down on the floor and allow him to come to you. You need to demonstrate to the rabbit that you are the source of petting, treats, freedom, and anything else the rabbit likes.  Try short sessions several times a day, petting the rabbit on the broad area on tip of his nose/head.  Don’t chase the rabbit unless necessary.  Don’t punish him. As the rabbit becomes more familiar with you and learns to trust you, he will allow you to get closer and will look forward to these bonding sessions. This may take time, but the feeling of having a bunny run over to you and nudge your hand for pets makes it all worth it!

Health

Rabbits should be spayed or neutered. Spay your female bunny at 6 months of age, males can be neutered at 4 months. Spaying and neutering is not only essential to preventing health problems later in life, but it will go a long way to improving your bunnies behavior and attitude. Spaying or neutering will prevent or solve all of the most common behavior problems facing rabbits who live with humans. In addition to living longer, happier, and healthier lives, spayed and neutered rabbits do not contribute to the tragic rabbit overpopulation problem.

To ensure your rabbit’s health, regularly check eyes, nose, ears, teeth, weight, appetite, and droppings.  Notice any behavior changes.  Avoid stress, heat and sudden temperature changes.  Find an experienced rabbit vet before a problem develops.

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