If you just adopted your first rabbit, you’re probably looking for more information to better help you understand how to properly care for your new furry friend. Here are a few helpful tips and guidelines for those with a pet rabbit.
Why a House Rabbit?
The House Rabbit Society, which is a national non-profit organization, recommends that you keep your rabbit in the house rather than outdoors. Rabbits are intelligent, social animals who need affection, and they can become great companion animals if given a chance to interact with their human families.
Caring for a Rabbit
While rabbits may have free run of the home, it’s ideal for most—and necessary for some—to start with a space they can call their own. This can be a space such as an exercise pen, a large dog crate, a bunny proofed room, or a very large cage or condo. To ensure that this confined time is a learning time, make sure that there is a litterbox in the corner of the space that your rabbit chooses for a “bathroom”. As soon as he or she starts learning to use the box consistently, you give him or her a little more freedom. Place one or more large litterboxes in corners of the running area outside the rabbit’s home base as well. Only positive reinforcement (treats and praise) should be used with your rabbit, never punishment.
Bunny-Proofing Your Home
When living with a house rabbit, bunny-proofing your home is something that comes a part of this. It is natural for rabbits to want to chew on furniture, rugs, drapes, and, most deadly of all, electrical cords. If you have a house rabbit, cords should be concealed so that he or she cannot reach them. Exposed cords can be encased in vinyl tubing (found in hardware stores). The cord can be pushed inside the tubing by splitting the tubing lengthwise with a utility knife.
To avoid having your rabbit chew on these items, give him or her enough attention, safe chewables and toys so that he or she is distracted from chewing furniture and rugs. You can make an inexpensive playbox with a cardboard box stuffed with hay. Compared to mature rabbits, young rabbits (under a year) are more inclined to mischief and require more confinement and/or bunny-proofing.
Handling Your Rabbit
Approaching a Rabbit
With rabbits, the safest initial approach is to begin by stroking the top of the head. You should not offer your hand for a bunny to sniff the way you would with a dog, as most seem to find this gesture offensive and may attack (lightning fast lunge with a snort). Also, most bunnies do not like having the tips of their noses or chins touched. In addition, their feet tend to be ticklish as well.
Do not lift bunnies by their ears or scruff.
Introducing Your Rabbit to Other Pets
House rabbits get along with indoor cats, as they do with well-mannered dogs as well. But, before trusting your dog with a free-running rabbit, dogs should be trained to respond to commands, and supervision is also needed to control a dog’s playful impulses (this is especially true for puppies). If you are choosing to add a second rabbit to your home, it is easiest if the both rabbits are neutered adults of opposite sexes, and they are introduced for short periods in an area unfamiliar to both rabbits.
Feeding Your Rabbit
Large, unlimited amounts of fresh hay should be offered to your rabbit daily. Young bunnies should be introduced to hay as soon as they can eat on their own. Mixed grass hay or Timothy hay is preferable because it is a lower in calories and calcium than alfalfa.
As a small part of your rabbit’s diet, a good quality, high fiber alfalfa or timothy based pellet should be used.
A minimum of one cup of vegetables for each 4 lbs. of body weight should be fed to your rabbit. At least three types of vegetables should be selected daily. In order to obtain the necessary nutrients, a variety is necessary with one each day that contains Vitamin A, indicated by an *. Add one vegetable to the diet at a time. Introduce the vegetables gradually, and eliminate it if it causes soft stools or diarrhea.
Fruits should be limited to 1-2 tablespoons per 5 lbs. of body weight (none if dieting) from the list below of high fiber fruits. Sugary fruits such as bananas and grapes should be used only sparingly, as occasional treats. Bunnies have a sweet tooth and if left to their own devices, they will devour sugary foods to the exclusion of healthful ones.
- Alfalfa, radish and clover sprouts
- Beet greens (tops)*
- Bok choy
- Broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)*
- Brussels sprouts
- Carrot and carrot tops*
- Collard greens*
- Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides)*
- Green peppers
- Lettuce: Romaine, Red or Green leaf (no iceberg or light colored leaf)*
- Mustard greens*
- Parsley (!)*
- Pea pods (the flat edible kind)*
- Peppermint leaves
- Radish tops
- Raspberry leaves
- Spinach (!)*
- Wheat grass
(!)=Use sparingly or rotate. These vegetables are high in oxlalates, vitamin A or goitrogens and may be toxic in accumulated quantities over a period of time.
- Orange (including peel)
Such foods as chocolate, cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, yogurt drops or other “human treats” should not be fed to your rabbit as they are poisonous. Research suggests these items may even contribute to fatal cases of enterotoxemia, a toxic overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the intestinal tract.
Possible Serious Health Problems with Rabbits
Rabbits get hairballs just as cats do because they groom themselves constantly. However, unlike cats, rabbits cannot vomit, and excessive swallowed hair can cause a fatal blockage. Rabbits can develop a serious condition known as GI stasis which has many of the same symptoms and is much more deadly.
To prevent intestinal blockage from occurring, keep your bunny brushed (less hair swallowed, provide exercise time/space (at least 30 hours a week), give a fresh handful of hay daily, and add fresh vegetables gradually to their diet.
The digestive tract of a rabbit is inhabited by healthful bacteria. If this “good” bacteria balance is disrupted by stale food or a sudden change in diet, harmful bacterial can take over the digestive tract and kill the rabbit.
To prevent bacterial imbalance from occurring, keep all rabbit food in a cold, dry place. Also, any dietary adjustments should be made gradually, giving new food in small amounts. If there is no abdominal gurgling or loose stool results in 24 hours, the food may be offered again. If your let your rabbit outside, check for pesticides and poisonous plants.
Many diseases in rabbits are caused by bacteria, not viruses, and can be treated with antibiotics. If symptoms of a “cold” are displayed in your rabbit, take him to your veterinarian immediately. Oral drugs of the Penicillin family, such as Amoxicillin, should not be given to a rabbit, since there is a risk of destroying good intestinal bacteria.
For more information about rabbits, don’t hesitate to contact us here at All Pets Veterinary Medical Center with the link below!