Rabbit Care: The do's and don'ts of owning a rabbit

Intro

Rabbits seem tempting as pets for they are easy to care for, and seem not to have many special needs like dogs or cats do. But believe me when I say, that rabbits are a VERY big responsibility! Some rabbits can live up to 10 or 15 years! So you need to be prepared to help your rabbit live a happy, and healthy lifestyle, for rabbits are a big commitment! If you are considering adopting one of these lovable creatures, you should carefully do the research on the responsibilities of owning one before deciding. In the following, I will list some basic info that every rabbit owner should know, from keeping your rabbit healthy and happy on long summer days, to nutritional information that could save your rabbits life!

 

LIVING SPACE: What cage is right for my bunny?

 

Your rabbit needs exercise, just like a dog. It needs to have plenty of room to run about and play. The bigger the better! A rabbit hutch should be no smaller than 2 feet tall, by 4 feet wide, by 2 feet deep. Ideally it would be larger. A great hutch that conserves room would have the above dimensions with a ramp leading to the same dimensions. (Pictures coming soon)

 

The bigger you can buy/make the hutch the better, but if you don’t have much room, a smaller hutch will do, but make sure you provide the bunny with a large play pen to exercise in for most of the day.

 

No completely wire floor cages! Rabbits have no protective pads on their feet like dogs and cats do, so constantly walking on wire can cause rabbits to develop sore hocks which can lead to death. A solid surface is the best! For my cages, I bought a thin slab of wood to be placed on top of the wire, and cut holes at each corner so that the rabbits could go potty in the corners, and the waste falls into trays below the hutches that I clean out regularly. If you have a lot of rabbits, wire is better for cleanliness, but make sure you have a slab of wood or resting pad in part of the cage for the rabbit to have some relief from the wire, and keep your eye on their feet! If the rabbits feet heal from sore hocks the scar tissue can prevent the fur (that is their only protection from the wire) from growing back! A rabbit that develops sore hocks -- if recovers -- needs special attention, and only a solid surface to live on.

 

But make sure you keep it clean! A rabbit’s living space should be cleaned at least once a day, so they are not walking around in their waste. Keeping a rabbit clean is very important! Keeping your rabbit clean prevents: Itchy skin, rashes, bald patches, clogged scent glands, and keeps away pests like worms, and other insects that are drawn by the smell.

 

 

Indoors or Outdoors?

 

Rabbits can live indoors, outdoors or both!

 

There are things to watch for both indoors and out! If you decide your rabbit will stay indoors all the time, and run free in your home, you will want to “bunny proof” your house (or specific room the rabbit is allowed in). This includes removing sharp, small, and valuable objects from the reach of your bunny. Aside from obvious toxins like insecticides, rodenticides, and cleaning supplies, be aware that common house plants such as aloe, azalea, Calla lily, Lily of the Valley, philodendron, and assorted plant bulbs can be deadly to a rabbit. Rabbits are smart and won’t have a hard time opening unlocked cabinets, so keep harmful objects out of reach! (And remember, rabbits can hop/jump!) Cords and wires must be taped, or concealed and out of your bunnies reach as well! Rabbits can be good indoor pets for they can be litter trained! An indoor rabbit doesn’t have to always have full access to the house, and can live indoors in a hutch as well. 

 

If you decide your rabbit will stay outdoors you will need to provide cool fresh water daily in the hot weather, as well as shade at ALL TIMES! Overheating in rabbits is VERY serious and can lead to death! Heat stroke can occur when temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above. To help rabbits stay cool in the hot summer months, you may provide a frozen water bottle for the rabbit to lay on (fans are an option as well). They will also need somewhere (like a box) to go to when it rains, so they can stay dry. If a rabbit gets wet, it has no way of keeping warm, so make sure you have a place the rabbit can stay dry! And in the winter months you will need to provide tarps to keep out the snow, and cold winds!!! (Heating lamps or pads can also be used, but make sure they are rabbit safe!) Rabbits are pretty hardy critters, but in extreme weather conditions be prepared to take your rabbit indoors!

 

You could also have your rabbit living indoors and outdoors. In this case, the best way would be to have them outdoors during the nice days (that are not too hot, windy, cold, or wet.) and take them in during the night, and keep them indoors during the winter.

 

Also be aware, and never leave your rabbit unattended outside when it is not in its cage. The threat of hawks or other large prey are very real! Hawks can carry off baby rabbits in the blink of an eye, and adult rabbits can be in danger by larger prey.

 

 

Rabbit accessories in the hutch should include:

 

A feeder for food

 

A water bottle or dish for water

 

A box filled with straw or hay

 

A hay rack (Optional, if straw is used as bedding)

 

Toys (Optional)

 

Untreated wood to chew on

 

 

The box will be used for jumping on top of, holding hay, (If you don’t have a hay rack) for sleeping in, and for staying out of the weather. For the box, you can use wood, metal or plastic (Be careful what kind you use if it is plastic or metal!) I personally use grey plastic totes, and cut a hole out of one end for the rabbits to go in and out. But be careful, and watch that your rabbit isn’t eating the plastic! (It can be unhealthy!)

 

The untreated wood is essential! Rabbit’s teeth grow throughout their lives much like our fingernails do, so they constantly need something to chew on to keep their teeth ground down to the right length. And if you don’t want it to be their cage that they chew on, then you better provide them with wood! Some wood can contain chemicals which can be VERY unhealthy for rabbits, so untreated wood is the best. I use apple branches which my rabbits love, because they like stripping and eating the bark off. Apple branches are the safest, but make sure you don’t give your rabbit just any branch off a backyard tree! Plum trees (as listed in the below toxic foods) and other backyard shrubs can be toxic, along with many other varieties of plants.

 

            Rabbit toys can include wooden balls, bowls, or rings made of willow wood. Willow woven balls can be used as well. These items can be made, or purchased online or at special stores. Avoid objects with sharp edges, loose parts, sharp wire, small parts, anything with a zip tie or rubber that can be chewed into pieces and swallowed. Also avoid stuffed toys, which rabbits can rip open and eat the stuffing! Plastics are also not the best choice.

 

 

RABBIT MAINTENANCE:

You will need to keep your bunny clean, and healthy. To do this you will need to keep the rabbit’s living space clean and free of waste. You must also keep your rabbit’s nails trimmed just like a dogs, or they can get too long, and can be painful for the rabbit. Nails left to grow too long can also deform a rabbits feet. You should check your rabbits nails every month or sooner to make sure they aren’t too long. Be very careful about trimming, and DON’T cut too close! Cutting to close can cut the quick (The fleshy part in the rabbits nail) and cause pain and bleeding. If cut, put flour on the nail to stop the bleeding, and check it often to make sure it doesn’t get infected!

 

 

TREATS:

Before feeding your rabbit any new treat/green/food check (online, or in books) to see if it is safe for your rabbit to eat first! If it is safe, make sure to only feed it to your rabbit in small portions at first to get the rabbit used to it, (small portions as in first introduce a bit of the food about the size of your fingernail! Yes they are very sensitive to new foods!) and slowly add larger portions over a period of several days. Every treat (Treat in this context is any food other than their pellets and hay) should always be fed in moderation. ESPECIALLY when introducing new foods to baby rabbits, for their stomachs are HIGHLY sensitive! Adult and baby rabbits have very sensitive stomachs so always be aware of the portions you are feeding your rabbits. Some veggies can cause gas or diarrhea in rabbits who are fed too much at one time. Gas and diarrhea are very serious conditions for rabbits. Always make sure any new treat you give your bunny is proven to be safe and fed in moderation.

 

Here are some treats I personally have fed my rabbits without problem:

Carrots and carrot tops

Parsley

Cilantro

Strawberry (little of the fruit, mostly the green top)

Apple leaves/branches (NOT apple seeds!)

Dandelions—Leaves, yellow flower, and root (Not too much!)

 

This is not the only treats rabbits can have, just the ones that I have fed my rabbits without any problems.

 

Here are some poisonous plants NOT to feed your rabbit:

Apple seeds (Highly toxic!)

Morning glory (Highly toxic!)

Iceberg lettuce (Not poisonous, but has no nutritional value & can cause diarrhea which can lead to death.)

Plum tree Prunus Cerasifera (Krauter Vesuvius) leaves, branches and fruit. (Almost any plant that contains pit seeds are toxic to rabbits)

(Picture of the Plum tree below):

 

(Flowers can be white or pink.)

 

And of course don’t feed your rabbit any moldy or rotten foods, or any candies, chocolate, or fast food items.

 

 

FOOD:

Rabbits need an assortment of rabbit pellets, hay and the occasional fresh green to keep their diet a healthy one. Pellets provide them with the protein and other nutrients that rabbits need.

The pellets you feed your rabbit should have a maximum of 16% protein. Hay gives rabbits the fiber that the pellets cannot provide and aids their digestive system. The fiber in hay can help prevent health problems such as diarrhea, and obesity. Rabbits should be supplied with an unlimited amount of hay at all times! Timothy hay or other varieties of grass hay are the best. Hay that is high in protein, like alfalfa, can bee too rich for young and old rabbits and can result in the rabbit getting overweight. Pellets should be given in limited amounts daily depending on the size/weight of your bunny. My adult rabbits get a half a cup of pellets daily since I have only small breeds. Unless my doe is nursing, in that case, she gets all she wants until the babies are weaned.

 

 

WATER:

Rabbits should be provided with fresh water regularly. It is especially important in the hot summer months for your bunny to stay hydrated and in temperatures freezing and below that you will need to constantly change out their water to prevent it from freezing if your rabbit lives outdoors.

I personally use water bottles for all my rabbits but change to dishes in the winter months. The reason for this is because the nozzles of the water bottles will sometimes freeze sooner than the water in the bottle, so you may see liquid water inside, but the rabbit will not be able to get any water out of the bottle because the nozzle is frozen over. (This should not be a concern if your rabbit always lives indoors.) With dishes you can see if the water is frozen or not and it is easier to thaw and change the water out.

 

 

PICK UP, AND HOLDING:

When picking up a rabbit the most important thing is to make sure the rabbit feels safe. If the rabbit doesn’t feel safe in your arms, it may try to kick, squirm or even bite to get away. To help your rabbit feel safe when in your arms be gentle! It is best to give their back legs support when lifting them into your arms, so they feel safer and know they won’t fall. A rabbit won’t likely feel as safe with its legs dangling free. A rabbits bones are very fragile, and their powerful hind legs can easily overcome the strength of their skeletons. As a result, a struggling rabbit that is not held properly (or dropped) can break its own spine.

 

(A correct way to hold a rabbit above. Picture is compliments of http://animals.mom.me/carry-rabbit-3638.html)

 

Notice how in the picture, the rabbit is against the person’s body, and both hands are used. This insures the rabbit is safe.

Picking a rabbit up incorrectly can sometimes have serious consequences. Picking a rabbit up by its ears can result in serious damage because their ears are just as sensitive as ours –even more so. Also, do not pick a rabbit up by the scruff of the neck. Rabbits are prey animals, and the natural instinct of their predators is to grab the neck. When you grab the rabbit by the nap of the neck, the rabbit feels that you are the predator and will not feel safe in your arms. Picking rabbits up by the scruff can also cause serious harm by separating the skin from the muscle or tearing the skin.

Just take it slow and let your rabbit get used to you handling it. J

 

 

RABBIT BEHAVIOR:

Rabbits have all sorts of wonderful emotions, and they display them in all kinds of ways!

When they are happy they can grind their teeth together (which sounds almost like a purring cat)

They also grind in a different way that sounds more like a clicking noise when they are in pain.

When rabbits are angry, scared, startled, or mad they will stomp their back foot on the ground to let you know, or alert another rabbit of danger. Sometimes they will stomp for other reasons like frustration, impatience or just to get your attention.

When rabbits are at the peak of joy, they will do what are called binkies. Binkies are when a rabbit does a fun little jump in the air and turns quickly, landing in a different direction from when they leapt.

A rabbits ears can also tell you a lot about its mood. So watch your bunny carefully and learn what signals the rabbit is giving you. J

 

What about the Vet?

If you keep your rabbit healthy, by treating it with care, keeping it clean, and providing it with good food and fresh water, you shouldn’t need to take it to the vet. But don’t throw the vet out the window just yet! Be aware that if your rabbit does get sick for any reason it is your responsibility to care for it, because it can’t fend for itself! So be prepared to take your rabbit to the vet if needed.

 

Why fix your bunny?

Spaying or neutering is said to bring health and behavior benefits to your rabbit. Aside from preventing unwanted litters, a pair of fixed rabbits can often be less aggressive towards each other compared to rabbits that are not fixed. Neutering males can remove the risk of testicular cancer and reduce aggression and territory-marking behaviors. Spaying females can eliminate the risk of reproductive cancers as they get older.

 

 

On this page, I have only touched over some of the basics of rabbit care. You will need to do lots more research to find out if a rabbit is the right pet for you, and to make sure you can provide a good home for one. Rabbits aren’t all fun and games, they are a big responsibility, but if you take care of them they can be a joy and a blessing to have. J

 

For more information on rabbits check out other recommended rabbit websites in my “other rabbit sites” page of this website.

 

Any questions? Feel free to ask me at: easyearsrabbitry@gmail.com