The Ins and Outs of Rabbit Care
When most people think of house pets, dogs and cats are the first, and maybe only, to come to mind. But when you’re looking for something a little smaller, softer, and better at hopping, why not consider a rabbit?
Rabbits are intelligent, friendly and quiet house pets. They also make great pets for a family– rabbits can live 7-10 years on average, but it’s not uncommon to see a bunny reach 15 years old!
If you have a rabbit or are considering adopting one for your family, please take a look at the following information on rabbit care to best keep your furry friend happy and give them the best life possible!
What to Feed Your Rabbit
A very important part of rabbit care is ensuring they are receiving a proper diet. This means a mixture of hay, rabbit pellets, and lots of fresh vegetables.
Timothy hay and other grass hays should be offered daily in unlimited amounts. Hay should be available at all times– rabbits are grazing animals and like to eat small amounts throughout the day.
Rabbits can actually suffer from intestinal upset if they go long periods of time without eating. Additionally, the fiber in hay is very important in promoting normal intestinal motility.
Rabbit pellets can be offered daily but should not make up the bulk of your bunny’s diet. Uncontrolled feeding of pellets can result in obesity, heart and liver disease, kidney disease, and bladder stones.
Not to mention, not all pellets are created equal! For adult rabbits, make sure to feed a pellet that is Timothy hay-based and not made from Alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium, calories, and carbohydrates, which can lead to serious health problems. Take a look at the back of your rabbit’s food bag and make sure the first ingredient is Timothy hay.
You should also avoid pellets mixed with dried fruits and seeds. They are high calorie, high-fat items that contribute to obesity in rabbits.
Avoid free feeding pellets. Overfeeding of pellets is the number one rabbit health problem that we see! Here is a basic guide on how much of a pelleted diet to give to your bunny.
- 2-4 lb. of body weight – 1/8 cup daily
- 5-7 lb. of body weight – ¼ cup daily
- 8-10 lb. of body weight – ½ cup daily
- 11-15 lb. of body weight – ¾ cup daily
Keeping all this in mind, it’s also important to note that young rabbits up to 8 months of age can be free fed pellets because they are still growing.
Fresh vegetables can be given daily, and your rabbit will love the different snack options available! A variety of fresh greens will help stimulate the digestive tract and help with normal foraging activity.
Here are some options for vegetables to feed your bunny:
- Beet tops
- Carrot tops
- Dandelion greens and flowers
- Collard greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Green peppers
- Pea pods
- Bok choy
Try to give as much variety as possible and avoid light leafy greens. Light leafy greens like iceberg lettuce offer little to no nutritional value for your rabbit.
Always make sure your rabbit has access to plenty of fresh, clean water that is changed daily. Sipper bottles that hang on the side of the cage are great options, as they keep the water off the ground, clean, and cannot be knocked over.
Treats & More
Finally, treat foods and fruits should be offered to your rabbit sparingly.
Fruits should be offered in an amount of no more than 2 tablespoons per 4lbs of body weight. High sugar treats such as fruit and yogurt snacks can lead to diarrhea in rabbits if fed in excess.
Foods to avoid for your rabbit are any salty or sugary snacks, nuts, chocolate, cereal, and other grains.
Give Your Rabbit a Good Home
When it comes to rabbit cages, the bigger the better!
With this in mind, there are lots of great hutch options available. A metal cage with a solid floor can easily be used. We do not recommend wire bottom cages, however, because it can result in sore hocks and is not very comfortable for the rabbit to relax on. A litter box in the corner of the cage and a towel or carpet is best and easy to clean.
It’s important to note that it’s not a good idea to keep your rabbit in an aquarium. They lack sufficient air circulation and can lead to respiratory infections.
If you decide to have a free-roaming house rabbit, please make sure to bunny-proof your house! Make sure you pick up any electrical cords or items they can chew on. Eliminate areas where they can get wedged in, stuck or get outside. Litter box training house rabbits is also the ideal solution for keeping your house as clean as possible.
Litter Box Training Your Rabbit
Litter box training is a great option of rabbit care for any rabbit, but especially free-roaming house bunnies.
There are lots of options for litter, as well. Paper pellets, cat litter, and Carefresh bedding can all easily be used.
When training your bunny to use a litter box, you want to keep them in a small area, either in their cage or sa mall room like a bathroom. Rabbits also tend to only use one area to urinate/defecate so try putting the box in an area where the rabbit has already gone to the bathroom. Placing some of their droppings in the box will also help signal to them to where they are supposed to go.
Offering treat rewards when they use the litter box is always encouraged. You can even try feeding your rabbit some hay in the litter box at the beginning.
Your bunny might eventually like to lounge in their litter box– this is normal and not a reason to worry, as long as they are not soiling themselves and the box is cleaned regularly.
Keep Your Rabbit at the Right Temperature
Keeping your bunny at the proper temperature is a very important part of rabbit care. Rabbits are NOT fans of hot weather–their optimal temperature is 60-70 degrees F.
Studies have even shown that bunnies kept in hot, humid environments with poor air circulation have dramatic increases in the incidence of respiratory infections. Rabbits also overheat easily and can suffer from heat stroke or even death.
While we do not recommend keeping your rabbit outside long term, if you do have to, you should make sure they have access to cool water and shade. You can even offer frozen water bottles for them to lay on during extremely hot days.
Handling Your Rabbit
With how cute and soft your rabbit is, it’s inevitable that you’ll want to pick them up and cuddle them. There are lots of great ways to pick your bunny, and also some not so great ways.
The main thing to remember for rabbit handling is to always support the hind end of your rabbit. Wrapping them in a towel like a little bunny burrito is a great way to keep them secure when you are holding them. Letting your rabbit’s back legs dangle down when holding them is not safe. They have extremely strong legs and can kick hard enough to break their own legs or spine and injure their owner.
Additionally, NEVER pick a rabbit up by its ears or back legs. It is painful and unnecessary!
When possible, it’s best to work with your rabbit on or near the ground to prevent jumping from high places. When you first get your rabbit, it is generally advised to hold them while sitting on the floor to decrease the chance of injury.
Teaching your bunny to lay on its back can also be very helpful for grooming. Most rabbits tend to become very relaxed when they are on their backs. This is the perfect time to brush their stomachs and trim their nails. Have your veterinarian show you how to safely trim your rabbit’s nails.
Altering Your Rabbit
We highly recommend spaying all female rabbits. A leading cause of death in female rabbits is cancer of the uterus. Unaltered female rabbits are 80% more likely to develop this cancer if they are not spayed by 2 years of age.
The best time to have your rabbit spayed is between 4 months and 2 years of age. The spay procedure involves the removal of the uterus and ovaries and helps prevent the occurrence of breast and uterine cancer later in life.
To put this bluntly, unaltered male bunnies can be jerks!
Some male bunnies, especially the dwarf varieties, can become extremely aggressive when they reach sexual maturity. Kicking, biting, and spraying strong smelling urine can happen. They may also start attacking other rabbits in the home, potentially causing serious wounds.
The best solution to these behavioral problems is to neuter your rabbit any time after 4 months of age.
Medical Conditions That Could Effect Your Rabbit
A very common rabbit care problem is overgrown incisors (front teeth), usually caused by a congenital defect, although other causes can be injury or trauma to the teeth.
Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life. If the molars or incisors do not line up properly, this can result in overgrowth. Overgrown teeth can vary from very slight, to an extreme. Sometimes to the point of infection, abscesses, and so many problems that the animal can no longer eat.
The most common treatment is to have teeth trimmed periodically. Contact your veterinarian to get more information on this procedure.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite and failure to eat can lead to an emergency situation for your rabbit and should be treated by your veterinarian within 48 hours, even if your pet is acting normally.
There are a variety of reasons why a rabbit will lose their appetite. The most common reason is a diet low in fiber and high in calories. This can lead to sluggish movement of the intestinal tract.
When a rabbit does not eat, the intestinal tract stops moving and the problem escalates. Rabbits can also rapidly develop a deteriorating condition of the liver when they go without food for long periods of time.
Other possibilities for not eating are dental disease, overgrown teeth, respiratory infections, and ear infections. Early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to keep your pet happy and healthy.
When thinking about getting a new bunny for your home, we encourage you to consider rescuing/adopting a rabbit.
There are many rabbit specific rescues throughout California. Petfinder.com is also a great way to find a new friend.
Checking your local animal shelter is another option for finding a rabbit. If you are local to Ventura County, check out Ventura County Animal Services. They generally have over 50 bunnies to choose from, all waiting for someone to come adopt and love them!
Get Rabbit Care Help from a Mobile Vet
Rabbits can be gentle, loving pets that make a great addition to your family. But like any pet, it’s important to make sure they’re being cared for properly.
If you have any questions about rabbit care, the mobile vets at Vet’s Here are happy to help. We offer at home wellness exams, diagnosis, and more. Call us at 1-888-838-2738 or contact us online today to see how we can help your furry friend!