Rabbit Care Info
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Difficult
Lifespan: 8-12 years
Behaviour: Rabbits can make active, loving pets. However, they are lots of work. Knowing your rabbits body language can help you to bond with the rabbit and provide better care for them. Because rabbits are naturally prey animals, they communicate danger, stress, and fear in many ways such as: "thumping" the hind feet. Rabbits can also display happiness and/or excitement in different ways. Binkies, or jumping and flipping around in an excited fashion, are the most common sign of happiness. Rabbits will show affection by running around their owner in circles. They can make soft grunting sounds which show contentment. A content rabbit will spend large amounts of time sitting upright cleaning themselves, they do this by licking their front paws and rubbing them over the area to be cleaned. You will also see them lounging around with their feet spread out, and sometimes even on their backs. Rabbits can also have attitude! These pets are known amongst their owners for being rebellious and playing mind games with their humans. Not to worry though, as this is normal behaviour and there are many ways you can deal with it, such as positive reinforcement during good interactions. It's also important to note that these are not ideal pets for some children, despite how cuddly they seem. They can be fearful animals at times, that require patience and a gentle touch. They do not respond well to being handled roughly, which can result in stress or potential injuries for the rabbit. Your rabbit must always be held firmly but gently and never by the ears. Rabbits should have at least a couple hours a day of play time outside of the cage or in a playpen. A happy and well excercised rabbit will aid in curbing any bad habits they may pick up.
Litter box training: Rabbits are intelligent creatures that like to be clean and well-kept, and as such are excellent candidates for litter box training. Large corner boxes that clip onto the side of a cage are available at pet stores. Pelleted litter such as "Yesterdays News" should be used. These are ideal because they present no inhalation risks of toxic dust to your bunny, and are safe to chew on as well. It is best to provide fresh litter and wash the box every two to three days, although some people will daily. The process of training is quite straightforward. Your rabbit will naturally choose a corner in which to do most of its business, so once you observe this spot, you can place the box there and in most cases the rabbit will continue to use it with no problems.
Housing: Your cage should be large enough for the rabbit to completely stretch out on its side, as well as stand fully upright on its hind legs. Often, people will make use or large dog crates, x-pens, or even build their own cage out of barred, metal panels. If there's nowhere to hide in the cage, make sure to include some sort of shelter where your rabbit can hide when it's afraid or simply wants to be alone. You can also place some fun toys in the cage to help stimulate your rabbit, wear down its teeth, and keep it from developing bad behaviours. Some great examples are treated wood sticks from the pet store, other soft wood chews, toys made from hay and straw or simple mind games for extra stimulation. Rabbits can easily develop foot problems from the wrong kind of flooring so wire-bottomed cages must be avoided no matter what. Most rabbits have no need of loose bedding or shavings at all. A solid yet soft cage bottom is best so towels, blankets, and memory foam mats can be cozy, provided your rabbit does not ingest any fabric whatsoever.
Maintenance: Your rabbit's cage should be cleaned at least once a week, with spot cleanings done daily. Spot cleaning is removing the soiled bedding and droppings from the cage. The litter box should be spot cleaned daily as well, and the box should be cleaned weekly. Fresh food and water should be replaced every day as well. When cleaning their cage, you should start by changing and replacing all soiled bedding in the cage. Wash your rabbit's cage with a warm water and antibacterial soap mixture to kill the bacteria that is in the cage. Make sure to rinse all surfaces thoroughly to be sure all the soap has rinsed away. Do no use any harsh kitchen or bathroom cleaners and stay away from bleach since these are toxic to your rabbit. As you are cleaning, you can also wash the other items that are kept in the cage and use this as an opportunity for exercise outside of the cage. Your rabbit will likely need nail trims every 4 - 6 weeks but this will vary between individuals. You can have your Veterinarian show you how to do nail trims at home or you can bring them to your vet or most local pet stores to have them trimmed.
Nutrition: For young rabbits, it is important that they are given unlimited amounts of good-quality pellets (not the kind with fancy colours and seeds), such as Oxbow. These highly nutritious pellets provide energy for young rabbits. They may also be fed generous amounts of alfalfa hay. Around six months you can slowly introduce some fruits and vegetables, one at a time, and in limited amounts. Once your rabbit has matured (approximately one year old) it should receive a combination of unlimited timothy hay and a limited amount of pellets, along with fresh greens and veggies every day. The hay will be vital to your rabbits digestion and provide important nutrients. Your rabbit should have access to fresh water at all times, preferably in a stainless steel bowl, and the bowl should be rinsed and refilled every day. Domestic rabbits are especially prone to weight gain, which should be monitored closely. It's a good idea to divide this daily amount into two meals, breakfast and dinner, to promote healthy and regular gastrointestinal movement. Rabbits must always have something passing through their digestive tract in order to stay healthy, or they may move into a dangerous condition called stasis. Many people don't realize that rabbits have a second type of feces that is often never seen, which they must consume. This is different from the normal, round, and dry droppings you will find lying around, which the rabbit does not eat. These moister, smaller droppings are known as cecotropes, or “night feces” since they are mainly produced at night. They are special because they provide extra nutrients to the rabbit when eaten, which the rabbit will do naturally and usually in secret.
Health Concerns: Some of the main health concerns for rabbits include Gastric Stasis, Incisor/Molar overgrowth, abscesses and sore hocks. You will need to monitor how much food and water your pet is eating each day. Rabbits are overly prone to gastrointestinal problems. The most obvious sign will be that they have stopped eating and drinking. If this occurs for more than a day, it is an emergency , contact your veterinarian immediately. It's known as GI stasis, which means that movement in the gut has stopped, potentially due to a blockage or other gastrointestinal concern and if untreated this can lead to death. It is important to have a relationship with a Veterinarian who is able to do annual physical exams for your rabbit. During these exams your Vet will be able to check your rabbits teeth for any abnormalities or overgrowth. If the front teeth (incisors) or back teeth (molars) have become too long, your rabbit may have trouble eating and you may notice that they start to lose weight. These teeth can be trimmed by an experienced Veterinarian and in most cases requires anesthetic to be done properly. In some cases overgrown molars can lead to an abscess which is a localized infection within the tissue that usually happens close to the jaw or on the upper part of the neck. Abscesses will need to be drained and treated with a course of antibiotics and your Vet will have to determine where the infection came from to fix the problem and hopefully prevent recurrent growth. The most common cause of sore hocks is improper cage flooring such as wire floors and/or soiled bedding. Sore hocks occur when the heels of the back feet become inflamed and swollen. The bottoms of the feet begin to lose their fur and become raw and red, although you may have to part the fur to see the bare patches. Left untreated, this will progress to swelling, scabbing, and infection of the back feet.
Spaying and Neutering: For the average rabbit owner it's a smart idea to neuter your rabbit if it's male, and spay it if it's female. Aside from the obvious benefits of not having any accidental litters, there are many positive reasons to go through with this routine procedure. Fixing your bunny before it reaches adulthood can help prevent aggression, behavioural problems, certain types of cancer, and in males, spraying to mark its territory. Rabbits are fully grown around one year of age, so spaying or neutering can be done around six months of age. They usually recover quickly and easily.