Caring for pet rabbitsrabbit

Rabbits make beautiful pets, especially for younger children. It is especially amazing just to watch rabbits in their enclosure, they have such enchanting habits. The following is meant as a basic guide to keeping rabbits and hopes to answer some of the questions you may have.

Commitment

As with any pet, keeping a rabbit requires a commitment to care for it during its life which could be 5-10 years or longer. The commitment required includes routine feeding, general care and time spent with the rabbit. Although proper care will go a long way to ensuring that any rabbit remains happy and healthy there may still be times when prompt veterinary treatment is needed and once a rabbit is ill it can deteriorate quickly.

Should I get one rabbit or two?

Rabbits are generally much happier in pairs. After all wouldn’t you like to have someone to talk to? They not only groom each other, keeping hard to reach places clean, they also tend to take it in turns to look out for any dangers. Often one will be the sentry while the other takes a nap.

Having said that, it can be difficult to bond two rabbits. It is not rare, that they fight when first introduced until one rabbit is deemed to be the dominant rabbit of the pair.

As you can imagine, this can be quite a problem with two headstrong bossy rabbits. Some rabbit owners are lucky as their rabbit is very accepting of a new friend. It’s therefore a good idea to get two rabbits from the same litter as they will be less likely to fight.

Equipment & housing

There are various items of equipment that will be needed for a rabbit. It is best to buy the essential items such as cage or hutch, floor covering, nesting material, water bottle, food dish and food before getting a rabbit, so that these are ready for the rabbit’s arrival.

Rabbits can be kept outside or indoors as they make good house pets, being easily litter trained. The decision as to where the rabbit is to be kept will affect the type of cage or hutch required for the rabbit.

Feeding rabbits

Grass, basil, alfalfa, radish, clover, beet greens, dandelions, dill, tops of dutch carrots, broccoli (leaves and stems), brussel sprouts, carrots (treat only), celery, apples (without core and seeds), chicory, endive, parsley, pea pods, cos lettuce, spinach, watercress, wheatgrass, unlimited amounts of hay. Wild rabbits eat mainly grass. So letting your rabbit out into the backyard to nibble grass is a great idea.

A rabbit requires constant access to water and this is best provided by using a water bottle attached to the hutch or cage at a height that the rabbit can comfortably reach. Water bottles with ball-bearings in the tube are fantastic, and keep the water clean and fresh. A heavy ceramic food dish is best as this is not easily knocked over or thrown about by the rabbit.

Why not grow your own veggies

You can grow your own vegies and grass for your rabbit. Even if you don’t have a backyard, bunny greens can be grown in pots. Rabbits love the green carrot tops. Try planting the tops from dutch carrots. Silverbeet, parsley and endives can also be grown very easily. Most bunnys cannot resist parsley.

Should I desex my rabbit?

Female rabbits should be desexed to prevent development of uterine cancer as there is a high chance of female rabbits contracting the cancer if they are not bred from. If you want to have more than one rabbit, then you will need to desex your rabbits. Two entire male rabbits living together will tend to fight, and two entire female rabbits can often fight just as viciously. An entire male and a desexed female can live together, but the male rabbit may become obsessive about marking his territory (spraying his semen/urine about and very much dirtying his surroundings) He also may annoy the female rabbit by continually mounting her.

Many people find that after their rabbit reaches 4 months of age, their rabbit has started urinating everywhere, mounting objects and has become aggressive towards them, actually lunging and biting.

Desexing rabbits tends to reduce, if not eradicate, this behaviour.

Keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together

Although rabbits and guinea pigs will “accept” each other as companions there are some points to consider before keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together:

The habit of a rabbit to playfully jump when happy means that its powerful hind legs can cause serious internal injury by mistake to a guinea pig companion, that could result in death. This is the case with even the smallest of rabbit breeds.

Rabbits and guinea pigs also have some different dietary requirements (Guinea pigs require the higher vitamin content, especially vitamin C, provided by guinea pig pellets) and they also have different means of communication.

Therefore rabbits should not be housed with guinea pigs and the best and most natural companion for any pet rabbit is always another rabbit.

Veterinary Care

Vaccinations

In Australia we vaccinate rabbits against the Calicivirus annually. Australian authorities have found that insects, including fleas and flies can carry this virus. It can also live on clothing for over 100 days. It usually causes death within only 72 hours.

Unfortunately there is no vaccine available for Myxomatosis in Australia, so in summer make sure your rabbit is not exposed to mosquitoes. Covering your cage or hutch with mosquito proof fly screens is the best way to prevent this.

Another interesting fact

Rabbits should never be fasted for surgery. Rabbits cannot throw up, so there is no reason to starve your rabbit. Rabbits have sensitive digestive systems that can be easily upset by lack of food.

General Health care

Cleaning ears

You should regularly check inside your rabbit’s ears to make sure there isn’t any build up of wax or other debris. If there is, it is advisable to take your rabbit to the vet. Rabbits can get ear mites (canker), which causes itching and a build up of very waxy material which is often very painful. The ears will then need to be carefully cleaned and treatment for the mites and inflammation initiated.

Do I wash my rabbit?

NO! Never wash a rabbit unless it is very dirty or has soiled itself.

Rabbits can go into shock when you immerse them in water. Rabbits do a very good job of keeping themselves clean and only need help when they are very sick.

Nail trimming

Rabbits need their claws trimmed every 4-6 weeks (especially older rabbits need this done regularly). The claws are like fingernails, and never stop growing. Most indoor rabbits don’t wear their nails down enough, so they will need to be clipped. You can do this yourself using nail clippers, or you can take your rabbit to a vet. If you are doing it yourself, it helps to shine a light from underneath the claw so you can ensure that you don’t clip the blood vessel (the pink bit).

Brushing

Rabbits moult several times a year. If kept indoors they do not adapt as well to the season changes so it does pay to help by brushing them when needed. A soft brush can be used to brush out excess hair.

Eyes

Sometimes rabbits get sleep in their eyes. Just wipe this away for them. Cold tea bags to wipe eyes can be used if there is very mild inflammation of the eyes present. It acts as a mild natural anti-inflammatory. If there is excess discharge or the eyes are very teary, your bunny may have a problem. It might need a veterinary check up.

Interesting facts – rabbits have a third eyelid, and don’t need to blink very often. This is how they can sleep with their eyes open.

Cleaning the hutch

Your rabbit’s health depends a great deal on its environment, and a daily cleaning regime is really important. You will soon get to know where your rabbits like to toilet and this area can be padded well with newspaper to provide not only more absorbency, but also make cleaning easier. Some rabbits use litter trays (these should be large enough for the rabbit to get its whole body into. Daily removal of any faeces and wet or soiled bedding is important. Any underlying newspaper should be replaced.

How much time your rabbits spend in their hutch will dictate how often you should give it a total clean but try to salvage a little of their unsoiled bedding to replace afterwards, so that the place still smells of home! Spilled food or uneaten fruit or vegetables should be removed daily, but any uneaten food in your rabbit’s bowl should be mixed in with fresh food unless it is contaminated with bedding and faeces. Rabbits kept in dirty hutches are susceptible to respiratory illness, sore feet, urine scalding and most importantly, dirty bottoms – which can easily result in fly-strike.

Fleas

If your rabbit is scratching itself a lot, there might be fleas involved. Fleas aren’t easy to find in all that rabbit fur, but you can see small black specs of flea poop that has been left behind. Fleas need to be treated ASAP as the fleas will lay larvae on rabbits, rugs, carpet and anything hair like.

The best flea treatment for rabbits is Revolution. Rabbits should be separated after treatment to ensure they do not lick the flea treatment from each other’s fur. The revolution treatment lasts a month, but rabbits may need further treatment if more fleas have hatched from the eggs.