Caring For Your New Rabbit
When we think about rabbits, soft, cuddly visions pop into our heads. But there is a lot more to these social, sensitive animals. Much time and care must be put into raising a rabbit. Here, we’ll give you some guidelines to help get you started after you decide to include a rabbit in your family.
In Search of a Home
The first thing you must consider before bringing home your bunny is where you will keep him. You should never keep your rabbit outdoors. Rabbits do not adjust to extreme temperatures, especially in hot summer months, according to The Humane Society. In addition, rabbits scare very easily. The sound of another animal nearby is enough to panic a rabbit to the point that he could suffer a heart attack from fear.
If you decide to let your rabbit roam in your house, make sure everything is bunny-proof. Rabbits like to chew things, so make sure electric cords are protected and cleaning supplies are kept in a locked location. Those dangers seem obvious to experienced pet owners, but other hazards also lurk. Common plants like aloe and philodendron can be poisonous to rabbits, so keep these plants out of reach. “It was hard to keep our bunny from trying to eat flowers when we would take her out in the yard to play, so we stopped doing it,” said Huntington Beach, Calif., resident Maranda Elemes, who recently rescued a bunny in need of a home.
A cage is another alternative for housing your rabbit. The recommended size for a small rabbit cage is 30” X 30” X 14”. In simpler terms, the rabbit should be able to stretch out in his cage and stand on his hind legs without bumping his head. If you use a wire cage, be sure to line the bottom with cardboard or other protective material. Rabbits’ feet do not have protective pads, so the extra cushioning in the cage is needed to make your bunny comfortable.
Fun fact: rabbits are easily litter box trained! Consider training your rabbit if you choose to let him roam in your house.
What’s For Dinner?
Diet is very important to your rabbit’s health. Rabbits can easily become impacted with feces if fed the wrong foods, so pet owners need to make sure their rabbits are eating a healthy diet and seeing a veterinarian regularly.
The key element on your bunny’s menu is hay. Timothy grass hay aids the rabbit’s digestive system and provides fiber needed to prevent health problems like hair balls, diarrhea and obesity. Your rabbit should always have a constant supply of hay. In addition, rabbits eat pellets, but should be fed a limited quantity. Check with your veterinarian for the ideal amount of pellets your particular bunny should be given.
Cecal pellets, otherwise known as “stool” pellets, are also essential to your rabbit’s diet. While this may sound distasteful, cecal pellets are normal and important for your pet. These pellets, which are soft and green, come from the cecum, which is part of the digestive system where fermentation of food takes place, and are rich in vitamins and nutrients that can help maintain good health. A variety of vegetables should also be included in the rabbit’s diet. Here are some your bunny will be sure to enjoy:
- Romaine lettuce
- Dandelion greens
- Collard greens
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Carrot tops
And don’t forget the water. Your rabbit should always have access to plenty of water, and the water should be changed once a day to keep it fresh.
Rabbits are very fragile animals and must be handled very carefully. This is one reason that they may not make the best pets for small children. Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn't pick up a rabbit by his ears. Doing so can not only damage his ears but if the rabbit thrashes, he can very easily break his back.
To pick up your rabbit, place one hand underneath the front of the rabbit and the other hand underneath his back side, lifting him carefully with both hands. In addition, a rabbit’s nails are very sharp. When holding a rabbit, make sure to hold his rear feet with one hand to prevent scratching. “We don’t let the kids pick up the bunny. They are only allowed to pet her with us supervising,” said Elemes, a mother of kids ages 8, 5 and 2. Bunnies do indeed enjoy being petted. They clean themselves around their eyes, ears, nose, top of head and back, so all of these areas are generally safe to pet.
Maintain Your Rabbit’s Health
A rabbit’s teeth can grow rapidly, and if not cared for properly, can become tusk-like. Overgrown teeth can cause mouth infections, ulcerations and an inability to pick up and eat food. Usually, rabbits can take care of their teeth by grinding them while eating, or during rest, but you should check you rabbit's teeth regularly.
Discuss your rabbit’s dental care with your veterinarian. There are products available to promote optimal dental health, such as chew toys that can be left in your rabbit’s cage, like PetSmart’s Floss-eez Dental Chews for Small Pets or Doctors Foster and Smith’s Jumbo Crispy Chews. These types of chew treats can help keep your rabbit’s front teeth naturally filed down. If your rabbit shows any signs of gastrointestinal distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. Keep in mind, if your rabbit’s teeth grow too long, they will need to be filed down by a veterinarian.
Rabbits are also very susceptible to ear mites, which irritate the lining of the ear and cause serum and thick, flaky crusts to build up. You can prevent an ear mite infestation by routinely cleaning your rabbit’s ears. If your rabbit develops ear mites, your veterinarian will provide a miticide treatment that should be strictly followed.
Regular check ups with a veterinarian are essential to a rabbit’s long-term health. A veterinarian will usually conduct routine blood work; since rabbits tend to exhibit signs of illness in late stages of development, checking them regularly can help to identify an illness sooner.
The Buddy Bunny System
Rabbits do like to socialize, and the more familiar they become with you, the more comfortable they will be. You might also consider bringing home two instead of one, as your bunny is bound to be happier and better adjusted if he has a buddy. (Note: If you bring home two rabbits as companions, make sure they are the same sex, less you find yourself an unexpected owner of a litter of bunnies.) No matter how many you bring home, you now know the basics about how to make sure your bunny thrives. And when bunnies thrive, they can live to be more than 10 years old!