Rabbits are wonderful and inquisitive companions, making the ideal first pet! Through proper care and nutrition they can live a long a healthy life
Understanding your Rabbit
Before obtaining a rabbit as a new family pet it is important to understand they are very different creatures compared to a cat or dog. Rabbits are instinctively "prey" animals, which makes them highly intelligent but are also timid. Rabbits can be easily frightened from a young age, which means discipline is often impractical as the rabbit will simply not understand. They can often become frightened, nervous or with drawn from disciplining bad behavior. They can often be fearful from being picked up so correct handling is a must for all rabbits, this will ensure the rabbit feels safe and will prevent injury. As rabbits are usually prey animals it is important not to handle them as if you are a predator. Do not grab the Rabbit around the shoulders or pick him up by holding his back. When you do attempt to handle your rabbit for the first time, scoop him up from underneath and support his body, make sure his legs are well secured and not left dangling. Hold the rabbits close to your body, as this will make him feel safe.
Rabbits can often be destructive creatures so the correct hutch is vital for eliminating unwanted chewing and other destructive behaviors. The hutch should be atleast 120cm x 60cm x 60cm, this is adequate room for sleeping and resting for short periods during the day. It is essential for your rabbit to experience time outside the hutch, allowing them to absorb some sunshine and exercise. Smooth wood is the ideal material used when selecting an appropriate home for your new rabbit. Wood is a great incubator of heat in winter and has insulating qualities during summer. The smooth edges will eliminate some unwanted chewing and will have sufficient nesting quarters. Avoid metal cages as this will be icy cold in winter and often unbearably hot in summer. Covering wire floors with straw will be a lot kinder on their feet and be much more comfortable for your rabbit to lie on. Ensuring the hutch has a mosquito net covering the cage is also ideal as this will prevent unwanted diseases from spreading. Rabbits can be extremely sensitive to outside temperatures, ensure the hutch is covered at night to prevent cold winds from creating a draught. It is advisable to have a secondary cage that can be easily transported inside and out. During cooler winter days or hot summers, allow your rabbit to come inside, this will ensure they are kept at a comfortable temperature. In summer tiled surfaces such as the laundry or bathroom make excellent bunny rooms, they will enjoy laying on these surfaces allowing their bellies to keep cool. Freezing drink bottles on hot days will also be greatly appreciated by your bunny!
Food and water containers should be easy to clean and have heavy bases as this will prevent them from being knocked over. We normally recommend the use of sipper bottles to dispense water, sipper bottles are easy to clean and keep the water fresh. Rabbits may enjoy treading through water bowls or getting straw stuck in them.
A rabbit’s diet is crucial for their overall health and to strengthen their immune system. Their diet should be composed of meadow hay or oaten hay which is rich in Vitamin A & D as well as calcium, protein and other nutrients. Oaten hay should always be readily available as it is also a form of chewing entertainment. Lucerne should not make up the bulk of a rabbits diet as dry Lucerne can result in extreme levels of calcium within the system. Dry Lucerne is extremely high in calcium but is often lower in fibre and can contain 2-5x a rabbit’s daily requirement. High amounts of lucerne should only be fed if the rabbit is intended for breeding. Excessive amounts of calcium can lead to urinary problems and have other detrimental health issues. Rabbit pellets are often only dry lucerne and should not be used as a complete diet. At Northside we recommend using Vetafarm Rabbit pellets which are highly nutritious containing essential vitamins and nutrients, the pellets should make up 20-40% of the whole diet and 70-80% of oaten hay. Mixed fresh vegetables are another option that will ensure some variety within the rabbit’s diet. Vegetables that are suitable include apples, pears, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, bok choy, or cucumber. Avoid green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, or lettuce, these may cause your rabbit to bloat or give them diarrhea. Avocado, potatoes, rhubarb, beans, peas and salad dressings should be avoided as these are unsuitable and sometimes poisonous.
Rabbits are naturally healthy and hardy animals providing they receive routine healthcare. Rabbits can be vaccinated against calicivirus from 12 weeks of age, this vaccination is received annually and should be maintained throughout their entire life. Like other animals rabbits should be regularly wormed and treated with a mite and lice spray. Prevention is always the best cure and is easily applied to each rabbit. Wormers can be dispensed through their water bottles and mite and lice spray can be applied through spray application. It is important to ensure the cage is kept clean, well ventilated, free from draughts and away from the hot summer sun.
Dental Problems – Rabbits teeth continue to grow throughout their entire life. If the teeth are not worn through chewing, they will grow incorrectly. This can lead to discomfort, abscesses and lack of appetite. Some indications of dental problems may be saliva around the mouth, chest or front paws and an inability to eat or excessive teeth grinding.
Parasitic Skin Problems– Rabbits are prone to skin conditions, perhaps the most common of which is mange. Mange is caused by a little mite that burrows into the skins surface. There will be small raised spots on the skin that can become dry. The Rabbit will scratch at these itchy areas, which will develop into scabs and cause its hair to fall out. Lice can also be a problem for rabbits and may cause dermatitis.
Our friendly staff at Northside Pets can advise you on which treatments are best to use, whether it be sprays or shampoos for your furr baby.
Hygiene and Grooming
Rabbits are clean animals that require little maintenance, dependent on the length of their fur. They tend to groom themselves similar to a cat, they however are unable to vomit any fur ingested whilst grooming. Long haired rabbits may need trimming to prevent excess hair being ingested and to prevent matts forming. It is also advised to trim around the rear area of the rabbit, as this will keep the area nice and clean. Brushing long haired rabbits regularly will remove dead or loose hair avoiding some of these problems. Rabbits will occasionally need their nails trimmed, walking on hard surfaces may naturally file their nails, but regular trimming is the best option.
Chew toys should be supplied and continually rotated. They are clever creatures and often get bored of the one particular item. Different toys will keep them stimulated mentally and prevent stereotypical behaviors such as pacing back and forth.
Rabbit Check List
- Straw (for bedding)
- Oaten Hay ( for eating)
- Premium rabbit pellets
- Sipper Bottle
- Food Bowl
- Worming and mite Treatments
- Chew Toys
- Nail Clippers