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A Guide to Owning Pet Rabbits
Have you been thinking of getting a pet rabbit, but are unsure about how to proceed? It might seem simple enough to purchase a bunny from your local pet store, stick it in a cage and feed it some carrots, but rabbits are actually much more complicated beings then most people realize. They are more than a pet meant for a child, more then a cute cuddly Easter gift, much more then a quiet, inexpensive addition to the household. They might seem easy enough to take care of, but beware, rabbit veterinarian bills can add up very quickly. So instead of assuming and ending up with an unwanted pet, enrich yourself with this guide and find out everything you need to know about owning your very own rabbit.
Are you ready?
The first question to ask yourself before going out to purchase or adopt your first rabbit is if you are truly ready to have one join your family. The lifespan of an indoor, domesticated (usually castrated/spayed) rabbit is around 10-12 years, which is the longest of any other pet rodent, such as a hamster or a rat. They live almost as long as most dogs do. Are you prepared to care, interact, feed and house a rabbit for a good decade? That is the question that most people tend to avoid when purchasing any animal, because nobody can predict the future and what it entails.
Start with the basics: the cost of food, cage, accessories (treats and toys) along with possible veterinary bills. The prices vary depending where you live and what is available to you, but by doing some research online or at your local pet store, you should get a good idea of what it will initially cost you. A rabbit will need daily pellets, hay and greens, as well as fresh water. It will need a big enough cage to move around, stretch in and have privacy. You can purchase toys or make some yourself from cardboard, hay, etc for next to nothing. A rabbit also needs a minimum of 3-4 hours of daily exercise outside of its cage, which means having either a rabbit proof room or a pet pen to keep bunny from chewing on your furniture. A castrated/spayed rabbit also lives a longer and healthier life, so if you're thinking of getting the surgery, add on another few hundred dollars. These are just the basics of owning a pet rabbit.
Apart from cost, the big issue that most rabbit owners face is not having adequate time to spend with their pets. Rabbits are social creatures and need to be handled every day in order to keep them from developing vices, such as biting, kicking and being fearful of it's owner. Since they are prey animals, rabbits need to spend many hours with their owner in order to build a bond and trust and understand that you are not a predator and mean them no harm. All rabbits have different temperaments, but if you isolate them in their cage and never take time to socialize them properly, you will end up with a rabbit that is shy, lazy, bored or just plain aggressive.
The last main thing to consider is space. A rabbit cage can fit almost anywhere in your home, but since rabbit's need daily exercise outside of their cage, you have to accommodate their needs with a larger space where they can stretch their legs. Rabbits love to explore, jump and play, so make sure the area where they are placed is rabbit proof: this means no wires, dangerous substances or objects, cats or dogs, direct sunlight or chilly temperatures. Make sure they always have access to fresh food and water, a litter box (if they are trained) and plenty of fun toys and boxes to keep them entertained. Always keep a supervised eye on your rabbit while it is outside of it's cage just to make sure it is safe at all times.
Cages and Bedding
There are a variety of rabbit cages available on the market, but that does not mean they are all suitable for your bunny. Depending on the size of your rabbit will determine what kind of cage you should purchase. All rabbits should have a cage designed for them to have ample room to move about, lay down, stretch and should have space for toys and a litter box. Most cages sold either at pet stores or online are much too small and should only be used as a starter cage when rabbits are very young. Never use a wire bottom for a cage as a rabbit's feet will get sore from standing on the mesh.
If possible, opt for a pet pen instead of a cage, which will offer a larger area for your rabbit to live in comfortably. Make sure the pen is secure, high enough so the rabbit will not be able to jump out and in an area of the home where the rabbit is not secluded, but is still quiet.
Another alternative, if you have the space, is the have a room specifically for your rabbit. The place must be rabbit proofed and if you are concerned about damage to the floor, simply cover with an old carpet or rug. You can design it any way you like, get creative and see how your rabbit explores it's new surroundings.
Bedding will be needed for the inside of a rabbit cage. There are several different kinds to choose from but here are litter's you should never use: cedar shavings and any kind of cat litter. Opt for shredded paper or cardboard, straw, hay, wood pellets or paper pellets. Make sure to clean the bedding several times a week to keep your rabbit's home tidy and smelling fresh.
Starter Rabbit Cage
How many rabbits do you own?
A rabbit's diet consists mostly of hay, which provides them with fiber and roughage for dental health. There are many different types of hay, but it is recommended to give baby rabbits (under seven months of age) alfalfa, which has a high caloric content and then to gradually switch them to timothy, orchard grass or oat hay. This needs to be freshly available to your rabbit at all times.
Rabbit's need pellets, which are also sold in a variety of formats. It is recommended to choose pellets that are high in fiber and low in protein. High protein pellets can lead to an obese rabbit. Keep away from pellets that are mixed with treats, such as corn, sunflower seeds, etc. These are not necessary or healthy for your rabbit and can lead to digestive issues.
Rabbits also need daily fresh greens as part of a balanced diet. You can use a variety of vegetables, but always make sure that the greens are washed before being fed to your rabbit. Here is a list of a few vegetables that rabbit's usually enjoy:
Basil, Bok choy, Carrot tops, Clover, Dandelion Greens, Kale, Lettuce (Romaine), Parsley, etc.
The last is fresh water, which should be available to your rabbit at all times. Some rabbits prefer a water bottle, while others like a water dish.
How to handle a Pet Rabbit
Just like a dog or a cat, a rabbit can also be spayed or neutered. A rabbit usually reaches sexual maturity around 3-6 months of age (depending on the breed) and will start to display different types of behaviors that can be unpleasant for the owner. They can start to be much more destructive, aggressive, territorial and can spray their surroundings and their pellets all over the place.
The benefits of spaying or neutering a rabbit are rewarding: a longer and healthier life for your bunny by reducing the risk of cancers and UTI's. Your rabbit will be much calmer and easier to handle, making it better to establish a lifelong bond. They will be more likely to learn to use a litter box and cease territorial spraying. Plus, they won't be able to add to the overwhelming population of bunnies born every year.
When considering spaying or neutering your rabbit, make sure to do your research and find a reputable Veterinarian with experience in handling rabbits. Not all Vets perform this surgery, so make some calls and shop around. There are always risks involved when it comes to surgery, especially with a rabbit which is much more sensitive to a dog or cat, but the benefits are worth it. Prices depend on your location, but expect to pay several hundred dollars per rabbit. If you decide to adopt a rabbit, you might get one that is already spayed / neutered saving you the trouble of finding a Vet by yourself.
Treats and Toys
Who doesn't like treats?
Well rabbits certainly do and they'll eat as many as they can without caring about the consequences, so be wary. When giving your rabbit any kind of treat, keep the portions to a minimum. Fruit is the best option for a treat, as it is what's most natural for a rabbit. Do not feed rabbit's breads, crackers, pasta, pretzels, cookies, chips or cereal. Chocolate is fatal to bunnies as well.
Here is a small list of fruits a rabbit will love:
Strawberries, raspberries, bananas, pineapple, apples (no core or seeds)
Stay away from commercial brands of treats filled with additives and sugars, such as those with Yogurt, which is unnatural for a rabbit to consume. Do not give dairy products to your rabbit.
Toys are necessary for a rabbit's entertainment, but you don't necessarily have to buy them. Rabbit's love cardboard boxes (for chewing and hiding inside), toilet and paper towel rolls, blankets, stuffed animals, anything made of straw or wood, etc. Get your thinking cap on and make your own creations, stuff them with hay and see how your rabbits react. Switch it up every few days so your rabbits don't get bored. Pet stores do sell some rabbit toys, but they usually prefer it homemade. Plus they'll most likely destroy and chew anything you give them.
Other things to consider
When owning a rabbit, you will need to trim their nails monthly, brush their coat and check them daily for anything unusual. If you see your rabbit acting in an unnatural manner or seeming sickly, head to the Vet right away. Rabbit's tend to get ill very quickly and can die if not treated. Do not leave rabbit's alone when going on vacation, even if you think they'll be fine with a large bowl of food and hay. If anything should happen while you are away, it will most likely be too late for you to deal with once you come back home. Have someone house sit or keep your bunny at their place while you are away instead.