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How To Care For New Baby Rabbits and How To Breed Rabbits For Profit

Updated on December 17, 2015
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Anna studied psychology, law, English, and animal welfare in college. She is a mother of two and aspires to become a vet some day.

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Why Are Pet Rabbits So Popular?

Rabbits are highly intelligent, active, social and inquisitive animals and make wonderful pets provided you have the patience to gain their trust. As prey animals, rabbits are naturally very cautious around humans, so it may take a while to build the friendship with them that you desire, but with enough patience and understanding, this can be achieved.

Rabbits are happiest when they are kept in pairs and the pairing that seems to work best is a neutered male and spayed female. Same-gender pairs can end up fighting when they reach sexual maturity, whereas a male and female tend to enjoy each others company far more. Rabbits reach sexual maturity at just 4 months of age, so it is best to get your bunnies neutered well before this age. There is an incredibly vast range of rabbit breeds, sizes and colours for owners to choose from, and each rabbit comes with their own little personality. As rabbits live on average for 8 to 12 years (and many exceed this), deciding to own one is a long-term commitment and takes no little amount of care, knowledge and financial input, though the return is well worth the effort!

Diet, Care And Treats

Due to the fact that rabbits are so inquisitive, playful and intelligent, they can become bored if not provided with enough mental stimulation and things to explore. Toys and treats are the perfect answer to this; on a hot summer's day you can give your bunny a frozen bottle of water, which they will enjoy lying next to and will lick the condensation off of - which will also keep them well-hydrated and cool.

As rabbits' teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, it is vital that they are provided with a variety of foods that will help wear them down. A pellet-only diet, for instance, would result in painful abscesses in the rabbit's mouth, caused by sharp tooth edges known as spurs. Luckily, this is easily avoided by providing your rabbit with plenty of toys and branches to chew on, and one of the most important foods in a pet rabbit's diet - hay. Hay is essential for a rabbit to remain healthy, not only does it provide natural tooth-care and important vitamins for the rabbit, it is also high in fibre which will keep the bunnies' gut healthy and functioning properly. Another perk for the owners is that hay is inexpensive and can be used as insulation along with straw in colder weathers.

A perfectly balanced diet for a pet rabbit would consist of fresh water (which should be changed daily), fresh fruit and vegetables such as apple, broccoli, celery, cabbage, lettuce and carrots which provide extra important vitamins and minerals, hay and rabbit pellets (though only a small handful per day are actually required if the rabbit is being provided with the other listed food items). Salt and mineral licks can also be purchased from local pet shops, though some rabbits don't seem to take to these as much. Food is actually one of the best ways to gain your pet's trust - by hand feeding your rabbit a favourite treat or piece of fruit they will come to associate you with good experiences, and will over time become more and more excited to see you when you come near their hutch. Because they are at the bottom of the food chain, rabbits will naturally dislike being picked up to begin with, and it may take a little while before you can do this, but it is important to go by what your rabbit is comfortable with in terms of handling, as they are easily stressed.

When you do pick your rabbit up, you should hold them gently but firmly, and hold them against your chest, with one hand under their bottom and the other across their shoulder blades. If they struggle, try holding them on your lap and stroking them gently instead, as this may be better and more comfortable for both of you.

Fast and Painless Grooming: Vet Recommended!

Rabbits Are Susceptible To Heatstroke!

When a mammal is exposed to a high temperature for a period of time (even just two to three hours), the body's temperature regulating mechanism will sometimes fail, causing the body to overheat, resulting in an extremely dangerous (and sometimes fatal), condition known as heatstroke or 'sunstroke'.

Rabbits unfortunately suffer heatstroke fairly easily, as they do not do well in heat at all - so if you're feeling hot due to the weather, it's a good idea to frequently check on your rabbit throughout the day to ensure they are not exhibiting any of the following symptoms, which are all signs that they may be suffering from heatstroke: lethargic behaviour, a slow or weak response to you, salivating, panting/ laboured breathing, dizziness, confusion, convulsing (in more serious cases), and reddening of the ears. If you suspect that your rabbit is suffering from heatstroke it is urgent to cool them down immediately.

The fastest, most effective and most comfortable way for you to do this is by gently misting your rabbit's ears - this is because rabbits use their ears to regulate their body temperature, and so if you cool their ears down, the rest of the body's temperature will begin to drop also. Ensure that you do not spray water into the rabbits ears, and you do not get the ears very wet - a light mist will do, otherwise you may make your rabbit even more uncomfortable.

Never put your rabbit into cold water, no matter how bad the situation is as this could put them into shock, which could also be fatal. Once your rabbit is standing and you have misted their ears, give them some cool, fresh water - you can add an ice cube which they will happily lick away at too.

Heatstroke and dehydration often go hand in hand, so as soon as you can, tempt your rabbit with some water as this will help them recover. If you do not see any improvement in your rabbit within five-ten minutes of trying to cool them down, call your vet as they may need to see your rabbit in order to help.

Lionhead Rabbit

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Convulsions Can Be Caused By Heatstroke

If your rabbit starts convulsing, call the vet immediately. As with most things, prevention of heatstroke is better than cure, and there are plenty of things you can do to lower the risks - if you have a house rabbit, make sure that their hutch or cage is out of direct sunlight, and drape a cool, damp (but not dripping) towel across one area of their cage to keep it extra cool in that area for them.


Make A Cold Fruit Salad For Rabbits

Choose a few fruits and vegetables from the following list, refrigerate them for a few hours and then chop them up for a cold, nutritious and tasty bunny snack

  • Carrot
  • Apple
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Curly kale
  • Rocket
  • Courgette

Remember to serve these vegetables and fruits little and often, because too much in one go can result in a bunny with an upset tummy, which isn't pleasant for you or your bun!

What Else Can I Do To Prevent Heat Exhaustion?

Prevention is always better than cure and these tips can really save a lot of problems:

  • Air conditioning or a fan can work wonders, providing it is not blowing directly on the rabbits cage or hutch as this can make them ill. Another excellent way of helping your bunny stay cool is by grooming them as this will remove excess fur.
  • Ensure there is plenty of fresh water in your rabbit's bowl or bottle, and provide them with some fresh veg or fruit which will aid their water intake, reducing the chances of dehydration as well as heatstroke. If your rabbit looks hot or is panting, give them a cold water bottle from the fridge, which will not only be a great toy for them, they will also lie next to it to stay cool and lick off the condensation.
  • Always ensure your bunny has access to shade as well as some sun so he or she can choose where to be and what is the most comfortable temperature.

Correct Housing For Rabbits

House rabbits are becoming increasingly popular as it can reduce the risks of potentially fatal diseases such as VHD (Viral Hemorrhagic Disease), which is fatal in nearly 100 per cent of cases, and sadly there is currently no vaccination for it in the United States. However, rabbits should not be kept in bedrooms as they are surprisingly noisy at night times, which can get frustrating for the poor owner who is trying to get to sleep, they should be kept in a cage big enough for the number of rabbits you own (the size of the cage needed also depends on the size and breed of your rabbits), and you can get specific advice from your pet shop if you aren't sure about this.

The cage should be kept out of direct sunlight and away from air conditioning vents, as this can eventually make your rabbit unwell. You can litter train your rabbit very easily by placing a litter tray (with a little soiled bedding inside it so the rabbit recognises the scent), in a corner that your rabbit prefers to use as a toilet. Usually the rabbit will pick up litter training very quickly. If you choose to keep your rabbit indoors, ensure they are unable to get to any wires or cables, as they will chew through them in a matter of seconds, you can use a puppy playpen to ensure maximum safety for your rabbit, though it is recommended that you do not leave the rabbit in the pen unattended as they are very good escape artists.

For outdoor rabbits, a shady area should be provided so they can stay cool in warmer weather, plenty of hay and straw should be provided in colder temperatures and if you feel that your rabbits may still not be warm enough you can purchase a weather-proof cover for the rabbit hutch, which will protect against rain, gales and cold weather. Plenty of soft, absorbent bedding such as wood-shavings on top of newspaper should be used and spot-cleaned daily, and a weekly deep clean should also be carried out - though the rabbits should be removed from the hutch while you are doing this. You can use pet-safe disinfectant, which should be allowed to dry before you put your pets back in the hutch. By cleaning the cage regularly and efficiently you can protect your pets against fleas, mites and illnesses/conditions - one common one being sore feet, caused by standing on soiled bedding for long periods of time. once you have finished cleaning the hutch, place a little soiled bedding back into the area your rabbits use to go to the toilet, as if you remove their scent completely they may feel stressed.

Finally, a really useful tip for checking your rabbit's health is something known as the six-point check: when you are handling your rabbit check their nose - which should be clean, eyes - which should be clear, alert and bright, ears which should be clean (any sign of redness can be a symptom of heatstroke), fur - which should be smooth, well groomed and clean (check for any scabs or scratches on the skin), feet and claws (check for any redness or sore spots) and bottom which, again, should be clean. Once a year you should also check to ensure their teeth are not overgrown or becoming pointed, as this will cause your rabbit a great deal of discomfort in the long-term.

Tips For Introducing Rabbits To One Another

Rabbits are social, intelligent creatures and so allowing them to live with another rabbit is the most logical and kindest thing for your pet; who otherwise may become bored, too dependent on human company and even depressed. Introducing two rabbits and housing them together is not as simple as it sounds and there are a fair few guidelines to follow when introducing your rabbits, otherwise they can fight, injure each other and become stressed.

Firstly you should decide what sexes you want. The safest bet is a neutered male and a spayed female, and rabbit breeders and experienced owners will recommend this pairing as there is a much higher success rate with the introductions. The reason behind this is that same sex rabbits will usually fight, especially when they get older.

With regards to a male and female combination: if the male is un-neutered, he will constantly pester the female to mate (even if she is spayed), and this can result in the female becoming depressed, anxious or aggressive.

It is not essential to have a female spayed - however she will be a lot more calm and relaxed if she is, which can make your life so much easier when the time comes to introduce the pair. You also don't have to worry too much about rabbits who are very different in terms of size, as long as you have a spacious run and hutch for them to live in.

Regardless of whether you are introducing a new bunny to one you have had for some time, or two new bunnies, you should always introduce them in a neutral environment - somewhere they will not be living together. This way, the rabbits will be interested in their surroundings and there will be less tension between them. It also removes the risk of them fighting over territory as you would not be placing a new rabbit in another's space, which would confuse and perhaps make your rabbit feel threatened.

When the pair come to meet face to face, it is also recommended that they have plenty of space. Only get involved if the rabbits begin fighting - quite often there is a bit of chasing and scrapping, and if the rabbits' meeting begins to become problematic and you feel one is being bullied or is scared, simply remove both rabbits from the area and give them each a cooling off period (at least six hours), before trying again.

The safest way, and the most successful way, is to have two separate rabbit carriers, (each rabbit is inside his or her own carrier) and they are allowed to smell and see the other before they meet. This way, if they show signs of being aggressive you can defuse the situation before you have a real problem on your hands. Some rabbits just take slightly more time to relax and become used to sharing their home with another rabbit.

Allow the rabbits to go up to each other in their own time, don't move them closer together if one has wandered off. If they seem to not be very interested in one another this just means that they are relaxed and perfectly happy with the other rabbits presence.

Ensure that the cage or hutch where you will be keeping them is large enough for two rabbits - having too little space will cause your rabbits to fight so this is a very important factor. Rabbits will also fight if there is a need to compete for vital resources, such as food and water - so it is essential they are always kept with plenty of food, fresh water and a bedroom that is big enough for both of them (to prevent one being pushed out). Remember that rabbits grow fast! So a cage big enough for two babies will probably not be any good six months later.

Many people ask if there are particular breeds that get on better, and this is debated - however many breeders will say that there is not any one certain breed that will accept companionship. Regardless of breed and size, most rabbits will get on together just fine.

It is a myth that two rabbits of a similar size have to live together, and some of the happiest pairs have one much smaller - however, try to avoid getting the two extremes - for example, if you keep a giant with one of the dwarf breeds it can make it more difficult for the dwarf to access the food and if the giant were to kick (playfully, which rabbits do a lot), and accidentally hurt the dwarf, it can be fatal and would make you feel awful. Having said this, a medium and a small breed will get on fine.

Make sure you have enough time to give both rabbits the attention and care they need. Take them both out of their pen and allow them to explore new areas together (supervised), as this will help the rabbits bond and prevent them from getting bored which can be a main reason for rabbits fighting.

Keeping two rabbits together is so, so much better than keeping them individually and you will get so much joy out of watching them play together. You can get them treats and train them to do tricks, and there is a huge variety of rabbit toys where they can get the mental stimulation they need (this is especially good if you are going to work or need to go off somewhere for a day trip, as you can relax knowing your pets have company and will be too busy with their toys to miss you).

How To Care For Your Rabbit's Teeth

Rabbit's teeth are similar to horses teeth in that they have evolved to be the perfect cutting and chewing tools for a high fibre diet, which in the wild generally consists of leaves, grass, twigs, plants and weeds and even tree bark. Their teeth will grow continuously throughout the animals life, which means lots of care is required when caring for pet rabbits to prevent dental problems, which can become very serious.

Once there is an issue of over-grown teeth in rabbits, it is very difficult to correct and requires a vet to assist the animal. Overgrown teeth will, overtime, grind into points or develop sharp edges which cut the inside of a rabbit’s mouth and sometimes cause abcesses or infection which, needless to say, is extremely painful and uncomfortable for the animal.

Symptoms of dental problems include: a loss of appetite or reduced interest in feeding, less hay being eaten and less gnawing on toys, bad breath, abnormal feaces, excessive drooling, and sometimes a noticeable lump on one or both sides of the face. Also eye and/or nose discharge can indicate that there is an issue with a rabbit’s teeth, so if you spot any of these signs, a trip to the vet is best.

If your rabbit will let you, when you look at the front top and bottom incisors, they should meet evenly. If there are any sharp or jagged edges, or an overlap, seek a vets advice immediately, as what is often at first a small problem can be fatal.

Vets often feel extremely frustrated with owners who have been particularly negligent and allowed their pet rabbit to suffer for a prolonged period – almost to the point of starvation in some cases, because it is actually relatively easy to prevent dental issues.

Because rabbit teeth grow for the entire duration of the animal’s lifespan, it is essential that your pet has access to toys, chews and a high-fibre diet. These can all be provided for a relatively small amount of money. Most rabbit owners provide a pellet-feed for their rabbits, so that they cannot choose their favourite bits from, for example, a rabbit muesli, and leave other parts of the feed, thus missing out on essential vitamins. For this reason a pellet feed is a great choice, but it is vital to ensure your rabbit has hay to gnaw throughout the day, and if possible chews and toys, which you cane even make yourself from rabbit-friendly food sources that can be found in most gardens.

For instance, if you take off the thorns, rose canes make fantastic (free) treats for your rabbit and they also provide a source of entertainment(rabbits are clever, and need lots of stimulation). Also fruit tree bark from lemon, orange, apple and pear trees (to name but a few), provide a great opportunity for your bunny to chew away and grind those teeth down.

Another important step to take when looking after your rabbits teeth is to ensure your pet has regular (at least once or twice a year), dental check-ups with your local vet. It can be extremely difficult to spot tooth problems in rabbits, even to a professional with all the required tools, so unless you are trained in veterinary care, you are probably better off booking an appointment with the vet.

Don’t forget – rabbit’s are pretty low down on the food chain, making them prey animals, so they are naturally very good at hiding when they are unwell. This means that when a rabbit begins showing signs of illness they really are VERY sick a lot of the time, so prevention is always better than cure!

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Poisonous Plants For Rabbits

This is a list of common plants that can be found easily but should NEVER be given to a pet rabbit as they could cause serious illness or even death.

  • Daffodils
  • Buttercups
  • Amaryllis
  • Lily (all varieties)
  • Ivy
  • Bracken fern
  • Busy Lizzie
  • Nightshade
  • Cyclamen
  • Daisies
  • Clematis
  • Foxgloves
  • Geranium
  • Hydrangea
  • Iris
  • Yew
  • Oak
  • Morning Glory
  • Parsnip
  • Primrose
  • Tulips
  • Poppies
  • Tomato leaves and vines
  • Periwinkle
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Peony

Please note I have included flowers and plants that are common to find and often mistaken as harmless free rabbit food. Unless you know that what you are feeding your rabbit is safe, please do a quick check on the internet or even by phoning your local pet shop. It is also important to educate children that they must not pick plants that could be unsafe to the rabbit.

Any Questions Feel Free To Ask!

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