How to look after a rabbit
So over the past few weeks I have been looking after a friends rabbits, something at first I thought they were joking about when asking. But sure enough they went away for the Christmas and New Years festivals and I was left with Mr Flops and Bobbles and the few hundred others they have at their rescue farm. Yippie! But I thought I would share some tips that I picked up on while learning rabbit care thrown in at the deep end.
This part only applies to rescue, farm and baby rabbits
One thing I quickly found out was that rabbits, or at least most of them don't actually like to be held by people. Just think of it this way, would you like to be held high off the ground by someone many times your own size? Personally I would be looking for anyway out of it. Rabbits have always been prey to many creatures, naturally living in underground burrows so it is completely against their natural instinct to want to be high above the ground and more so be held against their own ability to move and “escape”. If a rabbit does not want to be held it will generally start trying to move away, struggling and kicking a little. This can cause harm to the handler not only because of the sharp claws but they can bite. But also the rabbit itself, there have been many cases of rabbits with broken legs and even backs because people and it is sad to say after a little research mostly children will insist on carrying a rabbit around against its will leading to the rabbit trying to escape, when a rabbit runs on the ground it has a natural brake between itself and the floor, meaning the force is put into the ground. But when held in the air, that is lost. Meaning a powerful kick can hyperextend the spine which can cause it to fracture. A few rabbits like being held and played with and if you are a lucky owner of such a rabbit then ignore the above. Normally rabbits that have been born into human ownership will be okay with it. But others and in any case baby rabbits will not like it. Even if you can't tell.
To correctly handle a rabbit, because some times you will have to. Place one hand under their ribcage and another around their tail end. Lifting quick and with confidence, turning the rabbit so their feet are placed against your chest. This allows the rabbit to feel secure, it will also limit the amount the rabbit feels the need to move or escape the handler. If the rabbit struggles or attempts to get away wildly, let them. Put the rabbit back on the ground and allow it to become settled before trying again. As too much stress can be very bad for a bunny.
Rabbits grown into human contact know as domestic rabbits are meant to be handled and loved by their owners and their family.
Location, location, location:
So where is the rabbit going to live? For me it was simple as they already had homes in the barns. But for any new owner there is a choice to make. Are you going to keep them in a cage or “hutch”? This can be the best option for a house or family rabbit as it allows them their own space to make into their home. If you do choose to keep them in a cage, it is important to make sure that they are allowed to get out of it at least once a day and have a run around. When buying a cage for a rabbit which is not yet an adult be sure to think how big they are likely to be when grown as a little cage may not be good enough. The cage should be big enough for the rabbit to sit up in, (on its back legs) without issue. When it comes to letting the rabbit out, you can let it run around your home or outside but unlike cats and dogs they may not return if allowed a free roam and could become injured so the best bet is to get a “run” or a penned off area in which they can explore outside in the yard without issue. These are not expensive to make, think of it like a chicken run with grass.
If you choose to let your rabbit roam around your home be sure to think what can it chew on, rabbits love to nibble on just about anything I even found my shoe getting eaten while trying to get them back into their cage one night. Electrical wires are the biggest problem, all too often you will see rabbits hurt or killed because they have bitten through a live wire. Even a stereo or TV wire is enough to cause them serious harm!
The choice of whether you keep your rabbit in a cage or allow him to roam freely is up to you. If you do opt to keep your rabbit in a cage, you should make sure that he is allowed to get out of his cage every day so he can exercise. When purchasing a cage for your rabbit, you should take into account how big he will be when he is mature and purchase a cage that is five times that size. Your rabbit's cage should be big enough for him to sit up on his hind legs. You should also put cardboard or a piece of untreated pine wood in the bottom of wire cages to protect his paws from the wire.
When it comes to feeding your rabbit, it is important to remember they are herbivores. So don't go treating one to a steak like you may for a dogs birthday. They mainly enjoy eating fruits, vegetables and above most things grass. As that is their most natural food source. They should also be fed hay daily. A good tip is to put a bowl of pet store rabbit mix (rabbit pet food) in their cage or sleeping area so they always have at least one area to get food, as they will generally eat anything you put out quickly. By providing some harder food, such as carrots or apples will allow your rabbit to not only eat but keep its teeth from becoming overgrown. But by far the most important thing for a rabbit is water, make sure it always has some even if it has not run out change it often!
Like many animals, rabbits will clean themselves. But those who own rabbits with much longer fur should brush its hair regularly to keep it from matting, you can do this with a normal hair brush if you don't mind sharing or a bunny brush which can be found in most good pet stores.
It is also important to help them with their claws/nails. About once a month, maybe a little longer give the rabbits nails a trim. Most vets will do this for a small fee if you don't think you can. But it is important that they do have them cut.
Other areas that need attention are the teeth, it is very important as stated above that a rabbits teeth do not become overgrown, or too long. If a rabbits teeth do not meet evenly when looked at they may in future grow too long and begin to curl. Which will prevent the rabbit from feeding, do not attempt to do anything about their teeth yourself, if you feel their teeth are growing too long or are in fact curled over then ask a vet. This is one of the most common things that you will notice if your rabbit “goes off its food” and stops eating.
Now, if like me you own a dog you will know the vet is a battleground normally ending with the dog being dragged in. But rabbits don't seem to know what is going on and don't even have to be taken as often as other animals. You don't have to get them vaccinations, but like any other pet well cared for an annual vet check up will always be a good idea! The most common things to ask a vet when visiting are any signs of illness within the rabbit, some are easy to miss and pass off as nothing else. Things such as hair loss, not eating, a runny nose or if it appears to have trouble with its breathing or any usual lumps on their body, including swellings.
The most important thing:
Sure rabbits can make great pets and be good friends for the whole family, it is very important to remember that they are NOT people. As obvious a statement as that is to make, rabbits do not enjoy the same activities you do, such as swimming. This owner in this video raises the question of should they really be allowed to keep animals. Rabbits have very fragile hearts and it is not uncommon for them to die of fear or shocks.
A quote from someone who replied to the video in the exact frame of mind as me:
“Your rabbit is absolutely petrified! As a rabbit owner surely you must know that rabbits can suffer/die of shock very quickly. This is such a bad idea, and I agree with everyone else, as soon as your rabbit showed signs of wanting to get out, you should have rescued it. Rabbits are so fragile, its little heart could've had a heart attack. I hope you learn from all the other comments left on here not to do it again.”