Rabbit Care Essentials
What many people do not realize is that rabbits actually make really excellent household pets! I am speaking from experience, as I currently have a pet rabbit living with me in my apartment. He is very much like a cat - uses a litterbox, very independent and curious, as well as affectionate. The people I speak to about him or who meet him are always surprised by how clean and friendly he is! Perhaps I just happen to have one of the best bunnies around, but the truth is that all house-rabbits can easily be trained and can provide you with the animal companionship that you seek. In this article I will discuss some of the basics of rabbit care and what it takes to live with your very own house-rabbit!
Preparing Your Home
The ideal situation for a house-rabbit would involve being able to roam freely in all or certain parts of your home. This requires some preparation on your part because just like most pets, rabbits are very curious creatures who can get into just about anything. There are things around your home that can be dangerous to your new four-footed friend.
Rabbits love to chew and seem to be unfortunately attracted to electrical cords. It is fairly obvious why this could be a hazard to both you and you rabbit. Only a few swift chomps will allow your bunny to cut right through most electrical cords, leaving them at risk of being shocked and you at risk for a potential fire in your home. There are several solutions to this problem. For me I found that it was very easy to simply restrict my rabbit's access to areas where there are a lot of electrical cords. Other people have found that using plastic tubing to cover the cords works well too. Whatever you choose to do, it is an important thing to think about prior to bringing your rabbit home.
House plants are potentially hazardous as well, depending on what kind they are. Some varieties of common house plants are in fact poisonous to rabbits, and given that rabbits are grazing animals it is likely that they will try to munch on them if they are easily accessible. This website has a very comprehensive list of plants (those you might find outdoors as well) that are toxic to rabbits. If you have any of these plants in your home, just make sure that they are out of your bunny's reach and you should be safe! If that is not an option, then it would be best to get rid of them entirely.
One last recommendation when bunny-proofing your home is to remind yourself again that rabbits chew. If you have any rugs or furniture that you simply cannot risk being chewed on, then do now allow your rabbit near them. Ideally, providing your rabbit with plenty of chew toys will satisfy this urge, but its always good to be in the mindset that damage to your things is a possibility. If you simply cannot tolerate this, then a rabbit may not be the right choice for you.
Preparing Their Home
Even though house-rabbits can generally be found roaming freely in houses and apartments, they still need to have a cage. Why? Well, as mentioned above, rabbits are very curious and can get into a lot of trouble when left alone. It is best for them to have a safe place to relax and spend time when no one else is home and at night when everyone is sleeping.
When I first started my search for the perfect rabbit cage I found that I was constantly being disappointed by what pet stores like PetCo and PetsMart had to offer. The cages were simply too small! So, following some advice from my bunnys foster mom, I built the cage myself using "Neat Idea Cubes". The materials were not expensive and can be bought at Target. Click here for a really great article on how to build one for yourself! The really great thing about these cages is that you can continually make them bigger or change the shape, depending on your living situation and the kind of space you have available. The only other really great rabbit cage I have discovered can be found on the Leith Petworks website. I hope to be able to afford one someday!
Your rabbit’s cage must be large enough to contain a litter box, food bowls, and a place for your them to rest/hide, while still providing enough space for normal bunny behaviors. Rabbits should be able to lie down and stretch out, hop around a little, and stand up on their hind legs inside their cage. When choosing or building your cage, you’ll want to consider how much out-of-cage time your rabbit will have during the day. If your bunny will not be getting a good amount of out-of-cage time, they should be provided with additional cage space so they can exercise. This space can include multiple levels, which will increase the rabbit’s floor space without taking up more room in your home. You will also want to choose a cage that is comfortable for your rabbit and easy to clean for you. Wire bottoms in cages can be painful for your rabbit’s feet and really should not be used unless the wire is covered with a solid surface. This can be easily remedied by purchasing carpeting, linoleum, or a plastic tray to fit the bottom of the cage.
As mentioned earlier, you will want to purchase a litter box for inside their cage. You will find that stores sell litter boxes meant for rabbits, but I found that these seemed way to small, so I use litter boxes that are meant for cats. They have nice, tall sides to hold in the CareFresh and hay and they are large enough for my rabbit to sit in comfortably. My bunny is a fairly large breed, so I guess it depends on the size of your rabbit, but it is something to consider before going out and doing your shopping. Also, you may want to purchase more than one litter box, as you might find your rabbit likes to use the bathroom in places other than inside the cage. I have two, one in the cage and one outside on the other side of the living room. Before I had both, he would leave poops in this one corner, so I put another litter box there and hes been perfect ever since!
When purchasing food and water bowls, make sure to get good heavy duty ceramic bowls. Bunnies can be very eager and enthusiastic when eating, causing the dish to easily move or flip over if not made of something sturdy.
Strictly Vegetarian Diet
Rabbits are grazers and herbivores by nature. Their diet should consist primarily of grasses. Our house rabbits will satisfy this need by being provided with grass hay 24/7. The most common type of grass hay you will find is Timothy hay and is a great kind to give to your rabbit. There are other varieties of grass hay as well, such as orchard grass, meadow hay, oat hay. A mixture of these hays would be ideal, but just providing Timothy hay is certainly sufficient. The only kind of hay that you want to avoid at all costs is Alfalfa hay. This kind of hay is much too high in calories and protein, which could lead to unnecessary weight gain in your bunny.
While your rabbit's diet should consist mostly of hay, you should also provide them with some variety of fresh greens every day. Leafy green veggies will provide your rabbit with important vitamins and nutrients. I have found it most convenient to cut, wash, and mix various types of leafy greens into a tupperware, giving me a large salad of mixed greens to last all week for my rabbit. Each day I just take a small handful and put it in his food bowl. Suggested vegetables include:
- Dark Leaf Lettuce
- Carrot Tops (the green part)
There are other kinds of vegetables out there that you can try, but you will find that your rabbit might be a bit picky!
Contrary to popular belief, the pellet-style rabbit food should only be given as a small supplement to hay and fresh vegetables, if at all. If you decide to feed your rabbit some pellets on a daily basis, just make sure you are choosing the right kind. Again you want to avoid at all costs Alfalfa-based pellets. Just like Alfalfa hay, they are too high in calories and protein and can leave you with an overweight bunny. It is easy to find good quality Timothy-based pellets that will provide your rabbit with the proper amount of fiber and whole grains.
Now, moving on to fruit. You will realize quickly that your rabbit has a big sweet tooth. This is completely normal! Rabbits love to eat fruit and anything sweet. The great thing about this is that because your bunny is so food-motivated, it makes it easy to train them to do cute tricks. You want to be sure, however, that you are not over-feeding fruit as it is high in sugar and starch. That said, fruit should only be given as a treat and not as part of your rabbits main diet! Your rabbit will enjoy both fresh fruits and dried fruits. Some suggested fruits include:
- Apple (not the seeds!)
- Tomato (leaves are toxic)
- Papaya (great for helping to digest hairballs)
- Carrot (the root part, while not a fruit, should still be considered a treat!)
The more time you spend observing and playing with your rabbit, the faster you will get to know their common behaviors and what they mean. Here are some (but not all) of the general rabbit behaviors to be aware of so that you can decipher what your rabbit is doing and what they are trying to tell you.
- Chewing -- Rabbits teeth grow continuously, therefore they need things to chew in order to keep their teeth filed down. They can also chew is they are bored or stressed.
- Digging -- Burrowing and digging is part of your rabbits nature and is something they enjoy doing. Give your rabbit a box of hay or even just a big blanket that they can "dig" in. Hopefully they will choose to dig on things you provide them as opposed to your carpet or furniture.
- Napping -- Rabbits are most active during the early morning and in the evening. During the middle of the day they tend to enjoy short naps with small amounts of activity in-between.
- Anger/Annoyance -- Grunting and thumping are ways that your rabbit is telling you they are frightened, angry or annoyed. Make sure to give your bunny some space if you see these behaviors.
- Chinning -- Sometimes your rabbit may rub their chin on your stuff. This is their way of getting their scent all over your things in order to claim them as his territory.
- Nudging -- At times your rabbit may approach you and nudge you gently with their nose. This can either mean that they would like to be paid attention to or that you are in their way.
- Binky -- When your rabbit is really happy and having fun they may run around your house and randomly jump up into the air, kicking their back legs and wiggling their body. This is very cute and fun to watch!
Grooming and General Health
Bunnies require grooming by their humans just like most other pets. You should have a few brushes handy and plan on giving your rabbit a good brushing once a week or so. They are generally pretty good about grooming themselves (like cats), but its nice to brush them so that they aren't injesting too much fur. This is important as rabbits do not have a gag reflex and therefore need to pass any and all hairballs. Consistent brushing is a good way to keep your bunny from taking in too much hair, which can be dangerous. There are other remedies you can use as well, such as papaya which contains a specific enzyme that helps to break down hairballs. I would recommend treating your rabbit with either dried papaya (no sugar added) or Oxbow Papaya Tablets.
The other tool you should have handy is a set of pet nail clippers. These can be easily purchased from places like PETCO and PetsMart. You will want to clip your bunny's nails about once a month depending on how quickly they grow. This is important because if they get too long they can do considerably more damage with them and they can also snag on things like your carpet or funiture and possibly get ripped out entirely. Since rabbits can spook easily and are fragile creatures, it is best to have two people helping with the nail clipping endeavor: one person to hold, one person to clip. The most important thing to remember is to avoid clipping them too short. If you do you will clip what is know as the quick which will be painful and cause your little bunny to bleed.
In addition to brushing and trimming nails, you always want to keep a close eye on your rabbit, examining them every now and then for changes in their health and behavior. You can look in their ears and eyes, feel around their body etc. to make sure that everything looks normal. And just like any animal, they can be subjected to sickness and diseases so it is best to research these in advance so you know what to look out for.
Lastly, it is important that your bunny see a Veterinarian on a regular basis! Call ahead to the clinic where you think you want to go to find out if they have a Vet who is rabbit-savvy. It is imperative that your rabbit see the vet on an annual basis for a general health check-up!