Rabbit Care

Your New Pet Rabbit It is important that your new rabbit’s quarters be ready when you bring him/her home. Be sure s/he has fresh food, water and litter and a comfortable surface on which to stretch out. Several layers of newsprint, changed daily, works fine. Do not use carpeting, towels, or rags as rabbits will chew on them and may experience serious intestinal damage.

As soon as you and your bunny arrive home, gently place him/her in the cage you have prepared and leave your bunny alone. Your new companion needs time to rest and become familiar with it surroundings.

Keep your new pet well supplied with fresh food and water and ifs/he is using a litter pan, clean it periodically. Spend time in quiet activities nearby, speaking gently to your rabbit and letting your bunny get to know the sound of your voice.

A gradual approach will ease the introduction of a rabbit into a home with established pets. Some animals are more possessive of their territory than others. Consider your existing pet’s temperament before deciding to adopt a new bunny. Any introduction should be done gradually, starting with your rabbit safely in his/her cage and progressing as your established animal appears to accept the newcomer’s presence. Always watch your pets very carefully for any signs of hostility and be sure your rabbit can retreat to the security of his/her cage is s/he feels threatened. Be sure to spend a lot of time with your existing companion to minimize any problems with jealousy.

Litter Training
Rabbits are by nature fastidious animals; they are also creatures of habit. Both traits are helpful in training them to a litter box.

The cage you have selected should provide enough room to accommodate a litter box or at least to give your pet a bathroom corner not too near his/her preferred sleeping spot. You will usually find that once a toilet area is established, it will continue to use it as long as it is cleaned regularly.

When establishing the ground rules in your bunny’s training do not rush or expect too much immediately. Once your bunny has had several days to get used to its cage, allow freedom of one room. If possible, put a litter box outside your bunny’s cage. You many find that it is more comfortable with this arrangement and will wait until he is released from the cage to do his business. If your bunny starts soiling your floors, pick him/her up gently and firmly say ‘NO’. Then place your bunny in his/her litter box. Putting some of his/her stool in the litter may also help. If your bunny uses the box, do not hesitate to praise. Never, under any circumstances, resort to any discipline harder than a firm ‘No’. When necessary, putting your bunny back in his cage.

Chewing
Perhaps one of the hardest behaviours to deal with is the natural tendency to chew. Because a rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout its life, it is essential to have a good supply of material on which to wear them down. By keeping your rabbit well supplied with hay, you will be helping to minimize chewing behaviour on other unacceptable household items. It is a good idea to have a few small branches or a block of wood that he can chew on. Make sure that any wood you use is untreated and that it contains no pesticide residues.

Your rabbit will still choose on occasion to attack the chairs instead of chew sticks. Again, say to him in a firm not loud voice ‘No’. If he persists, pick him saying ‘No’ and place him gently in his cage. He should eventually get the message.

It is perhaps surprising and very sad, how often a surrendered rabbit turns out to be a wonderfully bright, responsible animal. The rabbit just needs consistent, gentle handling and a measure of compassion. The time spent with your bunny, getting to know him on his own terms and to appreciate his own unique personality, will pay off in a more contented, rewarding companion.

Accommodations
There are several terrific books available about rabbit care, which will give you an idea of the options available for housing your rabbit. Important considerations are size and location, security and ease of cleaning. The cage should of course be made of sturdy non-toxic materials.

When selecting accommodation for your rabbit, be careful that you do not purchase a cage that it will quickly outgrow. So-called “starter” cages may look roomy enough to hold a small bunny, but remember that a small bunny may grow to be a good-sized adult. Even if the rabbit you adopt is a dwarf breed, you should remember that it will spend much of its time in the cage. The roomier the cage, the happier your rabbit will be.

Make sure that the cage is not in direct sunlight or a drafty area. It should be in a relatively quiet area, away from noisy televisions and stereos but still within the sphere of family activities. Do not keep in the garage or in an unfinished basement, which the family rarely visits.

Exercise
A clean, roomy cage is a good start, but it is no substitute for adequate exercise and stimulation. Think of it from your bunny’s point of view. Life in a cage must be pretty boring. Therefore, you should be prepared to spend some time every day, preferably several times a day, supervising your rabbit as he explores the world around him. Bunnies do not always know what is good for them. You may find a nibble out of your chair leg or an electrical cord if you do not supervise the walk about. Make sure you tack or raise all wires out of your new bunny’s reach.

Use the time your rabbit spends out of the cage to get to know it. The best way to do this is by getting down to the rabbit’s level and letting it get to know you. Rabbits are very inquisitive. They will usually check out anything you are doing at floor level. If some of your daily activities, such as reading, can be done stretched out on the floor, why not spend that time with your bunny. Talk softly to your bunny and if it seems to want attention gently stroke his forehead and ears. Your rabbit may hop off a first, but if you are patient and do not force the issue, your rabbit will soon learn to trust you and to welcome this time together.

Keep in mind that most rabbits, while they enjoy this kind of attention, do not like being picked up and carried around. Rabbits have an instinctive fear of falling and are not comfortable unless they have all four feet on solid ground. Please ensure children in your household understand this fact. When you do pick up your rabbit, ensure it feels secure. Different rabbits will require different approaches, and you will soon learn how best to handle your own bunny. It is important, however, to fully support the hindquarters and to steady the rabbit as it is being lifted. NEVER pick your rabbit up by the ears or allow your child to do so. This causes intense pain to the animal.

Nutrition
The following information is a guide only. For questions about diet or any other aspects of your rabbit’s care, you should consult a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about rabbits. It is very important that your rabbit receive most of his nourishment in the form of good-quality rabbit pellets, which are available at most pet stores. They should look and smell fresh, not musty, and should be bought in relatively small quantities to ensure they do not become stale and lose their nutritive value. Schedule mealtime at about the same time each day, and give fresh pellets for each feeding. Another important element in your rabbit’s diet is hay, which provides roughage and helps to prevent the development of gastric hair balls, a serious health problem. Alfalfa hay is sold with other small-animal supplies at most pet stores. As with the pellets, it should be as fresh as possible.

Supply fruits and vegetable in small quantities only, no more than about 5% of your pet’s daily intake. Some appropriate choices are carrots, broccoli, parsley, alfalfa sprouts, apple and banana. Contrary to popular belief, lettuce and cabbage are not good choices, as they can lead to intestinal upsets. Be sure that the food is fresh and that any uneaten greens are promptly removed from the cage. Green foods should not be given to rabbits under the age of six months, and they should be introduced very gradually into the diet as the rabbit matures. Avoid any sudden changes to your rabbit’s diet.

As with any animal, it is essential that your rabbit have access to fresh, clean drinking water at all times. If you are using a water bottle with a sipper tube, be sure that it is rinsed daily and scrubbed frequently with a bottle brush to keep it clean. Also, ensure that it is correctly positioned on the cage; otherwise it will not dispense the water properly.