Rabbits can make excellent companions and pets for adults and families. They can have great personalities and often enjoy attention and affection from their families. However, rabbits require a considerable amount of care and are certainly not always “easy-keepers”. There are several important facts to keep in mind when considering whether or not a pet rabbit is the best choice for your family.
Bunnies need exercise, but many bunnies spend their lives in small cages with very little to do. This is not a good environment for an animal evolved for a life of foraging for food in a complex world. Bunnies can be litter trained, and with proper rabbit-proofing of the house, be given some supervised free-roaming time in the house. A large, solid-floored pen with toys can keep your bunny active and entertained when he has to be confined. Rabbits can also learn to take walks outside on a harness.
Bunnies need good, quality nutrition. The most common health problems of house rabbits are nutrition related. Not surprisingly, obesity is the number one problem. Other diet-related problems include kidney and bladder stones, diarrhea, and trichobezoars (very firm hairballs in the stomach). The proper diet for bunnies is unlimited access to fresh grass hay, and 1 cup of mixed fresh vegetables per day. Vegetables should include dark green leafy veggies, root vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables. Very high water content vegetables such as lettuce should be avoided or given in very small quantities. Commercial pelleted rabbit food should be limited to 1/8 of a cup per day at most for a 4lb rabbit. Water should be in a water bottle, and checked daily to make sure it is dispensing water properly and not clogged.
Bunnies should be spayed or neutered just like your dog and cat. Before you purchase a bunny check in your area for a veterinarian who sees rabbits. Neutering helps prevent aggressive tendencies in male rabbits, and spaying (removal of uterus and ovaries) prevents serious health problems in female rabbits. Uterine cancer is very common in unspayed rabbits over 4 years old. If you have more than one rabbit, spaying and neutering will prevent you from being quickly overrun with rabbits. It can be difficult to differentiate males from females when they are young, and many people who thought they had two females have been surprised with baby bunnies.
Bunnies have very long backs that can break if they kick or struggle when picked up. Because of this it is important to handle bunnies daily from the time they are small so they become accustomed to it. This also makes bunnies better pets for adults and older children who are able to properly hold them. One good way to carry a bunny is the football hold- with the entire rabbit supported by your left forearm, head toward your elbow and left hand under his rump, with your right hand on top of the bunny to keep him from jumping.
Bunnies also need to be house safely. Pens or hutches should have solid bottoms, not wire. Wire can cause injury and infections in rabbits’ feet. Bedding should consist of quantities of fresh grass hay sufficient for nesting in. Wood shavings are not recommended, because they can be physically irritating, and some contain natural chemicals that are toxic to rabbits. If housed outdoors hutches need to be predator-proof and sheltered from the weather. Bunnies are especially prone to heatstroke and should not be outside if it is hotter than 75-78F. Access to shade and water should always be available. Harsh winters can also be very difficult for bunnies. Rabbits are much safer and live longer if housed indoors. A well-cared for indoor rabbit lives between 7-10 years. When allowing your rabbit to roam freely in the house make sure to bunny proof the area. Rabbits love to chew! And can fit in very small holes!
Although bunnies do not need yearly vaccinations, there are some occasions when you may need to take them to see a veterinarian. Before purchasing your bunny, it is a good idea to locate a veterinarian in your area who treats rabbits. Schedule an initial visit when you first get your rabbit to determine if it is male or female, and to check for any potential problems such as misaligned teeth, nasal discharge, or ear infections. During the appointment you can discuss spaying or neutering, and proper care and handling. It is an emergency when rabbits won’t eat or have watery diarrhea and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
Getting a new pet is never a decision that should be taken lightly. Making sure that you have done proper research before bringing a new animal into your home helps to ensure your happiness as well as theirs. If you have any questions relating to the proper care of your current pet rabbits, or are considering bringing a new rabbit into your home please feel free to call River Road Veterinary Clinic at (802)649-3877 with any questions.