Rabbit Care – The Complete Guide
Rabbits are intriguing animals. They are bred and raised for a variety of purposes. Some people raise rabbits and enjoy competing in shows. Some people raise rabbits for a nutritious meat source. And a growing number of people are acquiring rabbits as pets. Rabbits are diverse in this way, and while fulfilling their owner’s purpose, they often bring a lot of joy and entertainment into the picture! If you are new to rabbit ownership, you’ll want to prepare your home or property so that you can provide for your rabbit’s needs. In this guide, we will help you understand everything you need to know to properly provide rabbit care to ensure your pet’s health and happiness.
Perhaps the most important thing to establish for your rabbit is a proper home. Rabbits are very versatile and often do well as indoor house pets. However, should you be raising multiple rabbits, or simply prefer not to share your living space with your furry friends, it is perfectly acceptable to house them outdoors. There are a few things to keep in mind when considering a house for your rabbit:
- It should be large enough for the rabbit
- It should be fairly easy to keep sanitary
- It should be well ventilated
- It should be shielded from wind and precipitation
- It should adequately protect the rabbit from predators
Whether or not you choose to house your rabbits inside your home, inside an outbuilding, or completely outdoors, all of those requirements should be met. If you are housing your animals outside though, and want to provide them with space to get out and exercise, it is still important to have an enclosed cage or hutch for your rabbit, at least part of the time. There are many options for cages, and many designs for hutches, but one of the most tried-and-true housing options is an all-wire cage. These cages meet all of the requirements listed above, and can be keep both in and outdoors. We offer a variety of sizes and options with our Supreme Rabbit Cages. Some features of our rabbit cages include:
- "Baby Saver" wire on the front.
- Protective 4" high urine guards on the sides and back.
- 1" x 2", 14 gauge wire, with a 1/2" x 1", 14 gauge wire floor.
- 10" x 12" front door, lined with plastic door guards.
- 2" high slide-out pan below the floor.
- Stackable design.
- All cages stand 19” high.
When selecting a size for your rabbit’s home, consider the following: the rabbit needs to be able to cage a few hopping steps in any direction across the floor of the cage, and the rabbit should be able to comfortably stand on its hind legs, and comfortably stretch out to its full length when laying down.
Some rabbits are prone to a condition called sore hocks, which can result from resting too much weight on the hind legs directly on the cage wire. You may find that a cage floor mat is useful for those animals, such as our EZ Mat. This provides a softer surface for the rabbit to rest on, is easy to clean, and has openings to allow droppings to fall through into the drop pan of the cage.
For those intending to breed, consider also the extra space required by a nest box, such as our Metal Rabbit Nest Box. These also come in various sizes, depending on the maximum size of your chosen breed, along with anticipated litter size. The cage for a doe and her nursing young will likely need to be slightly larger, depending on the breed of rabbits you choose to raise.
One of the main ways to ensure the health of your rabbit is through careful attention to dietary needs and a regular feeding schedule. Rabbits are creatures of habit, and much prefer to have consistent times of day that they can expect to be fed. Rabbits will do the bulk of their eating at dusk, so consider early evening as an ideal time to feed. You will need to have the following items on hand to maintain a healthy diet for your rabbit:
- Timothy or other grass hay: Rabbits are grazers, so they will munch on hay all day long. Hay is vital to both the oral and digestive health of your rabbit. We offer Spring Harvest Timothy Hay, which is formulated to meet your rabbit’s nutritional requirements. Rabbits’ teeth continue to grow throughout their entire lives. Grazing on hay grinds down the teeth in a natural way, and allows for an adequate amount of fiber in your rabbit’s diet. Fiber intake ensures proper digestion, and will drastically decrease the risk of impaction, diarrhea, and malnourishment. Hay should be free-fed, meaning your bunnies should have free access at all times.
- Pellet feed: Commercially produced pellets are composed of primarily alfalfa hay, which is high in protein. Pellets are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals that are essential to a balanced diet for rabbits. There are a wide variety of brands of pellets to choose from, and it is important to be consistent. Owners of rabbits should stick to a particular brand and formulation of feed and not vary, as this can cause massive digestive upsets. Keep in mind the percentage of protein in the feed you are offering – most rabbits should be offered feed with 16% protein. The exception is pregnant and nursing does, who should receive feed containing 18% protein. Pellet feed should be given in increments according to how much the rabbit weighs. Pay careful attention to nutrition labels and how much feed per day is recommended to feed your animal.
- Leafy green vegetables and herbs: Rabbits can be offered fresh green veggies a few times a week in small increments. While there are a wide variety of fruits that are digestible by rabbits, but they should be given sparingly, as fruit in general contains a lot of sugar that is unnecessary to a rabbit’s diet. As a general rule, only dark, leafy greens should be offered or easily digestible herbs such as parsley, basil, cilantro, and mint.
- Water: Rabbits must have access to fresh water at all times. Be sure to provide a water bottle or crock for your animals and check them regularly to make sure that they are full. It is not a good idea to offer water from a bowl on the cage floor, as this makes it easy for the water to accumulate excrement or get tipped over. If you would prefer to use crocks, consider our EZ crocks that adhere to the wire of the cage walls, getting them up off the floor.
Providing rabbits with the proper nutrition is crucial to their health and well-being. Rabbits fed the properly are less likely to develop tooth root, abscesses and malocclusions, fatty livers, and obesity.
Rabbits are fairly intelligent, and do best with opportunities to play, explore, and exercise. Although a caged rabbit can be perfectly content to spend most of its time in a small space, there are some things you can do as a rabbit owner to enrich your rabbit’s quality of life:
- Provide a toy or two inside the rabbit’s home (see Helpful Links at the end of this article for link to a list of bunny-appropriate toys.
- Give your rabbit time to get out and exercise. This can either be in a run constructed outside, or time inside the house. If you are bringing your rabbit inside, pay careful attention to the space your rabbit will have to play. Make sure to “bunny-proof” it! If you have an outside space for your rabbits to run, make sure the fencing surrounding it is at least 36 inches tall. Anything shorter, and you may find you have a runaway!
- Pet, groom, and spend time with your rabbit. If you begin handling your rabbit at a young age, it will become used to your voice and touch, and often show signs of affection, such as coming to greet you at the door of its cage.
Grooming and Cleaning:
Rabbits are naturally clean animals and groom themselves frequently. They do not typically need baths, and a few simple tools will keep your rabbit looking and feeling terrific! Here are some of the items you will want to have, and what they are for.
- Grooming brush: You will need a brush that is designed specifically for small animals. Rabbits go through a couple of molting cycles every year, and while they are shedding, it is important to brush them regularly. You might be amazed at how much fur can come out of such a small animal! With some good brushing sessions, you are helping prevent your rabbit from ingesting too much hair when it grooms itself. Hairballs can cause impactions in the digestive tract which is a severe health complication, as rabbits cannot vomit them up like cats can.
- Nail Clippers: Rabbits have needle sharp claws when they are not trimmed that can unfortunately cause some nasty scratches to their human friends. Also, overgrown claws can become hooked on cage wire, and can cause the rabbit to lose a toe. Not only is this very painful, but even as it heals, it is a disqualifier at rabbit shows. As claws grow, they curve inward, and can actually grow into and puncture the animal’s foot. Therefore, regular nail trims are vital to your rabbit’s well-being.
- Styptic Powder: You will also want to have some styptic powder on hand, in case you accidently cut down to the quick of the nail (the vein). Putting styptic powder at the source of the bleeding immediately stops it.
Equally important to grooming the rabbit itself is developing a consistent cage cleaning and sanitation routine and schedule. Most rabbits will pick one spot in their cage as the “toilet”, and the waste material should never be allowed to accumulate to the point that it is coming up from the drop pan through the wire on the cage floor. Try to clean cages at the same time, at a minimum of once per week. This routine should include scrubbing out crocks and water bottles, changing the bedding in drop pans, and spot treating the cage wire for accumulation of urine and feces. It is also highly recommended that your cages be pressure washed and sanitized with a non-toxic cleaner every month or two.
Proper care of your rabbit and proper maintenance of equipment will drastically reduce the risk of health complications. It is a good idea though, to find a vet in your area that specializes in small animals, or ideally, rabbits. You will be thankful to have established this contact in advance of any urgent medical needs arising. In addition, you will want to keep some basic first aid supplies on hand, and educate yourself about common ailments in rabbits. Some helpful supplies to have are:
- Digital thermometer with a flexible tip
- Petroleum jelly
- Cotton balls
- 10 cc, 5 cc, and 1 cc syringes for feeding or administering medicine
- Ice packs and heat packs
- Eye wash
- Critical Care (a nutritional supplement for rabbits unwilling or unable to eat their regular diet)
- Gauze bandages
- Vet tape, or vet wrap
- Ear cleaning solution
- Saline solution
- Baby aspirin (fruit flavored, if possible)
- Simethicone drops
Owning a rabbit is a very rewarding experience. Rabbits given an opportunity to have a high quality of life are friendly, energetic, playful, and entertaining! Our hope is that this guide gets you off to a great start with your new friend.
If you have more information or have a question, feel free to leave a comment below!
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