The purpose of these pages is to provide new and prospective rabbit owners with basic information needed to properly house and care for a pet rabbit. The information here has been obtained from years of knowledge passed on by many experienced breeders, in addition to our own. Raising rabbits to be competitive in shows, requires good husbandry skills and a breeding program that produces healthy and high quality animals.
We recommend that prospective rabbit owners acquire housing and supplies prior to bringing a new rabbit home. If you already have your new pet, or are an experienced owner, we hope you will gain some new knowledge to help your rabbit live a long and happy, healthy life.
WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP RABBITS?
People raise rabbits for many reasons. For some, it's the pure enjoyment of a warm and cuddly pet. For others, it is a 4-H or Ag-Ed project. Some people raise rabbits for the high quality and low fat meat that can be produced for the table, or for fur used for lining clothing or fiber used for spinning yarn. Then there are those who want to improve the breed they are raising and enjoy the fun and competition of showing.
CAN I MAKE MONEY RAISING RABBITS?
We would like to point out that it is nearly impossible to make money raising rabbits. Usually, you can break even, but the money derived from the sale of rabbits, often doesn't cover the supplies and feed expenses. Showing at fairs, where premiums are paid, really helps with the overall expenses of running a rabbitry. We look at raising show rabbits like any other hobby that has expenses associated with it. If your interest is in owing a pet rabbit, there are costs for proper care, housing and feed, as there would be with any pet. Even large commercial rabbitries have difficulty turning a large profit due to the cost of housing, feed and labor needed to care for the herd.
WHERE CAN I GET A RABBIT FROM?
We recommend you research what breed of rabbit you would like to own and then find a reputable breeder. These breeders will belong to ARBA, the American Rabbit Breeders Association, many have their rabbitries registered and have good reputations. Be very careful when going to see a rabbit. Look at the rabbitry carefully and look at the rabbits as well. If you see something you are uncomfortable with, don't buy from them. Be wary of pet and feed stores as well. Most will get their stock from what we call "Backyard Raisers" the rabbit world's equivalent of "puppy mills". Most want very young bunnies because of their cute factor, which helps increase sales. They also often house bunnies in communal caging and often with other kinds of animals. Communal caging creates high exposure to disease, worms, parasites, bite wounds and unplanned breedings. Reputable breeders do not sell bunnies under 8 weeks of age. Selling bunnies younger than 8 weeks is considered inhumane treatment since many bunnies sold this young do not survive much longer than 2-3 months, due to being weaned too early. As with any purchase, the advice "buyer beware" applies to pets as well. One of the best places to buy a rabbit would be to go to an ARBA show in your area. They are listed on the ARBA website. There you can see all the breeds and speak with breeders. Most will have rabbits for sale. You may be tempted to rescue a rabbit from a shelter or rescue organization. While this is a viable option, be aware that your new pet may have been abused and has certainly been through something very stressful. This is a great option for an experienced rabbit owner, but may not be a very good option for someone who has never owned a rabbit before and not a good option if a child is to be the owner. It may take a very long time for a shelter rabbit to trust anyone, if they ever will. Use your own judgment when deciding which option is best for you to acquire your new pet, based on your experience and circumstances.
FINDING HOMES FOR RABBITS YOU RAISE
If you are considering breeding your rabbit, you should consider what you are going to do with the litter that results. It can be hard to find good homes for your babies. You could try selling to pet stores, or feed stores, but you should think about what was stated above. The amount of money that they will offer you for them, will probably not even cover what you have put into raising it. Then they will turn around and charge 2 or 3 times what they paid you. We do our best to be sure that the people we sell to will be good pet owners. It is very important to us that our rabbits are well taken care of and in a safe and healthy environment. Many unwanted rabbits are left at shelters or worse turned loose in the wild by owners who have grown tired of them. This usually means a slow and painful death for their former pet. We ask that people call us if they are having a problem or for some reason can no longer care for their pet and we try to find a safe placement for them. For these reasons, we will not be discussing breeding rabbits, or raising litters.
WHAT DOES PURE BRED AND PEDIGREED MEAN?
A pure bred rabbit is a rabbit whose ancestors are the same breed going back 4 generations. The pedigree of a rabbit contains information about that individual rabbit. The pedigree details the rabbit's name, birth date, weight, owner, breeder, ear number, color, show winnings and a complete listing of its parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Both pure bred and mixed breed rabbits can have a pedigree. Outcomes of breeding pure bred rabbits is predictable, unlike mix breeding when you don't know what the kits will look like or how they act. All reputable breeders will provide a pedigrees with pure bred rabbits. Cross breeders can also provide pedigrees showing what breeds are in the rabbit's background.
SHOW QUALITY ANIMALS
A pedigree does not guarantee a show quality animal. An animal with a pedigree may have a defect that could cause it to be disqualified on the judging table. If you are looking for show quality animals, be sure to get an evaluation from an experienced, reputable breeder of that breed, or a rabbit judge before purchasing. Reputable breeders will not mind you having the rabbit evaluated by another breeder at a show. Also, most judges will happily give you an opinion, if you ask them when they are not busy judging, usually when they have finished one breed, before they start another. Be aware that the show quality of an animal will usually increase the sale price. A pedigree is not required to show a rabbit at 4-H or an American Rabbit Breeders Association show, but is really needed to develop a good breeding program and it is required to register a rabbit with ARBA.
ARE RABBITS GOOD PETS FOR SMALL CHILDREN?
Rabbits make great pets for school age children and up. Many younger children often have not developed an understanding of the need to be gentle and calm when handling animals. Rabbits are intelligent, curious, playful, and sensitive animals. When handled roughly, they can become scared and stressed, and may bite or scratch because they are frightened. Handled with patience, kindness and confidence, rabbits make very affectionate and loving pets.
HOW OLD SHOULD A RABBIT BE BEFORE GOING TO A NEW HOME?
As stated above, rabbits purchased from a pet or feed store are often removed from their mothers at too early an age, because small, cuddly animals sell better. Young rabbits are fragile and often become very ill and die when exposed to the excessive stress of new food and surroundings. For this reason, most reputable breeders will not sell a rabbit that is less than 8 weeks old. In many states this is a law as well. Rabbits are usually weaned at six weeks and are given two full weeks to adjust to their new diet and being away from mom. This is a very important time when they are watched closely for any signs of distress or illness, so that when they are sold after 8 weeks of age everything has been done to insure they are healthy and ready for a new home.
WHERE DO I BUY RABBIT FOOD?
It is best to buy your feed and hay from a farm or feed store. We feed Purina, but any brand name pellets with 16% protein is fine. Pet, grocery and department stores do carry rabbit food, but at a much higher price. Also, most contain things your rabbits doesn't need and the stock can be old, resulting in a lose of nutritional value. Feed should be used within 3 months of its milling date.
HOW LONG WILL MY RABBIT LIVE?
Domestic rabbits have been known to live up to 10 years, a few have lived longer. The average life span is 7 years. The length of your rabbit's life depends on many factors. Environment, care and health play important roles. Rabbits do not need vet checkups, or shots.
ONE RABBIT OR TWO OR MORE?
A word about cage mates. Rabbits are very territorial and require their own space or cage. If you feel you feel your rabbit needs companionship because you are unable to spend much time with him you have two options, either buy a double cage with a divider or be prepared for a time intensive and possibly futile attempt a bonding a pair. Your rabbit would be fine with only ten minutes a day of time with you. The House Rabbit Society believes in bonding pairs of rabbits and has a lot of material available to help owners try the process. Keep in mind however, never place two unbonded rabbits together unattended. Two males will likely fight to the death, as may two females. A male and female will work, but will likely mate in a matter of seconds, unless one is neutered or spayed. Two females will sometimes bond with monitoring and patience. Female litter mates offer the best chance of success, but it is a long process. For two rabbits, a double, or side by side cages is the easiest option.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT
WILL MY RABBIT BE FRIENDLY?
Each rabbit has its own personality which can change as it matures, just like people. A young rabbit can be squirmy and flighty and have a short attention span, making it difficult to train and handle. At 4-8 months of age, rabbits go through a "teenage stage", as they are becoming sexually mature. During this growth phase, your rabbit may become aggressive and like human teenagers, can become quite a handful. But as with humans, this phase passes. Once a rabbit reaches full maturity at 6-8 months, its true and final personality will emerge. Like people, some rabbits are more affectionate and playful than others, some will be grumpy or aggressive. For this reason we feel that for many children, adult rabbits, over 6 months of age, are better suited as pets, as their true nature and personality has developed. Having your rabbit spayed or neutered, may partially, or completely resolve an aggression problem. However, please be aware, not many vets are very familiar with rabbit biology and it can be hard to find a knowledgeable vet to perform the surgery. Also, if you do decide to go this route, be aware you could lose your pet. Rabbits do not always do well being put under, it can be dangerous for them and many never wake up from it.
Outside variables can have an impact on the temperament of your rabbit. Exposure to loud noises, aggressive dogs and cats, loud and noisy children and rough treatment can have a negative result on your rabbit's temperament. A rabbit who has little human contact will not develop attachments to people and will fear infrequent contact. When provided with a safe and secure environment, treated with respect and kindness, your rabbit can be a wonderful and affectionate companion and pet.
WILL MY RABBIT SCRATCH AND BITE ME?
Generally, under normal circumstances, the answer would be no, not unless your rabbit is frightened for some reason. A little respect goes a long way. All rabbits have strong hind legs, sharp claws and very sharp teeth that are used for defense. These can cause serious scratches or bites. Rabbits are classified as prey animals, and are not aggressive by nature, but they can be driven into fight or flight mode and have the ability to seriously hurt what they think is threatening them. If your rabbit is scared, upset, hurt or sick and is acting in an aggressive manner, grunting, lashing out with claws, do not put your hand near him. Try talking quietly to him and wait until he calms down before trying to handle him. If waiting is not an option, gently drop a towel over him and place your hand on his back. This should allow you to pick him up in the towel, with out injury. Usually, when a rabbit's eyes are covered, he will calm down. Hopefully, you will never need to use this tip, but it does come in handy.
CAN I PLAY WITH MY RABBIT RIGHT AWAY?
Take time to get to know your rabbit and for your rabbit to get to know you. Allow your rabbit to adjust to its new surroundings for a few days before trying to play. Some rabbits adjust right away, while others take longer. After he has had a chance to get settled, approach him and quietly talk to him using his name. Move slowly when you reach his cage and make a little noise, to be sure he knows you are approaching him to avoid startling him. We always call "hello" when we open our rabbitry door so they all know we are coming in. If your rabbit runs away from your hand, don't chase him. Let him settle down and very slowly reach toward his head and gently stroke between his ears and eyes. Before long, your rabbit will look forward to you opening the cage door and meet you with his head for a good scratch. Most of our inside rabbits live with their cage doors open. They don't jump out and won't let you walk by without a friendly pat and scratch. When taking your rabbit out of the cage always remember to scoop him up and not drag him. Put one hand on his back, and with the other, go around the rump and under the tail and gently scoop him out. Dragging can tear out nails, and scare your pet.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO CARRY OR HOLD MY RABBIT?
Many rabbits do not like being carried as they are afraid of heights. Get to know your rabbit at his level. Sit on the floor with with your rabbit in the beginning. As you earn his trust, slowly introduce height and movement. It is very important to fully support him when carrying. He will feel most secure against your body. We tell kids to hold him like a baby, with one hand and arm supporting his bottom and the other on his back holding him close and firmly to their chest. This way of holding also makes it easy to move your hand up over his eyes, if need be. Rabbits have very fine bones that can break easily if he were allowed to jump from your arms. Support and a firm hold are key. If he does seem frightened or upset, cover his eyes with your hand until he calms down and relaxes, all the while talking to him in a quiet voice. Another way is called the "football hold". This hold requires your rabbit's head to be tucked under one arm, firmly supporting him with your forearm and your hand around his rump. Since his eyes are hidden under your arm, usually he will relax. This method is useful when you need a hand free for something else. Rabbits feel more secure on a carpet, rather than hard, slick floors. You may want to use a special rug for him, if you have tile or hard wood floors. Use one that is big enough for both you and your rabbit to play and lay on. With time and patience, your rabbit will look forward to your attention and trust you to handle and carry him.
WHY DOES MY RABBIT SEEM TO BE AFRAID OF ME?
Rabbits, like horses, dogs and other animals, can sense nervousness and insecurity in someone who is handling them and will react to it. The key is to be confident and calm when you are handling your rabbit. The more confident you are, the less nervous he will be. If you are afraid of him, he will sense this in your touch and will be afraid of you, much the same way a baby will cry when an inexperienced person picks them up or holds them. Handle your rabbit in a secure environment where you feel comfortable. A movable wire fence, set up in the yard, is a great place for your rabbit to romp safely and interact with you and others. It creates a safe place for the rabbit and you, without fear of having to chase an escapee, which can be very stressful for both of you. A lightweight 3 foot high wire fence can be easily rolled up and moved around the yard. Both you and your rabbit will enjoy this safe place to play and exercise in freedom. Be sure that you are not locating this play area on lawns that have been treated with pesticides or fertilizers as your rabbit will nibble the grass and it could be fatal. Also, never leave your rabbit alone in the play pen. Aside from his ability to very quickly dig a hole under it and escape, other animals may find him a very attractive plaything or prey.
HOUSING AND SUPPLIES
A rabbit may be housed in your home, garage, shed or hutch. Wherever you keep your rabbit, he will need protection from the rain, wind, direct sun and other animals. All cages should be all wire, with a removable drop pan underneath. Floor wire should be 1" x 1/2 " wire. This size allows droppings to fall through, preventing a dangerous build-up of manure and urine and provides plenty of support for your rabbit's feet. Inside, plain kitty litter can be put in the pan to absorb odors and is easy to clean since most rabbits will pick a potty corner and always go there. be sure to pour the litter into the pan in a different room so your rabbit is not exposed to the dust. Rabbits can be kept in solid bottom cages with pine shavings or other safe litter, but it must be cleaned very often and can get expensive and messy. Wire cages are easy to clean and provide protection for your rabbit from other pets, and cannot be chewed through by your rabbit. A word about wood hutches with dirt floors and a wire enclosure. Rabbits can dig or chew their way out. Burying fence wire about a foot underground and placing the side fencing on top of this can prevent escape, but it is very hard work.
Polish rabbits do well in an 18" by 24" cage, mini-rex and hollands should have a 24"x 24" x 18" cage. The more room the better. Double cages are fine for two rabbits and should have either a solid or wire divider. Be sure the divider wire is the same as the cage floor so biting and scratching cannot take place through the wire. We sometimes will divide a cage using hardware cloth wire as it has really small holes. Belgian Hares require special housing which is discussed in their section of this site.
LOCATION OF OUTSIDE HUTCHES AND WASTE MANAGEMENT
If you plan on keeping your rabbit outside in a hutch, the same size wire should be used for the cage part floor. The floor should be waist high to allow easy access. Also, be aware that rabbits can chew through wooden doors and also are very attractive to predators who can easily knock them over. The hutch should also be movable, or you must remove the waste underneath frequently. Another drawback to outside hutches is you can not play with your pet inside in the winter. Rabbits cannot take the drastic temperature between inside and out during the winter. Also, you must be sure to wrap the hutch in sturdy plastic to keep out the wind and be sure to put the rabbit in the hutch part at night with plenty of hay, and on really cold, windy days. Rabbits will adjust to seasonal temperatures without any problems and can do well in the winter outside, they just might be very lonely. Also, you must be prepared to go out in all kinds of weather, at least twice a day to feed and water. We suggest a better option is a garage, shed or porch, where you can bundle up and still play and spend time with your rabbit out of his hutch or cage.
The hutch, shelter or shed should be placed so it faces away from the prevailing wind. To provide additional protection from winter weather you can hang a removable plastic or canvas flap along the open side of the structure. You need to be sure to provide plenty of under the cage ventilation to prevent build up of ammonia fumes from urine. Respiratory problems can develop easily if rabbits are kept in enclosures without sufficient ventilation. Keep in mind when selecting or building your rabbit's housing that they will chew on any exposed wood. So do not use wood that has been treated in any way. If your cage part does not have a drop pan, you may want to attach plastic sheeting under the cage to direct the droppings to a bucket for easy removal. A better way of waste management is to let the droppings fall to the ground and then periodically move them to your garden or flower beds, as rabbit droppings make excellent fertilizer. They can be place directly on plants without fear of burning them. Rabbit droppings do not require composting, but it is advisable to kill the seeds fro the grass hay you may be feeding your rabbits.
FEED AND WATER CONTAINERS
Your rabbit will need two containers, one for food and one for water. Feed dishes should be heavy enough so they cannot be tipped over or chewed. We use metal poultry dishes that attach to the side of the cage. Pet stores carry plastic attachable ones as well, that can be used for food or water. Heavy ceramic crocks designed for pet use can also be used for both. Water bottles work great for indoor rabbits. They can be used in the summer for outside rabbits, but freeze in the winter, so a crock is better for outside in the winter. Fresh water must be given each day. Bottles and crocks must be cleaned thoroughly and frequently to prevent build up of bacteria and algae.
A clean environment is critical to the health and happiness of your rabbit. You should clean your rabbit's cage at least once a week. Use a stiff plastic or metal brush to clean any droppings that may accumulate on the bottom of the cage. We use metal outside grill brushes. You should clean the cage with a water and bleach solution (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water) occasionally. To clean the cage, remove your rabbit, detach cages from outside hutches or shelters (if possible) inside cages can be cleaned outside, or in the bathtub. Scrub the entire cage with the bleach solution, rinse well and allow to dry in the sun. The sun will help disinfect the cage. Hutches should also be wiped down and cleaned frequently. For inside cages with pans, cleaning the pan one a week is fine. If using kitty litter, you can just remove the soiled litter and replace as needed.
Excessive temperatures can be fatal to your rabbit, and temperatures above 80 degrees can be uncomfortable. In summer, if your rabbit is laying down and breathing hard, he is too warm and heatstroke is a threat. Make sure your rabbit is NEVER left in direct sunlight. Outside rabbits may need to be moved to a cooler location during extreme heat and humidity. A good place for outside hutches are under a tree, so that shade can be provided at all times during the day. You can cool your rabbit by filling a couple of 2 liter soda bottles and freezing them. Place the frozen bottle in your rabbit's cage and replace when it melts, rotating the melted one back into the freezer. If inside, do not place your rabbit's cage near AC drafts. Cold temperatures will not harm rabbits if they are protected from the wind, rain and snow. It is the drafts, not the temperature which can kill your rabbit. In winter, for outside rabbits, the main concern is water in sub-freezing temperatures. You will have to remove the ice or replace the water crock several times a day when it is below freezing. You can provide some extra insulation with a cardboard or wooden box filled with hay in the hutch part of their cage, so they can sit in it and conserve warmth. You can also increase the amount of pellets during very cold periods. Rabbits require more food during cold weather to help generate the heat needed to keep warm. You CANNOT bring outdoor rabbits in and out during winter. They cannot adjust to the large change in temperatures from outside to in and back again. This can cause them to become very ill and you could lose your pet.
Rabbits love to chew. A block of soft wood, such as fir or pine will provide your rabbit with a chew and play toy. A void plywood, or any manufactured woods that contain glue as this can harm your rabbit. Rabbits are playful and may enjoy some of the following toys: cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper, paper cups, newspaper balls, straw baskets, canning jars rings, empty soda cans, wire balls with a bell in them, cardboard boxes, pine cones and tuna fish cans. Hanging parrot toys are great and toy cat balls with bells. When looking for a toy, if the plastic looks flimsy or chewable, don't buy it. Look for things made of heavy thick plastic.
Rabbits are timid by nature. Loud and sudden noises or movement can startle your rabbit and can create unhealthy stress. This can affect your rabbit's temperament and character. Whenever possible, protect your rabbit from loud and abrupt noises.
Your rabbit can be very hard to catch if allowed to run free in a open yard or house. If at all possible avoid chasing your pet because this will cause unnecessary stress and teach him to fear your approach. Remember rabbits were originally prey animals and those instincts to run and hide when scared still exist in rabbits today. In an emergency, a long handle fish net works as a rabbit catcher, but may entangle and harm him if he continues to struggle once caught. creating a corral out of wire fencing or other objects works best. If your rabbit is allowed to roam on a lawn, be sure it hasn't been recently chemically treated. Munching on treated grass can make your rabbit ill. You can use a rabbit H harness and a long leash when taking your rabbit outside. The rabbit will not allow you to direct it, like a dog, but the harness will allow the rabbit to wander and explore without fear of getting loose.
Rabbit's toenails need to be trimmed about every 2 months. As the nails grow they develop into a hook. If a rabbit is startled, he may jump and leave his toenail hooked around the bottom wire of the cage, which will rip off the nail at the toe. Trim nails will also reduce the risk of getting badly scratched by your rabbit. To trim your pet's toenails, sit in a chair or on a sofa and place a towel on your lap. Lay the rabbit on his back, pinning his head firmly between your knees with his rear feet near your body. A light colored rabbit will have clear nails through which you can clearly see the pink quick of the toe which grows into the nail about a quarter of an inch. Using regular people toenail clippers, or dog nail clippers trim the four nails on each back foot and the five on each front foot, being careful not to cut too close to the quick. On dark colored rabbits it is hard to see the quick. We trim outside on a sunny day so it is easier to see the quick. Using this method leaves both hands free to trim the nails. The towel prevents the rabbit from sliding between your legs and protects you from scratches. Another method is to use a bunny wrap. We wrap exposing the rear feet, do them and wrap again exposing the front feet. Using the wrap, you can roll the rabbit on his back for easy access to the feet. After you have trimmed nails a few times, your rabbit and you will become used to the procedure and he will be more cooperative. Keep a tissue or septic pencil handy in case you do cut the quick. Just apply gentle pressure to the toe and it will stop bleeding in a few minutes. Even we miss sometimes, so don't worry if you do.
FEEDING YOUR RABBIT
WHAT TO FEED YOUR RABBIT
Rabbits have a very sensitive digestive systems. Fresh commercial alfalfa based pellets are the best and most popular source of proper nutrition for your rabbit. When choosing pellets for your rabbit, check the contents label and make sure you have at least 16% protein. Make sure the pellets are no older than three months from the milling date. Buy no more feed than can be consumed by your rabbit within two months. Most can be bought in 25lb. bags. Fresh feed hard, greenish and has a nice fresh alfalfa aroma. Old feed will lose nutrients, is soft and crumbly, may turn brown, lose the fresh aroma and may contain an excessive amount of fines. Fines are feed dust created from the pellets rubbing against each other in the bag. Bags of feed that are handled roughly handled or old will have more fines in them. Rabbits will not eat fines and it should be removed from the feed dish daily. If left in the dish, fines can be inhaled by your pet while eating, which can cause respiratory problems. Look for feed that has a minimum amount of fines in the bag to avoid excessive waste of feed. Make sure that the feed is stored in a dry place to preserve the life of the nutrients. If feed gets damp, wet or moldy, do not feed it to your pet as it will make him very sick.
Once you have chosen a brand of feed, stick with it. If you should have to change brands, do so gradually by mixing a small amount of the new feed with the old. Steadily increase the amount of new food each day over a period of a week or so until the changeover is complete. During the change your rabbit may reduce his daily food intake due to the change in the ingredients. Always be sure to buy a new bag of feed when you still have about a weeks worth of feed left, in case the store may be temporarily out of your regular feed and you have to get something else until it comes in. This way, you always have enough to switch over gradually.
The most important part of your rabbit's diet is clean fresh water. Make sure that water is available at all times. A rabbit will not eat if water is not available. Water crocks or bottles should be changed daily. Water containers should be cleaned weekly to avoid contamination.
Commercial pellets contain salt. It is not necessary to provide a salt spool. Salt spools will reduce the life of your wire cage as they promote rust and salt is not needed by your rabbit.
HOW MUCH TO FEED
Allow a young rabbit to eat as much as they want up to about 4-5 months of age. After that regulate the amount of food available. A Polish rabbit should consume 1/3 of a cup, Mini-rex and Holland Lops, 1/2 a cup and Belgian Hares, 1 cup of pellets per day. Use a measuring cup. The amount of food your rabbit will need will vary by size, activity level, and time of year. Outside rabbits will need more in the winter. The general rule of thumb is 1oz. of pellets per pound of body weight. Polish rabbits should weigh 2 1/2 lbs to 3 1/2 lbs., Mini-rex 4 to 4 1/2 lbs., Holland Lops 3-4 lbs., and Belgian Hares about 8 lbs. Over feeding can cause a fat and unhealthy rabbit. To determine the correct amount to offer daily, you will need to observe the amount of food eaten per day. If feed is left over from the previous day, reduce the amount given. If it is completely gone, you can add a little more, until you figure out the right amount. Rabbits are all different in their eating habits, just as people are. some will take their time and munch all day, while others will inhale the whole dish at once. By feeding your rabbit the same amount each day, you can easily observe if your rabbit has stopped eating or reduced his feed intake, which could be an indicator that something might be wrong. If your rabbit stops eating, it is important to take corrective action immediately. If he stops eating completely, or significantly reduces his daily ration, try one or more of the following: Check to make sure there is plenty of fresh water available, remove any old food from the feed dish and replace with fresh, tempt him with treat foods to get him to start eating again, provide plenty of timothy hay. Check the amount of droppings in the pan. If there seems to be less than normal, there may be a blockage. Feed only oats, hay and water until the droppings return to the normal amount.
ADDITIONAL FOOD AND TREATS
Fresh vegetables and fruits will be very much enjoyed by your rabbits in "small" amounts as treats, like candy for children. Offering too much fruits and vegetables may result in loose stool or diarrhea. Treats are just that, treats and should not replace their pellet feed. It is critical that the commercial pellets are the base food source to meet your pet's daily nutritional needs. Suggested treats include: apple, banana, carrot, celery, black berry leaves, watermelon rind, dandelion leaves, clover flowers, dried wheat bread, cheerios, or other unsweetened cereal. remember though, only feed a small amount and only once or twice a week. Avoid lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower. Be careful not to feed your rabbit treats that have been treated with chemicals such as weed killers or pesticides. Treats from the store like yogurt drops are fine as well. We feed crimped, rolled oats in the evening. In winter, we mix them with black oil sunflower seeds, as these are considered a "hot" food and help them to produce heat that they need to keep warm. Uncooked regular "Quaker Oats" or any store brand makes a great evening treat. Dandelion ;eaves and black berry leaves act as natural medicene for rabbits. Give up to four leaves per day if your rabbit is not acting normally. Do not provide treats that contain refined sugars, honey or molasses.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FIBER
Rabbits groom themselves like cats and ingest a considerable amount of fur in the process. In order to move the fur through the rabbit's system, fiber is required. The best source of fiber is grass hay. Timothy hay is your best choice. Higher protein hay, such as alfalfa will unbalance the nutrition supplied by the pelleted food. Pellets are usually alfalfa based, feeding alfalfa hay will unbalance the diet. A handful of timothy hay weekly will help move the fur along the digestive tract and prevent intestinal blockages, which are life threatening. An indication of a need for more fiber is the presence of droppings strung together with fur. Grass hay has little nutritional value and should not be used in place of pellets. Rabbits do enjoy hay and you cannot hurt them by giving them hay daily. many feed stores carry Timothy hay cubes. The hay is compressed into cubes. these are great if you have only 1 or 2 rabbits, provide the same benefits with much less mess.
COMMOM HEALTH PROBLEMS
Rabbits are generally low maintenance when it comes to health issues. Rabbits do not require vaccines or booster shots and do not require regular vet visits like dogs and cats. The following information covers the common maladies that may occur with your rabbit.
The most common problem that a rabbit owner comes across is loose stool and diarrhea. Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems and care needs to be given in the food offered in order to prevent serious health conditions. Left unchecked, diarrhea can cause death within 24 hours. Diarrhea can be caused by a number of conditions: a change in diet, stress, too much treat foods, contaminated food or water, old or moldy hay or food. Hay needs to be kept dry and inspected for excess weeds and mold. Do not feed moldy hay or food to your rabbit. Moldy hay or food can be deadly if fed to your rabbit. If loose stool or diarrhea occurs, remove the pellets and feed only hay and oats. When the problem is corrected, you can offer pellets again. A dirty cage will allow your rabbit to ingest contaminates which may cause illness. Keeping cages and dishes clean and food and hay dry, are the best preventative medicene that you can offer to keep your rabbit happy and healthy.
A common concern with new rabbit owners is discovering their rabbit eating what appears to be a clump of feces that look like a big, wet blackberry or salmon eggs. Do not be alarmed as this is a normal daily occurrence called night feces. Night feces are an important part of a rabbit's digestive cycle which usually occurs at night. Night feces contain important nutrients that were not absorbed the first time through the digestive system that all rabbits need, so they are eaten. normally this occurs at night and is not often seen.
New rabbit owners also get concerned when they see red or bloody looking urine in the litter pan. The red color is not blood and should not be a concern. The red color is natural. Some rabbits produce red urine, while others never will.
If your rabbit stops eating:
Day 1: Check that your rabbit has plenty of fresh, clean water. Remove any uneaten pellets and replace with fresh.
Day 2: Provide hay, rolled oats and treat foods to induce eating. Check your rabbit's mouth for any teeth problems or mouth sores. If sores are found seek assistance from a vet familiar with rabbits.
Day 3: Consult a vet familiar with rabbits.
Rabbits sometimes develop malocclusion (buck teeth) that will prevent them from eating. Malocclusion is identified by examining your rabbit's front teeth. Normally the two top front teeth will overlap the bottom two front teeth. If the bottom teeth overlap the top teeth, the rabbit has a malocclusion problem. It is usually a genetic condition that can be identified at an early age 8-12 weeks. For this reason it is important to ask to see the rabbit's teeth before buying. It also can occur at any age as a result of chewing and pulling on the wire of the cage. Sometimes, a rabbit can be chewing the wire, get startled, and pulls back, pulling the bottom jaw forward and causing malocclusion. If a rabbit does have malocclusion the bottom and top teeth will not wear down as they were designed to do. They will continue to grow and will become excessively long. They can grow up and into or out of the upper lip and the top ones will start to cut the indie of the mouth. The only way to treat this condition is by clipping the teeth with wire cutters. It is a life long problem and is not correctable. The teeth must be clipped about once a month. If you can't bring yourself to do this, a vet can do it, or show you how. A less severe case of malocclusion is called trap teeth. This is where the teeth meet, instead of over lapping. In a very young rabbit, this can correct itself as the head grows larger. Sometimes the teeth can be clipped down as far as possible and sometimes may grow back correctly. If not, a rabbit can still eat with trap teeth and they do get ground down because they meet, but the rabbit cannot be shown and would be disqualified. Checking teeth is the most important thing for you to check before you buy a rabbit.
Sore hocks are sores or bare spots that develop on the pads of the rabbit's feet. It mainly affects rabbit breeds who have very little fur on their feet and the underside of the lower back legs, like Mini-rex and Belgian Hares. It is a serious condition and it is usually caused by a dirty cage, or rough cage floor. For this reason Belgian Hares need a solid floor hutch, not cage wire. Most small breeds do not develop sore hocks. Mini-rex should have a resting board, made of wood or from a rabbit store. The resting board allows the rabbit to get off the wire and helps prevent this condition. The sores can become infected very easily. Keep the wounds clean with a disinfectant, and disinfect and clean the resting board frequently. The best treatment is Preparation H cream. Put the cream on and wrap the feet in gauze, and cover with tape. We tape baby socks on the feet so they can't lick the sores. Change the dressings daily until the sores heal up. Once they are healed, be sure to keep the cage bottom clean and clean the board as often as needed.
SNEEZING, RUNNY NOSE AND/OR EYES
Colds, sneezing runny eyes or nose is usually a sign of a respiratory problem most commonly caused by a build up of fumes in the cage from ammonia, just plain stress, or even the change of he seasons. First, provide a quiet, well ventilated and clean living place. If the discharge from the nose or eyes is clear, it is probably just a cold or allergy and will clear up on its own in a couple of days. If the discharge is white or yellow, you may have a serious problem known a Snuffles. Snuffles is the most dreaded illness known to rabbit breeders. Snuffles is treatable, but not curable, and is highly contagious to other rabbits. At the first sign of a white or yellow discharge from the nose or eyes the rabbit must be isolated from any other rabbits to prevent it from spreading. Clean the discharge from runny eyes with a swab and rinse they eyes with an eyedropper of saline solution. Monitor the rabbit closely for improvement. If the condition clears up for 14 consecutive days, the rabbit was most likely suffering from a cold or stress. If however, the discharge and or sneezing continues or if your rabbit develops a tilted head, or is unbalanced, you should seek assistance from a vet knowledgeable of rabbits.
Rabbits can get fleas from other animals in your household, or if outside, will get them the same way cats and dogs do. They must be treated with a cat flea product, dog flea products can be deadly to rabbits. Some people use kitten flea powder, but rabbits can ingest the powder during grooming. We use a kitten flea shampoo. Normally, there is no reason to bath your rabbit and many will find it a very stressful experience. Put a towel in the bottom of the kitchen sink and fill with about 2 inches of warm water. Place your rabbit in the sink. If you have a sprayer, gently spray warm water to wet the fur, shampoo the rabbit, being careful around the head area not to get the soap in the eyes or ears, be sure to get the whisker beds, as fleas hide there. Be sure to leave it on for the required amount of time, or the fleas won't be killed. Gently rinse all the shampoo off and towel dry. We use the hair dyer on low or medium settings to dry the coat completely. There are no products that are safe to give a rabbit to prevent fleas. So you must treat all your animals, and the house to prevent re-infestation. Outside rabbits are harder as you cannot control the area as much.
EAR AND FUR MITES
Both ear and fur mites are external parasites and are acquired from other animals or exposure to areas where other infected animals have been. Ear mites are not visible to the naked eye. An indication of an ear mite infestation is the appearance of a brown and sometimes crusty film on the skin inside the rabbit's ears. Left untreated, rabbits will scratch their ears with their hind feet and introduce bacteria into the ear, which can create an infection. Ear mites can be easily treated by thoroughly coating the affected area with baby oil, which will suffocate the mites. use a cotton swab to apply the oil. Do not pour the oil directly into the ear canal. A couple of treatments should take care of the problem. Fur mites live on the fur and cause very little problems. Occasionally, a shin condition resulting in loss of fur in one or more places, most commonly the back of the neck can be observed. Treatment can be a bath as for fleas, or Ivermec horse paste can be used. Put a pea sized dollop on their front paws, the rabbit will lick it off and swallow the medicene. We use this method. If either of these conditions do not improve after treatment, seek assistance from a vet familiar with rabbits.
Wool-block is caused by the rabbit ingesting fur during the grooming process. Unlike a cat who gets fur balls, rabbits cannot regurgitate the blockage. A sign that a potential wool-block is growing are droppings found strung together with fur, or a very small amount of droppings being produced. At the very first sign of a developing wool-block, increase the amount of hay provided until normal droppings return. If there is no improvement, stop pellets and give only hay and oats. In more severe cases, papaya tablets can be used. Papaya tables can help dissolve the fur and allow the blockage to pass. They can be purchased at a health food store. Once a wool-block has reached the intestines and is blocking there, it is difficult to correct without surgery and your rabbit may suffer a painful and slow death.
If you ever feel your rabbit is suffering from any of the above conditions, or something else causing him to act differently than usual, the first step would be to call thee breeder of the rabbit, or another breeder you may know. Most breeders have been doing this for quit awhile and have dealt with some or all of the things mentioned here and many others, if only due to the number of rabbits they keep. Many times the problem can be taken care of without the expense of a vet visit.
Many people choose rabbits as house pets. Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box or return to their cages to toilet needs. They very much enjoy bounding around the house and can be a welcome addition to a home. The best cage has a removable tray under the floor wire. Regular cat litter can be put in the tray and should be cleaned out once a week. When using a regular litter box outside the cage, you can not use cat litter but need shavings or a non-clay litter. Remember that a rabbit's cage is his home and he has to live above his toilet, so be considerate and keep his cage clean and odor free. Rabbits do very well using litter boxes fro urination, but have very little control over their sipher muscles. They will leave dropping all over the floor. They are firm and dry and can be easily cleaned up with a dust pan and broom.
After a while your rabbit will soon enjoy his time outside his cage. He will explore, nibble and test everything he comes in contact with. Use common sense when small children play with the rabbit and if you have cats or dogs. Beware of your rabbit's need to chew. They will pick carpet, furniture and electrical cords as their choice of toys when out of their cage. You can discourage your rabbit from chewing by putting Tabasco sauce or bitter apple on the items he is trying to chew. When you do catch him chewing you can use a spray bottle of water and soak him along with a strong NO command. Do not ever hit your rabbit as this will make him mean and aggressive. Most people will "Bunny Proof" the area where your rabbit will be roaming, much like you "baby proof" for a crawling child. Put electrical cords out of reach and protect wood furniture legs from their sharp teeth. Also, keep an eye on carpets as they like to dig and cannot only put a hole in them, but may ingest the fibers which could lead to a blockage. chewing on plastic items can cause the same problem.
Never leave a rabbit unattended. If you leave the area, even for a few minutes, put your rabbit back in his cage. The House Rabbit Society website has great information on litter training and bonding. Be aware that most breeders do not agree nor endorse their feeding and diet advice.
WHERE TO FIND MORE INFORMATION
Try your public library, although the books may be outdated, you may find them very educational. Check out your local feed stores and pet stores, they often carry books on animal care. ARBA has wonderful books for sale on their website for reasonable prices that are written using information from breeders who have been raising rabbits for a long time. County Extension Offices have information available, often free of charge.
If you are a youth, join a local 4-H club. Some are for specific animals, while others do all animals. Rabbit 4-H is fun and rewarding and is a great way to learn more about your new pet. Any rabbit, pure bred or mixed breed, can be shown at a 4-H fair. You can find a 4-H club by contacting your County Extension Office or search the web.
AMERICAN RABBIT BREEDERS ASSOCIATION
ARBA is a non-profit national organization made up of individuals interested in the pet, commercial, and competitive aspects of rabbits. ARBA functions as a governing body that manages show rules and official registration of rabbits, much like the American Kennel Club does for dogs. For a nominal membership fee, you will receive a wealth of information, a monthly magazine as well as a book on rabbit care. The website fro ARBA is www.arba.net
The web is chocked full of wonderful information as well as forums and chat rooms for rabbit owners of all kinds, breeders and pet owners. Search for your breed and find out more about it. Use the net to research what breed of rabbit you might like to own. It is one of the places we go to when we need information about a problem we may be having with a rabbit. Be sure to gather several opinions before choosing advice to follow.
We hope that you will enjoy your new rabbit and he will bring you years of happiness. Always feel free to email us with any questions or concerns you may have about your rabbit.