Top 10 Rabbit Basics

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Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., Licensed Educator, House Rabbit Society

  1. Pine and cedar shavings are not recommended for use with rabbits and other small mammals. Inhaled phenols (the substances that make pine and cedar “smell good”) can cause liver changes in rabbits. Clay litters (clumping or non-clumping) are also not recommended. The “clumpers” can clump in the rabbit’s GI tract, and dust from plain clay litters can exacerbate respiratory problems.
  2. Spaying and neutering is recommended for all rabbits. Rabbits can have a litter every 30 days, and can get pregnant within minutes after giving birth. Not only does spaying/neutering prevent unwanted litters, but it also protects female rabbits from uterine cancer (the rate as females grow older ranges from 50-80%), and permits male/female pairs to live happily together without being driven by their hormones.
  3. Rabbits can easily be litterbox-trained—but you and the rabbit must “negotiate” this process. Start in a small area. Watch to see which corner the rabbit wants to use for urination, and place a litterbox there. Some rabbits need several litterboxes to start.
  4. The primary component of a mature rabbit’s diet should be grass hay (Timothy, Brome, Orchard Grass, etc.). This should be given fresh daily, in large quantities. Hay can be ordered over the internet from various companies (see http://www.rabbit.org/links/mail-order-resources.html). Using hay as a litterbox material is ideal; it cushions the rabbit’s feet so they stay dry, and encourages the rabbit to munch on hay while he’s doing his business. To supplement hay, feed a daily salad of dark green leafy vegetables. Rabbit pellets should be given only in very limited quantities. The unrestricted feeding of pellets leads to obesity and often to bladder sludge. If you use pellets, buy only perfectly plain ones; do not be tempted by the “fancier” pellets with their eye-catching seeds, nuts, corn, and other “tidbits.” These ingredients are simply not good for your rabbit over the long term, and some of them are downright dangerous.
  5. Be sure to “bunny-proof” the areas where your rabbit will exercise. Many—though not all— rabbits are prodigious chewers. They will chew electrical wires, carpeting, and other objects commonly found in any household. Although many people keep rabbits outdoors, this is not recommended. Indoor rabbits live healthier, happier, longer (7-10 years or more) lives.
  6. Never attempt to “punish” or “discipline” a rabbit. These tactics will often create fear and defensive biting. If you need help with a behavior problem, contact your local HRS representative or visit the HRS web site: www.rabbit.org.
  7. Rabbits need veterinarians skilled in rabbit medicine. Many wonderful vets are expert with other species, but are not knowledgeable about rabbits, and may administer inappropriate or harmful drugs in their efforts to help. To find a rabbit-savvy veterinarian in your area, contact your local HRS representative, or search the HRS web page: www.rabbit.org.
  8. Anorexia and/or watery diarrhea in rabbits should be considered emergencies. Seek expert veterinary care immediately.
  9. Rabbits are not recommended for small children. Rabbits are prey animals by nature, and are easily frightened by children’s handling. Rabbits are often dropped by children, resulting in broken legs and backs. An adult should always be the rabbit’s primary caretaker, and should carefully supervise any children interacting with the rabbit.
  10. The most common rabbit veterinary problems are: ear mites, ear infections, urinary tract infections, abscesses, tooth problems (incisor malocclusion and/or molar spurs), uterine cancer (in unspayed females), upper respiratory infections (watch for sneezing or runny eyes/nose), gastrointestinal slowdown or stasis, changes in balance or gait. A skilled rabbit veterinarian should be consulted for any of these problems.

©Mary E. Cotter, 2003

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