Rabbits are sweet and gentle by nature and can be very entertaining to watch. One only needs to observe two rabbits zigzagging about to understand why they have captured the hearts of so many rabbit owners. Gone are the days where the rabbit would live in solitude. Rabbit enthusiasts are now suggesting that rabbits should interact not only with the family, but also with other family pets. This is why you will often hear the word house rabbit. Very often cats and dogs will get along with rabbits, but be sensible when introducing them to each other. This must also be done slowly, being careful not to frighten your rabbit.
I would suggest that rabbits only be given to children over the age of 8 as they do not enjoy being held. Although they look cute and cuddly, they would far rather be gently stroked than picked up and carried around. If you do decide to buy your child a pet rabbit, remember that you the parent should oversee the caring for the rabbit.
When housing your rabbit make sure that the cage has plenty of room for him to play, rest, eat and exercise. With little imagination you can design a cage that will be suitable for all your rabbit’s needs. Rabbits love double storey cages with ramps connecting the different levels. Wire floors are not suitable as this can cause sore and inflamed feet. You will notice that your rabbit will use one spot for his toilet. A good idea is to place a sandtray in this exact spot. Like cats, rabbits have excellent toilet habits and with very little effort you can train your rabbit. Use a normal non-clumping kitty litter. Clumping litter if ingested will harden in the rabbit’s stomach.
Your rabbit’s intake of water will vary quite a lot depending on the weather and whether he has been fed a lot of high water content vegetables. Fresh water should be given daily either in a sturdy non-tip bowl or in a water bottle.
A good quality high fibre pellet should make up part of your rabbit’s diet. Pet nutritionists recommend a 20% or more amount of fibre and less than 16% protein. Pellets were originally designed to feed rabbits for meat production. These pellets were high in protein which assisted in rapid growth, and low in fibre – not at all good as a maintenance diet. Always check the chemical composition before buying rabbit pellets to ensure it is suitable for the ‘pet’ rabbit.
The two main keys to pet rabbit nutrition are providing plenty of fibre and being consistent in what you feed them. Along with good high fibre pellets, hay is essential in a rabbit’s diet. This should be good quality, green, dust free and available at all times. Lucerne is too high in protein and calcium. Rabbits can get bladder and kidney stones when levels of calcium are too high. Thick white urine that resembles toothpaste and or straining to urinate is a sure sign of bladder problems. Hay provides essential fibre which helps maintain your rabbit’s intestinal health. It also prevents boredom by satisfying the rabbit’s innate desire to chew and helps wear down their ever-growing teeth.
Finally, feed two daily portions of herbs and vegetables, each approximately half a cup. Vegetables make a wonderful addition to the diet of rabbits. The high water content helps keep the gastro intestinal tract hydrated and moving correctly. Carrot tops, fennel, dill, parsley, coriander, basil, red and green peppers and turnips are all suitable to feed to your rabbit. Contrary to belief, carrots are not very good for rabbits because they are far too high in sugar and carbohydrates, but if you must, feed your rabbit
only small amounts. Rabbits love apples and pears but again the high levels of sugar will stimulated the growth of the wrong kind of bacteria in the intestine, predisposing them to gas, which is very painful and can be life threatening. Again only feed fruit in small quantities. The bottom line is be consistent in the vegetables you feed your rabbit. Cabbage, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower should be avoided as they are all gas forming and never feed potatoes, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, sugar or any type of nut.
So you are feeding your rabbit a good nutritious diet, but what about exercise? This is just as important as it will help keep your rabbit strong and healthy. Your rabbit will need at least 2 hours a day to run free. This is where you, the rabbit owner, will have to either watch over him or build a large enclosure where he will be safe from any predators, and that includes the neighbours’ dogs.
Far too many rabbit owners think that they will just let the doe have one litter of babies. This is irresponsible as you will need to either take care of them yourself or find good loving homes for them. There are far too many unwanted rabbits. The right thing to do is to get the females spayed and the males neutered. This should be done around the age of 4-6 months. Females have an extremely high rate of uterine cancer as they age, so it is important to spay your rabbit while she is still young. Neutered males are less territorial therefore less aggressive and less likely to mark their environment by spraying urine. Remember to make sure that you take your rabbit to a vet who is experienced in treating rabbits.
Now that you have read the basics on rabbit care, I hope that this will be the beginning of a wonderful relationship with your pet rabbit.