How to care for rabbits

rabbit

Rabbits, often called bunnies, can be very rewarding pets. Talk to anyone who has owned a rabbit and they will tell you just how wonderful they can be. Some will even say that owning rabbits can be just as enjoyable as owning a cat or a dog.

Every year in the United States, the popularity of rabbits as house pets increases. They are a very social and playful animal, and can be a lot of fun if you’re willing to put in significant effort. Rabbits live up to 15 years, and it takes quite a bit of work to care for them.

Read on to learn more about how to care for rabbits.

Housing

Rabbits should be kept indoors, in a cage at least five times as large as the rabbit. The rabbit should be able to stand upright on its hind legs and not hit the cage ceiling.

Inside the cage, make sure to place a cardboard box or other small shelter so the rabbit can hide. Also important is a water bowl, which needs to be replenished at least every day.

Exercise is important, and rabbits need to be let out of the cage for several hours everyday. Though it is fine to let your rabbit roam free in the house all day, remember that one bunny can cause quite a bit of damage. Even in rabbit-proofed houses, most veterinarians recommend keeping rabbits caged when unattended.

Don't use a cage with wire flooring because it hurts the rabbit’s feet. If you have to, lay cardboard for protection.

Litter Boxes

Rabbits can easily learn to use a litter box, as long as it is big enough. Litter boxes should be placed in the cage and around the house for when the rabbit is roaming. Don’t use wood shavings or kitty litter for your rabbit’s litter box; try paper or wood pulp.

To train your rabbit to use it, place the litter box in a corner of the cage. If your rabbit urinates in another corner, move the box to that corner. Keep doing this until the rabbit understands. Keeping some hay in the litter box may encourage your rabbit to use it.

Diet

A rabbit’s diet should consist mainly of hay and vegetables. Timothy Grass hay is best, along with dark green, leafy vegetables – like romaine lettuce, arugula, and dandelion greens. Pellets or other commercial rabbit food should only be given in addition to the hay and fresh veggies, and only in very limited quantities.

Fruits and other treats can also be given to your pet rabbit. Apples, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and melons make good treats, but should be given somewhat sparingly.

Behavior

Keep your rabbit busy! Because chewing is normal behavior for bunnies, keep cardboard boxes, phone books, wood blocks, grass mats, or chew toys around to keep your rabbit from chewing the carpet or furniture.

Play with your bunny, a lot! Many rabbits like to play fetch, others will chase you around the house, and some will even toss a toy back and forth with you.

But despite their cute and timid demeanor, some rabbits do become angry and aggressive. Showing teeth, biting, scratching, kicking, and running away are common behaviors of an aggressive rabbit. Because the aggression is usually due to fear, show your bunny that she is safe--talk in a soft voice and try to pet your bunny.

Handling and Grooming

Because rabbits are very delicate animals, it is important to handle them with care. She’s probably not going to like being picked up, so make sure to carry your rabbit tightly against your body. Don’t pick up your rabbit by the stomach.

Rabbits can’t cough up hairballs, so make sure you pet or brush your rabbit every day to remove any loose hair. Every three months your rabbit will shed and will require daily brushings. Note also that your rabbit will spend a lot of time cleaning itself. This is normal behavior.

Health

Get your bunny spayed or neutered. Not only will it help curb overpopulation, a fixed rabbit is often less aggressive. For females, spaying lowers the risk of ovarian cancer; neutering a male rabbit will help eliminate territorial marking.

For the best rabbit care, make sure to go to an “exotic” veterinarian who specializes in rabbits. Your rabbit will need an annual check-up, and most likely there will be an emergency requiring veterinary care at some point. If your rabbit isn’t eating, urinating, or defecating, professional medical attention is needed.