Origin/Habitat: Brushy fields and forests of Europe
Lifespan: 5-12 years, depending on breed
The rabbit is one of the most popular small mammal pets. Some rabbits may not prefer to be handled like some other pets. As they mature, they often become less tolerant of being handled.
Having a rabbit as a pet can be a rewarding experience. It is important to do plenty of research before purchasing or adopting a rabbit to understand their habits, behaviors and proper handling and care requirements so they live a long and healthy life in your care.
Rabbits are social animals that enjoy the company of other rabbits, but for a first time rabbit owner, a single rabbit is recommended. Most of these pets are purchased at a young age when they are gentle and relatively non-aggressive. When rabbits reach 6 months of age, they become sexually mature and their temperaments can change; we recommended they be spayed or neutered at 6 months of age to curb aggression and other undesirable behaviors. Spaying not only prevents unwanted litters of babies, it also prevents female rabbits from developing uterine cancer.
If you choose to keep more than one rabbit, be aware that unaltered, same-sex animals may fight with one another unless housed separately; males and females left together, unaltered, will result in baby rabbits.
Housing Your Rabbit
A wire cage with a wire bottom and a sliding tray for bedding is typically recommended for rabbits. The cage should be about 6 times the length of the adult rabbit on each side. Some people prefer keep their rabbit outside in a rabbit hutch. We recommend that you keep your rabbit in the controlled environment of your home for daily interaction and observation and to keep him safe and secure from outside dangers.
Rabbits tend to use one corner of the cage as a bathroom. Once you determine which corner he uses, add a piece of plywood to another area of the cage floor so your rabbit will have an area to rest its feet from the wire.
We recommend lining the tray with small pet bedding or absorbent pelleted litters such as Yesterday's News or Feline Pine to absorb waste and odors.
Wild rabbits build a complex system of burrows underground; a wooden hide-a-way will provide a secure place for your pet. Provide at least one basic wooden hiding place for your pet rabbit to help it feel more comfortable and safe.
Wooden chew toys are also a necessary part of a rabbit habitat. Rabbits have teeth that grow constantly, and gnawing is a natural behavior for these pets. The wood will help to keep the teeth worn to a comfortable length, and will help to curb boredom and destructive behavior. Wooden toys made for parrots can also be used, provided all the materials on the toy are safe for the rabbit to play with (avoid rope, string, leather and corn cob).
Feeding Your Rabbit
Provide a basic daily diet of rabbit pellets and hay for your pet rabbit. When choosing a rabbit pellet, purchase pellets that do not contain whole seeds, grains, dried fruits or colored pieces. Adult rabbits (those 1 year of age and older) should only be given pellets that have low amounts of protein (14-15% maximum) and high amounts of fiber (20-25%) to prevent obesity.
Rabbits require a great deal of fiber in their diet and should be provided with unlimited loose hay. Timothy hay is recommended for all ages. Alfalfa hay, while nutritious, is often too rich for rabbits' digestive systems, and can cause digestive upset and urinary tract issues later in life.
Rabbits can also enjoy a variety of foods other than pellets and hay. Most rabbits enjoy fresh, green leafy vegetables as a dietary supplement. It is important to introduce greens gradually and in small amounts to avoid upsetting their stomachs at first. Selections may include romaine lettuce, chicory, collard greens, turnip greens, carrot tops, mustard greens, parsley, and dandelion leaves. Once your pet is used to these foods, up to 2 cups of chopped greens per 6 pounds of body weight can be offered every day.
Other treats can be given to your animals a few times a week. Healthy treats include pieces of carrots, parsnips, turnips, apples, and pears (with seeds removed), dried fruits and vegetables, alfalfa or timothy cubes, or other rabbit treats. Avoid treats that contain whole seeds, excessive amounts of sugars or fats, and dairy products. If a treat causes digestive issues, discontinue its use.
Habitat Maintenance & Rabbit Care
Pet rabbits require attention and care every day. They need fresh food, hay and water daily. Dishes should be cleaned thoroughly once each week. Toys and chews should be replaced as needed.
Once each week, the wire cage itself should be emptied and scrubbed with a mild bleach solution. This will prevent any waste stuck in the wire mesh from building up and causing sores. The sliding tray should be cleaned every few days. Wash the tray with a mild solution of bleach and rinse thoroughly. Dry it out and refill it with bedding.
Rabbits also require grooming like a dog or cat. Their claws should be trimmed every 2-3 months, and most enjoy being brushed. Long-haired breeds should be combed out regularly to prevent mats and tangles. Your rabbit's ears should be checked periodically and cleaned about every three months or as necessary. A veterinarian can show you how to clean the ears safely and properly. Rabbits should not be bathed unless medically necessary.
You should allow your rabbit 2 to 4 hours of exercise outside of the cage every day to keep them healthy and fit, though new pets should never be given free access to any room until they are settled in. Make sure the "play" room is pet-proofed. If it is not possible to rabbit-proof an entire room, you can set up a small pet playpen made for small animals to play in for a few hours every day. With time and patience, rabbits can be litter trained and given the run of a room if precautions
Bringing Your Pet Home
The stress of bringing your new pet home can cause an upset stomach or loose bowels. We recommend that all rabbits younger than three months of age be given only water and hay for the first 2-3 days, then introduce pellets. Avoid treats at first, feeding only pellets and hay for at least the first two weeks.
Rabbits have very fast metabolisms, so they graze a lot. Check on your rabbit often and watch for signs of possible illness such as lack of appetite or loose stool. Any signs of illness should be treated immediately. If your rabbit does have diarrhea, he should be given water mixed with Pedialyte and unlimited hay, with few or no pellets. If your rabbit does not eat for longer than 24 hours, he should see a vet.
Once they are acclimated to their new home, rabbits can be allowed out of the cage. Lure them out with treats until they are accustomed to the routine. To pick up your rabbit, grasp it firmly between its front legs with one hand and slide the other hand under its back feet, bringing the animal to your chest quickly. If your rabbit falls or is dropped he can become seriously injured. Any rabbit that has suffered a fall should be seen by a vet, as not all injuries are visible to the naked eye.
If you are selecting a pet for a young child, be aware that rabbits may not prefer to be handled like some other pets. As they mature, they often become less tolerant of being handled. Larger rabbit breeds may be difficult for a small child to hold and control. Young children should be supervised by parents at all times when interacting with their pet. Not only are these animals fragile, but they can, if frightened, bite or scratch. Parents are encouraged to handle the animals first to get them used to contact and to teach children the proper way to hold or carry their pet.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. This habit will help to prevent the spread of germs, and help to prevent accidental bites by washing away smells that may entice them (like if you recently handled food or treats).
All animals should have a veterinarian check-up soon after you bring them home. It is helpful to keep a medical record on an animal should an emergency occur.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring them home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life as your companion.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our small animal department at 717-299-5691 ext. 1274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.