Rabbit Care

  • Life expectancy: 6-14 years
  • Breeding: 4-10 months
  • Litter size: 1-12
  • Adult body weight: 2-6kg
  • Pregnancy: 31 days
  • Weaning: 4-6 weeks

Rabbits can make loving pets. It is important to familiarise yourself with what a rabbit needs & what you are able to provide. There are many aspects to housing, feeding, handling, health & veterinary care to consider.

Housing

  • A hutch should serve as a temporary enclosure only. It needs to be safe & secure for the rabbit & provide protection from predators. It should be large enough to allow the rabbit to exhibit its normal behaviours. All pet rabbits should be given the opportunity to exercise outside of the hutch for a few hours each day
  • Hutches should be easy to clean. Remove soiled bedding daily & totally clean the hutch at least once weekly
  • If kept outdoors ensure that the hutch is rain proof & avoid extreme weather conditions. Rabbits can succumb to heat stroke very easily in hot weather. Hutches need to be well ventilated. Mosquito proof the hutch using fly-screen wire
  • Wild rabbits live in burrows underground. The burrow is a ‘safe’ place for rabbits to be. Ideally a similar form of ‘safe’ place should be provided for your rabbit at home. A frightened rabbit will ‘bolt’ into its burrow if it feels threatened. At home this ‘burrow’ can be simulated in the form of an upturned box or a covered corner of the room. By providing these ‘bolt holes‘ rabbits may feel more secure in their environment. More security = less stress = healthier rabbit!
  • Newly acquired rabbits are more susceptible to the changes in their environment & can get digestive upsets at this time. Feed them their ‘usual’ diet when you first acquire them
  • Suitable bedding includes hay, straw, shredded paper etc. An all wire floor is unsuitable. Change bedding regularly.
  • When rabbits are indoors, be aware of them chewing electrical cords & furniture!
  • If you intend to keep more than one rabbit (which is recommended as rabbits are sociable animals), suitable mixes include 2 females, male & female (if you want many kits!) or mixes of neutered rabbits
  • It is not advisable to mix guinea pigs with rabbits as guinea pigs can get diseases from rabbits. Also their dietary requirements differ and they may bully each other
  • You can toilet train a rabbit, they soon learn to use a litter tray or particular area to defecate & urinate in. Suitable litter materials include hay, straw, some cat litters (avoid clay types)
  • Provide rabbits with ‘play time’ – toys can be wooden toys/old phone books to chew & boxes etc to crawl around in
  • Exercise is important. Allow rabbits to exercise freely. This promotes good physical & mental health. Provide your rabbit with access to unfiltered natural sunlight regularly 

Handling

  • Rabbits may enjoy being patted & handled, ideally start handling a rabbit from a young age
  • When handling a rabbit support the fore & hind quarters from underneath rather than holding them from around the belly & chest. NEVER hold a rabbit from its ears!
  • Rabbits can kick out very strongly with their legs & scratch you & also cause themselves serious injury in doing so
  • Be sure to wash your hands after handling your rabbit. It is also wise to ensure that your hands don’t carry odours of other animals before you handle your rabbit as this may frighten them

Health and Veterinary Care

  • Have any newly acquired rabbit checked by a vet, especially if you intend to mix the rabbit with others!
  • Coats may require regular grooming & nails may need occasional clipping
  • Your vet will also be able to advise you on a vaccination against the fatal & incurable viral disease; Rabbit Calici Virus. One vaccine should be given at 6 weeks & then again at 12 weeks, but if the first vaccine is given at 12 weeks then another one is not needed.
  • Desexing is recommended at 4-6 months of age for both does and bucks. This may help to prevent disease & avoid territorial soiling of your house & other behavioural problems.
  • Pet health insurance is more widely available nowadays and is worth considering for your pet rabbit
  • At home you should always closely monitor your rabbits food intake, body condition, eyes, ears, mouth, feet & toileting behaviour.

Feeding Recommendations

Why is diet so important?

  • Feeding is perhaps the single most important factor in maintaining a healthy rabbit
  • In the wild rabbits eat grass! They may graze for 6-8 hours plus per day. Their whole digestive tract – from teeth to gut’s end is adapted to this diet & eating habit
  • Rabbit teeth grow continuously throughout life. They depend on their diet to help wear down their teeth & keep all their teeth in good shape. Without healthy teeth a rabbit will not lead a happy & healthy life
  • Rabbits are also naturally ‘coprophagic’, meaning they eat some of their own droppings. They need to do this in order to keep themselves and their digestive tract healthy
  • Many commercial ‘rabbit’ foods do NOT contain enough fibre, which is essential to good pet rabbit health. The fibre content of your pet rabbit’s diet should be greater than 18%.

Feeding

  • Staple Diet: Keep it simple. Provide them with a ‘Hay and Vegies‘ diet.
  • Give them hay – Provide your rabbits with a constant supply of good quality fresh grass or grass hay eg; Timothy, Oaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays. (Not Lucerne or clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium). This is paramount in providing the ‘complete’ diet and encourages ‘chewing’ for long periods of time
  • Vegies are good too – Feed fresh leafy greens & vegetables. As a guide, feed around 2 packed cups of leafy greens per kg (at least 3 different varieties) per day, some examples are; Vegies: broccoli, cabbage, celery, endive, beet/carrot tops, brussels sprouts, spinach leaves, Bok Choy, dark leafed lettuce varieties
  • Herbs: parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint etc
  • What about treats? Treats may be offered in small quantities (only 1-2 tablespoons per rabbit per day!) Some examples are; most fruits, root vegetables (carrot, sweet potato), capsicum
  • No-Nos! (these should not be offered to pet rabbits). Cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate!

Other important points

  • Rabbits should NOT be fed on ‘pellets’ or ‘mixes’. Many commercial rabbit pellets do not meet the nutritional analysis as set out below. If pellets are offered, consider them as treats. They should only be offered in treat quantities
  • Try to keep feeds & feeding habits consistent. Any changes made should be made gradually (over a 2-3 week period) to minimise digestive upsets
  • Other supplements, salt licks etc aren’t necessary
  • Providing other objects to chew on is also a good idea, try offering items such as wooden chew blocks, old telephone books etc. If their hutch is of wooden construction it may be chewed, so beware!
  • Always have fresh clean water available – preferably from a water bottle type drinker. Open water bowls may be soiled by the rabbit which could promote disease
  • If possible, allow rabbits to have access to natural unfiltered sunlight, UV light is an important factor in their Vitamin D metabolism

 

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