Rabbits are really rewarding and loving pets, and are great additions to any household. But they often require more attention and care than many pet owners realise, which is why it’s important to be fully aware of all your responsibilities as a rabbit owner.
Rabbits have some special requirements which you need to be aware of if you want them to live a long and healthy life. Here are our top seven tips for keeping your rabbit happy and healthy:
Tip 1: Bunny-Proof Your Home
Rabbits require enough space to run around and exercise. They must not be left in their hutches for days on end without being given a run-around.
For you to create a safe play area for your rabbit and to ensure the safety of your property too, you’ll need to bunny-proof whichever area you intend to let you rabbits exercise in.
If that space is indoors, that means covering all wiring with plastic sleeves or flex tubing, or raising them at least 3 to 4 ft. from the ground, out of reach of your rabbit.
Chewing is a normal, necessary and natural activity for rabbits. But you want to encourage them to chew the right things, and not the wrong – and potentially life-endangering – things. Therefore, provide your rabbits with chew toys, and branches such as willow branches and apple branches to get their teeth into instead.
If you don’t want them to gnaw on your baseboards, cover them with plastic guards or furring strips. Your rabbit will try to chew anything they can lay their teeth on so if you have a house rabbit, you will need to restrict certain areas of the home because they love to chew items in/on the bookshelves, undersides of beds, plants and flowers and so on.
Tip 2: Provide a Balanced Diet
Rabbits have a delicate digestive system, so it is important you provide a proper balanced diet. Most of the health issues they encounter are as a result of the fact that they’ve consumed foods that aren’t compatible with their digestive physiology. The basic diet of a rabbit should contain the following foods:
Hay: Rabbits need hay, Timothy grass hay to be specific. They should have continuous access to a constant and sufficient supply of hay; this helps their digestive organs and provides them with the required fiber to prevent health problems like diarrhoea, hair balls, and obesity. Alfafa hay should only be fed to adult rabbits in very small quantities, because its protein quantity is high.
Vegetables: As an addition to hay, the diet of an adult rabbit should contain leafy, dark green vegetables like lettuce, collard greens, escarole, argula, cilantro, parsley, dandelion greens, endive etc. The variety of these leaves should also be considered when creating the diet plan. When you are introducing new vegetables to your rabbit’s diet, you should take it one step at a time and make sure they are in small quantities.
Fruits and Treats: Basically, hay and veggies are considered best for the healthy diet of a rabbit but these bunnies also love a nice treat. Most cartoons have portrayed rabbits to be lovers of carrots. Truly, they love carrots, but they are starchy in nature and should only be fed to your rabbits sparingly. You can add apples (without the stems and seeds), pawpaw, pears, berries, melon, plums etc. It is fine to also give fruits with extra-sugar; like raisins, bananas, and grapes but these should be given in a more limited quantities.
Foods to Avoid: Due to the sensitive nature of a rabbit’s digestive system, there are certain foods that a rabbit shouldn’t eat. These foods include iceberg lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, corn, peas, grains, onions, potatoes, seeds, beets, rhubarb, bamboo, and more. It is also very important that you never feed your rabbit candy, chocolate or anything out of date and mouldy.
Pellets: If you decide to make pellets part of your rabbit’s diet, it is advised that they should be provided as supplements to the veggies; not as an alternative. Pellets should also be provided in small quantities (1/8 -1/4 cup per five pounds of body weight daily, spread out over two daily feedings). You should also carefully select the type of pellets you purchase. Many brands of rabbit feed contain corn, seeds, and other foods with extremely high quantities of calories.
Water: Bunnies should be provided with plenty of fresh water. Ensure you change their bottle or bowl at least once daily. If you are using a sipper bottle, be sure your rabbit knows how to use it, and always try to keep the bottles clean so the tubes don’t get clogged. If you want to use a bowl, make sure the bowl is heavy enough to prevent it from tipping and spilling.
Tip 3: Groom Your Rabbit
Naturally, rabbits are clean little animals and they tend to wash themselves frequently. Even though they like to clean themselves, there is still a need for you to groom your rabbit on a regular basis and help to keep them as healthy as possible, as they are not in their natural environment.
Rabbits go through a couple of shedding cycles annually. It is very important you brush your rabbit to get rid of excess fur or your rabbit could ingest the fur and develop digestive problems.
Regular nail clipping with rabbit clippers is also just as important as hair trimming because long nails can curl into your rabbit’s paw and cause them pain. If you’re not confident doing this yourself, ask your vet to do it for you.
Tip 4: Set Up a Litter Box
Rabbits are naturally inclined to pee and poo in just one area. This is an opportunity you can take advantage of by building a medium-sized litter box.
Place a thin layer of rabbit-safe, recycled newspaper pellet litter at the base of the litter box. Don’t use clay/clumping cat litter or sawdust because they are not safe for rabbits. Then put some hay on top of the litter. Rabbits love to eat hay and poop at the same time, hence; this will foster good litter box habits.
Tip 5: Provide Environmental Enrichment.
It’s very easy for rabbits to get bored. As mentioned above, they need enough space to exercise but it doesn’t end at that. They also need to be mentally stimulated too. Cardboard castles are great fun for rabbits as they can spend hours chewing on new windows and doorways. These cardboard castles will also provide a “fortress of solitude” for the rabbit when it is needed.
Tip 6: Take Your Rabbit to a Rabbit-Savvy Veterinarian
You will need to closely monitor your rabbit because they are prey animals, and it is their natural instinct to hide any symptoms of sickness. You therefore need to be sure your rabbit is regularly eating, drinking, peeing and pooping. If you notice any strange behavior, you should call a rabbit-savvy veterinarian immediately.
In addition to this, it is good practice to take your rabbit for regular veterinary check-ups. Your veterinarian can check those delicate and important parts such as your bunny’s ears, eyes, teeth, and gut to be sure they are in good health. And your vet can provide them with all their essential vaccinations to keep nasty diseases at bay.
You should also consider spaying or neutering your rabbit. This practice can reduce aggressiveness, improve litter box habits, and keep your rabbit in good health.
Tip 7: Understand Your Rabbits’ Unique Language and Behaviour
It is very important to know how rabbits think so you can live happily with them; they are quite different from cats and dogs. If you cater to your bunny’s natural inclinations, you will strengthen the bond you have and establish a trusting and loving relationship.
The docility of rabbits makes them suitable pets for all kinds of households (with children or not). They are especially good pets for parents trying to teach their children responsibility. Learning to be responsible for a rabbit requires patience, attention and lots of learning (and unlearning). The fun part is that it is rewarding. Once you master taking care of a bunny, it’s the only type of pet you’ll want to keep.