How to care for rabbits

Pet keepers bring home their rabbits but fail to take proper care of their rabbit - because of this their rabbits may die. Rabbits can not speak out for themselves, therefore rabbit keepers should take steps to learn and understand their rabbit’s basic needs.

1. Indoors or outdoors

If a pet rabbit is being kept outside it is essential to provide it with a large home. A hutch is what a rabbit needs. Provide a quite place. First, it is essential to know the adult size to which the rabbit will grow. As a rough guide, the hutch should allow an adult rabbit to sit up on its hindlegs and to stretch out. The hutch should be divided into two sections to include a secure and secluded sleeping compartment. All doors must be well fitting with sturdy locks that fasten securely.

The hutch must be weatherproof and regularly maintained using a non-toxic wood preserving treatment. The roof should also be weatherproof and slope backward to allow rain to drain off.The siting of the hutch is important. The hutch should ideally be raised off the ground, as this will protect the cage and its occupant from damp, and also from vermin.

The hutch should be positioned away from direct sunlight or  extremes of temperature, preferably near to the house and placed in a well ventilated or airy area. Remember rabbits can suffer from over heating. If you decided to place your rabbit indoors, then a quite and airy space is needed. Use a large cage that is made of solid wires, with a solid base for your rabbit to stand on.

2. Housing your rabbit in-doors
Some owners will prefer to keep their rabbit indoors. A rabbit needs at least four hours per day of running time inside the house or in a fenced yard, supervised by a human to prevent attack by predators. A rabbit's cage should be a minimum of five times the size of the rabbit. Your rabbit should be able to completely stretch out in his cage and stand up on his hind legs without bumping his head on the top of the cage. Large breeds (more than 6 lbs.) need an even larger cage to stay comfortable and healthy.

Cages with wire flooring are hard on rabbits' feet, rabbits do not have protective pads like dogs and cats. If you place your rabbit in a wire cage, be sure to layer the floor with cooling pad or other material, to minimize contact with the hard wires. Standing too long on hard wires will cause sore hocks, a painful condition for rabbits. Place a box in the cage or a wooden house so the rabbit has a comfortable place to hide and sleep in, and respect your animal's need for quiet time (rabbits usually sleep during the day and night, becoming playful at dawn and dusk).
When rabbits are kept in a cage, they need to be let out for several hours each day for exercise. Aside from running and jumping, rabbits also enjoy exploring their surroundings. This is an ideal time to play and interact with your rabbit. Make sure that he has a safe area to play and explore.

Whether you decide to let your rabbit have their own play time  in your entire home or just a limited area, it is important that you make everything rabbit-safe. Because rabbits like to chew, make sure that all electrical cords are out of reach and outlets are covered. Chewing through a plugged-in cord can result in severe injury or even death. Their chewing can also result in poisoning if the wrong objects are left in the open. It is advisable for owners to supervise them for the entire playing time period.

Items which are toxic to rabbits include insecticides, rodenticides, and cleaning supplies. Certain common house plants also contain toxic that can be fatal if consumed by a rabbit. Plant bulbs can be poisonous to rabbits too.

Another option for keeping rabbits indoors in the free range option i.e. the rabbit is allowed to roam free in a particular room/area of the house, or entire house if possible. No cage is required although a cardboard box or other suitable ‘bedding’ (e.g. towels or puppy beds may be used, if the rabbit does not chew on these) should be provided for the rabbit to sleep in. It is important to rabbit-proof your rabbit’s area if he/she is allowed to roam freely there.

3. Dealing with heat
The warm, hot, humid weather will make your rabbit uncomfortable. Placing a fan near the bunny will not help since fans do not reduce temperature, they only circulate the air. Since rabbits cannot sweat, they cannot benefit from the evaporation cooling that humans enjoy when the wind blows on their sweat. By providing a cooling pad, the bunny will be able to stay comfortable in a warm afternoon. A half hour in the direct sun can be fatal to a rabbit.


4. Bunny Bathrooms
Just like cats, rabbits can easily learn to use a litter box. Place a litter box in the cage to encourage this behavior. If your rabbit roams freely through your home, it's a good idea to have litter boxes in several places during the early stages of litter-training. The number of litter boxes can be reduced slowly as the rabbit learns to use one or two particular litter boxes. Many rabbits enjoy spending time relaxing in their litter box, so make sure that it is of ample size. Some rabbit even enjoying eating their hay white relaxing in their litter box, be sure to put fresh hay in the litter box daily, as many rabbits like to have a snack while sitting in their litter box. For bedding, try to avoid using saw dust,  or wood shavings made from cedar and pine, which may cause respiratory and liver damage, or trigger allergic reactions in rabbits. Also avoid clumping or dusty cat litters, which can cause serious health problems if eaten. Instead, stick with organic litters made wood pulp, or citrus. Newspaper can work too, but may not be as absorbent and have be separated from direct contact with the rabbit.

5. Handle With Care
Rabbits are hardy animals but  must be handled carefully. Their bones are so delicate that the muscles in their powerful hind legs can easily overcome the strength of their skeletons. As a result, if not properly restrained, struggling rabbits can break their own spines.

To pick up your rabbit, place one hand under the rabbit’s chest just behind the forelegs. Place the other hand just under the rabbit’s rump. Lift the rabbit from the chest, supporting its weight by the rump. Pull the rabbit into the crook of your arm and close to your chest.Never let a rabbit's body hang free, never lift by the stomach, and never pick a rabbit up by his ears. In the wild, rabbits are prey animals and many will not enjoy being picked up. Be sure to go slowly with your rabbit and practice. Let your rabbit get accustomed to being handled. For young children learning to handle rabbits, be sure to teach them that rabbits are different from the soft toys they throw around their rooms or pick up by the ears or tail.  Show them the proper way to handle it.  A rabbit handled incorrectly may kick with its strong hind legs and cause injury.  Never let a child younger than six carry a rabbit - put the rabbit on the child's lap instead.

Rabbits groom each other, and will enjoy if you pet them on their heads gently. Like any animal, each rabbit will have their own character, and they have their own preference about where he likes to be touched. Simply petting or brushing your rabbit for a few minutes each day will help remove most of the excess fur  and reduce hairball chances. Hairballs build up in rabbit stomach when they consume fur while grooming themselves, to avoid this from happenning try to brush your rabbit more often. Some rabbit breeds, such as angoras, have extra grooming needs because of their distinctive long coats.

6. A Balanced Diet
Rabbits have complex digestive systems, so it's very important that they receive a proper diet. With wrong feeding, rabbits can suffer from many digestive problems that can be fatal. A basic rabbit diet should consist of the following foods:

Hay – the most important part of a rabbit’s diet
Rabbits need hay—specifically, grass hay such as Timothy hay, oat hay, orchard grass, brome hay, Bermuda grass etc. Rabbits should have access to an unlimited supply of grass hay, which aids their digestive systems and provides the necessary fiber to help prevent digestive problems such as hair balls, diarrhea, and obesity. Hay is also important to wear down the rabbit’s constantly-growing teeth. Alfalfa hay, on the other hand, should only be given to adult rabbits in very limited quantities, because it's high in protein, calcium, and calories, over feeding alfalfa hay may lead to diarrhea or bladder stone. Different types of hay require different chewing motions. Hence, offering a wide variety of grass hay to rabbits will encourage an even wearing down of their teeth.

Pellets are secondary to hay in terms of importance in a rabbit’s diet. Pellets should only be given in small quantities (1/8 -1/4 cup per five pounds of body weight per day is recommended) to adult rabbits (above 6mths). Baby rabbits (below 6mths) which are still growing may be fed unlimited pellets but the amount should be gradually reduced once they reach adulthood.

Good quality pellets should be low in protein (<16%), high in fiber (>18%), and low in calcium and fat (<1% each).

It is not a must to feed vegetables to rabbits but vegetables may be given to add more variety to the rabbit’s diet. Feed your rabbit at least three different vegetables at a time, to ensure your rabbit gets different types of vitamins from each vegetable and also to provide a variety of flavours to your rabbit. When introducing new veggies to a rabbit's diet, try just one at a time and keep quantities limited. Remember, rabbit have complex digestive systems, whenever introducing any new veggies to a rabbit’s diet, make sure introduce slowly. Keep an eye out for soft stool – if this happens, reduce the amount of vegetables offered and if this problem continues, remove that specific type of vegetable completely from the rabbit’s diet and try again later with another type of vegetable.

Fruits and Treats
Treats are optional. Rabbits love treats as these are usually sweet. Common treats include carrots, apples (without stems or seeds), blueberries, papaya, strawberries, pears, peaches, plums, or melon. Extra-sugary fruits like bananas, grapes, and raisins may also be given. Remember, treats should only be given in very limited amounts to avoid spoiling the rabbit’s appetite for healthy food as well as to avoid obesity and digestive issues.

Foods to Avoid
With such sensitive digestive systems, there are a number of foods that rabbits should avoid eating. These include iceberg lettuce and all other light coloured vegetables, tomatoes, cabbage, corn, beans, peas, potatoes, beets, onions, rhubarb, bamboo, seeds, grains, and many others. Rabbit is not human, don't feed your rabbit chocolate, candy, anything moldy, or most human foods. Chocolate is actually poisonous to rabbits and can kill them when consumed.

Rabbits should always have an ample supply of fresh water available. Be sure to change your rabbit's water at least once each day. Water can be kept in a water bottle or bowl. If you use a water bottle, watch new rabbits to make sure they know how to use the bottles, and clean bottles daily so the tubes don't get clogged. If you use a bowl, make sure that the bowl is made from ceramic and heavy enough to avoid tipping and spilling.

7. Chew on This
Rabbit have an urge to chew, that  is part of a rabbit's natural behavior, but it doesn't have to be destructive. To keep rabbits busy, active and free from boredom, you may want to put untreated wood blocks or chew toys like apple stick or chew toy made from plant fiber. Put some in their cages (Be sure to remove any staples or tape from cardboard first!). Specially designed untreated wood toys are big hits with many rabbits and can be purchased online.

You can also use paper-towel rolls, toilet-paper rolls, and other chewable cardboard materials that can be tossed in the trash once they've served their purpose. You can stuff some hay or treat inside the cardboard and let your rabbit explore. It provides hours of fun for your rabbit. Avoid objects with sharp edges, loose parts, or soft rubber/plastic that rabbits could chew into pieces and swallow.

8. 2 better than 1?
Rabbits can do well living alone, if they receive plenty of love and attention from their owners. If you are unable to spend much time with your rabbit, you may consider getting it a companion. Rabbits are social animals and most will be happy to have a companion. However, rabbits need time to be introduced to each other. Do not merely bring home a new rabbit and immediately put it in your first rabbit’s cage. Rabbits are territorial and will fight when there is an intruder in their territory. These fights can sometimes be fatal. Read up on how to bond rabbits before adding another new rabbit to your household. It is also important to spay and neuter all rabbits before attempting to bond them. If not spayed or neutered, female-male pairs will reproduce very very quickly (gestation period is 31 days, and females can conceive again immediately after giving birth), while same sex pairs are likely to end up fighting. Spaying and neutering will eliminate reproduction issues and lower hormones to make the rabbit less aggressive. Remember to only visit a vet which is experienced with rabbits for the spay and neuter procedure.

When thinking about adding a rabbit to your family, please remember that rabbits are not toys and they are typically not appropriate pets for children. They require a great deal of special care and supervision.