A clean, roomy cage and a nutritious diet are important to keeping your rabbit healthy and happy. Also important is the time you spend interacting with your rabbit: a bored and lonely rabbit can become destructive and even aggressive. Providing the interesting surroundings and companionship that your rabbit needs can help him or her be well adjusted and affectionate.
To pick up and hold your rabbit, grasp the loose skin over the shoulders with one hand while supporting the rump (and the rabbit’s weight) with the other hand. If a rabbit’s weight is not supported during handling, its back can be injured. Because rabbits can be fragile, they may not be suitable pets for young children.
Rabbits need to chew to maintain their physical and psychological health. Provide your rabbit with a variety of chewable items, such as commercial chew toys that have been developed for rabbits. This can help prevent boredom and wear down the teeth, which constantly grow throughout life.
Rabbits are plant eaters (herbivores). Here are some guidelines for your rabbit’s daily menu:
Rabbits may be housed indoors or outdoors, but prolonged exposure to temperatures above 80°F (26°C) can cause illness, including heat prostration. Domesticated rabbits should not be kept in temperatures below 50°F (15°C). Rabbits that are kept outdoors in temperature extremes must have a shelter that is heated in winter and cooled in summer.
Your rabbit will appreciate as large a cage as you can provide. The cage should be tall enough to allow your rabbit to stand up on his or her hind legs and long enough to allow your rabbit to hop at least three and a half times, but an even larger cage is better. The cage should allow room for a food dish, a water bottle, a large litterbox, and toys. It should have a nonslip floor. Straw or shredded paper covered with straw or hay can be used as bedding. Your rabbit also needs a soft blanket or pad on which to sleep. The cage and its contents should be periodically sanitized with a disinfectant such as household chlorine bleach diluted to 1 ounce per 1 quart of water. After cleaning the cage, rinse it well and make sure it is dry before returning your rabbit to it.
The litterbox should be filled with a rabbit-safe litter such as one made of alfalfa, oats, citrus, or paper. Unsafe litters include those that clump or that are made of cedar, pine, or clay. Frequent removal of waste is important for preventing respiratory disease in rabbits. The litterbox should be emptied and disinfected once a week.
The Play Area
A large cage is no substitute for daily time outside the cage. As you introduce your rabbit to his or her play area, start with a small area and gradually enlarge it. This will help your rabbit learn where to find the litterbox. A small room is a good place to start. Over time, you can expand the play area to include several rooms, if desired.
Rabbits are curious explorers by nature and chew on almost anything, including electric cords, wood furniture, books, and carpet. Rabbit-proofing the play area can help keep your rabbit—and possessions—safe. Tactics for effective rabbit-proofing include covering electric cords with conduit or tubing, blocking access to favorite targets of chewing, and spraying table legs with bitter apple. When your rabbit is outside of the cage, he or she must be supervised and/or contained in a safe play area. A large puppy pen can be an ideal playpen for an unsupervised rabbit. To keep your rabbit from damaging your valuables, provide more attractive alternatives, such as approved rabbit-safe toys, a box filled with paper to shred, or cardboard tubes from paper towel rolls.
Rabbits frequently groom themselves and swallow their hair, which is usually eliminated in their droppings. However, rabbits can develop hairballs that block digestion or cause other problems. To help prevent hairballs, regularly brush your rabbit with a soft brush. Long-haired rabbits require daily brushing; short-haired rabbits should be brushed at least twice a week. Extra brushing may be required during shedding (every 3 months). To help your rabbit pass a hairball, you can offer fresh or frozen pineapple juice once or twice a day for 3 days; canned pineapple juice is not as effective because the canning process destroys an enzyme in the juice.
Spayed and neutered rabbits have fewer health problems (related to reproduction) and are better adjusted, less territorial, and easier to litter train than intact rabbits. Pet rabbits that have been spayed or neutered early in life and well cared for can live for up to 10 years.
Pet rabbits should be taken for an annual veterinary checkup. Rabbits don’t require routine vaccinations.
If your rabbit shows any of the following signs of illness, contact your veterinarian immediately:
Routine Rabbit Care Schedule
Twice a Week
Once a week
Once a year
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