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Rabbits

Oryctolagus cuniculus

Rabbits

LIFE SPAN:

8 - 12 years

AVERAGE SIZE:

Depending on
species can be 2 - 20 pounds.
The average bunny weighs about 5 pounds.

WILD HISTORY:

The first evidence of rabbits dates back to 10 million years ago in France! (Yes! Ten MILLION!) The rabbit population slowly spread across Europe, and people began keeping them domestically in the 19th century. Rabbits became popular pets in the United States in the 1800s, and have been a favorite human companion ever since.

PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES:

Rabbits are not rodents; they are lagomorphs, which is the order that includes rabbits, hares and pikas. Rabbits are prey animals, and their physical features are designed to detect danger. The eyes and ears are large, which allows for excellent sight and hearing. They have small front feet and large, powerful back legs and feet. The back legs are designed for explosive, quick bursts of speed in order to escape predators. The teeth of lagomorphs are “open-rooted” which means they grow continuously. The chewing and gnawing actions associated with healthy eating will wear the teeth down so they do not grow too long. Most people don’t realize that rabbits have grinding teeth in the back of their mouths in addition to the visible front teeth. Over 40 breeds of domestic rabbit are recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders’ Association Rabbits twitch their noses to expose all their highly sensitive scent receptors to the air, helping them to detect predators. When a rabbit’s nose stops twitching, it’s both very relaxed and secure in its surroundings, or it’s asleep with its eyes open. A rabbit’s ears represent about 10 percent of its body area. Aside from playing a critical role in the rabbit’s acute sense of hearing, which is important in escaping predators, the big ears help the rabbit stay cool by dissipating body heat. Rabbits have excellent peripheral vision because their eyes are spread so far apart on their heads, but they cannot see food or fingers that are placed directly in front of them.

NORMAL BEHAVIOR & INTERACTION:

Rabbits are sweet, loving creatures. However, they are prey animals and this fact must be respected by the family. Being grabbed or picked up from over-head mimics a hungry hawk to a rabbit. Being held and cuddled is unnatural. Patience is required when bonding with a pet rabbit; you must earn its trust. Children must be supervised at all times when handling a rabbit, as the rabbit is very fragile. Teach your child how to properly pick up the rabbit and how to handle it safely.

Rabbits are very expressive creatures if you take the time to learn their language!! Some rabbit communication behavior includes:

Screaming: “I’m in danger or in much pain!”
Honking: “I’m interested in you sexually.” (time to get bunny spayed or neutered)
Growling, snorting, hissing: “I am displeased.”
Chin rubbing: Rabbits have scent glands in their chins Translation: “I mark you (or this item) as MINE!”
Lunging: “I’m angry and I don’t like what you’re doing!”
“Binky”: this is a very acrobatic leap into the air combined with a dramatic kick of the back legs Translation: “I am deliriously happy!!”
Licking: a sign that you have been accepted and are deserving of affection Translation: “I like you; maybe even love you - if you’re lucky.”
Circling your feet: usually a sign that it’s time to get your bunny spayed or neutered! This is a sign of courtship. If your bunny IS spayed or neutered, he or she may just want to play! Translation: “I’m so in love with you!!”
Tooth grinding: soft tooth grinding combined with a relaxed posture Translation: “I’m very content” Loud tooth grinding combined with a tense posture Translation: “I hurt”
Flopping suddenly over on side (no signs of distress): “I’m very content and relaxed!”

FEEDING:

Herbivores Fresh hay should constitute the majority of your rabbit’s diet, followed by fresh vegetables and then a plain pellet diet.

HAYS: Timothy, orchard grass, botanical hay, brome, oat hay. Alfalfa hay is best left for bunnies under 6 months of age.

PELLET: Commercially prepared timothy hay based rabbit diets containing approximately 12-14% protein and at least 18% fiber should be fed. A good quality plain pellet diet is best, as they offer a complete balanced diet. Diets that include seeds and treats may seem nicer for your pet, but many rabbits will only pick out the treats and not eat the pellets. This may result in malnutrition and obesity. Also, seeds can upset the delicate balance of the rabbit’s gastro-intestinal tract, causing gas and discomfort. Corn can cause blockages. Feed ¼ cup to ½ cup. Do not feed alfalfa hay based pellets. These contain too much protein.

FRESH FOODS: Healthy, fresh vegetables should also be fed to your rabbit. Broccoli tops, beet greens, carrots and carrot tops, sweet peppers, parsley, and dandelion greens are good choices. Fresh fruits in SMALL quantities can be used as TREATS. Good choices are apples, pears and berries. If you find that your rabbit develops loose stools or diarrhea, you are probably feeding too much fresh food. If the diarrhea persists after reducing fresh food, see your exotic pet veterinarian immediately. BE SURE TO WASH FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES THOROUGHLY BEFORE FEEDING THEM TO YOUR PET!!!

** Please Avoid: yogurt drops, honey/nut/seed sticks, chocolate, pasta, breads, crackers, cookies, breakfast cereals, any human grade treats, green beans, corn and citrus.

SUPPLEMENTS:

Since you will be feeding your rabbit a balanced diet, supplements are not necessary.

WATER:

Clean, fresh chlorine-free water must always be available. Change it daily. All water given must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. De-chlorinator is available in the fish department. If you do not want to chemically de-chlorinate the water, you can leave an open container of tap water out for at least 24 hours. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions.

LITTER TRAINING:

Rabbits naturally (even in the wild) tend to urinate and defecate in one certain area of their “domain”. This is a way of marking territory. You can use this natural behavior to your advantage by training your bunny to use a litter box in order to keep the bunny cage cleaner. Cat litters tend to be irritating to rabbit eyes and some can create health problems in rabbits, so recycled newspaper pellets such as “Yesterday’s News”, wood-stove pellets and “Carefresh” are most recommended.

Use a system of rewarding for good behavior, not scolding for incorrect behavior. Place your rabbit’s litter-box in a place where she usually eliminates already, making it easy for her to succeed. If your rabbit defecates outside the box, place the feces into the litter-box to establish the scent in the box.

Place food items (apple, a treat of alfalfa hay) into the box to encourage the bunny to spend time there. There is no danger in your rabbit sitting or sleeping in the box, the more time spent in and defecating in the box, the better trained he or she will become. Don’t be worried that the litter box is too big. Many rabbits will naturally spend time in it anyway.

SPAYING AND NEUTERING:

It is extremely important to spay or neuter your pet bunny; it should be considered just as important as spaying or neutering a pet dog or cat. Spaying or neutering your bunny will extend its healthy lifetime. By altering your pet, the risk of reproductive cancers is reduced, aggressive behavior is reduced, urine spraying is reduced and the ability to litter train becomes easier.

Also, by spaying or neutering your pet bunny, there is a reduced risk of contributing to the over-population of pet rabbits.

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES:

Wire sided cage at least 4’ x 2’ x 2’ for one average sized rabbit; 6’ x 3’ x 3’ for two average sized rabbits. Do not choose a cage with a wire bottom; only solid floored cages are appropriate. Pelleted, timothy based commercial rabbit food & timothy hay, orchard grass, botanical hay or any combination. Alfalfa hay and pellets are only appropriate for rabbits under 6 months of age.
Several toys - chewable wood and cardboard and bunny-safe plastic. Shredded aspen bedding, “Carefresh”, or newspaper for the bottom of the cage. NO PINE OR CEDAR SHAVINGS.
Hide houses - wooden or cardboard. Heavy ceramic crock food bowl, rabbits will flip or chew a light plastic bowl.
Water bottle or bowl Playpen - for safe out-of-cage playtime.
Litter box - choose a different substrate for the litter box than what covers the bottom of the cage. DO NOT USE PINE OR CEDAR SHAVINGS IN A LITTER BOX. A good rabbit care book And access to rabbit.org

HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT:

A wire-sided cage measuring at least 4’ x 2’ x 2’ is a good size cage for one rabbit. Be sure the cage has good ventilation and a solid bottom, no grates.

GLASS ENCLOSURES SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR RABBITS; they are highly susceptible to heat stroke and glass cages hold in to much heat and humidity for a rabbit. Do not buy a cage with a wire floor; this will result in foot injuries and a condition known as “bumble-foot”. Cages should have a solid plastic bottom, for safety and for ease of cleaning.

IT IS NOT TRUE THAT AN ANIMAL WILL ONLY GROW AS LARGE AS ITS ENCLOSURE!!

When allowing your rabbit out of cage time, be sure to monitor closely. Do not allow your rabbit to roam the house or a room when he or she is not supervised. Injuries to both the rabbit and/or your house are imminent. Before allowing your rabbit supervised play time, scan the room for power cords, sharp objects, items that your rabbit can easily pick up and eat, and other items that may be a danger to your pet.

HIDE HOUSE: The hide house is extremely important to the rabbit. Rabbits can be very shy creatures with a strong flight instinct; they are prey animals. It is very important to supply them with a protected place to hide.

WATER BOTTLE: A full water bottle must be available at all times, refill it daily. Be sure to clean out the inside of the bottle thoroughly during the more intensive cage cleaning sessions every week. Water bottles will often become slimy inside, which will in turn harbor harmful bacteria. Clean the bottle thoroughly with a mild bleach solution (1 bleach:32 water). Be sure to rinse the bottle extremely well after the cleaning to ensure no bleach is left behind! Your pet will most likely chew a bottle inside the cage, so be sure to attach the bottle to the OUTSIDE of the cage. Check the straw daily for any blockages to make sure your pet always has access to the fresh water. If you cannot place the bottle on the outside of the cage, purchase a metal water bottle guard. This will keep him or her from getting to the bottle.

BEDDING: We recommend an aspen bedding or soft recycled newspaper bedding such as “Carefresh”. Neither of these choices will cause allergic reactions or respiratory distress and it is easy to clean. DO NOT use cedar chips, as they contain dangerous phenols, which are toxic to your pet. Place enough bedding in the cage so your pet can happily tunnel underneath it. Spot clean your pet’s cage daily by simply removing the soiled portions of bedding.

TOYS: Several types of toys should be available for your rabbit. Chewing toys such as wooden small mammal toys (available at the pet store), hide houses, cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes and dried untreated fruit tree branches are all excellent toys for your pig. Rabbits MUST chew constantly in order to wear their teeth down, which grow on a continual basis. Therefore, toys that allow the rabbit to chew are invaluable. Stick to toys bought at the pet store, as these are generally made of pet-safe materials. Pesticide-free, dried fruit tree braches, such as pear and apple, can be offered, but be absolutely sure they are pesticide free. Also, wash them well with water and friction before offering them to your pet.

HABITAT MAINTENANCE:

Daily maintenance should consist of spot cleaning by removing soiled substrate, cleaning water bowl and litter box thoroughly and wiping glass clean.

The entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every week with:

  • A mild dishwashing liquid in warm water (make a weak dilution) THEN
  • Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32)
  • Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.
  • RINSE OFF ALL SOAP AND BLEACH THOROUGHLY WITH PLAIN WATER BEFORE RE-INTRODUCING YOUR PET TO ITS ENCLOSURE!!
  • NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH - IT CREATES A TOXIC SOLUTION

GROOMING & HYGIENE:

It is not necessary to clean or bathe your rabbit. They are extremely neat and will groom themselves! If it seems as if your rabbit has not been grooming him or herself, he may be ill. Contact your exotic pet veterinarian. Regular brushing, especially during shedding, is essential, as rabbits cannot vomit up excess hair ingested while grooming.

SIGNS OF A HEALTHY ANIMAL:

Healthy rabbits have a rounded, full body and smooth, even fur with no bald patches. The nostrils, rump area, under-chin area, ears and eyes should be clear and free of discharge - fur should not be damp or stained in any way. Your pet should have bright eyes; teeth should be even and well aligned with no staining around the chin; breathing should be even and not labored, with no wheezing or gurgling sounds. Healthy rabbits are energetic and alert.

We recommend physical exams every year with an exotic pet veterinarian for small mammals. If your vet sees your pet regularly, many common conditions that afflict your pet can be caught and treated early. If not caught early enough or if left untreated, many of these conditions can become far worse if not fatal.

SOME COMMON PROBLEMS INCLUDE:

HEALTH ISSUE: SYMPTOMS: TREATMENT:
Gastro-intestinal upset
“GI stasis”
Lethargy, not eating, feces small in size or non-existent, gurgling belly sounds See your exotic veterinarian IMMEDIATELY, disease runs its course quickly. Vet will administer sub-q fluids and motility agents +/- antibiotics.
Mites Loss of hair, bare spots on skin or small red sores; scratching, “dandruff” See your exotic veterinarian immediately. Infecting mite must be identified and treated accordingly.
Traumatic injury Obvious open wounds or weeping spots on body See your exotic veterinarian for treatment. Cuts must be cleaned properly and antibiotics may be necessary
Abscesses Abscesses can form when wounds become infected and close up, trapping the bacteria inside. See your exotic veterinarian immediately. The abscess must be drained and antibiotics administered.
Upper Respiratory Infection Nasal or eye discharge, sneezing, wet front paws See your exotic pet veterinarian.
Dental issues Drooling, not eating, pawing at mouth, scant stools See your exotic pet veterinarian.

Please visit the House Rabbit Society website: rabbit.org for more in-depth information on pet rabbits!!

©2012 Dawn M. Trainor-Scalise

Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets

In conjunction with Pet Supplies “Plus”

10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031

Ph (716) 759-0144

www.buffalobirdnerd.com