Rabbits are becoming a very popular pet for both adults and children alike.
As we have increasingly busy lifestyles and increasingly small backyards, rabbits can be an excellent option for a companion animal.
They are small, quiet animals with gigantic personalities!
If you want further information on how to care for your rabbit or have any questions regarding your rabbit’s health, please call the clinic and we’ll be happy to book you in to see Dr. Louise Pierce.
If you own, or are considering introducing a rabbit into you life here are some important things to be aware of that will ensure your bunny has the happiest, healthiest life possible.
There is often a misconception that rabbits will do fine living in very small hutches in the backyard. In fact, much the opposite is true! Rabbits should have the biggest possible space available to them and may be housed indoors, outdoors or a combination of both.
Your rabbit will be able to live a wonderful life as an indoor pet, however there are a few considerations associated with this lifestyle that you should be aware of.
- Rabbits can be litter trained similarly to a cat
- Indoor rabbits should have their own special area where they can be confined during times of illness, when they are unable to be supervised or when you are having guests
- Rabbits are big chewers and hence owners should be aware of precious furniture and electrical wires.
- Beware of other pets in the household
Rabbits can be housed outdoors, however only if they are provided with plenty of interaction and stimulation. Similar to indoor housing, there are a number of considerations associated with this lifestyle that you should be aware of.
- Predators have more easy access to our outdoor rabbits
- Mosquito transmitted diseases such as Calicivirus and Myxomatosis are more likely to be contracted if your bunnies live outdoors
- Outdoor rabbits are less likely to receive the adequate attention their indoor friends may receive
- You must always think about hot weather, cold weather, rain etc. when housing your rabbits outside
- These bunnies are also more likely to be affected by extremes of temperature
- You can get creative! An old kids cubby house can be converted into a wonderful rabbit palace…
Rabbits are herbivores, which means they can eat exclusively plant material. They have 28 teeth in total including 6 incisors and 22 back teeth than we cannot see from the front. These teeth are ‘open rooted’ meaning they will continuously grow throughout the rabbit’s life, up to 3mm per week! For this reason, it is important that we provide them with a diet that is able to assist in wearing their teeth down.
Rabbits are also hind-gut fermenters and have a gastrointestinal system that is designed to be continuously moving. This is why rabbits seem to never stop eating! Many rabbit illnesses can be related to a poor or inadequate diet.
The ideal bunny diet therefore needs to:
· Help wear down all 28 teeth
· Help keep their guts moving without causing significant weight loss
This is where hay comes in! The ideal bunny diet is 80% hay and 20% greens with minimal pellets/treat food to supplement their diet.
Hay is high in fibre and low in calories – the perfect food to help keep your rabbits in good condition. However, hays are not all equal. Some places will try to pass off pet bedding straw, poorly stored grass hay and other inappropriate items as food for your rabbit.
Oaten hay is the best hay we can use for our rabbits. It is reasonably tasty without having the high calories and calcium content of some of the alfalfa-type hays.
The best way to present hay to your rabbit is in a litter tray. Rabbits like the ‘poo and chew’ and will use their litter tray for both activities. Litter trays also mean that cleaning is simplified, as it is a simple process to empty and refill the litter tray.
How to choose your hay:
Aim for a good quality oaten hay or grass hay (if no oaten available). As a general rule, the more green and fresh smelling your hay, the tastier it will be for your rabbit. Avoid any dusty, smelly and mouldy hay, or hay stored in plastic bags. The only exception is the Oxbow hay which has been specifically prepared to be free of pollens, dust, mould and disease. Hay is best bought in bales and stored in breathable bags or solid plastic containers with numerous air holes drilled in for ventilation. In Melbourne, www.pethorsefarm.com.au will deliver good quality hay to your door.
Greens are the other component of your rabbit’s diet. Greens provide vital nutrients as well as being high in water content, unlike hay. They provide variety and interest for your bunny as well!
- Bok Choy
- Brussell sprouts
- Broccoli (leaves mainly)
- Dandelion flowers
- Radish tops
- Raspberry tops
- Strawberry leaves
- Peppermint leaves
- Swiss chard
- Wheat grass
- Carrot Tops
- Green Pepper
- Dandelion leaves
- Snow Peas
- Raw beans
- Human lollies
Pellets and seed like mixes
These have been developed over the years and pushed by pet stores as a good diet for our rabbits. Originally these items were developed as an easy way to feed laboratory animals. In Australia, most pellets and mixes have no nutritional information on them and are high in calories. They are also easy and quick to eat, meaning we end up with rabbits having dental and gut problems. The only pellet you should use for your rabbit are the Oxbow Rabbit Pellets. These are nutritionally balanced and may be used as a diet supplement feeding only 1 tablespoon per day.
Fruits are higher in sugar and much tastier than our greens. They should be used as ‘treat food’ for your rabbit and only comprise a small amount of the diet.
Colourful veggies are also ‘treat foods’ and should be fed in small amounts.
Commercially available treats vary vastly with their quality and nutritional content. The only treats we recommend at the clinic are made by Mosuki Bunny Shop, which we sell at the clinic.
Changing your rabbit’s diet should be a slow process, as rabbits can be fussy and their guts can get upset when their diet is changed too quickly. All new foods should be introduced in small amounts to ensure there is no gut upset.
Vaccinations are important for any pet you may have.
In Australia, we are able to vaccinate your rabbits against Calicivirus. Calicivirus has been introduced to our beloved domestic bunnies via wild rabbits. It is a deadly virus that can damage internal organs such as the liver and gut, this awful virus can also cause serious hemorrhaging a bleeding. Your rabbit should be vaccinated every 6 months (twice yearly) for calicivirus. As part of this appointment, we can also perform a health examination of your rabbit; checking their body condition, weight and importantly their teeth! To make sure your rabbit is always in brilliant health, any other worries or questions you may have can be covered in these checkups as well.
You might be surprised to know that most rabbits can be litter trained successfully, meaning it is easier to clean out their area and keep them as acceptable indoor pets.
Rabbits like to ‘poo and chew’. Therefore, providing your rabbit with a simple cat litter tray (or underbed storage tub) full of good quality oaten hay is the best way to encourage your rabbit to use their tray.
Your rabbit may have already picked a location to toilet in. If so, it is wise to place a litter tray in their chosen spot; rabbits are stubborn and it is difficult to change their minds! For extra absorption, you may find placing some newspaper and/or recycled paper cat litter below the hay can be useful and may help make your cleaning tasks easier.
Grooming requirements will vary depending on the breed, age and housing arrangements of your rabbit.
Angora and cashmere rabbits will require daily brushing to keep their coats matt free and may require clipping over the warmer months.
Shorter haired breeds will require grooming less often.
All rabbits will need regular nail trims to keep their feet in good condition.
Older rabbits may require assistance in cleaning themselves, in particular their ears and bottoms as their mobility is reduced.