It’s easy to fall in love with a bunny’s cute face, twitching nose and fluffy tail instantly. This is why so many people adopt one straight away, without really considering the demands of rabbit care. Rabbits truly are great pets, but before you welcome one into your family, there a lot of things to consider first! Read on to make sure you are ready for the commitment and find out what you need to do to properly care for your rabbit.
- Rabbits Aren’t Starter Pets
Rabbit care involves daily feeding, hay and water changing, and exercise outside of their cage, as well as weekly cage cleaning and lots of love. Most domestic rabbits can live 7-10 years, so you have to be committed for the long term. Also bear in mind that children should never have the sole responsibility of caring for rabbits.
- Spay Or Neuter Your Rabbit
Un-neutered male rabbits are prone to prostate cancer and un-spayed females have a 60-80 percent chance of developing ovarian, uterine or other reproductive cancers. Also, unless you want a large family of of bunnies on your hands, spaying and neutering is very important – after all, the expression “multiply like rabbits” doesn’t come from nowhere!
- Find An “Exotic” Vet
Rabbits are considered “exotic” pets, so make sure you know a local vet who will treat them. Animal shelters and rabbit rescue organisations can help you find one. Until they are 5, your rabbit will need yearly check-ups, and twice a year after that.
Sadly, rabbits are one of the most commonly surrendered animals to shelters. Visit your local animal shelter and adopt a rabbit waiting for a home.
- There Are 40-50 Breeds To Choose From
Rabbits come in all different shapes, sizes, fur-length and colours: from the 1kg Netherland Dwarfs, to up to 9kg Flemish Giants! Get a feel for what your family wants and call shelters to learn about available bunnies who need good homes.
- They Need Cage-Free Time
Rabbits should be kept in large enclosures, and if they don’t have free run of the house, they should be offered a chance to exercise for several hours every day.
- Rabbits Are Social Animals
Each rabbit has their own personality and may from strong bonds with other rabbits. Shelters will note if a bunny is an “individual,” a “couple” or a “trio” with other rabbits, so if your family falls in love with a bonded rabbit, you may want to keep the rabbit friends together.
- Not All Rabbits Get Along.
Just like humans, not all rabbits can coexist. Before you get your bunny a “friend”, set up a meeting between the two on neutral ground to see if they will get along. Most shelters will offer a room to see if the two bunnies can be friends.
- Keep Rabbits Indoors
Every bunny deserves a nice warm place to live, and domestic rabbits should always be kept indoors, as they cannot tolerate very hot or cold temperatures. They can also become very frightened and suffer a deadly heart attack at the sight of another animal.
- Make Their House A Home
Care for your rabbit by providing them with an exciting home. A multi-level cage with many areas for them to explore is a great option. You can also purchase toys, water bottles and a small cat bed for rabbits to sleep in.
- Don’t Buy Cages With Wire Floors
Wire floors can harm rabbits’ feet — they don’t have pads on their feet like dogs and cats do.
- Rabbits Can Be House Trained
Rabbits can be litter box trained! It takes about two months, and a corner litter box or level devoted to a “toilet” is a good way to give a rabbit a comfortable home. Be aware though, that certain types of cat litter can damage their digestive systems, so never use clumping litter, and avoid cedar or pine chips.
- Rabbits Love Hay
There are two types of hay: alfalfa and timothy. From 0-6 months, rabbits can have alfalfa hay; after 6 months, they should have fresh timothy hay daily.
- Rabbits Love Fibre
Good quality rabbit pellets–18 percent fibre–are a must for a rabbit. When rabbits are young (0-6 months), they can have unlimited pellets. After 6 months, limit their intake. Ask a vet about the appropriate amount of pellets per day for your rabbit.
- Leafy Greens Are Good
Rabbits love leafy green veggies. Kale, arugula, spinach, watercress, Swiss chard, parsley and cilantro are favourites. Be careful though–watery greens, such iceberg lettuce, are dangerous to rabbits (they can cause diarrhoea).
- Use Fruit And Veg For Treats
Dried apple slices, carrots, broccoli, celery, papaya, mango, banana slices, etc. can be given to a rabbit as a treat, but in small amounts.
- Make Your Home Un-Chewable
Rabbits need to chew to keep their teeth at a comfortable length. Remove anything your rabbit might chew, especially dangerous electric wires. Go to your local hardware store and purchase electric-cord covers and PVC piping to keep wires safe.
- Keep The Noise Down
Rabbits are naturally prey animals, so they tend to be easily frightened. They need peace and quiet, and don’t do well in noisy environments.
- Keep The Smell Down
Rabbits’ cages can stink–and no bunny wants to live in a smelly environment. Keep your bunny neat and mess-free by cleaning out the cage once or twice a week.
- Learn How To Hold Rabbits
Although some rabbits are okay with being picked up, most don’t enjoy it. If you do want to handle your rabbit, ask your vet to show you and your children the proper way. A rabbit will let you know if they are uncomfortable, so it’s important to watch for cues. Moreover, rabbits have very light, fragile bones. They have to be handled in a special way, and can actually break their own bones if they squirm too much.
- Brush Your Bunny
Find a good quality brush and keep a rabbit’s fuzz in control. Brushing regularly helps remove soft and excess hair.
- Create House Rules
Because rabbits are fragile, you should create house rules about their handling. A good rule to start: Only family members can take a rabbit out of his cage. Or the children cannot take the bunny out of his cage when only the babysitter is around. Not everyone loves rabbits, though. Check if your children’s friends have allergies to bunnies before they come over to play.
- Find Rabbit Care
Rabbits need the same love that dogs and cats do. If your family is planning a holiday and leaving bunny behind, be sure to find rabbit care. Some local farms and vets will even watch bunnies during family trips, so ask members of your community.