Choosing a domestic rabbit as our pet is something we do often because it is in fashion. The same goes for hamsters. They are furry, with cute big ears, they live longer than color fish, and are less demanding than a dog or a cat. Nevertheless, before buying one, we need to be well informed. As any other animal, domestic rabbits need attentions and care: a balanced diet, daily exercise, manicure, vaccines…
An inadequate diet is the main cause of illness among house rabbits. The most widely spread mistake is giving them only kibble. A diet exclusively based on kibble would be right for a farm rabbit, but not for one that may live from 5 to 7 years as a pet.
The diet of the rabbit must include:
- Hay: it is an essential source of fibre for rabbits, as well as an excellent bedding. It helps keep the cage clean. Hay should be always available — especially for young and newly weaned bunnies (from 6 weeks of age).
The best hay for rabbits is from phleum (timothy) or graminoids.
You may give them also dry alfalfa, moderately.
- Vegetables, fresh leaves and grass… in short, GREENERY!: alfalfa; carrot leaves, turnips and beets; cabbage; chard; escarole; celery; lettuce; spinach; trefoil; grass sprouts; dandelion; wild vegetables. We can give them occasionally mixed vegetables, too.
It is false that vegetables cause diarrhea to rabbits, as long as their diet does not change suddenly, and they have quality hay.
If you have a very young bunny, feed it only small quantities of vegetables. Then increase the amounts little by little.
- High quality kibble: it must be granulated, and without added cereals (cereals are not good for rabbits). Choose preferably brand issued packs, with a minimum of 16 % of fibre or cellulose, and a maximum of 16 % of protein. We do not recommend fodder in bulk.
Once it is six months old, a rabbit does not grow any more. Past that age, therefore, we should start rationing their kibble: one or two teaspoonfuls a day is enough. If they have kibble at their disposal all day, they usually develop serious teeth problems, and put on too much weight.
- Clean water available at all times: the best for that are the bottle water troughs.
- Never give them bread, candy, or anything not mentioned above.
- Rabbits need fibre. It has been proven that when their diet is poor in fibre, hairballs form more easily in the stomach. Hairballs can cause very serious health issues.
- Never change the diet of your rabbit abruptly — not even to improve it. They are very sensitive to sudden changes of diet. Start by offering small quantities of the new food, and increase them little by little in the span of a few weeks.
On the same principle, if you change brands of kibble start mixing it with the previous brand; then increase little by little the proportion of the new kibble.
Habitat of Domestic Rabbits
Rabbits need space to move. The cage, therefore, should be as wide as possible. Besides, they need to exercise outside the cage for at least 2 hours a day. Watch them closely when you take them out — around the house — to prevent accidents: falls, wires, surprise encounters with cats or dogs…
Remember that they are rodents, and slippery: if you release them in the garden, chances are they will run. Do not make false assumptions: domestic rabbits are house pets; they are not prepared for life in the wild.
For the bedding, use hay. You can add a little cat litter on the base, though never as the only substratum for the cage. Be careful with wood pellets: some kinds can cause ocular and respiratory troubles. Do not use cotton or artificial fibres as nesting material.
Rabbits are highly sensitive to heatstrokes. Avoid leaving them exposed to the sun for too long, or inside a vehicle without ventilation.
The teeth of rabbits grow and get worn constantly. If this balance breaks, the teeth might overgrow. When teeth are too long they hamper eating, and may cause injuries and infections in the mouth.
To ensure that the teeth wear away as they should, provide the rabbit with an adequate diet — rich in fibre and vegetables. You can give them also dry wholemeal bread to gnaw on, as well as fruit tree sticks, or dry bones.
However, the overgrowth of teeth can be due to congenital causes, too. In these cases, teeth overgrow in spite of an adequate diet and handling.
Cutting the Nails
It is advisable to cut the rabbit’s nails regularly. If they are too long, rabbits can hurt themselves, and us.
To hold a rabbit, put one hand under the chest, and the other between the rear legs (without seizing them). Never hold them by the ears, or only by the rear legs. Handling a rabbit inadequately might result in spinal trauma, or broken legs.
No Need to Worry…
- During the reproductive periods (spring and summer) some females might tear hair from their flanks or abdomen to build a sort of nest. That is a normal behavior.
- The rabbit’s pee might take an orange or reddish coloring due to pigments present in their food. This coloration should not be mistaken with the presence of blood in the urine.
It is advisable to take the rabbit to a specialized veterinarian at least once a year, for a full examination.
Depending on the condition of each animal, the specialist might recommend to vaccinate them against myxomatosis, or hemorrhagic viral disease.
- When male rabbits reach puberty sometimes they become a bit aggressive. The Castration can help reduce or eliminate aggressiveness.
- For females, it is recommended to sterilize them before they are 3 years old. In their case, sterilization reduces significantly the risk of tumors in the reproductive system.
The Rabbit Is Not Eating
If a rabbit stops eating for more than two days, the situation might becomeirreversible. Do not wait so long to take it to the veterinarian.
Article based on a talk by our collaborator Jordi Jiménez.