Introduction: Basic Rabbit Care 101
Hi. I’m Amanda Ferguson and I have been a rabbit owner for several months. I have done hours of research online and through rescue groups. Did you know that happy bunnies jump around in circles when they are happy? They basically do a whole one-eighty that we call a “binky” when they really love their life! Not only do they do kick-flips but they just plop down and sprawl out all over the floor too. This is a sign of them feeling safe and relaxed. I’m going to show you several steps to ensure you have a happy, healthy bunny who will binky all over the place and flop when they’re tired of running around and having fun. My rabbit lives a life full of binkies and flops every single day!
Step 1: Cage Set-Up
The number one thing people get wrong about rabbits is that they should live in a tiny cage all the time which is extremely false. A proper set up will ensure the safety and comfort of your rabbit. The cage should be tall enough for them to stand on their hind legs, long enough for them to stretch out three times and wide enough for them to stretch out at least once. Find a cage with a plastic bottom to prevent escaping. Do not use cages with wire bottoms as it can damage their feet and cause them lots of pain and stress. Rabbits can live indoors and outdoors but be sure that they are protected from extreme heat and extreme cold. The minimum temperature they can tolerate is thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit and about eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Anything outside of the range is considered dangerous and precautions should be taken such as fans, air conditioning, heating blankets or a heater or just bringing them inside if they primarily live outdoors.
Step 2: Litter Box Training
Rabbits are extremely intelligent animals and can be litter box trained very quickly and easily. As a general rule, the litter box should be big enough for your rabbit to turn around completely and comfortably. Cat boxes or a small plastic totes work great. Choose a rabbit-safe litter such as equine pellet bedding from the local Tractor Supply or recycled paper pellets. Do not use cat litter or litter designed for rodents. The litter should be about half an inch deep and potentially more if you have a larger breed. Rabbits have a tendency to eat and use the bathroom at the same time. The easiest way to train your rabbit is to put a hayrack above the box to promote using the box or put hay directly in the litter box. You just have to pay attention to your rabbit to see which they prefer. My rabbit prefers hers to be in her litter box as she does not like hay racks.
Step 3: Hay Hay Hay
Rabbits need unlimited Timothy Hay. Unlimited hay means they need access to it twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. If you have a rabbit under six months of age, you can feed them primarily alfalfa and slowly switch them over to mainly Timothy Hay when they get close to six months of age. Start out by mixing a quarter of Timothy Hay to three-quarters Alfalfa and add a quarter every two weeks until you have fully switched. You can find Timothy Hay at most farm supply stores, pet stores, and even Wal-Mart. At minimum, your rabbit should be eating an amount of hay that equals their body size. Since Timothy Hay is the main component of their diet, rabbits tend like when you add in something else such Orchard Grass or Oat Hay. This can be incorporated into their daily feed if you wish. About one-quarter of other hay to three-quarters of Timothy is a great way to keep your bunny from getting bored. Rabbits can eat grass from the lawn but they cannot eat the clippings and they cannot eat the grass if it has been treated for anything including but not limited to weeds, bugs, and fertilizer.
Step 4: A Well-Balanced Diet
Aside from hay, rabbits need quality pellets, vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Pellets should not be more than 30% fiber and no more than about 15% protein. You can follow the directions on the back of the pellet bag or as a rule of thumb, one-quarter of a cup of pellets per five pounds of rabbit. The vegetable list that rabbits can have is very long. The best list I have found and use is on mybunny.org. They are a reputable website and their goal is to have healthy bunnies. There is one main rule when feeding rabbits vegetables and that is absolutely no Iceberg lettuce because of the amount of lactucarium in it. Lactucarium is the milky substance secreted by the lettuce. Vegetables should about 10% of your rabbit's daily diet. With the daily vegetables, you can add in things like basil or dill. Mybunny.org also has a list of which herbs rabbits can and cannot have because the list is so extensive. Treats are a great way to show your bunny your affection and they make excellent tools to train your bunny to do tricks! You can buy good quality treats from the pet store or use fruits that do not have seeds or have seeds removed such as apples and bananas. Again, the website I previously mentioned will have a list of fruits. As far as treats, the same rule for pellets applies to treats.
Step 5: Water
Other than hay, vegetables, fruits, and pellets, bunnies also need plenty of water! If you do not have a water purifier in your fridge or attached to your kitchen sink, I highly suggest buying one as some of the chemicals and minerals in tap water can be harmful to rabbits in large quantities. Although it is more natural for them to drink out of bowls, some rabbits just do not like to drink out of bowls or much like mine, they tip their water bowl over every single day, several times a day. If you must use a water bottle, clean the water bottle out at least once a week and replace every month to prevent bacteria from building up and making your rabbit ill. Much like hay, water should be unlimited.
Step 6: Myth - Busted!
Myth: Rabbits need to be treated for fleas and ticks just like cats and dogs. They also need vaccinations. False! Rabbits do not need to be pre-treated for fleas and ticks at all. If they do end up with fleas, they need to be treated with something like Revolution, Stronghold or Program depending on what country you live in. Also, ask your veterinarian or look up the website for the treatment to see if it is rabbit safe. Most rabbits will need a kitten dose of treatment. Do not give your rabbit a bath. You can use a flea comb with warm water to comb through their fur if they do have fleas but do not fully submerge or saturate your rabbit because it can make them sick if they are wet and cold. You can use a safe treatment for your carpet, couch, and other surfaces like the one in the picture above. Research the pet laws in your area to see if your rabbit does need vaccinations. In the United States, rabbits do not need any vaccinations.
Step 7: Grooming
Even with a healthy diet and a great living quarters, rabbits also need regular grooming. Their nails need to be trimmed roughly every couple of months depending on the rabbit. Some may need it sooner and some may not need it as much. It truly varies rabbit to rabbit. If you aren't comfortable trimming their nails, your local rabbit-savvy veterinarian can help! If you want to try it at home you'll need a towel, a rabbit nail trimmer, a flashlight if your rabbit has dark nails and Kwik Stop or some other kind of power to stop the quick from bleeding if you accidentally trim too much. Take the towel, wrap your bunny up and expose one paw at a time to trim their nails. If your bunny has dark nails, use a flashlight to locate the quick. The quick is tissue in their nails that can be painful and very bloody if cut so be careful to not get too close! Depending on the length of their nails will depend on how much you need to trim. There are different ways to trim their nails and you can do some research online to find them. However, do not put your bunny on its back to put it in a trance to trim their nails. That can actually cause a lot of stress on your rabbit and could even kill them because of the vast difference in their heart rates. Rabbits also molt twice a year. Some molt more than others and it also depends on their living spaces. Regularly brush your rabbit to avoid matting and so they do not eat too much fur because they do groom themselves like cats. If they ingest too much fur they can have an obstruction which will result in an emergency vet trip or even death if it is not caught in time.
Step 8: Rabbit Savvy Vets
Being a responsible pet owner also means spaying or neutering your rabbit. This should be done around six months of age like most cats and dogs. Call local veterinarian offices to find a rabbit savvy vet. There are several questions you should ask them before you let them operate on your pet. How many rabbits have you spayed/neutered? How many rabbits have you lost during an operation? The answer should be less than 1%! How many rabbits do you see a month? You can also ask them basic things like what is the best diet for a rabbit? The best thing you can do is quiz them so you know they are in fact a rabbit savvy vet. Just because someone advertises that do rabbit spays and neuters does not mean they are exotic animal vets! Spaying or neutering can be stressful as an owner but follow your veterinarian's advice and things will go smoothly! We put our rabbit in a baby onesie to prevent her from gnawing at her stitches and irritating her incision.
Step 9: Happily Ever After
Rabbits are not for the faint-hearted. They are high maintenance animals. They need love, attention, and exercise daily. If proper care is received, your rabbit will be your best friend!