Caring for your rabbit
When picking up your rabbit, always support the rump to prevent back injuries. Rabbits can be housed indoors or outdoors and require protection from temperature extremes. A large cage should be provided with room for a food dish, water, litterbox, toys and bedding. It should have a non-slip floor and not be a suspended wire cage. Straw or shredded paper can be used as bedding. The litterbox should be filled with rabbit-safe litter such as one made of alfalfa, oats, citrus or paper - clumping litters or ones made of pine or clay should be avoided. Frequent removal of waste is important for preventing respiratory disease and feet problems. When your rabbit is outside of the cage, it should be supervised to prevent your rabbit chewing on electric cords, tubing, furniture and carpets. Short haired rabbits usually require brushing once to twice a week, whereas most long haired rabbits will require daily brushing.
HAY: Rabbits are herbivores and are designed to digest leaves and stems. They need access to hay ALL OF THE TIME- 80% of their diet should be good quality grass hay. A high fibre diet provides essential nutrients for the bacteria and protozoa in their gut. Examples of suitable grass hays include Timothy, Botanical, Oaten or Orchard hays. Grinding hay prevents dental problems and boredom. Lucerne hay should only be fed to young bunnies under the age of six months since it provides extra calcium necessary for growing bones. Lucerne hay is not recommended for healthy adult bunnies as the excess dietary calcium can be associated with urine crystal or bladder stone formation.
VEGETABLES: Approximately 15% of a rabbits diet should be fresh green leafy vegetables. This is approximately 1-2 cups of vegetables per day for an average adult rabbit. Examples include kale, Asian veggies (eg Bok Choy), coriander, parsley, mint, carrot tops, dandelion, basil, chicory and fennel. Avoid gas forming vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.
PELLETS: Specially fortified high-fibre pellets that are over 20% fibre and less than 16% protein can be given provided they contribute to no more than 5% of an adult rabbit's diet. Our pellet of choice is Oxbow's Timothy hay-based Bunny Basics pellets. This pellet is specially formulated for adult rabbits and helps prevent obesity and urinary stone formation. No more than a tablespoon of pellets should be offered each day.
FRUITS and treats: When fed in limited quantities, herbs or fruits can be fed as treats. These may include pieces of banana, apple, pineapple, melons and berries. Water should be provided at all times via a shallow dish or drinking bottle.
RABBIT MIXES ARE NOT RECOMMENDED - Rabbits are not designed to eat grains, nuts, seeds and corn. These mixes are full of starch and can lead to obesity and digestive problems. These types of mixes also lead to selective feeding, where the rabbit will pick out the stuff they like and leave the stuff that's healthy in the bowl. Rabbits do not routinely need vitamin supplements. Foods that are TOXIC to rabbits include: beans, rhubarb, potatoes, chocolate, corn, cauliflower, cabbage, apple seeds, philodendron, azalea and aloe.
Rabbits produce two kinds of droppings - one is firm and is their waste product, the other is soft and is reingested by the rabbit. The soft type are caecotrophs, which provides the rabbit with essential proteins, vitamins and other nutrients. Caecotrophs are usually consumed at night time.
Rabbits have teeth that constantly erupt, which means uneven wear can lead to the formation of spurs or malocclusions, which may require veterinary intervention. Signs of dental disease in your pet rabbit may include difficulty eating, weight loss, slobbers, eye problems, skin problems, or no signs at all. Proper diet can minimise the development of dental disease.
There are two viruses prevalent in Australia that can cause fatalities in both wild and pet bunny populations - these are myxomatosis and calicivirus. Myxomatosis is characterised by swollen genitalia, lips and eyes. There is no vaccine for myxomatosis in Australia - it is essential that you protect your rabbits from biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes which transmit this disease. A mosquito net over their outdoor hutch is recommended. Calicivirus, also known as viral haemorrhagic disease, can result in sudden death with no apparent signs of ill health. There is a vaccine for calicivirus - this can first be given as 2 injections 4 weeks apart to rabbits less than 12 weeks of age, or as a single injection to bunnies over 12 weeks of age. An annual booster vaccination for calicivirus is required long term.
Rabbits suffer from infestations of the usual ectoparasites found in other mammals, including flies, mosquitos, mites, lice and fleas. Revolution and Advantage are topical spot-on products that have safe clinical efficacy on rabbits (this is an off label usage). Monthly application is suitable for flea prevention, whereas fortnightly application may be required for mites and lice. Never use fipronil (Frontline) spray on rabbits.
In addition to eliminating the risk of breeding, desexing minimizes a number of other unwanted behaviours (mounting, thumping, aggression) and reduces the risk of certain illnesses (uterine cancer, mammary cancer and testicular disease). Greater than 80% of female rabbits will develop uterine cancer by the age of 6 years if not desexed. The best age to desex a male or female rabbit is just before or shortly after sexual maturity; this is usually at approximately 5-6 months of age for most rabbits. Male rabbits should not be put in contact with intact female rabbits for at least 3 weeks after neutering as some rabbits can still have living sperm in ducts within the spermatic cord that are not removed with surgery.