Rabbits are often bought as a first pet, for a child, or for someone without much time for an animal. This is because rabbits are often thought of as cute, low-maintenance pets. Although it is true that rabbits take less commitment than dogs and cats, rabbits also need a different kind of care than other pets. The first step you should take when owning a rabbit is to learn about what kind of care it needs.
The basics of rabbit care include food, water, and housing. You should also take into consideration rabbit behaviour, rabbit-proofing your house, and visiting a veterinarian. We will look into these concerns in the following paragraphs.
Rabbits drink quite a bit of water, so it is important to keep an eye on the water bowl and to supply them with fresh water when needed. For food, adult rabbits should be on hay, with a small amount of pellets as a treat. Hay is appropriate food to control obesity, and is absolutely necessary to aid proper movement of the digestive tract. Hay provides your rabbit with all the nutrients it needs. However, keep in mind that growing, pregnant, and lactating rabbits will have different dietary needs and will probably need a substantial amount of pellets.
Do not put kitty litter in your rabbit’s litter box! If rabbits eat the clay-based litter, it will get stuck in their intestines and could be fatal. Rabbits sometime eat their litter purposely, but they may also accidentally ingest it when they clean off their paws. The best kind of litter for your rabbit is newspaper-based litter.
Now that you’ve chosen a type of litter, you probably want your rabbit to actually use the litter box. Rabbits like corners, and there are many types of triangular litter boxes that you can fit into the corner of a cage. If your rabbit chooses a different corner, move the litter box there. If at some point it pees or poops outside of the box, clean the pee up well and move the poop to the litter box, so that it smells like the litter box is the appropriate ‘toilet’.
One thing to keep in mind about the health of your rabbit is that it produces two kinds of poop. ‘Cecals’ are the smaller, softer, smellier clusters that the rabbit should eat right away (you will probably not even see these). If you do see them, it may be a sign of intestinal problems. The regular poop is the kind you will see left in the litter box.
As far as cage size, give your rabbit the biggest cage you can afford to give it. Many cages at pet stores are too small. Rabbits are very territorial. This behaviour is shown when a rabbit lunges at you with its front paws or tries to bite you when your hand enters the cage. A larger cage will decrease territorial behaviour.
In addition to being territorial, rabbits have some other unique behaviours. They are naturally prey animals, and are therefore easily scared. Some things that may scare rabbits are cuddling them (unless they are naturally cuddly) and touching their neck, chin, or belly. The best way to pet your rabbit is to approach it from the top or behind. A lot of them like the top of their head scratched. Do not extend your hand out in front of them, under their eyes, as you normally would with a dog.
Another important rabbit trait is that they are naturally destructive. They like to dig and chew. This means that you will need a lot of toys to occupy them (even things as simple as cardboard boxes will do!). A sandbox or corn litter is a great way for them to safely enjoy digging in something.
Their destructive behaviours mean that you will need to rabbit-proof your house or at least a room in your house. Rabbits need to be let out of their cage for exercise to maintain their health and energy. They tend to get frustrated and destructive if they are always confined to a cage. When you look around your house, take into consideration that rabbits will especially love to chew furniture and cords/cables. You can erect temporary barriers around furniture and either hide cords or put some hard piping around them that is not so easy to chew. A rabbit can slice through a small cord with one bite, which puts them at a high risk of being electrocuted. Also keep in mind that your rabbit may not use the litter box while it is roaming around your house.
Most importantly, you should take your new rabbit to the vet as soon as possible to get it checked. Some dog and cat veterinarians will not work on rabbits. It would be to your advantage to find a vet in your area who specializes in exotics. You should also spay or neuter your rabbit. Then you will not have to deal with baby rabbits if you get more than one rabbit. If you do not spay your female rabbit, there is very big risk that she will develop uterine cancer as she gets older. Un-neutered male rabbits have an increased risk of testicular cancer and they also will most likely start spraying unpleasant smelling urine at sexual maturity.
Rabbits are lovable and low-maintenance pets for a wide range of people. They are very easy to take care of, once you understand what their unique needs are. Food, water, and housing are the basics, but you should also understand their behaviour tendencies. Enjoy your pet rabbit, and always remember- there are many beautiful rabbits at animal shelters waiting for loving homes!
By Ashley O’Driscoll – Pets.ca writer