How to take care of your rabbit
There are a great deal of misconceptions about rabbit keeping, these tips are designed to keep your bunny happy and healthy. This advice sheet deals with the basics of rabbit care, and things to watch out for- remember rabbits are prey species, therefore hide sickness (in the wild showing weakness means easy pickings for predators)
Diet for rabbits
Food: Rabbits are herbivorous which means they only eat vegetation. The best diet is
- 80% hay/grass (with no chemicals!)
- 10% fresh vegetables (greens are best, ie cabbage, broccoli, parsley, spinach, dandelion)
- 10% pellets (only two teaspoons daily for your average 2 kg bunny).
Alfalfa hay is high in calcium so it is good when they are young and growing, however when they are older, it is better to switch to different hay. Rabbit calcium metabolism is different to ours in that the only way they can get rid of it is through their urine, excess amounts can cause stones and very chalky urine. It is for the same reason we recommend a small amount of pellets only as they are also very high in calcium. Commercial muesli diets are too low in fibre and too high in protein fat and carbohydrate. These slow motility of the gut, which is very important in rabbits. The other problem with these diets is your rabbit will pick out the bits they like and ignore the rest so it is not a complete food source. Carrots are surprisingly unhealthy for rabbits! They are full of carbohydrate so only give half of one once weekly as a treat.
It is perfectly normal for your rabbit to consume their own faeces from about 3 weeks of age. There are two types they produce, hard faecal balls and ‘caecotrophs’. Eating the latter, allows for reabsorption of vitamins and minerals. If you are noticing a lot of soft ‘bunch of grape’ like poos around the house instead of being eaten, it could be a dietary issue, please call us for advice.
Remember. Rabbits are constant grazers of food. If they haven't eaten in 12 hours they are already in trouble, bring them straight to us for a check up, even if they seem bright and alert.
Water. Use open bowls of water. Studies have proved that bunnies drinking out of water bottles only, drink 40% less than they should (mainly because they get bored having to work so hard for their water), which will cause dehydration and slower gut motility. A 2kg rabbit drinks as much as a 10kg dog, less so if fresh greens available.
Housing for rabbits
Outdoor hutches should be well protected from predators, out of direct sunlight (esp in white rabbits-they, like us, can get skin cancer too), away from the wind and be attached to a run for exercise. It could be worth checking your garden plants on the internet to ensure they are not toxic if your bunny eats them, ie daffodils/lilies —a fairly comprehensive list is contained here.
Indoor hutches should be big enough for your rabbit to hop three times across and three times down in. Hay is an ideal form of bedding, which should be cleaned out daily to prevent build up of faecal matter and urine soakage. Solid flooring covered in hay, not wire meshing is recommended in all cases. If you would like to litter train you rabbit, tips for doing so are in a separate handout.
How to handle your rabbit
Firstly, ensure your bunny does not mind being held. In general, they do not, some can actually get quite aggressive when you attempt to pick them up to let you know they are not happy. A lot of their power is in their hind legs, so these should be supported well when holding. The bulk of their weight is in their abdomen, this must be supported very carefully when picking them up. They have a curved spine naturally, with a specific weak point in the lower spine – the sheer weight of their lower abdomen may cause this to fracture if left unsupported even for a moment. Always carry them upright, as the weight of their abdomen may press on their diaphragm and impair their breathing. Rabbit bones are also very thin and rough handling may easily cause a hairline / full fracture. If you notice any lameness (which can actually be very difficult to spot) post handling it could be worth bringing them in for a check to ensure this did not occur.
Do not turn your bunny horizontally upside-down. You may have seen people do this on the internet – in general they hate this, it’s placing them in a state of shock and in most cases it is not recommended.
Vaccination for rabbits
We vaccinate annually for myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease and a second strain of viral haemorrhagic disease, know as RVHD2. All diseases are highly contagious and invariably fatal. They can be transmitted by fleas, but it is also possible to track them in from the environment on your shoes…especially RVHD2 which can survive in the environment for several months(not killed by freezing). Only a few particles are needed to infect a rabbit and can be spread on fomites, eg food bowls, soles of shoes etc and through direct contact. The three in one vaccine covers all diseases from 7 weeks old (90% immunity for RVHD2) and it takes three weeks for full immunity to set in. The three in one needs to be repeated every year.
Worming for rabbits
Rabbits, just like dogs and cats, can get worms and mites and fleas. We recommend a liquid oral wormer every 2 months for prevention for internal worms. Mites and fleas can also be an issue, The most common of these parasites are the ear mite psoroptes, which may cause a brown crust to develop and an intense itch in the ears. In more severe cases a head tilt may develop. If you notice any of these signs, please bring him/her in to see us, as (s)he will need more than a spot-on treatment to treat this condition.