Rabbit Care

DIET

Rabbits need large amounts of fibrous material:

  • Hay & vegetable base

– Hay (grass or meadow is best)

– Lucerne has a higher calcium content, so only give in small amounts; it is best for young, pregnant, or lactating rabbits.

  • Weeds and flowers.
  • Vegetables.
  • Fruits, occasionally as treat.

Problems with commercial diets:

  • Pellets – lack fibre, vitamins and calcium, and are high in calories and fats.
  • Rabbit mix – deficient in fibre and calcium.
  • Salt licks are not advisable.

Rabbits are hindgut fermenters, and as a result their first stools are soft and mucous covered.  Rabbits eat these stools directly from their bottom.  This usually occurs during early morning.  Later stools are hard, and are mainly undigested fibre; these are not eaten.

ANNUAL CHECK UP

Vaccination – calicivirus annually.

First at four months (if younger than 14 weeks, then two injections are necessary, four weeks apart).

Rabbits develop lumps at the injection site, and sometimes hair loss or reddening at injection site is possible.

As part of their vaccination against calicivirus, rabbits should have an annual check up.  Rabbits are prone to dental problems, so some rabbits may need more frequent check ups.

Rabbits can contract Myxomatosis, but this can be controlled by limiting fleas and mosquitoes (DO NOT USE FRONTLINE).   Screened enclosures assist in prevention.  Talk to your vet about appropriate products.

BREEDING

  • Pregnancy 30-33 days.
  • Does (mums) only feed their young for few minutes once to twice a day.
  • Young can drink up to 20% body weight at a time.
  • Eyes open at seven days.
  • Start eating vegetables at three weeks of age.
  • Wean at 4-6 weeks of age.

Rabbits are social – preferably keep as bonded pair.

HANDLING

A rabbit’s spine is relatively lightweight and fragile.  When a rabbit becomes frightened, it violently struggles by powerfully kicking its back legs.  The lightning-fast movements of the rear legs cause over-extension of the lumboscaral (lower back) region of the spine, which frequently results in fractures or dislocations.  Never try to overpower a struggling rabbit.  If a rabbit violently resists physical restraint, it should be immediately released and approached later when it has calmed down.

Remember:

  • Rabbits have fragile skeletons.
  • Always support the hind legs when carrying.
  • Do not carry by the ears.
  • Frequent, gentle handling will result in a better pet.

HOUSING

Rabbits can carry bordetella and this is potentially fatal to guinea pigs, so do not house rabbits and guinea pigs together.  The enclosure should be large enough for rabbits to stretch out in every direction (including hind legs).  Provide a dry sheltered sleeping area with bedding, and an outside, partially protected, play and grazing area with toys.  Rabbits like to explore but they also like to chew, so they need toys for this, such as branches, wooden toys, toilet rolls, and parrot-type toys.  Beware of heat stress – rabbits can cope with low temperatures but cannot sweat.  Consider placing frozen water bottles in hutches on hot days.

REASONS FOR DESEXING RABBITS

  • Desexing prevents cancer

4% of rabbits have uterine cancer at 2 years.

60-80% of rabbits at 5 years of age have uterine cancer. (Whether rabbits have had young or not makes no difference to the statistics.)

  • Facilitates house and litter training.
  • Decreases aggression, especially in male rabbits.
  • Permits multiple rabbits to be kept together.

 

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