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Because rabbits are more often prey than predator in the wild, they experience a great deal of stress whenever their environment changes. Traveling is stressful for rabbits and should generally be avoided, however, when you do need to travel with your rabbit, remember that you still need to be able to provide the water, diet, and exercise that your rabbit needs on a daily basis. Be sure that if you use a small travel cage, you still provide a hide area to make your pet feel more secure. When traveling by automobile, let your rabbit explore inside the car for exercise. Small rabbits may be transported with cages that are brought on board airplanes, but you need to supply it with all the hay and water the rabbit needs. Limiting your rabbit's visual range may help alleviate the stress as well. When you arrive at your destination, comfort your rabbit, and try to get back to your normal pet care routine as quickly as possible.
Like all pets, it is important to take your rabbit for its first vet examination as soon as you possibly can. The first visit gives the vet an opportunity to establish a baseline for the bunny's health and to identify any potential health issues. Then, plan on taking your rabbit for a vet visit once a year. Be sure to prepare for the visit by assembling information about where you obtained your bunny, the daily care you give, including diet and exercise, a description of the rabbit's environment and normal behaviors, and any concerns you may have about your pet's health or behaviors. Also, discuss grooming requirements with your vet to be sure you understand the proper procedures and agree on what the vet will do.
At this time, pet rabbits in the U.S. are not required to receive any specific vaccinations, however, two diseases are spreading among rabbits worldwide – myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease. In the U.K., rabbits are being vaccinated to prevent these toxic diseases, but no vaccinations are currently available in the U.S. Be sure to talk to your vet about future availability for vaccinations against these diseases.
Rabbits exhibit a wide range of natural behaviors:
Digging is an instinctive behavior for rabbits. In nature, rabbits dig to create safe places in which to hide, sleep or reproduce underground. Male rabbits also make small deposits of feces in areas they have dug up to mark their territory.
Running and jumping are protective mechanisms that allow rabbits to escape predators and harm. Their jumping skills provide a means of overcoming obstacles quickly. Additionally, rabbits can twist their bodies around when they jump and land facing a completely different direction – a useful trick when being chased by a hungry predator.
Rabbits tend to be relatively quiet animals, but they do exhibit some basic sounds. A happy rabbit may make a low purring sound, a soft clicking, or a slow quiet grinding of its teeth. When a rabbit is being aggressive, it grunts, growls, or makes loud teeth grinding noises. Pain and fear can also be expressed by loud teeth-grinding noises. In the most severe cases of pain or fear, a rabbit emits a piercing scream, which serves to shock a predator and give the rabbit time to get away.
Rabbits have scent glands beneath their chins, making scent an important way for rabbits to communicate with each other. Rabbits use feces to mark their territory, and they emit a clear secretion from their scent glands to mark other important items.
Over time, you may come to recognize certain rabbit postures and what they mean to your pet. For example, a relaxed rabbit will lay on its side or belly with the hind legs stretched out. A rabbit that squats down with its ears folded back against its head is also a bunny in a relaxed state. Submissiveness is indicated when a rabbit makes itself look small, crouches as flat as possible and stays very still. Its eyes will look relaxed, not tense. When a rabbit is fearful, its posture is similar to that of a submissive bunny, but its eyes look tense and it will press its body and ears back tightly and downward, as if it is trying to hide from a predator. A rabbit shows distaste by shaking its head. A rabbit's tail is used as a signaling device when there is danger. Rabbits thump their hind legs rapidly on the ground to warn other rabbits of danger. They will also dash away from a danger with the white underside of the tail raised, which is essentially a warning signal to other rabbits nearby.
Male rabbits spray urine to mark their territories and during heightened period of sexuality if they have not been neutered.
Behaviors that suggest a rabbit is experiencing a physical or mental health problem include:
Please note: In cases of bleeding or exposed bones, take your rabbit to a veterinarian immediately.
Activity is a vital part of keeping a rabbit happy and healthy. Your rabbit will need time to roam outside of its cage for a few hours every day, and there needs to be enough space for the bunny to hop, jump, and run. You can place some toys or digging materials in the exercise space to encourage your pet to chew and dig, too. Rabbits that don't have enough room and/or don't get enough exercise display destructive behavior. They are also prone to obesity, poor bone density, poor muscle tone, and gastrointestinal problems, which can all reduce their life spans.
In addition to having the opportunity to run, jump, chew, and dig every day, rabbits are sociable creatures. They need to be engaged by people and like being in a room with activity and attention. Don't locate your pet's cage in an isolated room. Make the bunny feel like part of your daily family activities.
Rabbits need to be handled properly to support their bone structure and prevent breaks. When you pick up your bunny, place one hand under the front chest area and the other hand beneath the hindquarters to provide full support.
Please note: Never pick up a rabbit by the ears as it causes serious injury.
Rabbits try to keep themselves and their environments clean. There are only two forms of grooming that need to be conducted regularly. First, you need to brush your rabbit's fur to keep the coat in good condition. Using a soft brush, like a baby brush, start at the back of the rabbit's head and brush down toward the tail. Brushing should occur every two or three days. Second, your rabbit's nails will need clipping periodically, which can be done by your veterinarian.
With all their digging, shredding, chewing, and activity, rabbits can be messy. You'll need to clean your pet's cage once or twice a week to keep it clean. First, place your rabbit in a fenced exercise area or another cage. Remove staples like the litterbox and rest/hide areas, food and water bowls, and any toys. Then, sweep out all loose materials in the cage and use hot, soapy water to scrub the cage, including the walls. Wipe off the protective plastic under layer. If you put a soft fabric in the hide and rest area, remove and wash it or put a fresh piece of material in the space. Be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly before relining the cage with fresh hay, straw, or other lining material. Finally, put the toys and other items you removed back into their places in the cage.
Rabbits need access to fresh, clean water at all times. Use a sturdy ceramic water bowl or a water bottle that attaches to the cage. Be sure to change the water two or three times a day to prevent bacteria from building up.
Rabbits are herbivores with an unusually practical system for processing food. They are built with a gastrointestinal system designed to foster survival on large quantities of grasses and leaves – the foods most readily and safely available in the wild. Rabbits produce what are called cecotropes, a special dropping made from the gastrointestinal system that extracts the most important nutrients from their food. Cecotropes are dropped from the anus and then rabbits eat them. It is important to understand that these droppings are not made from waste, but from organisms rich with nutrients. This process allows rabbits to live off of diets that would otherwise not supply the energy they need to survive. Cecotropes are easy to distinguish from waste droppings. They are a green, long droppings with a strong odor.
Your rabbit's diet should consist of grass hay, green foods, and some other fruits and vegetable. Grass hay should be available in your rabbit's cage at all times throughout the its life, because it provides much of the vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber rabbits need and is the building blocks for the micro-organisms that create cecotropes. It also helps prevent many diseases. Grass hays generally come from oat, rye, barley, timothy, meadow, or Bermuda grasses. They are preferred over legume hays because they are lower in calories and will help prevent your pet from becoming overweight. You can get hay for your rabbit from local vet clinics, horse barns, feed stores, or rabbit clubs.
Please note: Do not feed your rabbit straw. It does not contain the nutrients that rabbits need.
Green foods are another fundamental component in your pet rabbit's diet. They offer a similar range of nutrients as hay but different micronutrients that rabbits need. Greens are also appropriate to rabbits of any age and help supply water when rabbits forget to drink. This keeps your bunny's kidneys and bladder functioning normally. Feed your rabbit a variety of greens a day, preferably two or three, to get the best mix of micronutrients. If possible, buy organic greens to prevent exposure to harmful chemicals from pesticides. The best greens are those with a deep color, such as collard greens or chickory, not iceberg lettuce. Other greens your bunny will savor include broccoli (leaves and tops), dandelion greens and flowers, Brussels sprouts, celery leaves, bok choy, basil, swiss chard, parsley, water cress, endive, mustard greens, escarole, kale, and carrot or beet tops.
On a limited basis, rabbits can also be served some fruits and other vegetables, however, these items should not make up the majority of your rabbit's diet, because they do not provide enough nutrition and are generally more caloric than hay and greens. Fruits you can use to supplement the diet are kiwi, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, blueberries, pears, peaches, papaya, apples, mango, and melons. Other vegetables you can serve on a limited basis are carrots, squash, bean or alfalfa sprouts, and any organically grown edible flowers.
There are some foods that you should avoid because of their high fat or starch content. They include seeds, nuts, corn, wheat and other grains, peas, cereals, breads, any kind of beans, and chocolate. Rabbits will eat these foods if they are provided, so just eliminate them from your pet's diet. Some people also prefer to supplement hay with commercial rabbit pellets. These products, however, tend to be high in calories and low in protein and fiber, which can cause indigestion and weight gain. If possible, feed your rabbit a healthy diet of hay, greens, and limited fruits and vegetables.
Because cecotropes are so effective at supplying rabbits with all the vitamins and minerals they need, pet rabbits do not need any additional supplements.
Rabbits have strong legs meant for active living, such as running and jumping, and they are very social creatures, which is why they need daily exercise. They also need a cage with room to maneuver and placed in a location around household activity. At a minimum, small- to medium-sized breeds should have cages that are 4′ wide, 2′ deep and 2′ tall to have room to move around freely and include all their housing necessities. As a rule of thumb, make sure your cage allows your adult-sized rabbit to stand up on its hind legs without touching the top of the cage.
Most rabbit cages are metal to stand up to your bunny's active lifestyle. If the cage is made of wire, you will need to create a solid floor that won't hurt your pet's feet; a piece of wood or corrugated cardboard can be used for the flooring. Use straw, hay or aspen shavings over the bottom of the cage for your rabbit to make a comfortable nest for resting and sleeping.
To be healthy, rabbits need to feel safe and secure; you'll need to create an area within your cage for your rabbit to rest or hide to maintain its sense of security. Some need completely enclosed spaces, but others are content with a comforting nested area. Place a basket, box with a hole for entering and exiting, or large cardboard tubes in the cage for hiding and resting space. Put down a straw or hay lining, or line the rest/hide container with a soft, absorbent (and washable!) material, such as a baby blanket, for added comfort. Do not use terry cloth towels or carpet squares as they can be abrasive to your bunny's feet.
Temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for rabbits. They often display signs of drooling and nasal discharge if the temperature is too high and are prone to heat stroke if the humidity level is also high. Too cool or damp an area promotes respiratory problems. Keep the cage in a well-ventilated area, and in hot weather, use an air conditioner or fan to keep your rabbit comfortable.
Please note: Pet rabbits are exclusively indoor creatures and should never be housed outdoors. In addition to temperature-control issues, outdoor hutches place rabbits at risk to other predators, increase the likelihood of their escaping and getting lost, and can create health problems as a result of the isolation.
Rabbits like a clean environment and can be easily litter trained. When you first put your rabbit in its new home, it will choose a corner or location to be used for its wastes. As soon as your pet has made its preference clear, put a newspaper-lined litterbox in that location – you might also want to put a little hay in the box. Rabbits tend to defecate when they eat; having hay in the box creates a natural alignment between the two activities. Generally, you should have one more litterbox than the total number of rabbits you have living in the cage. Pelleted litter is the best product to use for lining the litterbox and is preferred over wood shavings or corn cob. Pelleted litters are nontoxic, so they won't hurt your rabbit if digested, and they draw moisture away, which keeps the surface drier and controls odor. A wide variety of pelleted litter products are available commercially.
Please note: Never use clay or any kitty litter in a rabbit's litterbox or cage as they can cause fatal intestinal obstructions or respiratory problems.
Your pet rabbit will require daily exercise outside of its cage, as well as toys within the cage, to keep it active. For space outside of the cage, the easiest solution is to purchase exercise fencing panels (commonly used for dogs), which are at least three feet high for small and medium breeds and four feet high for larger rabbits. These panels are available from most pet stores and can be configured to any size or shape. They are also made of nontoxic and sturdy materials. You'll also need to bunny-proof the room. Use a sheet of no-wax flooring (available at most hardware stores) to protect your floor. It's also easy to clean and can be rolled up for convenient storage. If you choose to allow your rabbit to roam freely in your house or a room, make sure to block all escape routes (including windows), and cover all electrical cords and furniture to protect them from your rabbit's teeth and claws. Also, make sure to remove any toxic plants.
In nice weather, you may want to give your bunny exercise time outdoors. Again, be sure to put up fencing panels to create a safe environment.
Please note: Never leave your rabbit outdoors unsupervised, even in a fenced in area. Other animals can climb the fence or knock it over, putting your bunny at great risk.
In the natural world, rabbits spend a lot of their time digging and chewing. In addition to exercise outside of the cage, you need to give your rabbit plenty of toys to keep it busy. Use cardboard boxes, wooden chew toys made for birds, or branches made from dry wood to chew on. Rabbits also like items that make noise like old keys on an unbreakable holder, empty plastic or metal cans, hard baby toys, or jar lids. They also like playing with items that can be both chewed and moved, such as toilet paper rolls. Old telephone directories make an ideal, long-lasting toy for rabbits. To satisfy your rabbit's urge to dig, add a cardboard box filled halfway with soil or shredded paper in the cage.
They're smart. They're friendly. They can be trained to use a litterbox. They're fun to watch. For many pet owners, rabbits make great companions.
Pet rabbits come from all over the world and include a wide variety of domestic breeds. They range in color and size from a mere 2 pounds to as large as 13 pounds. They also live an average lifespan between seven and ten years.
Common breeds of pet rabbits include:
You can choose a rabbit based on the appearance and personality that appeal to you. Different breeds exhibit surprisingly similar characteristics that reflect survival techniques dating back to the first appearances of these animals.
It is important to recognize that rabbits are not ideal pets for small children. They are relatively delicate, fragile creatures who can be stressed by too much cuddling. They are also easily hurt by mishandling. Rabbits are better pets for children who can understand and manage their behaviors to put the needs of a bunny first.