It's no surprise that rabbits are popular pets. Their bright eyes, cute noses, and big teeth create a combination so cute it hurts. Last year, the Humane Rescue Alliance found homes for 43 bunnies in their care. But the reason they came to the shelter in the first place is telling - many don't realize they need extensive and specific care to stay happy and healthy.
"Rabbits have unique care needs and shouldn't be considered an 'easy' pet," says HRA Director of Animal Care Lex Lepiarz. "Meeting their needs is critical to their health and well-being, both physically and emotionally." She shares her tips to keep your bunny in tip-top shape.
Rabbits are considered "exotic" pets which means not all veterinarians will be able to care for a sick or injured rabbit. Make sure you find a specialized vet with expertise in proper medical care for bunnies. In addition, your rabbit will need nail trims every 3 to 4 weeks so be prepared to have your vet show you the best way to trim them yourself. As always, if your rabbit hasn't eaten or defecated in more than 12 to 24 hours, call the veterinarian immediately.
Dry rabbit food pellets and Timothy hay should be available at all times. Juvenile rabbits under one year or still growing should get alfalfa hay instead of timothy hay. The importance of giving your rabbit unlimited hay cannot be overstated (hay, hay, and more hay!) Fresh vegetables like leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and carrots should be provided as frequently as possible, although you should always do your research to make sure a food item is safe for your rabbit to eat. Clean, fresh water dispensed in a bottle or sturdy bowl should be available at all times.
Housing should be 3 to 4 feet long with a solid bottom; this can be a large dog crate or puppy exercise pen. You should also use recycled paper-based bedding and/or aspen wood shavings to line your rabbit's den. CAUTION: NEVER USE CEDAR OR PINE SHAVINGS!
Rabbits can easily be litter box trained. At the adoption center, rabbits are provided a litter box during their stay. To make a littler box, take a shallow box and place hay and aspen wood shavings or paper-based small animal bedding inside.
Your rabbit's den should be spot-cleaned daily to remove any feces, urine-soiled materials, or damaged toys. The den needs to be deep-cleaned at least once a week. Cleanliness is very important to protect your rabbit from bacterial infections, respiratory irritations, flies, mites, mold, and fungal spores. You should clean the litter box every 1 to 2 days, depending on the material being used as littler, the number of rabbits using the box, and the number of litter boxes available to the rabbit. To deep clean, soak the box in distilled white vinegar and water solution (safe for your rabbit to come in contact with), which will help remove calcium buildup on the box and kill bacteria.
Handling and socialization are critical to your rabbit's happiness. You should plan to devote hands-on time and attention to your rabbit daily. However, DO NOT SCRUFF. Bunnies should be handled gently. Use both hands to pick up your rabbit and make sure their entire body is supported at all times. While you're still building a friendship with your new bunny, use a towel to make handling stress-free by providing more support and security.
Bunnies need to stretch their legs every day. Have supervised out-of-den hop around time and/or purchase an exercise pen to use as a rabbit playpen. Don't forget about toys! Click here for more enrichment and play activities. Be careful and be sure your bunny isn't getting into anything unsafe, such as electrical cords and harmful plants.
While caring for a bunny is not an easy task, the love and appreciation you'll receive back is immeasurable. Many rabbits are so social that they can be harnessed and taken outside on "field trips." Basil, an HRA alum, made his adventures so famous that he was featured on the front page of the Humane Rescue Alliance Spring 2017 Edition of The Alliance. To view all of our adoptable bunnies, visit our website.
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