Credit: Scott J. Stahl, DVM, DABVP
Cage:Minimum of 2x3 feet for small breeds and 3x4 feet for large breeds. Cage bottom should be solid Plexi-glass, hard plastic or stainless steel. If the cage has a wire mesh bottom, cover half of it with a solid surface to prevent pressure sores on feet.
Cagemates:Rabbits can be very aggresive toward one another if not first "bonded". It is best to either raise two young rabbits together or to contact the House Rabbit Society for advice on bonding 2 rabbits. Rabbits also do well as single pets if given plenty of attention/supervised play time.
Rabbits should be allowed supervised time out of the cage daily for exercise and to interact with family members. Do not allow your rabbit to chew on household items while out of its cage. Safe bunny chew items should be offered such as cardboard, baskets, wood, etc.
A litter box should be offered at all times and only paper pulp products (like Carefresh or Yesterday’s News), newspaper or computer paper should be used as litter. Clay or clumping cat litter and wood shavings can cause eye, skin, and respiratory problems. Encourage the rabbit to use its litter box by putting a few fecal pellets in it and then placing the box in the rabbit’s favorite place to eliminate.
Timothy Hay: “free choice” (as much as they can eat).
Pellets: Offer a timothy based pellet like Bunny Basic 'T" by Oxbow Hay.
Daily pellet ration:
- 2-4 lbs………..1/8-1/4 cup
- 5-7 lbs………..1/4-1/2 cup
- 8-10 lbs………1/2-3/4 cup
- 10-15 lbs……...3/4-1 cup
Greens:Offer 1-3 cups daily. Some good choices are red and green leaf lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, Swiss chard, bok choy, endive and romaine lettuce. Avoid dandelion, collard greens, turnip greens/tops, mustard greens, kale and broccoli due to their high calcium content.
Water: Offer plenty of fresh water daily in either a bottle or a spill-proof bowl. Clean them every couple of days in the dishwasher or soak them in a dilute (1:30) bleach to water solution.
Give 1-3cc’s of Laxatone, Petramalt, or other cat hairball preventative 2-3 times weekly. Brush, comb, or use a “sticky roller” hair remover on your rabbit often to remove any loose hair. A high fiber diet that includes timothy hay is the most important part of hairball prevention.
Cecotrophs, or night feces, are soft, mucus covered feces that rabbits consume directly from the anus. Cecotrophs provide essential proteins, vitamins, minerals and replenish a rabbit’s normal bacterial flora. Overweight rabbits often cannot reach their rectum and may develop diarrhea or matting of the cecetrophs to their hindquarters.
Normal rabbit urine contains a lot of sediment (mainly calcium) and the color varies from white to light brown/rust color. A rabbit under certain physiological conditions (such as stress) may produce urine that is orange or red tinged and is often mistaken for blood. If blood is suspected, the veterinarian can perform a urinalysis to determine if it is blood or stress urine.
Always get an initial physical exam on any newly acquired pet. During the exam, the doctor will check the incisor and molar teeth, eyes, heart, lungs, and abdomen. The doctor will check the hair and skin for external parasites such as cheyletiella, and will do a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites. It is recommended to have your rabbit return to the vet once a year for a physical exam. At the age of 3-4 years, annual blood work is recommended to look for early signs of disease processes. If some diseases are caught early enough, there may be treatments available that would extend your rabbits life.
SPAYING AND NEUTERING
At around 4-6 months of age, male rabbits should be neutered and female rabbits should be spayed. Neutering helps curb aggressive behavior in males and can deter territorial problems like urine spraying. Spaying is essential to female rabbits. Unspayed females have a very high incidence of uterine and mammary cancer.
CONDITIONS REQUIRING VETERINARY ATTENTION
Gastrointestinal stasis (“hairball”):This is a common syndrome in rabbits. Most commonly these rabbits stop eating or have a decrease in appetite. The stools will become smaller and drier, or they will not produce stools at all. Immediate medical attention is necessary to maximize chances for a successful outcome. Without proper treatment, GI stasis can be fatal.
Malocclusion of premolar and molar teeth:This is another common problem with rabbits. Most commonly these rabbits become picky about what they eat, or they stop eating and may drool and/or slobber. They may also have drool on their front legs from wiping their mouths. Weight loss is another sign. Treatment includes sedation to trim the molars. This is a recurrent problem.
Overgrown nails:Rabbits need to have their nails trimmed on a regular basis. If the nails get too long they can become caught and break off causing pain and bleeding.
Heat stress: Temperatures over 85 degrees F are uncomfortable to rabbits and they will over heat. This is why rabbits should be kept indoors in this area.
Cheyletiella (walking dandruff): This is a mite that causes generalized scaling and crusting of the skin. Treatment includes a monthly topical medication.
Coccidia:This is a protozoan that primarily inhabits the intestinal tract and is most commonly seen in newly acquired animals. Symptoms include inappetence, watery diarrhea, soiled anal area, dehydration, increased thirst and death. A fecal examination can determine if your rabbit is infected. Treatment includes oral anti-coccidial drugs and supportive care.
Cuterebra:This is a type of fly that lay its eggs on the skin of outdoor rabbits. The eggs hatch and the larvae burrow under the skin. Symptoms include lumps on the skin that have a hole or scab in the center. Treatment consists of surgical removal of the larvae, cleaning out the abscess material associated with it, and starting the rabbit on oral antibiotics.
Maggots:Maggots are another problem that outdoor rabbits get. Flies lay their eggs in matted fur and cecetrophs around the anus. The larvae then eat away at the rabbit’s skin and can also burrow into the muscle. Symptoms include white “worms” around the anus, raw skin and a bad smell. Treatment consists of surgical removal of the larvae, cleansing of the area and oral antibiotics. Since the larvae hatch over a period of time hospitalization may be necessary.
Ringworm:This is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin that is transmissible to humans. Symptoms include raised, hairless red patches that are often covered with a light colored crust. Treatment consists of the application of topical antifungal medication and/or oral antifungal medication.
Respiratory infections:Symptoms include sneezing, difficulty breathing, runny eyes and a depressed appetite. Treatment may include oral antibiotics. Pasteurella is the most common cause of respiratory infections in rabbits. It is a bacterium that may also cause abscesses of the head region and chronic infections of the nasal passages, sinuses, lungs, eyes, inner ear and teeth. Treatment may include surgery and aggressive, long term antibiotic therapy.
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