Cage – Minimum of 2×3 feet for small breeds and 3×4 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 with a solid surface to prevent pressure sores on the feet. Some people are able to keep their litter box trained rabbit in a secure pen as an alternative. Line the bottom with newspaper and/or towels, as rabbits feel insecure and can injure themselves on slippery floors.
Cagemates – Rabbits should be housed separately or carefully paired with another rabbit. Not all rabbits get along, and un-bonded rabbits may fight and injure one another. If you are considering a companion for your rabbit, we recommended that you contact a local rabbit adoption society that will allow you to bring your pet for short visits, or “dates”, with suitable contenders.
The basics – A litter box should be available at all times. Encourage your rabbit to use it by putting a few fecal pellets inside, and then placing the box in the rabbit’s favorite place to eliminate.
Bedding/litter – Use only paper pulp products (i.e. Carefresh, Yesterday’s News), newspaper, or computer paper in the litter box and cage. Clay/clumping cat litter and natural wood shavings can cause eye, skin, and respiratory problems. Many people use towels/cloth as an alternative bedding/liner in the cage – just be sure your pet isn’t eating them. The cage and litter box should be kept clean, with feces and dirty/wet bedding removed daily.
Cleaning – In addition to removing waste and dirty/wet bedding daily, more thorough cleaning of the enclosure should be performed daily to every few days, depending on the size of the enclosure and your pet’s personal habits. Your rabbit should be moved to a separate location, and the cage components washed with hot soapy water or dilute bleach (approximately 1:30 bleach to water ratio). Rinse everything well before returning your rabbit to his/her enclosure. Contact with waste and associated aerosolized debris can cause skin and respiratory tract irritation, therefore keeping your pet’s enclosure clean is vital to promoting his/her health.
Timothy Hay – Offer as much as your pet can eat (free choice). Orchard grass, oat hay, or meadow grass can be offered as alternatives for pickier rabbits. Avoid alfalfa and other hays high in calcium in animals over 6 months, as these may predispose to development of bladder stones.
Pellets – While not strictly necessary, timothy hay-based pellets may be offered to supplement the diet of hay. Avoid alfalfa-based pellets or pellets mixed with seeds (high in fat). The following are guidelines for feeding, and may be adjusted based on your pet’s exercise level/body condition:
Daily pellet ration (based on pet’s healthy weight):
5-7 lbs………..1/4-1/2 cup
8-10 lbs………1/2-3/4 cup
10-15 lbs……….3/4-1 cup
Fresh greens – Offer 1-3 cups daily. Good choices include the following: romaine lettuce, red/green leaf lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, Swiss chard, bok choy, endive, and turnip tops. Avoid dandelion, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, and broccoli due to their high calcium content, which may predispose to development of bladder stones. A good rule of thumb is that darker greens tend to have higher calcium levels and should be avoided.
Water – Offer access to fresh water at all times in either a bottle or spill-proof dish/bowl. Change the water daily. Water bottles should be checked often for continued function, as they can easily become jammed or stop working.
Cleaning – Dishes and water bottles should be cleaned with hot, soapy water, dilute bleach (1:30 bleach to water ratio), or in a dishwasher daily to every other day.
Playtime – Rabbits should be allowed supervised time out of the cage daily both for exercise and to interact with family members.
Safety – Supervise your rabbit when it is outside of its cage, and do not allow your rabbit to chew on household items, such as carpeting, furniture, or wires. Safe items, such as cardboard, unvarnished baskets, safe wood, etc., can be offered to encourage healthy chewing.
HEALTH AND PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE: It is recommended that all newly acquired pet rabbits receive a complete physical examination by an exotic animal veterinarian. Thereafter, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian every 6-12 months or anytime signs of illness/disease are noted. Beginning at the age of three years, annual blood work is recommended in order to assist with early detection of disease. Early treatment of disease processes is essential to promoting a long and healthy life.
Spaying and Neutering – In addition to preventing unintentional breeding of animals, spaying and neutering (castrating) can have significant health and welfare benefits in pet rabbits. Although it can be performed in healthy animals of any age, it is ideally performed between 4 and 6 months.
Spaying is one of the most important measures of preventative health care to be performed in female rabbits. Approximately 80% of unspayed female rabbits will develop neoplasia (cancer) associated with their reproductive tracts as adults. Spaying reduces this risk considerably.
Neutering of male rabbits helps curb aggressive and territorial behavior, such as urine spraying.
“Hairball” Prevention – As a preventative measure, it may be beneficial to give 1-3 mL of a hairball preventative supplement (e.g. Laxatone) by mouth two to three times weekly. This can be increased to once daily administration during times of heavy shedding. Frequent brushing/combing, or use of a “sticky roller” to remove excess fur, can also help reduce fur ingestion. Feeding a high fiber diet of mostly timothy hay is always the most important part of promoting GI tract health.
Nail trims – Rabbits need to have their nails trimmed on a regular basis. If they get too long, they may become caught and break off, causing pain and bleeding. Nail trims may be scheduled as technician appointments or performed during routine physical exam appointments.
Preventing heat stress – Temperatures over 85°F are uncomfortable to rabbits, and may result in overheating. Because of the climate in this region, we recommend that all rabbits be kept indoors. Signs of heat stress include increased respiratory rate/effort, fever, lethargy, etc. If you suspect heat stress in your rabbit, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Cecotrophs – These soft, mucus-covered bowel movements are also known as nighttime or first pass feces. Rabbits usually eat these soft pellets directly from their rear, allowing the digestive tract the opportunity to break down plant material more completely the second time through. Cecotrophs provide essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and replenish normal bacterial flora. Overweight or arthritic rabbits often cannot reach their rear in order to eat cecotrophs, which can result in matting/fecal pasting of the fur on their hindquarters. Other rabbits will neglect to eat their cecotrophs when they are ill. A physical exam is recommended in any rabbit with hygiene issues.
Urine – Normal rabbit urine contains a lot of sediment (mostly calcium), and the color often varies from white to light brown. Under certain circumstances, such as when stressed, sick, or receiving medications, the urine may appear orange or red-tinged (sometimes mistaken for blood) due to the excretion of a normal pigment. Because rabbits can develop urinary tract infections resulting in blood in the urine, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian to perform a urinalysis in any situation in which blood is suspected.
SIGNS OF ILLNESS: It is important to always monitor your pet at home for signs of illness/disease. The following are common disease conditions in rabbits. Should you notice anything worrisome, contact us immediately.
Changes in appetite – Reduced appetite/anorexia or reduced/no feces is usually considered a same day medical emergency in rabbits. There may be a primary GI tract problem or an underlying disease or issue, such as molar overgrowth or an infection. If not addressed in time, GI stasis can lead to hypothermia (low body temperature), severe dehydration, or even death.
Dental disease – Drooling, spitting out food, pickiness, and/or weight loss are signs that may indicate dental problems. Dental disease can lead to ulcers, infection/abscesses, or reduced appetite and GI stasis if not appropriately addressed. Molar overgrowth/malocclusion is often a recurrent issue requiring regular anesthetized dental trims.