CARE OF RABBITS:
The domestic rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, is a descendant of wild rabbits living in western Europe and northern Africa.
In their natural environment, rabbits are gregarious and reproductively successful. They are completely herbivorous (eat only
plants) and most actively forage in the twilight or nighttime hours. Rabbits use their claws to dig and burrow into the ground
for shelter and protection. They rarely stand their ground when threatened but instead use their considerable speed and maneuverability
to escape harm. Domestic rabbits or wild rabbits kept in captivity, however, can display an amazing degree of aggression when
upset or threatened.
Domestic rabbits are bred and kept for commercial meat and fur, teaching and research, as indoor and outdoor pets, and
for exhibition by rabbit fanciers. Rabbits make excellent pets. They are relatively easy to care for and can be litterbox-trained.
Their fastidious nature, unaggressive behavior and quiet manner make them increasingly popular house pets.
Rabbits live an average of 5-10 years (potential life span, 15 years). Males reach breeding age at 4 months of age, and
females at 4 of age. Pregnancy lasts 29-35 days (average of 31-32 days) and litters average 4-10 bunnies.
Rabbits can be housed indoors or outdoors. Indoor rabbits should be confined to a suitable enclosure when their activity
cannot be adequately supervised. A roomy wire cage with at least one-half of the floor's surface area covered with Plexiglass,
boards, or straw is recommended. These floorings provide relief from constant and continual contact with the wire floor, helping
to prevent hutch sores on the feet. A water bottle or ceramic crock, food dish and a litterbox (optional) should be provided
for the rabbit inside the enclosure.
Under no circumstances should rabbits be allowed total freedom within the home. Rabbits love to chew and can be very destructive
to household furnishings. Furthermore, they can be seriously injured by biting into telephone and electrical cords.
Like cats, rabbits can be easily trained to use a litterbox in the home. If the rabbit has already selected an area for
elimination, the litterbox should be placed in this location. It helps to place some of the rabbit's fecal pellets in the
litterbox to encourage its use.
Rabbits housed outdoors should be confined in roomy wire cages with Plexiglass covering about one-half of the floor's surface
area. The wire mesh should be just large enough to allow fecal pellets to drop through. A water bottle or ceramic crock and
a heavy food dish should be provided.
Adequate shade and a "hiding spot" should be provided as well. Rabbits are typically anxious, wary animals and are easily
frightened. This is especially true of newly acquired pet rabbits and rabbits kept for reasons other than as pets. A concealed
area into which these rabbits can retreat when they feel threatened is necessary to prevent injury that would result from
excessive and futile efforts to escape from the cage. Hiding provides a safe alternative to useless and often injurious escape
Shade must be provided to prevent heat stress or heat stroke. All rabbits, even those housed indoors, are especially sensitive
to high environmental temperatures. Adequate shelter must also be provided against wind, rain, snow and ice.
Feeding pet rabbits is easy because nutritionally complete and balanced commercial pelleted diets and timothy hay are both
readily available. Feeding 80% hay and 20% pellets as well as fresh water are all a pet rabbit requires.
Commercial pellets tend to promote obesity of inactive pet rabbits. This is because these diets are calorie-rich because
they were originally formulated for consumption by rabbits for their meat and fur. These rabbits are pushed to grow rapidly
and do not live nearly as long as our pet rabbits. Inactive adult pet rabbits should receive 1/4 cup of pellets per 5 pounds
of body weight per day. Due to their high calcium levels, they will also promote bladder stones.
Alfalfa hay is not recommended as the sole source of hay, as this product will also promote bladder stones.
The pellets should be offered at all times unless overeating and obesity have become problems. Clean, fresh water also
should be available at all times.
The pellets should be as fresh as possible when purchased and should be purchased in relatively small quantities. The pellets
should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent premature spoilage. Pellets that will probably not be used within 2 months
of purchase should be frozen immediately after purchase. Refusal to eat rancid pellets is a relatively common cause of inappetence
Fresh water should be offered daily, either in a bottle or in a heavy ceramic dish that cannot be easily overturned. Many
hobbyists find the hanging drop-style bottles most satisfactory. The water container, regardless of the type used, should
be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least every 1-2 days.
Good-quality hay (grass, timothy, or clover) should be offered daily. Some researchers believe this practice reduces intestinal
problems and the tendency to pull out and chew on hair.
Other food items (lettuce, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, carrot tops, beet greens, carrots, apples, etc) can be offered in
small amounts daily. These food items should not be offered in larger amounts because they are water-rich and lack the nutrient
density of the pelleted diets. Furthermore, many rabbits develop a preference for these items over pellets if they are offered
in large quantity.
Rabbits can tolerate table food items offered daily if given in small amounts (no more than 20% by volume of the total
diet). This is especially true of rabbits fed in this fashion from an early age.
Vitamin-mineral supplementation is not necessary if a pet rabbit is fed as outlined above. Some rabbit owners provide saltlicks
for their pets, but experts do not regard this addition as a necessity.
Many rabbits love to gnaw and chew on their cage and on items within the cage. A well-boiled roundsteak bone (marrow removed)
and/or small dog chew toys are often accepted as challenging gnawing substitutes.
Many veterinarians recommend adding pineapple or pina colada yogurt to the daily diet. Most rabbits willingly accept the
yogurt, especially if they are introduced to it at a young age. Yogurt may help to promote and maintain the normal bacterial
flora within the digestive tract. Uncooked pineapple (papaya too) contains an enzyme (papain) that seems to help in the resolution
of hairball problems in rabbits
HANDLING AND RESTRAINT:
Improper handling may cause serious, life-threatening injuries. Fractures and dislocations of the back, most often resulting
in paralysis of both rear legs, are the most common injuries. These injuries also occur when rabbits are suddenly frightened
and attempt to escape from a small enclosure.
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 lumbosacral (lower back)
region of the spine, which frequently results in fractures or dislocations. One should 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
A soft-spoken, relaxed approach with rabbits works well. Covering the eyes and lightly stroking a rabbit will usually result
in a hypnotic-like trance that often renders them less prone to panic and injury.
Rabbits should never be picked up by their ears. If you are concerned about being scratched by the claws, place a towel
over the rabbit's back and wrap it around the body to restrain all 4 feet before picking up the rabbit. An alternative method
of picking up a rabbit involves sliding one hand under its breast bone and grasping both front legs between the fingers of
this hand. The other hand is then gently worked under the rear quarters to fully support them as the rabbit is lifted upwards,
in the same manner as cats are held and supported.
IMPORTANT PHYSIOLOGIC VALUES:
Normal Body Temperature: 101.5 - 103 F
Life Span: 5-10 years (rarely up to 15 years)
Breeding Age: Males, 4 months, females, 4 months
Pregnancy: 29-35 days
Litter Size: 4-10
Weaning Age: 4-6 weeks