5 Things to Consider When Caring For a Rabbit
Rabbits are very social, gentle and intelligent creatures that make outstanding companions. They love to bond with their humans and become part of the family. If you have a bunny or are considering getting one, make sure you’re familiar with these important elements of rabbit care.
1. Lifestyle and Housing
Rabbits are unique in that they are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active during dawn and dusk. While you’re sipping on your morning coffee or winding down after dinner, make sure your rabbit gets some time for exercise and social interaction as these are their favorite times of day.
As with any animal, your rabbit should have consistent access to plenty of space and air flow for optimal health and happiness. Their enclosure should be at least four times their size and tall enough they can stand on their hind legs and stretch out. Make sure there is good ventilation and avoid placing it in direct sunlight or near drafts. They’ll appreciate it if you place their hutch where most of the household activity takes place, so they can hear and experience your family’s interactions. Remember, they’re social.
Other important elements of your rabbit’s enclosure include:
A solid, dry floor, not grates, with bedding.
A litter box with shredded newspaper or pelleted paper litter.
Furniture like hideaways and ramps where they can explore and hide.
A consistent temperature within the range of 50-70 degrees.
2. Nutrition and Dental Health
Hay is a key element of a nutritionally complete rabbit diet. It’s important for maintaining both digestive and dental health. Rabbits should have free access to fresh, clean hay and water at all times. Timothy hay is our top recommendation, which is also typically the easiest to find, but most high-fiber grass hays can work too. However, avoid alfalfa hay as it’s too high in calories and calcium and can lead to bladder stones in adult rabbits.
Along with hay, rabbits should be fed a controlled amount of high-quality pellets, such as Mazuri® Timothy-Based Rabbit Diet, which provides healthy vitamins, minerals and probiotics to supplement their nutritious hay.
Rabbits have a very active microbial community in their digestive system. To keep those microbes happy and functioning properly, they need consistent feeding. If you ever attempt to reduce or change your rabbit’s diet, it’s important to do so very slowly. Abrupt changes, including a sudden reduction in feed volume or an increase in carbohydrate intake, can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, which is a slowing of the digestive tract that can have serious implications.
The risk of GI stasis is also a primary reason dental health is of the utmost importance in rabbits. If their teeth get worn wrong, they can’t eat like they should, leading to reduced intake and an increased risk of GI statis. Providing plenty of fresh hay and encouraging chewing behavior is a great way to keep your rabbit’s teeth in good condition.
3. Exercise and Enrichment
Exercise is important for keeping the GI tract functioning properly, the brain stimulated and your rabbit’s weight in check. Try to give your rabbit four to five hours each day outside of their crate to exercise, play and socialize.
Bust boredom and give your bunny the opportunity to put their inquisitive minds to work by:
Taking them outside to a safe, enclosed area so they can investigate new spaces and discover new scents. Be sure to provide full supervision as dogs, cats and other animals are not typically friendly to rabbits.
Providing chew toys for them to nibble on. This is also a great way to keep them from chewing up other objects in your house.
Offering access to a digging box filled with shredded paper or straw where your rabbit can express their natural digging behavior.
4. Handling and Grooming
When handling, grooming or transporting your rabbit, do so with great care. Being picked up is very unnatural for them, especially in the beginning. If they kick out their legs to readjust from an uncomfortable position or attempt an escape, they can easily fracture their spine. Always make sure their rear end is supported and remain gentle and calm to avoid triggering a fearful response.
Your rabbit will shed a few times a year so brushing should be part of your care regimen with a soft, rabbit-safe brush. Pet rabbits also need their nails trimmed regularly. If they get too long, they can start getting caught and can even lead to broken toes.
5. Veterinary Care
When you decide to bring a rabbit home, establish a good relationship with a trustworthy veterinarian. Take your rabbit in for annual exams to ensure their dental, digestive and overall health. If your rabbit ever shows signs of illness, injury or decreased appetite, call your veterinarian right away.
Sharing companionship with a rabbit is truly a joy! No matter where you are in your rabbit keeping journey, these bunny care principles will help keep your friend happy and healthy. If you’re considering other small animal species, find out which is right for you.