Owning Your First Rabbit

YOUR NEW RABBIT - A guide for new rabbit owners

Try to minimise any stresses to your bunny, remember that the change in environment is very stressful for your bunny. Try to avoid unfamiliar noises, talk softly to your bunny and slowly introduce the bunny to its new environment and new mates. If the bunny is to be housed outside, cover the cage at night for the first week until the bunny becomes familiar with the new climate.
Water: fresh water should be available at all times. It is best to provide water using a water bottle as the cage remains dryer and it provides more space in the cage. The bottle should be cleaned out frequently to remove any build-up of scum.
Hay: fresh hay should be available to your bunny at all times. It contains necessary nutrients and provides roughage to help control hairballs.
Rabbit Mix: We no longer make our own rabbit mix,, but when we did it consisted of rabbit pellets enriched with Lucerne, porridge, puffed wheat, wheat-bix and sunflower seeds, chaff and other secret stuff. We recommended that you feed your bunny using a heavy ceramic food bowl that cannot be overturned.

The above outlines a basic diet for a rabbit which should contain at least 16% protein. Rabbits can live solely on this diet as it contains all the required nutrients and is a very healthy diet. It is important not to vary a rabbit´s diet too often as rabbits have very sensitive guts and can get an upset tummy easily after a dramatic variation in diet. If you wish to give the occasional treat, give your bunny a small handful of fresh green grass, or a small amount of vegetables such as carrots, carrot tops, broccoli, apple & banana slices, parsley, celery, dandelions, bits of bread and even dog biscuits!
Never feed your bunny lettuce, cabbage, potato, onion or spoiled food. Some of these vegetables are unsuitable because they can cause severe bloating and tummy upsets while some other vegetables are poisonous to rabbits. A list of poisonous and nutritious foods can be seen below.
A rabbit cannot live solely on fresh foods because they do not provide all the nutrients necessary for a healthy bunny. Commercially available rabbit pellets provide all the necessary nutrients a bunny requires.
Quantity: Water and Hay should be available at all times. Only about ½ cup of rabbit mix is required per bunny per day for dwarf lops and a quarter of a cup for Netherlands Dwarfs. Try to avoid giving the bunny any more than this as the pellets are very fattening and an overweight bunny is an unhealthy bunny. Give treats occasionally in small amounts to avoid upset tummies. If you have an overweight bunny you should put the bunny on a special diet of only ¼ cup of rabbit mix and supplement with extra hay and vegies as these foods are not fattening.
POISONOUS FOODS Potatoes and peels, Rhubarb, Lily of the valley, Fox glove, Deadly nightshade & Mowed grass
good-fruit-and-vegHEALTHY FOODS Carrot, Silverbeet/Spinach, Brussels sprouts, Celery, All melons, Banana and peel, Mandarin and Grapefruit peel, Pears, Dandelion, Milkweed, Milk thistle, Clover, Chickweed, Plantains, Sorrel, Parsley, Comfrey, Pumpkin peels., Apple, Kiwi fruit, Artichokes, Kohl rabbi, Beans,, peas and leaves, Bok Choy, Bran pellets, Pineapple, Broccoli and leaves, Rolled oats, Raspberry and Blackberry leaves, Radish leaves, Cauliflower and leaves, Chicory, Citrus peels, Strawberry leaves, Cucumber, Swede and tops , Tomato, Kale, Wheat germ, Coltsfoot, Shepherd´s purse.
Rabbits are sociable animals and live in close-knit colonies in the wild. For this reason pet rabbits are happier living in pairs or small groups. Single rabbits require more attention, but the human companion can never quite replace a true mate.
Until the age of about three months rabbits have no problem getting used to each other. Siblings from the same litter are the best choice for group living. Pairs make good companions too, as long as you have the buck neutered as soon as possible. As a rule, two does get along well with each other, although when first introduced there may be an initial confrontation to determine the ranking order of the group. The same is true for neutered bucks; however, intact males will become aggressive as soon as they are sexually mature. As a rule guinea pigs and rabbits make good companions, as they both are social animals and will rest in close contact and groom each other. NEVER leave your rabbit alone with a dog or cat.
It is not well known but rabbits can be trained successfully to live inside with you. The first thing to do is to bunny proof you home. Keep all electrical wiring and telephone cords out of reach of your bunny. Watch to make sure that bunny doesn´t chew on the furniture or plants, usually bunnies just chin things to place a scent on the object to claim territory. If the bunny chews he should be given a branch from a fruit tree to chew on in his cage at night to satisfy the need to chew. Commands can be used to stop bunny from doing anything destructive. Discipline by stamping your foot and/or use a spray bottle of water while firmly saying "no" and saying your bunny´s name. Soon using voice command will be sufficient. Indoor bunnies can be litter box trained. It is a good idea to confine your new bunny to one room, such as the bathroom, until the chosen area is allocated. When your bunny urinates in the chosen area, place the tray in this spot. Handle bunny for short periods of time (5 mins) & return to litter tray. Should he go to the toilet, immediately praise him and make a big fuss. Gradually lengthen time out of the confined area once his toileting seems to be well established. The litter tray should be filled with kitty litter that is NOT CLAY BASED, as the bunny may eat it and it will get clogged in his digestive system.
A rabbit that lives outdoors should be housed in a hutch of suitable size that is protective against the weather and protects against biting insects such as mosquitoes, flies and fleas. The bunny should regularly be allowed to run around in a larger area to get some exercise. The cage should be lined with pine shavings. A wire floor can cause a condition known as sore hocks to develop on their feet. This condition can also be seen in rabbits kept on wood shavings whose cage is not cleaned frequently enough. As a general rule, the cage should be thoroughly cleaned and replaced with new shavings at least once a week.
Your rabbit has a definite personality. It requires special attention if you want it to be a family friend. Rabbits can communicate with their companion through body language.
Hop/dance: This is a sign of pure joy and happiness. This dancing includes leaping and or spinning in the air, racing around, etc.
Chinning: rabbits rub their chins, (which contain scent glands), onto items to place their scent on them. This indicates that the item belongs to them and that this is part of their territory.
Stomping: The bunny is frightened, mad or sensing danger. It is used to gain attention. Reassure him/her that everything is ok.
Teeth grinding: Soft grinding indicates contentment. Loud grinding indicates pain and is usually heard during an illness.
Circling your Feet: Usually indicates sexual behaviour, but basically means that they love you.
Playing: Rabbits like to push or toss objects around. They may also race around madly jump on the couch and generally act like a child on too much sugar.
Grunts: Usually angry. Watch out as you may get bitten.
Spraying: Un-Neutered males will mark females and their territory.
Territorial Droppings: Droppings that are not in a pile but scattered are signs that this territory belongs to this rabbit. This will sometimes occur upon entering a new territory or when a new rabbit is brought into the house and may be temporary or ongoing.
Don´t touch my stuff: Some rabbits do not like it when you rearrange things as you clean. They may grunt, charge or even nip you when you try to. They are creatures of habit and once they get things just right they like things to remain that way.
Shrill scream: Hurt or dying.
False pregnancy: Even though a rabbit may not be pregnant unspayed females may sometimes build a nest and pull fur from their chest and stomach to line the nest, they may even stop eating as usually occurs the day before they give birth.
All domestic rabbits will remain healthy if you take good care of them. Cage cleanliness is very important, to keep enteritis, parasites and any other insects away that may infect your rabbits.
If you see your rabbit scratching its ears with its back foot then it may have mites. A severe infestation of mites can lead to baldness and infections that can kill. Treatment with a drug called Ivermectin will eliminate this problem.
Flea treatment for cats can be used every 4 weeks to prevent flea infestation. Do not use Frontline flea treatment as it has been known to harm bunnies, it is best to use Advantage. It is also a good idea to regularly disinfect the hutch when you clean it to prevent infestations from occurring. You can worm your rabbit every three months (beginning at three months of age) with a small animal wormer from the pet shop or supermarket such as a puppy or kitten worming syrup.
Myxomatosis & Calicivirus
Unfortunately in Australia the disease myxomatosis cannot be treated and vaccination is illegal. The best way to avoid disease carrying mosquitoes is by tacking fly screen over the wire of the bunny´s cage. Recently, Calicivirus was also introduced into Australia to help control wild rabbit populations. Your bunny can be vaccinated yearly to protect against Calicivirus. If wild rabbits roam through your yard at night and your rabbit is not vaccinated, then you will need to take some precautions. Don´t allow you rabbit to eat grass in your yard that may have been contaminated by urine and droppings, and use flyscreen on the hutch to protect against disease carrying mosquitoes and flies. Both viruses will kill your bunny, Myxomatosis causes the lungs to fill with fluid and eventually the bunny drowns, while Calicivirus causes the bunny´s organs to bleed and the bunny eventually bleeds to death.
Nail Clipping
Your rabbit´s nails need to be checked and possibly cut with animal clippers once a month if they are not being worn down. Rabbit´s nails are like cats or dogs nails. They contain a blood vessel as well as nerves. When cutting a rabbits nails look at the nail to see where the blood vessel is located. Usually it is easy to see when the nails are white, though the darker the nail the harder it is to see. Do not cut this vessel, it is painful for the rabbit and the nail will bleed.
Rabbit´s teeth are constantly growing. This is why they are always chewing to help keep their teeth the proper size. Rabbits should always be given a piece of wood or a branch to chew on to help wear down their teeth. Some rabbits, however, have misaligned or malocclusion teeth, which mean that their teeth do not wear down properly and continue to grow. The teeth can be clipped, however it is very stressful on the bunny and can cause stress induced illness. A bunny must never be bred if it has malocclusion as it is a genetic fault, which will be passed on to its entire offspring.
All rabbits should have sufficient ventilation. Bad ventilation can make rabbits very sick. You will need to ensure there are no drafts, particularly in winter. On very cold nights cover your rabbit hutch. Rabbits cope a lot better in the winter than they do in the summer.
Summer Heat
Make sure that on hot days your rabbit does not become dehydrated. Keep them out of the hot sun. They must have cool fresh, clean water at all times. On very hot days your rabbit will love to lie against a frozen plastic bottle of water to cool him/her down - unless of course they have one of our Rabbit Patch Cooler Frames to lay on - in which case they won´t need the frozen water bottle. Any further questions or inquiries please feel free to call or email us.
Trish Ratford

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