Rabbits are similar to guinea pigs in many ways, but their care is different. They live an average of 5 to 12 years or more and are the third most popular pet in the United Kingdom.
There are various breeds and varieties of rabbits — this care guide can help you determine if a pet rabbit is the perfect pet for you.
Pet rabbits can live indoors or outdoors. They are descendants of the wild European rabbit, whose scientific name means “hare-like digger of underground passages.” Rabbits are herbivores and are most active at dawn and dusk. They remain underground during most of the day to avoid predators in the wild.
They have several protective features that are noticeable even when they are kept as pets:
- Large ears help them hear well.
- Great sense of smell is their main method of communication.
- Muscular hind legs allow rabbits to run up to 50 mph and thump them as a warning signal to other rabbits.
- Rabbits can quietly communicate with each other through low vocalizations.
- Teeth continuously grow and must be maintained through consuming grass and hay.
- A single female can produce 30+ offspring in one season and become pregnant with hours of delivery.
- Rabbits respond well to reward-based training and can be house trained.
Creating a “Hoppy” Environment
Rabbits need room to run, jump, dig and stand full upright. They must have a hiding place to retreat to when scared. Consistent temperatures and good ventilation is essential, and clean areas for bedding and waste should be maintained regularly.
Rabbits are curious creatures, so be sure to have safe toys to entertain them (boredom or stress can increase illness vulnerability), and keep harmful objections out of reach. They need enough bedding to keep warm and this is especially important if your rabbit is housed outdoors.
Clean the habitat at least once per week and replace fresh food and water daily.
It’s Not All Carrots
Rabbits do eat carrots, but not as much as you think. Their main diet is made up of rabbit pellets or cereal mix and grass and/or hay. Carrots and fruit are usually only given as treats in small amounts. Clean water is a daily requirement, and it’s important to keep the feeding times and quantities consistent for weight management.
Rabbits are similar to guinea pigs in that they excrete two types of droppings: hard droppings that are waste, and soft droppings that are consumed again by the rabbit as part of their dietary needs. It’s gross, but necessary!
Rabbits are social creatures and love to have friends around. In large quantities, rabbits can form a social hierarchy and engage in bullying behavior, so it’s best to keep a pair together. Adults may fight at first meeting but can be housed together.
Neutering is recommended if you do not plan on breeding, and this process also helps reduce aggression in males and females. A neutered male and neutered female are suggested as a good pairing.
Never leave your rabbit alone with any other animal. Rabbits can become friends with cats and dogs if introduced early and often enough, but leaving them together unsupervised is never a good idea.
Keeping Your Rabbit Healthy
Regularly cleaning the habitat, providing clean food and water and monitoring your rabbit’s behavior will ensure you provide the best care possible.
Neutering females can decrease changes of womb cancer, and there are also a variety of cancers that affect rabbits. Rabbits also require vaccinations to help prevent other diseases and should be kept current. Make sure your veterinarian is experienced with rabbits or find another professional that is familiar with exotic pets.
Check the droppings regularly for evidence of flies. Flies can lay eggs and cause a fatal condition called flystrike. Clip the nails as needed and always have grass and/or hay available to maintain teeth growth. There are some plants that are poisonous to rabbits, so never add anything foreign into the cage. Be sure to pay attention to their eating and drinking habits as changes in this area can indicate illness.
You can have your rabbit microchipped for identification, and some pet insurance policies cover rabbits.
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Keeping a clean environment, providing clean food and water and paying attention to your pet will ensure your pet rabbit is around for years to come.
If you are considering getting a rabbit as a gift for a child, try to obtain the rabbit from a reputable source and review the maintenance requirements with your child. They are cute to give as presents for Easter, but rabbits are animals that need love and care instead of used as a novelty. Keep these suggestions in mind and best wishes for a “hoppy” relationship with your new furry friend!
Photos: picto:graphic (top), vijay_chennupati/Flickr