Rabbit Care & More!
ver the years of doing rabbit rescue we have found that there is quite a need for information when it comes to proper rabbit care. We have seen too much neglect, cruelty or just general lack of knowledge when it comes to caring for “pet" rabbits. We hope this helps to some to better care for their companion rabbits and give them happier lives and maybe even prevent them from ending up as strays or in a local shelter.
Why we only adopt to indoor homes?
Thankfully, many companion rabbits have moved indoors where they live much longer and much healthier and happier lives. We now know the importance of spaying and neutering which also makes them much better suited to indoor living and removes many undesirable behaviors. For a creature as intelligent and social as the domesticated rabbit, living outdoors in a hutch is a lonely existence. Those rabbits rarely get to run around and use those powerful back-leg muscles or binky (happy dance) and will often just waste away their lives sitting in a boring hutch. They face extreme temperature fluctuations, fly strike and other parasites, boredom and lack of attention. Winter climates, especially here in New England can be very difficult for outdoor rabbits. Many rabbits die from renal failure or dehydration/hypothermia due to lack of fresh water. Water freezes within minutes and a rabbit can not get adequate water consumption from snow or ice.
Lack of attention often leads to a rabbits' demise. Often there are subtle symptoms which indicate health trouble, but because the outdoor hutch rabbit may only be seen briefly every 24 hours, the symptoms go unnoticed and the rabbit declines. Being a prey species, it is natural behavior for a rabbit to hide his/her illness so they do not draw a predator's attention.
People who share their home with rabbits, know what is normal or abnormal behavior with their rabbit and will act promptly to seek proper treatment. Because companion house rabbits become actual members of the home, these caretakers will not think twice about seeking veterinary attention or any costs incurred to help their long eared family member. So unless you are a commercial rabbitry, we highly encourage you to house your rabbit indoors. Most cat and dog rescues/shelters want indoor homes for their adoptable pets as well. Being that cat and dogs are predator species, it only makes sense to keep prey species bunny, safe inside.
Predators are a huge risk to outdoor rabbits. Whether it is a raccoon, coyote or the neighbors dog, many outdoor rabbits are victims of awful attacks. Rabbits can die from the perceived threat of a predator, they can go into shock and they can die of fright. Some rabbits may go ballistic inside their hutch trying to get away and fatally harm themselves.
If you want a companion rabbit but are considering an outdoor hutch, please reconsider having a rabbit.
How do rabbits live in the house?
Often times people will inquire about adoption and say “I already have an outdoor rabbit but now I would like to adopt a house rabbit". There is no such thing! All rabbits can be house rabbits and several of the rabbits entering our shelter were once outdoor rabbits! Spaying and neutering is probably the single most important step. Rabbits are designed to do one thing really well and that is to make more rabbits! When you remove these urges, a calmer, happier, better behaved and healthier bunny emerges. Rabbits are exceptionally clean and if you have a dirty or smelly rabbit, then you probably are feeding a bad diet, using the wrong litter and need to neuter your rabbit.
Most people start with a cage and one room when bringing home an adopted rabbit.
The rabbits in shelters have been spayed/neutered for some time and have usually mastered their litter boxes prior to adoption. However, there are alternatives like puppy exercise pens, free range, specially designed rabbit condos and more. Rabbits need to earn their freedom and giving a rabbit too much freedom in the home can sometimes lead to bad litterbox habits. But when rabbits have earned that freedom, many are free to roam the home like a cat or dog would.
Being such social creatures, it is often best to house a rabbit where you or your family spend a good amount of time. Most rabbits will enjoy your company and will beat you to the refrigerator when they know it is time for greens!
There are many tricks to learn like what vacuum works best for hay, best litter to use and other helpful hints and support can be find through your local rabbit rescue or on many online house rabbit groups. We also highly recommend the book “House Rabbit Handbook" by Marinell Harriman, which can be found online, at Sweet Binks or your local bookstore.
What is a proper diet for a companion rabbit?
Back to hay... a good quality hay is so important for rabbits for a variety of reasons. Rabbits ingest a lot of fur keeping themselves so clean and fibrous hay is what keeps the ingested fur moving along through the intestinal tract. Also, rabbits teeth continuously grow, not only the incisors we see up front, but the molars far in back of the bunny's' mouth too. By continuous grinding of hay with these molars, the teeth wear properly and points (molar spurs) are avoided. Many rabbits that enter our shelter have to have their molars filed due to improper diet/tooth wear. You can not overfeed a rabbit quality timothy or grass hay! Rabbits are designed to live on nutritionally poor diets and get their nutrients from re-ingesting their cecatropes. To read more, check out this article.
To read more about specific ages of rabbits and their diets, check out http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/diet.html
Many rabbit veterinarians support diets of hay and greens only but you can decide what works best for your rabbit. We see too many grossly obese rabbits and many at very young ages. This puts tremendous stress on a rabbit's heart, other vital organs and general well-being. A strict diet and plenty of exercise will keep Floppy around for a long time!
What's it like to live with a rabbit?
This seems to be the hardest question to answer! Every home is different and every rabbit is different so that makes it even more difficult. But you do have to have a sense of humor, a love of animals and their well-being and you need to be able to appreciate rabbits on their terms too. If you are expecting a cuddly, toy-like creature, you may have rabbits pegged wrong. Although they do like attention and some are very loving, it may take some time to build a solid bond with a rabbit. Each rabbit has their own character and personality.
Some rabbits may tolerate being held but most do not like it. Most will like to sit next to you or on your lap or follow you around and most all love getting petted or having bunny massages. Rabbits are probably a little more responsibility than cats but not as much as dogs. And their personalities are kind of a mixture of both.
Most rabbits like playtime in the mornings and at night which works for folks who work or are in school. However, they are not animals to live out life entirely in a cage, which some people think. They do need several hours of run-around time a day and attention, so if your life is very busy or you travel a lot, you may want to reconsider getting a bun or possibly consider a bonded pair. Baby buns are a lot more difficult than older, spayed/neutered buns and we suggest adopting an older bun first before taking on the trials of a baby bun!
Most people who adopted are just thrilled with how awesome a house rabbit is and just how much personality those little bodies can hold!