Is a Rabbit the Family Pet for You?
Rabbits can make charming pets. They are gentle, intelligent and relatively easy to care for. Here are some tips to help your pet rabbit lead a longer, healthier life.
Cages should be approximately three times as long, two times as wide and two times as tall as the length of a full-grown rabbit (at least 2’ x 4’ x 2’). A smooth, flat floor is best. Wire bottom cages can injure rabbits’ feet and cause serious infection, especially in sedentary or overweight rabbits.
Many bedding choices are available. Avoid aromatic wood chips such as cedar which may irritate the rabbit’s airways and lungs. Many rabbits will learn to use a litter box. Place the litter box in the part of the cage where the rabbit normally defecates and change the littler daily.
Pet rabbits, derived from European rabbits, are very social. They need the company of another rabbit or daily human interaction as well as playtime outside of their cage in a rabbit-proof house or yard. Remove electric wires or protruding fence wires, loose carpeting or other potentially hazardous materials that rabbits may chew on or get entangled in.
Digging and Chewing
Digging and chewing are natural rabbit behaviors. Provide safe places to dig, chew toys, and wooden sticks. Safe woods are: mulberry, hackberry, cherry, apple, crabapple, pear, and cottonwood. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously. To avoid overgrown teeth, painful and costly dental work, provide good quality coarse hay and safe chewable items.
Rabbits are grazers with a digestive tract designed to process a diet high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. The main component of your rabbit’s diet should be good quality hay, preferably timothy. Alfalfa is high in calcium, which can contribute to kidney and bladder stones. Hay can be fed in unlimited amounts. Rabbit pellets can also be fed, but not as a hay substitute. Limit pellets to ¼ to ½ cup daily per adult rabbit.
Also offer a variety of fresh, green vegetables (1 cup per rabbit) such as dark leafy greens, cilantro, parsley, and broccoli. Carrots should only be offered as an occasional treat, since they contain a fairly high amount of carbohydrates. Avoid iceberg lettuce, which is primarily water with few nutrients. Small amounts of fruit can be given as treats.
Common Health Problems
Obesity and heat stroke are common problems for pet rabbits. Rabbits kept outside need shade and water at all times. Frozen milk cartons or plastic bottles of water can be placed in the cage to help rabbits stay cool in summer. Outdoor rabbits are also at risk for fly strike (maggot infestation) if their cages are not cleaned daily or if they do not groom themselves well.
A yearly trip to the veterinarian is important to assess your rabbit’s overall health and to check for dental problems as well as internal and external parasites. Spaying and neutering will avoid unwanted reproduction as well as protect female rabbits against uterine cancer.
Other common medical problems include bladder stones, ear mites, respiratory infections and digestive tract stasis or obstruction. It is important to see a veterinarian immediately if your rabbit stops eating, drinking or defecating. Any problem that causes a decreased appetite will be worsened by gastrointestinal stasis.
Treating rabbit illnesses is challenging. Provide a proper environment and diet and watch your pet closely for any signs of a health problem to help your rabbit live a longer, happier life!
The Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences is the only veterinary college in Oklahoma and one of 28 veterinary colleges in the United States and is fully accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The center’s Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital is open to the public and provides routine and specialized care for small and large animals. It also offers 24-hour emergency care and is certified by the American Animal Hospital Association. For more information, visit www.cvhs.okstate.edu or call (405) 744-7000.