Caring For Rabbits

Rabbits are prey animals, which mean they are naturally more fearful and tend to avoid confrontation. Rabbits need to be treated different to dogs and cats – always have positive interactions and allow time, patience and understanding to build trust and confidence in them.

Health Care

Calicivirus vaccination is required at 4-5 weeks of age, then every 6 months for life. De-sexing is recommended, especially for female rabbits to help prevent unwanted litters and also to reduce their chance of uterine cancer later in life. Sexual maturity in rabbits can occur as little as 15 weeks old.

Brush daily to remove excess hair is recommended as they are prone to hairballs. In some cases, regular clipping of the bottom may be needed. Regular handling will also help to keep them tame and enjoy human company. Rabbits need regular external parasite control (eg revolution) from fleas, lice, ticks and ear mites. They also need internal parasite prevention (revolution will do this also) from worms.

Feeding

Provide a constant supply of good quality fresh grass and grass hay which comprise about 80% of the overall diet.

These include Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays. Rabbits should not be fed Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium. Grass or grass hay is paramount in providing sufficient fibre for gastrointestinal health and encouraging chewing for long periods of time for healthy teeth.

Provide plenty of fresh leafy greens and vegetables. As a guide feed around two packed cups of leafy greens per kg body weight per day. Some examples are vegetables such as broccoli, beet/carrot tops, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, bok choy, dark leafed lettuce varieties and herbs such as parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, and mint. Aim to keep feeds and feeding habits consistent. Any changes to the diet must be made gradually (over a 2-3 week period) to minimise digestive upsets.

Offer treats if you wish in small quantities (1-2 tablespoons per rabbit per day). Examples include most fruits, root vegetables such as carrot and sweet potato and capsicum. Use high quality commercial rabbit pellets with a minimum crude fibre >18% (Indigestible fibre content >12.5%) may be offered in small quantities only, but not let them form the main part of the diet. Avoid cereal/grain mixes and do not feed the following: cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate or any garden plants that are toxic to rabbits.

Provide other objects to chew as a possible option including items such as wooden chew blocks or old telephone books.

Housing

Rabbits that live indoors can be litter box trained, which needs to be cleaned out daily. Rabbits that live outdoors need protection from the extremes of heat and cold. They are extremely sensitive to heatstroke and temperatures above 26ºC should be avoided. 18-22º C is optimum. If they live in a wire hutch, at least half of the bottom needs to have soft material to prevent foot trauma. A concealed area is also important so your rabbit can feel safe and secure. Rabbits also need protection from mosquitoes, therefore fine flyscreen around the cage is necessary. Infected mosquitoes carry a disease called myxomotosis, this affects the rabbits with swelling of the ears, eyes and mouth which leads to death. Rabbits should have at least two hours outside of the hutch every day for exercise.

About the author: Megan Reilly

Megan is a Veterinary Nurse Technician - the highest qualification available to Veterinary Nurses in Australia, Megan has a fun loving spirit and brings a positive energy to Heights Pet Hospital. She is a talented nurse who has a love for all patients and is continuously updating our processes and procedures, always finding a better or more effective way. She has been at the hospital since its opening in 2011 and in the veterinary industry since 2000, starting out as a kennel hand and then completing veterinary nursing cert IV in 2006. She has also undertaken additional study, gaining her qualification as a Veterinary Nurse Technician in 2015. Megan runs our puppy school classes and has a special interest in canine behaviour. She continues to give back to the industry with her dedication to training new veterinary nurses and work experience students. Megan has Trevor, a black domestic short hair cat with a penchant for extravagant bow ties! and Howard, a fiesty Border-Terrier.

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