In the wild, rabbits are a prey species. They are very aware of their surroundings — always on the alert for predators or any change to their environment. Because of this, the transition to a new home may be scary for your rabbit at first.
For the first three or four days, give the rabbit a chance to get used to their new surroundings. Set up its cage in a quiet, low-traffic area. Talk quietly to the rabbit and pet him or her gently, but refrain from picking it up.
When your rabbit comes to you for attention, you will know it is becoming comfortable and you can begin picking it up and allowing it to playtime outside the cage. Forcing your attention on the rabbit will only cause it stress and make it more difficult for it to get used to its new home.
Happy Hare, Happy Home
Rabbits do not require vaccinations, and if kept in clean surroundings and fed a good diet, they rarely fall ill. However, you should seek prompt medical attention for a rabbit showing signs of illness such as lethargy, lack of appetite, diarrhea, sneezing, nasal discharge or any marked change in behavior. Rabbits may also get fleas or ear mites. Be sure to find a veterinarian with rabbit experience.
Rabbits should be kept as indoor pets. They are social animals and require daily interaction and playtime with their owners, which is more likely to occur if the rabbit is inside your home. Outdoor living makes them vulnerable to predators, disease, extreme temperatures, and loneliness.
The best option is an x-pen that can be set on top of an inexpensive rug or towels. Wired cages are too small for rabbits and result in sores on the bottom of their feet. X-pens allow ample space to move and run.
Other supplies the rabbit will need include a ceramic water bowl, food dish, small litter pan and Timothy hay. If you place the cage in an active area of your home, a small “cave” should be added so the rabbit has a safe place to lounge when stressed or tired. This can be a small cardboard box or a rabbit house available at your local pet supplies store.
Rabbit digestive systems are fairly complex and they need a specific diet to be healthy and happy. For adult rabbits, a daily diet should consist of ¼ to ½ cup of good quality rabbit pellets, Timothy hay and small servings of fresh vegetables.
Rabbits under a year of age can have an unlimited supply of pellets and Timothy hay. Fresh vegetables should be introduced slowly into a rabbit’s diet. One or two small servings a day, to begin with, is best to avoid digestive problems.
Vegetables that rabbits can have include parsley, green peppers, carrot tops, cucumbers, radish greens, parsnip and a variety of lettuces – excluding romaine. Carrots, turnips, potatoes and fruits such as bananas, strawberries, watermelon, apples and pears are okay, too, but should only be offered as an occasional special treat because of their sugar content. Timothy hay is best, as alfalfa and clover hays are too rich in protein and calcium.
Rabbits are most active in the morning and evening and sleep during the day and night. Rabbits need two to three hours of exercise daily outside the cage. They are naturally curious and enjoy opportunities to explore.
Start off with a small area of your house, allowing only as much freedom as they can handle. To prevent destruction to your house and protect the rabbit from harm, do not allow access to electrical cords, houseplants and other items irresistible to chewing.
Toys can provide stimulation for a caged rabbit. Suggested toys include toilet paper tubes, large cardboard tubes they can run through, plastic whiffle balls, hard plastic cat toys and crinkly tunnels.
Pick up your rabbit by scooping one hand beneath the chest and the other supporting the hind legs and hips. Bring the rabbit against your body and hold the rear end firmly. A rabbit will struggle less if it feels secure. Never pick up by the ears or scruff. Most rabbits prefer “four on the floor” and will be more comfortable being petted on your lap or the floor. Do not allow small children to pick up your rabbit.
Long-haired rabbit breeds will require daily brushing. Short-coated breeds can be brushed once a week. Hairballs can be a serious medical problem for rabbits and regular brushing will help reduce the amount of fur the rabbit ingests while grooming itself.
All rabbits should have their nails trimmed once or twice per month. During a petting session or playtime, get your rabbit accustomed to being on its back and to handling its paws. This will make nail trims less stressful. A cat nail trimmer works well for rabbits. Trim only the sharpest part of the nail, being careful not to cut into the quick.