Bunny Basics 101
How to Be the Best Bunny Parent Around
Diet and Exercise:
These two go hand in hand for keeping your rabbit happy and healthy. A rabbit that is overweight is as unhealthy as a rabbit that is underweight. It is very important to keep your rabbit on a healthy diet with lots of exercise. Rabbits are built for speed and need to run and play to maintain health. Large x-pens or rabbit runs that are predator proof are excellent.
It is ideal for a rabbit to live inside your house with you because it is part of the family. Rabbits should never be kept in the kind of hutch with a wire bottom as it hurts the bunny’s tender feet and most cages are too small for a rabbit to live in. Keep in mind that the smallest space a rabbit can live in is 4ft x 4ft square. Rabbits need just as much exercise as a cat or dog and must have room to run around. Some rabbits live free in the house. The house must be rabbit proofed which means all cords have to be covered or out of reach, no poisonous plants, no animals or children that can harm them and no way to get out. Some live in a rabbit-proofed room and some live in an exercise pen (xpen aka: exercise puppy pens–Petco, Petsmart, and Bunny Bunch Boutique all carry these-see associated photo) and are let them out for exercise in a rabbit proofed room, house, or outdoor predator proof run. Small rabbits need just as much room to run around as large rabbits do.
Above are some examples of home set ups. If using the cage set up on the right please be sure to put something solid on the door that is open to let the rabbit out. Their little feet can get caught in the door wire.
If you have an outdoor bunny, we strongly advise that you make sure they are back in their pen at night. Also please make sure your yard is predator proof and bunny proof because bunnies can and will dig.
A rabbit’s diet should be made up of unlimited hay, fresh veggies and limited pellets. It is a good idea to split the veggies and pellet rations into two feedings, morning and evening. Hay must be available at all times. Do not feed your rabbit seeds or nuts as they are very dangerous and can kill your rabbit.
Hay! Hay! Hay!
Hay is an extremely important part of a rabbit’s diet! It should be piled in the litter box at all times as rabbits like to poop and graze at the same time. Hay is the main source of fiber and helps in preventing GI stasis, plus it is good for keeping the teeth trim. Rabbits will start munching on hay at about two to three weeks of age. Adult rabbits should be fed grass hays such as Timothy, 3-way hay, or Oat hay. These types of hay have the required amount of nutritional and fiber content. Baby rabbits can eat alfalfa hay. Hay cubes should NOT be fed in place of loose hay. Many stores carry fresh hay for decent prices. Hay should be given to your rabbit everyday in unlimited amounts. Buy your hay at feed stores that sell horse products.
Please read “The Importance of Hay”
Adult rabbits should be fed a good quality, high fiber Timothy pellets. Feed only 1/4 of a cup a day for 5 lbs of rabbit. Rabbits that are free fed pellets tend to become over weight and will not eat as much hay. Young rabbits should be free fed alfalfa pellets up to about six or seven months, then slowly cut back to what is correct for their weight. By ten months, a rabbit should be on Timothy pellets. Never feed pellets that have nuts, seeds or cereal looking items added in, these are high in sugar and carbohydrates. Yes, they love them but it is not good for them.
Veggies should be fed twice a day in the form of a bunny salad. Feed about three cups of veggies per day for a 5lb rabbit. The salad should be made up of about three different kinds of fresh, washed veggies such as: bok choy, carrot tops, chard, cilantro, parsley, Italian parsley, dandelion greens, endive, escarole, basil, red and green lettuce, romaine lettuce, mint, broccoli, and mustard greens.
Some vegetables are high in calcium and should be avoided if your rabbit has bladder stones or sludge. Others can cause gas, which will upset the GI tract. Avoid iceberg lettuce, cabbage, celery, spinach, and corn. These can be harmful.
Warning About Carrots:
It’s almost impossible not to associate a rabbit with a carrot but please be aware that carrots are actually quite high in sugar so they should be fed very sparingly – about an inch a couple of times a week.
Certain fruits can also be fed to your rabbit in limited amounts (about a teaspoon) and about 2x per week. The problem is that most people tend to over feed fruits as rabbits go crazy over them (because of the high sugar). So if you want to feed fruit, only feed very small amount like a small slice of apple, pear, or melon or half a strawberry, all without the core and pits or seeds. Bananas are very fattening so they may cause health risks and should be avoided.
Please never feed nuts, cereal, crackers, bread, cookies or any other kind of human snack food to your rabbits. All of these are high in sugar and carbohydrates, and should not be part of a rabbit’s diet. Healthy treats can be fed such as; fresh dried pesticide free herbs, rabbit safe flowers such as rose petals, hibiscus and nasturtiums. Be careful of treats pet stores sell. They usually have a lot of seeds and sugar in them. Yogurt drops are also very high in sugar and should be avoided.
Fresh water should be available at all times, in a clean, large, heavy crock. Rinse the water crock out every day and give it a good cleaning about three times a week to prevent algae build up.
Rabbits will easily train themselves to use a litter box. Just provide a large litter box with rabbit safe litter, such as Carefresh or Aspen shavings (not pine or cat litter), or newspaper and pile hay on top. Rabbits like to graze and poop at the same time so keeping hay in the litter box gets them to use it and to eat more hay. Add hay daily. Clean entire box a few times each week with white vinegar.
Holding Your Rabbit:
Never pick a bunny up by its ears! You must support it’s back legs and hold it against your chest. Grabbing them by the scuff of their neck (back part) may also cause harm as they will kick and could break their backs. Young children should not be allowed to pick up a rabbit as the rabbit has powerful back legs and can scratch very deeply, also a rabbit can break it’s own back by struggling if it is held incorrectly. Have children sit on the couch or floor and let the bunny come to them. Always supervise!
Toys & Chews:
Because rabbit’s teeth are continually growing they need a lot of items to chew. Make sure whatever you provide for your rabbit to chew on is rabbit safe. Chew blocks, untreated willow baskets, willow balls, willow wreaths, pinecones, and untreated apple twigs all make great chews. Rabbits also like to play, some favorite rabbit toys are balls with a bell inside, baby keys and rattles. Rabbits like to have a hiding place to lie in or under such as a bunny tent or cardboard box. Rabbits get bored if left with nothing to do, so you must provide them with bunny safe toys. The Bunny Bunch Boutique is a great place to buy bunny products and support the rescue efforts of the Bunny Bunch.
Trimming the Nails:
Rabbit’s nails grow continuously so they will need to be trimmed about every four to six weeks. We do this for free at our adoptions. It is important to know how to trim a rabbit’s nails, because if you cut them down to short you may cut into the quick which will be very painful and will bleed. This can also lead to infection. We do free nail trims at our weekend adoption events and will be happy to show you how to trim nails. A rabbit vet can also show you how to trim nails. NEVER de-claw your bunny.
Rabbits are meticulous groomers, but they will need some help from you. It is very important to brush your rabbit on a daily or weekly basis to remove any loose fur, especially when they are shedding. Rabbits have several major sheds a year but they shed fur all year long as well.
Male and female rabbits have two scent glands on either side of the genitals. These are two small pockets which need to be cleaned about every three months or so. When cleaning the scent glands it is important to be gentle, we suggest using a Q-tip dipped in warm water and gently wipe out the debris.
We always suggest taking your rabbit to a rabbit knowledgeable vet for a well check up at least once a year. It is important to find a vet who treats rabbits and who stays up to date with the latest treatments. Finding a vet before anything happens to your rabbit is a good idea. We have a list of rabbit vets in the Southern California area.
Spay & Neuter:
It is very important to have your rabbit spayed or neutered to prevent health and behavior problems. Even if you just have one rabbit make sure you get this done. We suggest doing it at about five to six months old.
GI Stasis: (GastroIntestinal Stasis–the silent killer)
This problem can be related to diet or can occur because of an underlying illness. If you know how to recognize it you can save your rabbit’s life.
Some causes of GI Stasis:
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of hay
- Pellet only diet
- Human food (crackers, cookies, breads, nuts—never feed these to your bunny)
- Feces strung together with hair
- Stress (too much noise, loss of mate etc.)
If you see your rabbit has lost their appetite for food or water it is a sign that something is wrong. Get them to your vet immediately before things get worse.
Eating, Drinking, Pooping and Peeing:
It is important to know your rabbits eating, drinking, pooping and peeing habits. If your rabbit ever stops eating or drinking, is drinking more or less than normal, or if your rabbit stops using the litter box, is straining to urinate or the urine is sludgy, you must take your rabbit to a rabbit knowledgeable vet right away. Check your rabbits litter box everyday to make sure there is the normal amount of poop for your rabbit in there, and that the poop is the right size and consistency.
It is important to check inside your rabbits ears for wax or debris build up, or infection. Smell inside the ear to make sure there is not a yeasty or bad smell. Look inside the ear to make sure it is nice and clean.
Check the bottom of your rabbit’s feet for sore hocks. These are patches of skin where the fur has worn away, often from being on a wire bottom cage or a hard surface. They can become very sore, swollen and infected, and must be treated right away.
Fur and Skin:
Check the fur and skin for white flakes or tiny black dots. If you notice either of these your rabbit probably has mites (white flakes) or fleas (black dots). If your rabbit has fleas, you can put Advantage ointment on the back of its neck (between the ears) that will kill fleas but not mites. Use the entire Kitten Advantage tube for an adult rabbit over 4 lbs. Revolution will kill mites. Check with your vet about dosage of Revolution.
Rabbit’s teeth continually grow. The front teeth must be lined up correctly in order for them to be kept trim. The cheek teeth must also be lined up; sometimes rabbits can grow molar spurs or have other teeth problems such as impaction and abscesses. If you ever notice your rabbit drooling, having trouble eating, or having a runny eye this could be a sign of a tooth problem and the rabbit must be seen by a rabbit vet. Some rabbits have malocclusion where the teeth don’t line up. In most cases the teeth will have to be trimmed or filed, in some cases they have to be removed. It is VERY important that you find an expert in this field who has a lot of experience with rabbit teeth.
Run your hands over your rabbit’s whole body, including head and jaw area to check for any unusual lumps or bumps. Rabbits can often get abscesses which need to be treated right away. The sooner you notice a problem and get it treated the better the chance you have for a good recovery.
Rabbits thump for a variety of reasons: when they’re playing, when they’re frustrated at not getting their way, and sometimes just because they want to get your attention. Often it is also a warning to tell other rabbits that danger is near. You have to watch your rabbits body language to figure out which one it is.
Rabbits have a blind spot directly in front of their face and many people don’t know this. A rabbit that is approached head on will be startled and afraid and he will growl or lunge at even their owners. It is always important to approach a bunny slowly from the top or side of their head and talk as you approach them in a calm voice so they know you are coming. Many bunnies get a bad rap for being mean or aggressive, but they simply can’t see you coming.
Rabbits can nip as part of communication. This is very different from a bite. Someone told me that the best way to get along with a rabbit was to let the rabbit think you are one too! If your rabbits nips you too hard, don’t hit or tap them on the head because they will not understand this. The short ‘eek’ will startle him a little bit and make him understand that he was too rough and make him further believe that you are just another bunny friend to play gently with. Again, make sure you approach your rabbit slowly from the top or side of their head.
Some bunnies can be very aggressive. Please visit this link filled with excellent articles on how to deal with this problem. Click here
Both rabbits must be fixed before bonding can take place. We offer bunny dating and can offer tips on bonding bunnies at our adoptions. Please read this informative article to help you understand the bonding process.
Bringing Your Rabbit Home:
The rabbit/s need to stay in the exercise pen for the first five days, meaning that they shouldn’t be let out to run around a room or the house. They can be taken out to spend time on the couch or bed with their humans. If the buns poop outside the litter box the poop should be swept up and put in the litter box. The litter box should be big, big enough for the buns to lay down in. A rabbit safe litter should be on the bottom and the whole litter box should be piled with hay. It should be changed and cleaned using white vinegar every two to three days.
Once the buns are pooping in the box (not outside the box), then the pen can be opened up and the buns can run around a bun proofed room. We do suggest having another litter box outside the pen too, if the room the buns run in is large. The first time the buns come out to play should be for about half an hour, then extending the time out every day by about half an hour. This tends to help with them using the litter box. Some people will say they just want the buns to run around and have more room. The problem with this is that the home is new to the buns and they will find a corner to use as a litter box. Once that happens it can be hard to change. Once they are using the litter boxes in the room the pen, then other rooms can be opened up to them. Rabbit Proof your home as well.