Bunnies. They’re cute, cuddly, fluffy, and irresistible. At first glance, they seem easy to care for, and it can be so tempting to buy one for your child for a birthday or holiday. Unfortunately, many bunnies and rabbits are surrendered to shelters shortly after being brought home. The new owners oftentimes do not realize how much work a rabbit takes, and that they are not always a good pet for a young child. So, before you bring home Mr. Cottontail, here are some bunny basics you should know!
A rabbit’s habitat should be big enough for him or her to hop around in and not feel too crowded. A large cage at least three feet long and two feet wide is usually a good fit for most rabbits. The larger the cage the better. Some cages even have playpens attached to the front of them for additional space to move around. Inside the cage, you'll need the following:
Large water bottle (12oz or more)
You might be surprised to learn that rabbits are easily litter-trained. To do this, observe your rabbit for a couple of days. Rabbits will instinctively use the bathroom in one corner of their cage. Put a corner litter box in that corner, and fill with unscented, non-clumping, paper litter. They should continue to use the same corner, except now, they’ll be using the litter box. This will make cleaning your rabbit’s habitat much easier.
Bedding should be in the bottom of the entire cage. Non-toxic, paper bedding is ideal, because rabbits usually won’t try to eat it, but if they do, it will dissolve harmlessly in their stomach. Rabbits are prey animals in the wild. A wood, plastic, or cardboard hideaway is essential for them to feel safe inside their cage. They can go in it and sleep, rest, or hide from the rest of your household. It will make them feel secure, much like a rabbit burrow would in the wild.
A salt and mineral block in the cage will help fulfill your rabbit's salt and mineral needs in their diet. You can set them in a bowl or place them on a hanging toy, and they will instinctively use it when they are in need of salt and minerals. Rabbits need to be able to chew on something at all times. Their incisors (front teeth) are constantly growing, so they need to be able to chew to grind them down. Wood pieces and lava blocks are ideal for this.
Rabbits are also herbivores. They can eat a wide variety of vegetation and fruits. A rabbit needs a constant source of hay to munch on all day. If they do not have something to eat at all times, their digestive system can shut down, and will if left without food too many times. This is called gastric stasis, and is often fatal to the rabbit. If your rabbit ever stops passing stool or stops eating, call your vet immediately!
The ideal diet for a rabbit consists of hay, vegetables, the occasional fruits, and a limited amount of pellets.
Hay There are several varieties of hay out there. The most common one to feed rabbits is Timothy hay. This type of hay is low in sugar, and is fairly crunchy. Many rabbits like it, and it is ideal for feeding to all rabbits of any age. Orchard grass hay is slightly sweeter and much softer than Timothy. This hay is good for rabbits who are a bit pickier and who have stopped eating Timothy. The sweetness makes it taste better, and the soft texture adds to the palatability. Oat hay is a hearty, crunchy, sweet hay. This hay is also good for picky rabbits who may need something sweeter in their diet, but might not like the soft texture of the orchard grass. Any of these three types of hay can be fed on an unlimited basis. They’re all high in fiber, and low in protein and sugar. The last type of hay that is commonly fed is alfalfa. Alfalfa is very high in sugar and protein and should only be fed to pregnant or nursing mother rabbits, or as a treat in very, very small amounts. The high sugar and protein can be very detrimental to a rabbit’s sensitive digestive system.
Vegetables Veggies can make up a large part of your rabbit’s diet. Leafy veggies, such as romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, cabbage, spinach and kale are all good sources of nutrients. Root veggies like carrots (and carrot tops!) and parsnips are a good occasional treat, but they do have a higher sugar content, so you should limit these to two or three times per week. Other good veggies are: eggplant, radicchio, bell pepper, snow peas, endive, mint, bok choy, zucchini, and butternut squash.
Fruit Fruit is a great treat to give your rabbit a couple times a week. It is very high in sugar, so you should limit the quantity you give. Some great fruits for rabbits include: bananas, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, pears, apples (no seeds), oranges, papaya, and dragonfruit.
Pellet Food Pellets are good for your rabbit in limited amounts. They are usually made up of compressed hay with added vitamins and minerals. They can have ill effects on your rabbit’s digestive system if given in high amounts. Always follow the instructions on the bag for feeding your rabbit based on age and weight.
Bunnies require as much work and love as a cat or a dog. If they are not properly socialized when they are young, they may become aggressive. Daily, consistent handling is essential for your rabbit to develop into a family pet. Make sure other animals are not aggressive towards the rabbit, as this can cause stress to your rabbit. Supervise small children when they handle the bunny to ensure they are not too rough with it.
Bunnies can be fun, rewarding pets if cared for properly, and now you know the basics if you decide to bring one home!