Taking Care of Pet Rabbits
Taking care of pet rabbits is not terribly hard or complicated, but there are a few things you should know before bringing your new bunny home.
Rabbits make excellent pets. They can be affectionate and fun. They can be trained to use a litter box, and unlike dogs and cats, they don't throw up all over the house. Rabbits also require specific care to remain healthy and happy.
Taking Care of Pet Rabbits - Housing
Before you get a pet rabbit, you must decide where he will live. Rabbits do well either indoors or out. In either case, they need a cage that will give them a safe place to live.
Indoor cages can take a wide variety of shapes, from homemade cages made with storage cube pieces that can take up almost an entire room to more traditional cages with plastic bottoms and wire tops. Some have shelves in them for rabbits to hop onto. The important thing about an indoor cage is that it is secure enough to contain your rabbit and keep out other curious pets.
Indoor cages will need bedding of some sort so your rabbit doesn't slip on a smooth plastic surface. Bedding will also help soak up any stray urine, spilled water and other messes. Shredded paper, straw, or kiln-dried pine shavings will work fine.
Never use cedar shavings with your pet; it contains many strong oils that, while excellent for keeping away fleas, are not good for taking care of pet rabbits lungs.
If your rabbit will live outdoors, the cage needs to either be set up in a shed, barn or garage that offers the rabbit shelter from the rain and sun or it needs to be equipped with a few solid walls and a sturdy, waterproof roof.
Rabbits can keep themselves warm much easier than they can cool themselves, so if you live in an area with hot summers, the cage should be in a shady spot. You should also be prepared to offer frozen ice bottles on hot days.
Most outdoor cages have wire bottoms so droppings will fall to the ground below. This does not mean the cage doesn't need cleaning, though it won't need it as frequently as an indoor cage.
Taking Care of Pet Rabbits - Feeding
Pet rabbits should be given from 1/4 to 1 cup of rabbit pellets per day, depending on their size. Dwarf rabbits may beg, but they really don't need more than 1/4 cup. Feeding them more will only make them overweight.
When you buy rabbit pellets, make sure they are a nice color of green and that they smell like fresh hay. Pellets that are turning yellow or tan no longer have any nutrition in them. They should not smell musty or moldy. You can get fresh pellets at local feed stores.
If you only have one or two rabbits, ask if they break large bags of feed down into smaller quantities for pet owners. Many of them do.
Hay is also an important part of feeding your rabbit. Since rabbit pellets are made primarily from alfalfa, avoid alfalfa hay. Choose timothy or orchard grass hay. Many feed stores will also break down large bales for pet owners so they can purchase a flake or two at a time. Rabbits can have hay all the time. It provides fiber for a healthy digestive system, and they love to chew, so hay gives them something to do.
If you have room to store hay, get a bale in late summer so you can get second cutting. This hay has more leaves and greenery than first cutting bales. You can store hay in a dry place for up to a year, so one bale can last a pet owner quite a while when taking care of pet rabbits.
Treats can be given occasionally. Treats like an apple slice, part of a carrot, a handful of parsley or carrot tops and so on are welcome to your pet. Do not overfeed these fresh treats; too much fresh food when your rabbit is not used to it can cause digestive problems.
Don't give them too many vegetables that you grow in your garden, either. Zucchini and other similar vegetables contain a lot more moisture than parsley, dandelion leaves and other fresh treats. Too much moisture can upset the rabbit's delicate digestive system and cause diarrhea, enteritis and other problems.
Taking Care of Pet Rabbits - Find a Vet
Not all vets know much about taking care of pet rabbits. Rabbits are pretty healthy pets and they don't require vaccinations, so trips to the vet may not be needed frequently. When you do need one, however, you want to know the vet you've chosen knows a lot about rabbits. Ask around at the feed stores. Call up the 4H leaders in the area. They should be able to recommend someone.
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