Rabbit Care Sheet
DIET: Rabbits need to have a well balanced diet to ensure that they stay in good health, and to maintain their immune system. Try to keep feeds & feeding habits consistent. Any changes should be made gradually (over 2-3 weeks) to minimise digestive upsets. The ideal diet for your rabbit consists of:
Rabbit-Safe Vegetables, Fruits & Weeds
sprouts, Apple (no seeds), Artichoke (Jerusalem), Asian greens, Asparagus,
Autumn Leaves (dry)
Lemon balm, Lettuce (dark leaf varieties),
Fruit should always be given in small amounts as the high sugar content may cause diarrhoea. Introduce fruits and vegetables slowly over several weeks. Remember no pesticides; wash all fruit & vegies thoroughly before giving them to your bunny!
Unsuitable and Poisonous food
Avocado, potatoes, rhubarb, beans, peas, salads with dressings, cakes/sweets, chocolate, biscuits, sugar, onions or pickled foods. Anything not fresh enough for you to eat yourself.
The All-Important Hay
In the wild, rabbits eat grasses, which in their dry form, is simply hay. Therefore our rabbits should be fed hay constantly and in abundance, and hay should be considered far more than just chewing entertainment. Hay provides invaluable fibre, vitamins, minerals, and protein, in a form that the rabbit's digestive tract needs for its good health.
But not all hays are the same. Lucerne, particularly the tasty leaf part, is higher than most hays in calcium and protein and when fed with calcium-rich feed (most pellets) it can cause extreme levels of calcium in the system. On a dry weight analysis, Lucerne comes out among the highest in calcium content, and lower than most grass hays in fibre. Many experts advise against giving solely Lucerne (also called alfalfa) hay to adult rabbits, particularly those not used for breeding as it contains 2-5x a rabbit’s daily requirement. An excess of calcium in rabbits can lead to urinary problems.
Grass hay, which comes in a variety of types depending on where you live, is a safer choice for older rabbits, especially those with urinary problems. Lower in calcium and protein and higher in fibre, it provides what the rabbit needs without excesses. In some cases, rabbits that have never eaten grass hay may rebel and hold out for Lucerne. However, if pellets are rationed, the rabbit will be hungry enough to give in and eat the new hay. Lucerne can be fed as long as the pellets are reduced dramatically.
And not all pellets are the same. Some pellets are nothing more than extruded Lucerne. If you must feed Lucerne hay avoid Lucerne pellets! Other pellets contain a variety of grains and additives. You should check the labels or ask your supplier.
As important as it is in the diet of a rabbit, hay is only one part of a sound nutritional program. The way we are accustomed to feeding our rabbits (unlimited pellets and occasional fresh vegetables) is not the healthiest feeding plan. By giving them the type of food they were meant to eat (i.e. hay and fresh vegetables) we can help them fight off some of the diseases that have killed domestic rabbits for many years. Whenever we return to the natural and reject the overly processed and chemically treated product we are taking a stand for our rabbit’s health.
How To Be
A Bunny Friend
In nature bunnies have many enemies; they are hunted for food by nearly every creature they meet. Their instinct is to run and hide. They are fearful of being picked up because the experience mirrors being captured for dinner. If you want to be a bunny friend you must ensure you do not act like a predator. Don’t grab your rabbit around the shoulders or pick him up by holding his back. When you pick him up make sure you scoop him up from underneath and support his body in your hands. Hold him close to you so he feels safe. He doesn’t like ‘flying’ either, so make sure he is well supported when you carry him or pass him to another person.
Don’t chase your rabbit to catch him. When it is time to go back into his hutch, herd him in by walking behind him. Don’t pick him up to put him back, let him go in on his own. The same applies when letting him out, open the door and let him come out in his own time, don’t reach in and pull him out. Always respect his hutch as HIS.
To be a real bunny friend you want your rabbit to think you are another bunny. During playtime get down on the floor with him. Allow him to come to you, and when he does, gently pat him; don’t drag him onto your lap. Rabbits prefer to sit beside you. In nature rabbits show affection by licking each other on the face and ears. You can mimic this by stroking his face and ears with your fingers. Be patient with him, especially when he first comes to live with you. If you sit on the floor he will eventually come to investigate after exploring his new surroundings. Keep his running space limited until he gets used to you and so you’re not tempted to drag him back to your spot. Never, ever, pull a rabbit’s ears. In time he will learn that you are safe and he will enjoy a snuggle/cuddle on your lap.
Keep your bunnies nails clipped, as they have sharp claws and can unintentionally hurt tender young skin. Always supervise young children handling a rabbit, as it is hard for bunnies to unlearn the fear of rough tight squeezing, or worse, being dropped. Always have a child sit down to pat a bunny.
Be patient and don’t rush your bunny. One of the pleasures of owning a pet rabbit is that they teach you to take time out. Give your bunny time to discover you and you will be rewarded with a lifelong playmate.
Rabbits are naturally healthy, hardy animals, and will remain so provided you take care of them. Rabbits kept in clean, well ventilated, draught-proof hutches, fed only the freshest of foods and sheltered from the harsh Australian sun will rarely, if ever, get sick. However, you should inspect your rabbit regularly for signs of ill health. If any of these signs are present, visit your Veterinarian without delay.
Eyes: Alert and bright. Free of any discharge
Nose: Dry. Sneezing and/or discharge is an indication of serious illness such as viral or bacterial disease
Ears: Perfectly clean. Dirt in the ears can signify that the rabbit has ear mites
Coat: Clean and lustrous. A dull coat indicates poor health
Belly: Nice & plump but definitely not bloated. A bloated belly is a sure sign of a digestive disorder
Genitals: Perfectly clean. Free of any of discharge
The ideal building material is untreated Pinewood. The cage should be designed so that all internal walls are smooth as bunny will chew anything he can get his teeth on.
Avoid cages made of metal. They are icy cold in Winter and unbearably hot in Summer. A solid wood floor is best. Wire floors, whilst easy to clean, are uncomfortable for bunny to walk and lie upon. Cover cage with mosquito mesh and place in a protected area so it is not exposed to the hot midday and afternoon sun.
Several inches of bedding should cover the floor. Wood shavings, rice hulls or straw are all suitable and can be obtained from any produce merchant. Used bedding is ideal for garden fertilizer & mulch.
Weeks in a New Home
During these early days your new family member may not "be himself". During this volatile period, the most important contribution you can make is set up a friendly and safe environment.
When you first bring home a rabbit one of the most useful tools for helping him to feel at ease is your imagination. How do you and your household look to him? Add a little common sense, a dash of patience, and a few basics of rabbit care and behaviour, and you've got a recipe for a lifelong friendship.
While you are observing and learning about him, bear in mind that during these early days he may not "be himself." He may be too scared to show you how affectionate he's going to be once he recovers from the shock of relocation. He may have too much on his mind to be anything but perfectly box-trained; in a few weeks, when he's feeling more at home, he may need a course in Litterbox101. She may be feeling so insecure that territorial marking is almost an obsession (if he/she's not neutered/ spayed, do it now!). He may be too scared to let you hold or touch him; or he may be too scared to tell you he doesn't like to be held. Or he may be one of those rare mellow, confident individuals whose new family needs none of the following suggestions.
The first couple of days:
It is advisable to keep bunny inside for the first few days even if he will be an outdoor bunny. Put him in a small cage that he can only see out of from one or two sides and place him where he can get to know your every day noises, your footsteps, the TV/radio, talking over dinner. Let him out on your lap for a short 5-minute quiet patting spell talking softly to him constantly (please make sure children know that excited squeals and loud talking are very frightening!!). Then put him back and repeat this about 3-4 times each day. By doing this he learns that his cage and your lap are both places of safety. After you have done this for a couple of days you can put him in his out door cage and you should find that instead of hiding in the back corner of the cage when you go out to see him he will have heard your familiar foot steps and come to the front of the cage ears forward with curiosity wondering what treat you are going to bring him. Rabbits of course do become friendly and happy companions without this step but it does speed up the process considerably especially with some rabbits.
Set up a small area or roomy cage (or both). Use a laundry room, bathroom, hallway blocked off with baby gates, or part of a larger room sectioned off using furniture, boxes, or other objects he can't scale or knock over. Choose a spot that gets some regular, not-too-noisy traffic, where he can see and hear but not be trampled or frightened by your daily routines. Start housetraining by providing at least one or two litter boxes. A fresh layer of grass hay on top will both encourage and reward him for hopping in. If you know what brand he was eating, keep him on it for a while to minimize risk of digestive upset. Fresh water in a bowl or bottle, or both, should be available at all times. Give him a cardboard box with two bunny-size doors cut, and a towel draped across one area of his cage if it is wire, as hiding places. Start him on the road to good chewing habits by removing forbidden and dangerous temptations such as houseplants, electrical cords, and books. Provide permitted alternatives such as untreated straw, untreated pine off cuts, or sea-grass mats, cardboard tubes and boxes, plastic baby-toys for tossing, fruit-tree branches (don’t give him all the toys at once but try and change them every week), and plenty of fresh hay.
Great Expectations, and what to do about them:
As with good housetraining habits, building a friendship may take time and patience. If he's not ready to be petted yet, caress him with your voice. Talk to him, or to anyone while in his presence. Many rabbits seem to enjoy listening to their humans talk on the phone. Hang out with him in rabbit fashion, by sitting quietly on the floor. Show him that he can hop over to you, take a few get-acquainted sniffs and gentle nibbles, and then hop away again. This hands-off approach paves the way to a hands-on friendship, especially with shy or traumatized rabbits. As her fear diminishes, her curiosity increases. Place a small treat or two (a sprig of parsley or carrot-top, a sliver of apple) and a few toys on the floor next to you, to make his visit even more rewarding.
If no other humans are around, you might want to say your first few words in Rabbit. Show your new friend how happy, content, calm, and delighted you feel in his company. You may not be able, as he is, to "comb" your long silky ears between your hands--but you can pretend to wash your face the way he does, using hands and tongue. When he responds by grooming himself, it means you're way cool, practically an Honorary Rabbit.
When adding a rabbit to our family, we may be ready right away to give and receive generous amounts of love and affection. Maybe that's because we're not the ones who have just arrived in a strange place, populated by foreigners who don't speak our language. Imagine how you would feel if the size difference between you were reversed: a giant hand reaches down and plucks you from your home. It sets you down on a planet of 2-ton, 30-feet-tall beings--a sort of giraffe/elephant hybrid. How long before you'd feel relaxed? What would be your instinctive reaction when one of these giants came lumbering over? Is that a smile on the enormous creature's face, or a grimace? Only time (plus the occasional raisin or banana slice) will tell your new companion that she's among friends.
TRIMMING YOUR RABBIT’S NAILS
Nail trimming is a necessary part of rabbit grooming, and will be easier if you do it on a regular basis.
Gather your supplies -
trimmers, towel, cotton swabs and something to treat the nails if accidentally
cut too short.
Place the clippers on the nail where the cut is to be made. If you can, apply gentle pressure and if the rabbit flinches move a bit toward the tip of the nail. Make the cut in a firm, swift motion to avoid crushing the nail.
If a nail is accidentally cut too short, wipe away blood with a cotton swab and quickly place a pinch if a product such as Kwik-Stop (or cornstarch or flour) on the end of the nail and pack it gently.
Repeat for all the nails. Take a break between feet if your rabbit is struggling or the procedure is taking a while. This is especially important if you are using a towel for restraint to prevent overheating. Quickly recheck all the nails to make sure they are not bleeding before leaving the rabbit alone. The picture shows the location of the quick and where the cut should be made. If you are concerned about doing them correctly, get a professional (at the veterinarian office or groomers) show you how the first time.
But what if my pet's nails are black and I can't see the quick?
Well, the short answer is that it is a matter of educated guess work. It is usually possible to "guess" where it is safe to cut based on the shape of the nail. If your pet has any lighter coloured nails, those can be used as a guide to judge how to cut the others. Otherwise, it is often wise to get a professional or other experienced owner to demonstrate a nail trim, and then regularly do them at home. Do them frequently and just take the tips off, and they should be fine. Make sure you have something handy so stop bleeding though, just in case.
When Accidents Happen
No matter how careful you are, you will likely accidentally hit a nail quick and cause some bleeding at some point. Don't panic. Here are some things that will stop the bleeding: