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Caring For Your Rabbit

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Rabbits are herbivores! Feeding your rabbit an inappropriate diet can become a cause of disease. What do wild rabbits usually eat?  GRASS! Ideally pet rabbits should be fed a diet of hay and fresh vegetables. Access to fresh grass would be best but this isn’t always possible.


Many commercial rabbit foods are formulated for laboratory or farmed rabbits and don’t provide the correct vitamins and minerals for your pet rabbit. Most pellets/mixes can also be too concentrated in carbohydrates and fats and don’t provide any dental care.

Grass hay (meadow hay, not lucerne or clover) should be available at all times. Grasses of most kinds can be offered (except for grass clippings as they often can go mouldy), as well as a variety of garden weeds. Meadow hay can also be used for bedding for your rabbit too.

It is important to take care when choosing what type of hay to give to your bunny. Lucerne and other leguminous grasses have a very high calcium content, which can then lead to a type of bone disease and the production of crystals in the urine.

Suitable vegetables you can offer your rabbit along with hay are:

  • Broccoli
  • Celery (cut into pieces)
  • Spinach Leaves
  • Bok Choy
  • Carrots (with the tops)
  • Fruits occasionally (apples, pears, oranges & strawberries)
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Dark Leafed Lettuce varieties
  • Herbs (parsley, coriander, basil, dill & mint)
  • Capsicum

Because rabbits teeth continuously grow, high fibre diets allow the teeth to be worn down. Feeding pellets, nuts and fruit do not wear the teeth down resulting in the rabbit developing dental disease. Do not feed rabbits cereals, grains, mixed nuts, beans, peas, breads, sweet biscuits, sugar sweets and chocolate. These foods can be very high in sugars and fats which can be harmful towards your rabbit.

 

Housing

abbits can be housed either indoor or outdoors successfully. Ideally, your rabbits hutch should be designed to be as large as possible to allow the rabbit to exercise. This will keep him/her healthier and help prevent behavioral problems, spinal or obesity problems.

If your rabbit is housed outdoors, there are several things which should be remembered when purchasing or building a hutch.

An ideal hutch would have:

  • Enough space to allow free movement (at least 3-4 successive hops)
  • A sheltered, secure sleeping area, lined with soft absorbent bedding e.g. hay/straw that can also be easily cleaned daily.
  • No wire flooring- this can damage rabbits paws.
  • Well ventilated, chew-proof, in a drought free area situated away from heat and rain.
  • Access to unfiltered sunlight
  • Mosquito/biting insect proof
  • Include water bottles, feeding bowls and toys to keep your rabbit busy (e.g. tree branches, wooden parrot toys, cardboard boxes, toilet roll tubes etc) Rabbits are highly intelligent animals and need environmental stimulation just like cats and dogs!

Confining a rabbit to a hutch for long periods is unsatisfactory, and actually harmful to the rabbit.

Because rabbits are such social creatures, you can successfully have mixed species such as rabbits, cats and dogs (providing there is no aggression between them) in the same area. Housing rabbits with guinea pigs is not recommended due to the fact that some rabbits can transmit fatal diseases to guinea pigs and can often fight causing wounds.

De-sexing

A male rabbit will hit sexual maturity at around 4-7 months of age and a female rabbit about 4-9 months. Puberty for both males and females is 12 weeks of age, so make sure they are separated at 10 weeks!

It is a good idea to have your rabbit de-sexed. Approximately 80% of female rabbits will develop uterine cancer if not de-sexed. It is the most common cancer of female rabbits and is much more common as the rabbit becomes older. The recommended age to have your female rabbit de-sexed is from 5-6 months.

In males, it is recommended to have him de-sexed as young as 4 months as they tend to become aggressive, very protective and spray urine.

Vaccinations

All pet rabbits should be vaccinated against Calicivirus. This disease is almost always fatal and death can occur rapidly, within 12-18 hours from respiratory and heart failure. There is no known treatment for this disease. Vaccinations for your rabbit are done soon after you first get them, and then 6 monthly for life.

Grooming

Rabbits enjoy a good brush! Grooming your rabbit regularly is important to its health and well being. Long-haired breeds do require daily brushing to remove excess dead hair and prevent hairballs developing. As rabbits cannot vomit, hairballs are prone to cause intestinal obstructions.

Daily grooming also allows for early detection of problems, and regular handling helps develop your rabbit’s confidence and friendliness.

Just as with pet dogs and cats, a six monthly or yearly check-up for your rabbit is a good idea to ensure he/she has a life that is as healthy and happy as possible. This can be done at the time of your rabbits vaccination (yearly) and your vet can check your rabbit’s teeth and get the toenails clipped as well!

 

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Nutrition: Food For Thought

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O’Halloran Hill Vet Centre

123 Main South Road
O’Halloran Hill, SA 5158

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142 Sir Donald Bradman Drive
Hilton, SA 5033