Rabbits make intelligent, friendly and quiet house pets. The average life span for a bunny is 7 to 10 years with records of up to 15 years of age being reported. The following information is designed to help you take the best care of your pet and enjoy a happy, healthy life with him or her.

DIET

Pellets

Pellets are a popular food for rabbits but when fed in excess they can cause many severe problems because they are too high in calories and calcium. Purchase high quality pellets which are high in fiber (18% or more) in small quantities. Keep the pellets refrigerated or cool to try to reduce spoilage. Old, rancid pellets can stop a rabbit from eating.

Rabbits up to 8 months of age can have access to pellets free choice, because they are still growing rapidly but older rabbits should strictly limited to the guidelines given in this handout.

Hay

The fiber in the hay is very important in promoting normal intestinal function. Hay also contains proteins and other nutrients essential to the good health of your pet. Timothy, Bermuda or other grass hays should be offered free choice throughout the day. . Alfalfa hay is not recommended if you are feeding pellets since they are already high in alfalfa which provide too much calcium and calories. Loose, long strands of hay, as opposed to the pressed cubes or chopped hay are preferred.

Hay should be stored in a cool, dry place with good air circulation to avoid growth of toxic molds (don’t close it tightly in a plastic bag). Discard wet or damp hay, or any hay that does not have a “fresh” smell.

Fresh Food

Rabbits in the wild eat a lot of tough, fibrous plants. Their digestive tract functions best when it has a high level of fiber which helps to maintain normal intestinal motility. If your pet is not used to getting any fresh foods, start out gradually with the green leafy veggies listed below and add a new food item from the list every 3-5 days. Once your pet is eating fresh foods, try to give a minimum of 3 types daily. Try to feed about 1 to 4 heaping cups per 5 pounds of body weight. Because fresh vegetables are not as nutritious pound per pound as the dry hay, do not depend on greens only to maintain your pet’s weight.

The following are good foods to offer your pet rabbit:

Carrot tops, beet tops, dandelion greens and flowers, kale, collard greens, escarole, romaine lettuce, (not light colored leaf lettuce or iceberg lettuce), endive, Swiss chard, parsley, clover, cabbage, broccoli (don’t forget the leaves), carrot, green peppers, pea pods, Brussels sprouts, basil, peppermint leaves, raspberry leaves, raddichio, bok choy and spinach. Feeding just one type of green food (especially broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and spinach) may lead to nutrient imbalances. The packages of premixed greens for salad usually contain a lot of lower nutrient lettuces such as iceberg and should be no more than a third of the daily greens.

Treats

You can give a small amount of the following (2 heaping tablespoons per 4 lbs of body weight) daily: strawberries, papaya, pineapple, apple, pear, melon, raspberries, blueberries, apple pear, mango, cactus fruit, persimmon, peach, pear, or tomato. Banana can be “addicting” and fattening and is not recommended. Dried fruits may be used as an alternative to the fresh listed above but use half the amount.

Stay away from the following:

Salty or sugary snacks, nuts, chocolate, breakfast cereals, and other grains (including oatmeal, corn either fresh or dried and bread).

This table gives guidelines for feeding:

Weight

Hay

Fresh Foods

Pellets

2-4 lb.

free choice

1-4 cups

1/8th cup

5-7 lb.

free choice

2-6 cups

1/4th cup

8-10 lb.

free choice

4-8 cups

1/2 cup

11-15 lbs

free choice

6-12 cups

3/4th cup

These food amounts are for the maintenance of the non breeding, mature house rabbit. Double the daily pellet amounts during the breeding season. For does that are nursing babies, the pellets should be increased over a 4-5 day period to free choice until the babies are weaned. After the breeding period is over, resume feeding at the maintenance levels as listed above.

Water

This should always be available, and changed daily. A dirty water container can breed bacteria that can cause disease. The container can be either a water bottle or bowl that is weighted or secured to the side of the cage so that it does not tip over.

Vitamins

These are not felt to be necessary if the rabbit is getting pellets, hay and fresh foods in the diet.

Rabbits normally eat some of their feces to recycle vitamins.

Salt or Mineral Block

Not necessary for the house pet on the described diet.

Enviroment

Housing

A metal cage may be used with a wire flooring of 14 gauge wire (1″x 1/2″ square openings). A solid floored area is necessary to prevent sore hocks and to provide an area for resting. The size of the cage should be at least 24″ x 24″ x 18″ high for the small and medium sized breeds and 36″ x36″ x 24″ high for the large breeds.

You can use a towel (unless you have a pet that likes to eat towels), or piece of carpeting or wood for the solid area. “Synthetic fleece” cloth sold in fabric stores works well, as it is washable and if the pet chews on it, there are no long strands of fabric that can get caught in the digestive tract. Newspaper can be used under the wire. Do not use aquariums or solid walled cages because the lack of sufficient air circulation has been directly correlated with an increase in respiratory disease.

If your bunny will be roaming the house, eliminate areas that your pet can get wedged in or escape from. Also watch out for electrical cords, carpeting, and any toxic materials such as rodent poisons that your pet could get into.

Litter Boxes

Rabbits can be litter box trained relatively easily. Initially you need to keep your pet in a small area, either in a cage or a blocked off section of the room and place a litter box in the corner. Make sure the sides of the box are low enough so your pet can get in and out easily. It is helpful to put some of the droppings in the box. You may also put some hay in the box to encourage defecation in the box (they usually pass stool while they are eating). Reward your pet with one of the treat foods listed previously whenever he or she has used the box successfully. Do not punish your pet while in the litter box. Sitting in the box can be allowed as long as he is not getting soiled and the box is cleaned frequently.

Pelleted paper or other organic products make the best bedding. These products are non toxic and digestible if eaten, easier to clean up than shavings or clay litter, control odor better and are compostable. Some examples are Cellu-Dri and Yesterday’s News (which are paper products), Mountain Cat Kitty Litter or Harvest Litter (pelleted wheat grass), and Gentle Touch (pelleted aspen).

Temperature

Rabbits should be kept in the COOLEST and least humid area of the house. Bunnies kept in warm, humid environments with poor air circulation, have an increase in the incidence of respiratory disease

The optimum temperature range for a bunny is 60-70 degrees F. Above 70, one may see an increase in drooling, and nasal discharge. At 80 degrees and above, and especially if the humidity is high the potential for a fatal heat stroke is very real. On very hot days, it is helpful to leave a plastic milk jug filled with frozen water in the cage.

If your pet should actually experience a heat stress reaction, try holding an ice cube on the ear or gently wetting your pet down with cool (not cold) water. If the heat stroke is severe, veterinary attention will be necessary. Outdoor cages should be sheltered from the wind and the sun. For the winter it is advisable to use straw bedding in the sheltered area for insulation.

Medical Problems

Females

A leading cause of death in the female rabbit is a cancer of the uterus called adenocarcinoma. This cancer is preventable by having your pet spayed between 6 months and 2 years of age. The spay procedure involves removal of the bunny’s uterus and ovaries and also helps to prevent the breast cancer later in life.

Males

Some male bunnies, especially the dwarf varieties, may become extremely aggressive when they reach sexual maturity. They may bite and spray urine outside of the regular litter box area. The urine may develop a very strong and unpleasant odor due to the presence of male hormones. The best solution to these behavioral problems is castration (surgical removal of the testicles) which is recommended any time after 5 months of age.

Teeth Problems

Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life. If the incisors or molars are not lined up properly then they do not get worn down which results in overgrowth. Overgrown teeth can cause mouth infections, ulceration of the lips or tongue and inability to pick up and eat food. Overgrown teeth must be trimmed by your veterinarian every 3 – 8 weeks. If the molars are involved, or if the animal is very skittish, a general anesthetic may be required for the teeth trimming procedure. Removing the incisors under anesthesia will permanently cure this problem. Discuss the options with your veterinarian.

Loss of Appetite

The most common reason for loss of appetite is a diet low in fiber and high in calories. This combination can lead to obesity, fatty liver disease, sluggish movement of the intestinal tract, and accumulation of hair and food in the stomach which then makes the rabbit not feel like eating.

We consider “hairballs” to be a symptom of other problems (usually a poor diet) and usually not a primary disease in itself. Angora breeds which have very long hair, may be an exception to this rule, because the length of their hair may make it difficult to pass.

Overgrown molars that have sharp edges which lacerate the tongue and abscesses of any of the tooth roots can cause a pet to stop eating due to pain.

Uterine infections, abscesses, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, middle ear infections, eating toxic materials and bladder and kidney infections are less common reasons for inappetence.

Loss of appetite is something that should be investigated by your veterinarian within 48 hours even if the pet is acting normally. Rabbits rapidly develop a deteriorating condition of the liver when they go without food for long periods of time. Early diagnosis and treatment of appetite loss is the best way to save your pet’s life.

Pasteurellosis

Many rabbits harbor a bacteria in their sinuses called Pasteurella multocida. Under certain stress situations, such as poor diet, high temperatures, poor air circulation, overcrowding, moving, etc., this bacteria can reproduce rapidly and cause potentially serious disease.

Pasteurella may cause infections of the upper respiratory tract. uterus, skin, kidney, bladder, tear ducts, middle ear or lungs. Please have your pet examined if you observe any discharges around the eyes, nose or anal area, or if there is a loss of appetite, depression, diarrhea, head tilt, loss of balance, or labored breathing. NEVER attempt to use antibiotics without veterinary supervision. If inappropriate antibiotics are given indiscriminately, death may result because the antibiotic killed the normal bacteria in the gut which leads to an overgrowth of deadly bacteria.

Diarrhea

True diarrhea is not common in the rabbit. This is a condition where all stool being passed is in a liquid form. This is usually a very serious condition and should be seen by your veterinarian immediately. Some serious gastrointestinal conditions that result in diarrhea can be fatal in less than 24 hours.

What most people from Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana and the Inland Empire refer to as diarrhea, is an intermittent passing of soft liquid or pudding-like stools. The rabbit will also pass normal formed stools. The soft stools may be seen more frequently at certain times of the day (many times overnight) and may have a strong odor and accumulate on the rabbit’s fur. The most common reason is a lack of sufficient fiber in the diet and obesity. Eliminating the pellets from the diet and feeding good quality grass hay only may clear up the problem. Consult our veterinarian and call (909) 980-3575 if your pet has this condition before making any drastic changes in the diet.