World of Rabbits

The domestic rabbit is a descendant of the European and African rabbit. It is a Lagomorphof the family Leporidae. Wild rabbits are gregarious, burrowing, herbivorous, nocturnal animals with distant kinship to the ungulates (cows). Today’s pet rabbits come in several sizes, shape, and color variations derived from centuries of selective breeding.

Rabbits should be housed in "hutches" or cages with wire bottom floors for easy cleaning or a solid bottom cage with plenty of absorbent bedding. If the bottom of the cage is wire make sure the mesh openings are large enough to allow fecal material to fall through easily but small enough to keep the rabbit from catching feet or legs in. If a wire bottom is used make sure your rabbit has some sort of solid bottom "house" or platform where it can rest its feet from the wire. If a solid bottom cage is used make sure the litter is a non-toxic wood or fiber, hay, or straw. Wire bottom cages remain relatively clean for weeks but hair and matted feces do accumulate and should be thoroughly scrubbed and disinfected on a weekly basis. Dropping pans should be changed or emptied daily to prevent ammonia build up or insects from gathering. Solid bottom cages should be spot cleaned daily and thoroughly cleaned weekly also.

Rabbits can be housed outdoors if protected from cold (40 degrees F or below) by an enclosed hutch within the cage. In hot weather (85 degrees F or higher) cages should be cooled by ventilation, shade or some other cooling devise. Even a milk jug filled with water, frozen, ten placed in the cage can give the rabbit something cool to lay against and keep them from getting heat stress. Rabbits

should never be exposed to direct sunlight without any means of getting out of it for ANY length of time. Outdoor rabbits need to be protected from rapid temperature changes (moving between indoors and outdoors), excessive drafts, predators, and insect and rodent vermin. Rabbits can tolerate cold better than heat. So if you are worried about leaving your rabbit out side during moderately cold weather, it is better to give the rabbit a nice hay filled hutch than to bring him inside then outside every day. They shiver when exposed to cold because they do not possess brown fat. Shivering works well on a short term basis and rabbits are able to tolerate cold weather very well if properly acclimatized and sheltered. Rabbits are unusually sensitive to heal and have little protection against temperatures above 85 degrees F. They cannot sweat, they pant ineffectively, and they stop panting when they become dehydrated. Rabbits DO NOT increase their water intake when the temperature becomes high. Heat actually seems to inhibit drinking. Shelter from direct sunlight is VERY important when housing rabbits outside.

If you keep your pet rabbit indoors and let them out of the cage into the house remember to thoroughly rabbit-proof any room your pet has access to. They will chew on anything, including carpets, furniture, and electrical cords. Rabbits should never be left unattended outside of a secure cage for any length of time. Children should always be supervised when handling rabbits because if a rabbit struggles it can easily break a leg or even its back due to a weak skeletal system. Rabbits can also leave nasty scratches from hind feet if they are frightened and trying to get away, so proper handling and supervision is highly recommended.

Rabbits should be fed a high quality rabbit pellet in combination with a good quality hay. A combination rabbit/guinea pig pellet diet should NEVER be used! Rabbits and guinea pigs have very different vitamin requirements and no combination food could have everything for botl1 species in one food. Rabbit pellets should be fresh and stored in a dry, clean container to prevent mold from growing. Moldy pellets should NEVER be used. Fresh alfalfa or timothy hay should also be available at all times and should be the staple of the diet. Fresh fruit and veggies should be offered on a daily basis. A wide variety of FRESH fruits and veggies can be offered - apples, bananas, peaches, plums, grapes, pears, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, spinach leaves, beets, romaine lettuce, melons, pineapple, fresh green beans, and squash can all be given in small amounts. A piece of one or two items should be offered everyday to provide essential vitamins and minerals. The more varied your choice in what you give the better for your rabbit. Remember don't give iceberg lettuce or celery as these don't really have any nutritional value and will probably cause diarrhea.

Rabbits, like guinea pigs, are coprophagic (stool-eaters). This is a normal behavior and an important function in keeping their gut flora running properly. This should NOT be an excuse not to clean their cage however, as they usually only eat their stool first thing in tl1e morning and they won’t eat it if it touches the cage floor. You may see stools on the bottom of the cage that look like big bunches of soft grapes stuck together instead of normal hard dry pellets. These are the special stools called "cecotropes" that the rabbit re-ingests, like a cow chewing its cud.

Fresh water is also very important and should be available at all times to your rabbit. !f a free standing bowl or crock is used for water it should be cleaned and refilled with fresh water at least once daily. If a sipper or ball-bearing bottle is used it should be checked daily and cleaned at least once weekly to prevent algae from growing on the inside. If using a water bottle you should also check at least once daily to make sure the tube is not clogged and that water is freely flowing from tl1e end of the tube.

You can also give your rabbit treats from your own backyard if you do not use ANY fertilizers or pesticides of ANY KIND! Clover, dandelion leaves & flowers, honeysuckle, rose flowers, squash and melon flowers, and fresh grass shoots and leaves are all fine to feed in small amounts to your rabbit. Always remember though, a very small amount of pesticide or fertilizer can kill your rabbit, so if you’re not sure if a plant has been treated with anything it’s better not to use it at all.

Rabbits reach sexual maturity, depending on the size of the breed, al about 4 to 8 months of age. Female rabbits reach sexual maturity earlier than males. The reproductive life of a rabbit again, depends on the breed, but is about 5 to 6 years for males and up to 3 years for females.

Female rabbits are induced ovulators. This means that they do not have a "heat" cycle like dogs do, but are receptive to breed at almost any time of the year. They only release eggs after being induced to by the male copulating with them. This means that if you do not want a lot of babies, do NOT put an intact male in with an intact female! I f you do have one of both sexes you can always get one or both of them spayed/neutered just like cats and dogs and avoid getting a house full of rabbits.

We strongly recommend spaying your female rabbit as they are prone to cancer and infection of the reproductive system. Females can also be very vicious when puberty hits and spaying them will stop this. Males don’t generally get mean but if they do it’s usually when they are older.

The rabbit’s gestation period is from 29 to 35 days. Usually they will deliver on day 32 or 33. I f your rabbit is pregnant you will need to provide a nest box for her to deliver her babies in.

The box must be enclosed to keep in warmth and have a 2 to 4 inch high lip on the entrance to keep the babies from crawling out. The female will fill the nest box with straw or hay so some extra must be provided, and then line the inside of the nest with fur pulled from her chest and belly area. You need to provide the straw or hay for her nest 7 to 14 days prior to the delivery date so make sure to start putting in extra around this time. Pregnant rabbits should be kept apart from other rabbits in a stress free, low traffic area. Any stress or strange things happening around a pregnant rabbit can cause her to kill and eat or mutilate her babies.

Once the mother delivers her babies she will only nurse them once daily. Then she will leave the nest box and sometimes not go back for another 24 hours. THIS IS NORMAL! You need to watch for any babies that have crawled out of the nest and promptly warm them and return them to the nest box. The motl1er will NOT pick tl1em up and return them herself and if the young become chilled the mother will almost certainly abandon the nest. Remember to give extra attention to feeding the mother well at this time because she will be producing a lot of milk. Lots of fresh greens and fruits and veggies are very in1portant as well as pellets and hay.

Young are weaned at about 4 to 5 weeks of age. Bowls and crocks of food and water need to be low enough that the baby rabbits can easily reach the contents. High sided bowls and automatic feeders need to be checked very carefully to make sure the babies can reach the food. Baby rabbits should be kept togetl1er and not shipped out to new homes until they are 1O to 12 weeks of age. They need tin1e for socialization with other young rabbits to become mentally mature. This also makes them become better socialized pets when tl1ey reach their new homes.

You should always watch for any signs of distress in your rabbit. Any sign of a runny nose, breathing problems, or any sneezing or wheezing should be checked out by a veterinarian IMMEDlATELY. Rabbits can become critically ill very quickly and you should not hesitate to have your rabbit examined if you even suspect that something is not right. Here are some common diseases/problems seen in rabbits.

  • Hairballs
  • Carpet/fiber balls
  • Electrocution
  • Earmites
  • Mange
  • Infected uterus
  • Bladder stones
  • Abscesses (Commonly from cats)

Here are some other signs to watch for:

  • Excessive itching or fur chewing
  • discharge from eyes, nose, or ears
  • overgrown toenails
  • sores on body or bottom of feet
  • air loss
  • diarrhea
  • not eating or drinking normally
  • listlessness
  • Any lumps or bumps

Remember, rabbits are small creatures with small reserves for fighting illness. Don’t hesitate to call your local exotic veterinarian with any Questions or concerns you may have. The veterinarian can answer any question and recommend whether you should have your rabbit examined.

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