How to Care for your Rabbit

free rabbitRabbits that are well socialized make great family pets. Below are some important care instructions for rabbits.


Diet:

Feed timothy hay based rabbit pelleted food free choice until full grown, then ¼ cup per 5# rabbit per day. You can feed an alfalfa based pellets until 6 months old, but avoid afterward

as it can cause sludgy urine and bladder stones due to the high calcium content. The exception to this rule is for breeding females.


Feeding timothy hay free choice will provide the essential fiber needed for normal GI motility and also promote healthy bacteria which is needed to help digest food. Most importantly, it will also reduce bad bacterias that produce toxins and disease. Alfalfa hay can be fed until 6 months old, but avoid afterward unless the does are used for breeding. Oxbow on-line www.oxbowhay.com is a good source of hay and pellets. Oxbow hay and pellets can be found at the larger stores such as Pet Smart also. Hay should feel soft to the touch like dried grass, as stems and rough hay can cause wounds in the mouth which lead to infection.

 

Fresh vegies daily, about 1-2 cups, are also important. Ideal vegies are parsley, cilantro, beet tops, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce; avoid light colored lettuces. Carrots are fine in small amounts, but it is a vegetable with a lot of sugar compared to leafy green vegies. Remember the size of the rabbit compared to the size of the carrot – compare to feeding a carrot to another herbivore such as a horse with a similar digestive tract – even a baby carrot is quite large in comparison.


Foods to avoid are: grains (wheat, corn, rice, seed mixtures), yogurt drops (rabbits don't eat yogurt and sugar in the wild), treats in general from the pet stores. These things will feed bacteria that are usually in small numbers in the GI tract, leading to overgrowth, toxin production, diarrhea, shock and death.


Fruit can be given in small amounts ie one blueberry, one strawberry, one grape, a piece of apple the size of a grape. Because fruits contain sugar and carbohydrates, too much will again feed the bacteria that produce toxins.

 

Good things to chew on: hay cubes (timothy), timothy hay

 

Fresh water in large sipper bottle – rinse and give fresh daily.

 

How to feed a sick rabbit: Oxbow Critical Care, soft timothy hay, carrot tops, shaved carrots, cilantro, parsley, pellets.


How to medicate a sick rabbit: Wrap in towel and hold in lap. We usually make the prescriptions in a liquid formula called FlavorX that tastes good or compound it into carrot baby food. Bad tasting liquid medications can be mixed with some carrot baby food and given with a syringe. Giving antibiotics orally can cause suppression of the normal good bacteria, leaving room for the harmful bacteria to multiply, so only certain antibiotics are “safe” and we use a promotility drug called metoclopramide or Reglan to ensure that we don't have slowdown of the GI motility which can contribute to problems. Any rabbit taking even a “safe” antibiotic can have serious side effects, so stop antibiotics and call your vet if a rabbit isn't eating normally, has soft stool, or isn't acting right when taking antibiotics.


Bedding: Care Fresh – change cage once a week. Litter – change twice a week.


Hazards:

Inside- Electrical cords, ingestion of rug or other fibers, trauma from other pets, household toxins.

Outside – heat stroke, fly strike (maggots), fleas, virus transmission from wild rabbits, trauma, toxic plants.


Health care: Clip toenails once a month.


Vet preventative care: spay females to prevent common uterine cancer; exams once a year when young, twice year when >5 yrs old. Lab work (blood and urine and stool) as necessary on sick rabbits and on geriatric rabbits every 6 months. Recommended to neuter males to reduce territorial marking and aggression.

 

Illnesses: “Snuffles” Pasteurella sp.; dental problems; torticollis; sludgy urine; bladder stones; GI motility problems from hair and carpet fibers; abscesses; liver disease.

 

Good resources: House Rabbit Society www.rabbit.org, Westgate Pet Clinic website articles www.wagsandwhiskers.com, www.oxbowhay.com        


Funny websites: www.disapprovingrabbits.com