In our blog “Beginner’s Guide to Pet Rabbit Care – Feeding, Housing and Enrichment” we had a closer look at the basic setup requirements a pet rabbit requires. There is more important pet care information regarding pet rabbits that any (potential) rabbit owner should be aware about, which we will discuss in the article below.
When bunny proofing your home, cover any reachable cables with plastic casing or keep them high up out of reach. Table and chair legs can also be covered with large flexible tubing. You can section off parts of your house or room with baby gates and/or puppy pens. Make sure the bars aren’t placed too far apart so your rabbit can’t squeeze through, and make sure the gate/pen is high enough. Some bunnies can jump 90 cm or higher. Put any toxic plants out of reach of your rabbit. If you want to protect your baseboards, there are covers for that available.
Rabbits are social animals. The ideal situation would be to never own a rabbit alone but always have 2. Research has shown that rabbits that are kept alone suffer from stress and loneliness. To prevent pregnancies you can get them neutered. When you introduce new rabbits to each other, there are certain steps to take. It is important to follow these steps to minimise stress and chances of fighting. Even though rabbits are social animals, they are also territorial. Bonding rabbits can take hours, or months, and it is important that once the bond is created to prevent separating them (even for vet trips).
- Keep the rabbits near each other but in separate enclosures, so they can sniff each other through the wire. You can swap the litter box and rub a cloth over them so scents get transferred.
- When they are used to the smell and sight of each other, you can slowly introduce them to each other in neutral territory. This area needs to be a place where neither of them has been. Put lots of distractions around like hay, toys, and hiding places. By adding a double from each item you will make competition for resources lower. The introduction area needs to be safe and secure so the rabbits can’t get hurt on anything, or can get trapped by the other. Have a big towel in your arms reach in case you need to separate them. If you notice tension, separate them and stop the bonding for the day. Do this every day, each time a bit longer, until both rabbits are relaxed in each other’s company.
- Once the rabbits groom each other and lie together, they can be left alone.
While it should be avoided at all cost, if it isn’t possible to own 2 rabbits, make sure to invest the time in being the companion your rabbit needs and provide your rabbit with a lot of enrichment materials when you are away.
Rabbits are prey animals, which means they are easily frightened. Rabbits can become stressed if they are put too often into a stressful situation which will affect their welfare and health. There are steps you can take to minimise the stress in your rabbit, like making sure your rabbit has enough secure hiding spaces, enrichment, and have suitable materials available for digging and scent marking.
A relaxed and happy rabbit will have
- A normal appetite
- Will sit and lay stretched
- Be fine with interacting with people and familiar objects and other animals
There are a few diseases and health issues that are regularly seen in rabbits. Rabbits are prone to dental issues as their teeth never stop growing. As mentioned before, their teeth wear down by eating but sometimes this goes wrong and their teeth overgrow. If you think the teeth of your rabbit are overgrowing, seek advice from a vet.
Diseases often seen within rabbits are Myxomatosis, rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease, and Rabbit Calicivirus. These diseases are almost always fatal. As the host (wild rabbit) can’t survive the UAE climate, we do not see these diseases here, but make sure to inform yourself in case you are planning on relocating. Vaccination is possible, so discuss the necessity of this with your vet in case you plan on relocating to a country where these diseases are common.
Rabbits are prone to broken front paws (when jumping out of arms) and backs (when being held), so be careful when you handle your rabbit. Do not let children lift and hold the rabbit as accidents might happen.
Take extra care in keeping the hind area of your rabbit clean, especially if they spend time outside. Poo that gets stuck into the rabbit’s fur is a breeding ground for maggots. In warm conditions, check their behind twice a day.
A weekly check should be done on the length of the nails, teeth, and body condition (weight). Check your rabbit daily for any signs of illness like changes in behaviour, wounds, discharge from eyes and/or nose, abnormal faeces, parasites etc. A rabbit that stops eating is an emergency.Sudden changes in your rabbit’s faeces without reason are a cause of concern. Rabbit droppings should be firm, but squishable between your fingers. They are pea sized and able to roll around. Small, dark droppings are a cause of concern and could mean your rabbit is stressed and/or not eating enough.
Another type of droppings you might notice are caecotrophs. These are dark, soft, and shiny droppings that usually get eaten directly from the anus. A rabbit eating these droppings is normal and healthy. An overproduction of caecotrophs is possible and often can be corrected with optimising their diet. If you keep seeing caecotrophs even after optimising your rabbit’s diet, seek veterinary advice.
The urine of rabbits is colourful. Anything from white to yellow and even red can be normal. We often see red urine if a rabbit eats beetroot. Cause for concern is when your rabbit is straining to pass urine, or if you find blood in their urine.
Grooming your rabbit
Depending on the type of fur your rabbit has, you might need to groom your rabbit. Long haired rabbits will need a daily brush to prevent matting. When rabbits are moulting, a regular groom will prevent them from ingesting too much fur which can lead to digestive issues. Rabbit nails continuously grow and might need trimming. Make sure when you trim their nails to not clip into the quick. Our blog called “Understanding Pet Nail Care” has more information about nail clipping. Do not bathe your rabbit. Wet rabbit fur clumps together and is very hard to get dry. Wet rabbits are prone to hypothermia and respiratory infections. Besides this, bathing is very stressful for them.
Handling your rabbit
Always pick up your rabbit with two hands. One hand to support the rabbit’s weight under its rump, and the other hand around the chest. Keep your rabbit close to your body so they can’t wiggle loose or leap out of your arms. Hold them firm but make sure not to squeeze as rabbits are fragile. When putting them down again, make sure they don’t take a leap out of your hands. Only loosen your secure grip when you lowered yourself fully to the floor.
Never put your rabbit on its back to make it go completely still, which is also known as trancing. This is a natural response which rabbits do when caught by a predator. They are terrified and play dead which is extremely stressful for them. NEVER pick up a rabbit by its ears, and also holding from the skin of the neck is not recommended.
A lot of people want to get a pet for their child, and often rabbits are high on the list of choices. But in a lot of cases, rabbits are not a good pet for kids. Most rabbits do not like to be picked up or cuddled. Once they do get lifted, they might struggle to get loose. Rabbits are fragile, so a rabbit that escapes from the grasp of a child may break bones on the way down. By nature, rabbits are timid. They don’t like loud noises or being chased.
Traveling stresses rabbits out. If you leave on holiday, it is best to get an in-house pet sitter to look after your rabbit. Reduce traveling to a minimum and only when necessary. When you travel with your rabbit, transport him/her in a pet carrier.
Litter box training
Did you know rabbits can be litter box trained? It will take persistence, patience, and time, but almost all rabbits can be litter box trained. Start with setting up a small area when you start the litter box training. Once your rabbit starts to get the hang of the litter box, you can expand again. Either get a low storage box or a small cat litter box, and fill it with newspapers, a tiny layer of unscented cat litter, or litter pallets. Avoid using wood, clay, or clumping litter as these are harmful to your rabbit’s respiratory system. Place some hay in the box as rabbits tend to eat and poop at the same time. The corner litter boxes sold for rabbits are often too small.
Move all accidents that happen outside the box, to inside the box. For urine, you can soak it up with a paper towel and put the soaked paper towel in the litter box. If your rabbit is persistent going in a spot it might be easier to just put the litter box there. Last, keep in mind that rabbits often will not be 100% perfect when it comes to placing all their poop and pee in the litter box.
Adopt, don’t shop
As mentioned before, sadly, a lot of rabbits end up for adoption once people realise how much work they require or when the kids get bored with them. If you are looking for a rabbit, consider adopting one. Reach out to your local rescue organisation for more information.
Keeping rabbits as pets
Caring correctly for a rabbit is often more complicated than people think. By providing information to (potential) rabbit owners, we hope to improve the overall welfare and well being of rabbits that are kept as pets, and inform those interested in a pet rabbit so they can make a thoroughly thought-through decision if a rabbit is the right pet for them.
Did you know we also pet sit rabbits? Our rabbit sitters are knowledgeable about rabbit care and will love your rabbit like it’s their own. We can also help if you are looking to relocate your rabbit. Feel free to contact us for more information about our pet sitting and pet relocation service.