Getting Rabbits as Pet – A Beginner’s Guide


This is a beginner’s guide to getting rabbits as pet. Rabbits make great pets. However, pet rabbits are not for everyone. Rather, we should say that not everyone is suitable for the delicate and cute pet rabbits. Many people had the wrong perception about pet rabbits. Some adopt rabbits as pets only to discover that rabbits do not behave the way they hoped it would and leave them at one corner of the house or worse, leave them out to survive in the wood. Domesticated rabbits cannot survive in the wood, and are likely becomes prey to predator animals or starve to death.

There are about 40 species of rabbits and hares worldwide. All domesticated rabbits originated from the European rabbits breed. The scientific name for domesticated rabbits are Oryctolagus cuniculus. They are lovely, gentle, friendly and cute, and are one of the most popular pets after dogs and cats. Pet rabbits are generally easy to care for and demand very little in terms of care and housing. They could live both indoor and outdoor, but recently there are studies that show that rabbits that live indoor (house rabbits) tend to live healthier and longer lives. Since pet rabbits are generally undemanding, we strongly recommend that owners keep their pet rabbits indoor.


Rabbits as Pet – Rabbits’ Lifespan


The first question to ask before you decide to adopt rabbits as pets is, are you willing to care for your pet rabbits for the next 6 to 13 years of their life spans? Yes, many are not aware that the life spans of rabbits are from 6 to 13 years, with some reports saying that their pet rabbits had lived to the age of 15 years old. Hence, if you are thinking of getting a pet rabbit for your 12 year-old child, you may be the one actually caring for the rabbit when she has already started her college years.


Rabbits as Pet – Rabbits’ Housing


A domesticated rabbit usually weight between 1 to 10 kg, depending on its breed. A pet rabbit can be kept in a rabbit cage or a rabbit hutch. A good rabbit cage or hutch should be at least four times the rabbit’s size to allow enough space for litter box and enough room for the rabbit to be comfortable. It should also be tall enough for the rabbit to stand up straight.


Pet rabbits may be litter box-trained. The litter boxes should be replaced with fresh litter everyday. If you are using rabbit cage with a tray at the bottom, this should be cleaned daily. Use vinegar or antiseptic solution to sanitise the tray. Litter material made of plant (hay) or paper (cellulose) is the safest litter for your pet rabbits. Litter containing pine or cedar shavings should be avoided as it contains aromatic oils, which can cause respiratory and liver disease in your pet rabbits.


Even though your pet rabbits may be litter box-trained, occasionally they may still drop few poops outside the litter box. If you are considering of keeping rabbits as pets, you must be prepared to pick up these rabbits poop.


Your pet rabbit’s droppings should also be inspected for any abnormality in shapes and sizes. An abnormality in droppings can be the first sign of illness in your pet rabbits. Normal droppings should look like regular round dry berry-like marbles.


Rabbits as Pet – What Rabbits Eat


Pet rabbits’ diet consists of commercially produced rabbit food, pellets, hay, green food, root vegetables, tree bark and fruits. Rabbits had sweet tooth, and occasion treats are always welcomed to reward them. Pet rabbits’ diet should be a balanced diet, made of good quality pellets, fresh hay, fresh water and occasionally fresh green vegetables. Of course, carrots are great for the rabbits to nibble on.


Young pet rabbits under 7 months old should have a slightly different diet than an adult rabbit. Bunnies under 3 weeks old need their mother’s milk, and at 4 weeks old, some small nibble of hay and pellets should be provided in addition to the milk. New food should be introduced gradually to your pet rabbits.


Hay is the most important part of an adult rabbit’s diet as it is high in fibre, which keeps the digestive tract moving and helps prevent blockages. Hay also helps to sustain healthy teeth. Alfalfa hay has higher protein and calcium and is usually suitable for rabbits less than 7 months old. For adult rabbits, grass hay such as Timothy, Brome or Orchard is more suitable. Feed your pet rabbits only fresh hay and not mouldy hay.


Your pet rabbits’ pellets should be high in fibre, low in protein and low in calcium. Plain pellets are considered as a healthier choice rather than those that include seeds, nuts, corn or dried fruit, as these may be high in sugar and fat. Over-consumption of pellets can lead to obesity and other health problems in your pet rabbits. Pellets intake may be gradually reduced with an increased intake of hay and greens. Pet rabbits that are thin or ill may require more pellets to help maintain their weight. Pellets made from timothy hay are higher in fibre and lower in calcium and generally makes better pellet for pet rabbits with intermittent soft stools.


A treat for your pet rabbits can consist of banana, commercially produced corn nuggets, wild berries cookies or the like. Treats should be given in small amounts and only on occasions. Caring for a pet rabbit is like caring for a toddler. Your pet rabbits may consume treats to the exclusion of healthy ones. Never give your pet rabbits chocolate as they lead to the growth of “bad bacteria” in the rabbits’ digestion system which may lead to fatality.


Fresh and adequate water should be supplied at all times. It is recommended that the water to be changed daily and its container washed.


Rabbits as Pet – Grooming and Pet Care


Pet rabbits are generally self-cleaning and healthy small animals. They spent considerable time grooming themselves. The unfortunate thing about them grooming themselves is that they swallow their own fur, which they cannot vomit out like a cat. These furs can become obstruction in their digestive system. It is therefore good to brush off excessive hair from your pet rabbits. Typically, rabbits shed their hair every 3 months, with some shedding even more frequently than that. Hence, another important question to ask yourself before you consider of getting rabbits as pets is, are you prepared for more vacuuming session in your house?


If you have family members who are allergic to fur, then pet rabbits may not be suitable for you.


Rabbits as Pet – Rabbits’ Health


Rabbits reproduce few times in a year. The gestation period of a rabbit is 31 days and the typical litter size ranges from 6-8 young. Unless you are a rabbit breeder, we do not encourage you to allow your pet rabbits to multiply. To have someone adopt 8 bunnies is quite a task. Furthermore, not all who adopted bunnies are able to care for them. It is also not easy to care for newborn bunnies. The rabbit mom feed their young baby rabbits for only 5 minutes each day and the nutrition from that 5-minute feeding is not sufficient for the young to survive. Hence, the mortality rate of newborn baby rabbits is very high.


We encourage you to spay or neuter your pet rabbits. Approximately 85% of older female rabbits develop ovarian cancer if she is not spayed during puberty (4 to 6 months). Male rabbits that have been neutered eliminates their behaviour problems of random spraying and reduce hormone-related aggression. It is also easier to house-train pet rabbits which have been spayed and neutered.


Rabbits do not need frequent trip to the vet. Many rabbits became ill because of intestinal blockages and GI stasis (decreased motility). Insufficient fibre and water intake is the main cause of GI Stasis. Rabbits can get heat stroke easily and many rabbits had died of dehydration. Molar spurs refer to sharp edges (spurs) that is developed deep inside the mouth (molar) that can cut the cheeks or tongue and make eating difficult for rabbit. Viral infection such as myxomotosis and diarrhea is another cause for common death of pet rabbits. Whenever your rabbits become sick, it is crucial to bring them to your vet immediately.


Antibiotics in the penicillin family, such as Amoxicillin should never be administered orally to rabbits. They can destroy the rabbit’s natural intestinal bacteria (good bacteria) and may cause death. Not all vet are trained in handling pet rabbits, and you should find someone with similar experience.


Rabbits as Pet – Bunny Proofing


Pet rabbits which are not house-trained can also be destructive to your furniture and electrical cords as they cannot help but chew on them. To prevent damages and for the pet rabbits’ safety, if you are considering of adopting rabbits as pets, it is crucial to rabbit proof your house. Electrical cords can be concealed in vinyl tubing. Adult rabbits tend to be more disciplined and with good training, your pet rabbits could understand what can be or cannot be done in the house. However, sometimes, they still find it hard to fight the temptation. If you are prepared to have rabbits as pets, you need to be prepared that some of your belongings will get nibbled.


Rabbits as Pet – Rabbits’ Toys


Pet rabbits love toys, but not all types of toys. Toys need not necessarily be bought, and those that you make on your own can provide just as much fun to the pet rabbits. However, pet rabbits can bored with their toys easily, and it is necessary to rotate the toys. Some pet rabbits’ toys include toiler paper roll, cardboard box, towels and tunnels. Rabbits in particular loves toys which they could bite and throw. Even a paper envelope could provide them with much fun.


Rabbits as Pet – Rabbits’ Playtime


Rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk. This may suit many modern working adults as your pet rabbits wakes up with you and play when you are at home in the evening. At other times of the day, rabbits spent most of their time napping. Hence, if you do not need feel too guilty about leaving your rabbits in his cage while you are working during the daytime.


Rabbits as Pet – Living with Other Animals


Rabbits generally get along very well with other animals. This however, very much depends on the rabbit’s own personality and the animals involved. It is crucial to introduce these animals gradually, even among rabbits. Not all rabbits are able to accept another rabbit and may fight each other. Dogs that are not trained may injure the pet rabbits.


Rabbits as Pet – Living with Children


Rabbits can get along well with children too. However, rabbits generally do not like to be lifted off the ground and they have delicate skeletal structure, which makes them easily injured by children. Rabbits’ sharp nails and strong back legs may injure the children too. Hence, if you have children that are loud and aggressive, rabbits may not be suitable for you. It is important to note that most children are not responsible enough to take care of rabbits by themselves, and adults should be the primary care taker.


Most people keep rabbits as pets because they are quiet. You do not need to be bothered by barking or meowing or worried that your neighbours may get disturbed. Neither do you need to wake up at 6am everyday to walk your rabbit. Pet rabbits can provide endless amusement to you too with their bunny tricks. They can lounge with you for very long time and provide you with the greatest affection. If you find that you are really suitable to have rabbits as pets, then congratulations and welcome abroad!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 January 2009 15:14

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