Guidelines from the House Rabbit Society
Why a house rabbit?
Perhaps you've just adopted your first rabbit, or maybe you already have a rabbit and would like more information to help you understand her better. The House Rabbit Society, a national non-profit organization, recommends that you keep your rabbit in the house rather than outdoors. Rabbits are intelligent, social animals who need affection, and they can become wonderful companion animals if given a chance to interact with their human families.
The benefits of spay and neuter
Although most rabbits will use a litterbox, hormones may cause unneutered males and unspayed females to "mark territory." Spaying or neutering your rabbit improves litterbox habits, lessens chewing behavior, decreases territorial aggression, and gives your rabbit a happier, longer life. Have your rabbit neutered between ages 3 1/2 to 6 months, depending on sexual maturity, by an experienced rabbit vet. For rabbits more than 2 years old, get a vet checkup first.
Rabbits may have free run of the home. However, it's best for most-and necessary for some-to start with a cage. To make cage time learning time, fasten a litterbox in the corner of the cage that your rabbit chooses for a "bathroom." As soon as he uses the box consistently, you can give him some freedom. Place one or more large litterboxes in corners of the running area outside the cage. Use only positive reinforcements (treats and praise)-never punishment.
Bunny-proofing your home is part of living with a house rabbit. It is natural for rabbits to chew on furniture, rugs, drapes, and, most deadly of all, electrical cords. Cords must be concealed so that the rabbit cannot reach them. Exposed cords can be encased in plastic tubing (found at hardware stores). By splitting the tubing lengthwise with a utility knife, the cord can be pushed inside it.
Give your rabbit enough attention and safe, chewable toys, so that she is distracted from chewing furniture and rugs. A cardboard box stuffed with hay makes an inexpensive play-box. Young rabbits (under a year) are more inclined to mischief and require more confinement and/or bunny-proofing than mature rabbits.
House rabbits and other animals
House rabbits and indoor cats can get along fine, as do rabbits and well-mannered dogs. Dogs should be trained to respond to commands before being trusted with a free-running rabbit, and supervision is needed to control a dog's playful impulses. (This is especially true for puppies.) Adding a second rabbit is easiest if the rabbits are neutered adults of opposite sexes, and they are introduced for short periods in an area unfamiliar to both rabbits.
Major health problems
Intestinal blockages - Since rabbits groom themselves constantly, they get fur-balls just as cats do. Unlike cats, however, rabbits cannot vomit, and excessive swallowed hair may cause a fatal blockage. If your rabbit shows a decrease in appetite and size of droppings, get advice from a rabbit veterinarian.
Prevention - Keep bunny brushed (less hair is swallowed); provide exercise time/space-at least 30 hours a week; give a fresh handful of hay daily; add multiple enzyme powder to the diet; give petroleum laxative during heavy molt or if synthetics have been swallowed.
Bacterial balance - A rabbit's digestive tract is inhabited by healthful bacteria. If the "good" bacteria balance is upset by stale food or sudden diet change, harmful bacteria can take over the digestive track and kill the rabbit.
Keep all rabbit food in a cool, dry place and make dietary changes slowly, giving a new food in small amounts. If no abdominal gurgling or loose stool results in 24 hours, the food may be offered again. If your rabbit goes outside, check for pesticides and toxic plants (as listed by your local poison center).
Infectious bacteria - Many rabbit diseases are caused by bacteria, not viruses, and can be treated with antibiotics. If your rabbit shows symptoms of a "cold," take him to a vet familiar with antibiotics that can be safely used in rabbits. Oral drugs of the Penicillin family, such as Amoxicillin, should NOT be given to a rabbit, since there is risk of destroying good intestinal bacteria.
It's up to you - Find an experienced vet before a problem develops. If your rabbit has been harassed by a predator, take her to the vet immediately, even without apparent injury.
When it is over 80 degrees, keep your rabbit cool with nearby wet towels or ice.
Regularly check eyes, nose, ears, teeth, weight, appetite, and droppings.
DANGER SIGNS - Don't waste valuable time! Call your vet immediately if you see:
1. Diarrhea with listlessness 2. Sudden loss of appetite with bloat and abdominal gurgling 3. Loss of appetite with labored breathing 4. Loss of appetite with runny nose 5. Head tilt 6. Incontinence (urine-soaked rear legs) 7. Abscesses, lumps, or swelling anywhere 8. Any sudden behavior change
Roomy cage Resting board Litterbox (in cage) Pellet bowl or feeder Water bottle or crock Toys (chew & toss)
Indoors Bunny-proofed room(s) Litterbox Toys (chew & dig)
Outdoors Fenced patio, porch or wire playpen (with floor)
Fresh pellets daily Fresh water Treats (in small amounts) - salad veggies, fruit, barley, oats, crackers, nuts Hay/Straw (for chewing recreation and digestive fiber) Wood (for chewing recreation) Multiple enzymes (to aid digestion, prevent blockage) Petroleum laxative (for passing hair)
Flea comb Brush Flea products safe for cats Toenail clippers
Dust-free litter (avoid wood shavings) Pooper scooper Whiskbroom/dustpan White vinegar (for urine accidents) Hand vacuum Chlorine bleach (for disinfecting)
Buy a Bunny a Little Time
Time is all it takes for a rabbit to be discovered by the right human. When their time is up at the animal shelters, rabbits with your support can be placed in foster homes until adoptive matches are made.
Your $12 enrollment in the House Rabbit Society helps provide needy rabbits with food, housing, veterinary care, and enough time to find them permanent homes.
More info needed?
Contact your local HRS representative for information on bunny-proofing, house training, lifting and handling rabbits, introducing two rabbits, spaying and neutering, and locating experienced rabbit veterinarians.