Rabbits are reported to be the third most popular furry pet in the United States, but more and more rabbit owners are abandoning their pets. In Chicago last year, a pet shelter took in 1,155 unwanted rabbits in the month of June alone, according to Block Club Chicago. If you’ve been wanting to take care of a rabbit for a while, now is the best time to adopt. Rabbits can be great pets once you get the hang of caring for them, and they can get along with other pets like cats, too. Here’s what you need to know before getting a pet rabbit.
Housing Requirements You Need to See To
Before heading out to buy the things you need for raising rabbits, you need to ensure that you have the proper environment. The most important factors to get right are size, temperature, hygiene, and ventilation. Whether outdoors or indoors, a rabbit needs a minimum of 3 square feet of dedicated living space. If it’s between 8 to 12 pounds in weight, this increases to 4 sq. ft. and 5 sq. ft. for each rabbit exceeding 12 lbs. For ventilation, the main thing you need to ensure is that no direct breezes can hit the rabbits. Also, make sure that there’s enough airflow to prevent concentrated toxic odors, such as the ammonia from their urine, from suffocating them. As for temperature, the ideal range for rabbits is 15- 21 degrees Celsius (60-70 degrees Fahrenheit).
Flooring and bedding will be instrumental to maintaining your rabbits’ hygiene. Use disposable bedding material such as newspapers for quick cleanup. Flooring should be made out of non-absorbent board for easy disinfection. If your rabbits are going to be housed outdoors, make sure that there is enough protection against potential predators. Rabbit owners usually opt for pressed board or plywood side walls. Do not use metal roofing or solid metal walls, because this can cause overheating during hot days.
It’s worth noting that rabbits tend to gnaw through many types of materials. Hence it may be prudent to create an interior barrier made from galvanized wire, and layer on the wood as exterior walls to fend off predators. Avoid running wires anywhere they can reach because they might chew through them and get electrocuted. The hutch should be kept dry at all times. If the rabbits are going to stay indoors, a pen made out of wire they can’t chew through is enough.
Grooming, Handling, and Hygiene
Rabbits need a lot of grooming, despite the fact that they habitually groom themselves in a way similar to cats. Become aware of your rabbit’s shedding cycles and brush them at appropriate times to get rid of excess fur that can become a choking hazard. You should also regularly trim their nails. If allowed to grow too long, they can scratch themselves or the nails would curl into their paws. Their nails can also snag on things.
When handling your rabbit, remember that they have particularly lightweight bone structures. The scruff is a valid handhold when picking up the animal, but you should always support it by its chest. Keep in mind that rabbits scare easily, and they may scratch when spooked. Minimize unfamiliar and fear-inducing factors in their surroundings when you take them in hand. Kits or baby rabbits are extra fragile, and require more gentleness and care when being handled.
Rabbits almost never need a bath thanks to their self-grooming. They also often panic when in water, so avoid giving them baths. Give them a place to relieve themselves–a litter box designed for cats will suffice for this purpose. But if none are available, a deep tray or shallow bin will do. Set these near their living space and place a thin layer of recycled newspaper pellet litter inside. To reinforce proper litter behavior, put some hay on the rim of the litter. Rabbits like to eat while pooping. When it’s time to clean the rabbit’s living space, make sure to use pet-friendly disinfectants, rinse thoroughly and dry well. Develop a daily habit of cleaning up their living area to keep bad smells at bay and to minimize the likelihood of disease.
Do Some Bunny-Proofing
Ideally, your rabbit will be allowed to roam freely around your home as part of their recreation. But they might end up damaging your things or hurting themselves. Hence, you should bunny-proof any hazards or fragile objects around the house. Invest in plastic guards to prevent them from gnawing on things, and block them off from areas you’d rather they didn’t squeeze into. Also, remember to apply sleeves to wires to prevent a nasty electrocution incident.
Feeding Your Rabbit
Feeding rabbits is a relatively straightforward affair. Their staple food is hay, so make sure to have a ready supply of fresh hay available. Adult rabbits can eat grass hay, oat hay, or timothy hay, but kits should mainly be feeding on alfalfa. You may want to invest in a larger feeder because they can keep larger amounts of hay clean, dry, and readily consumable. To support your rabbit’s diet, add in some fresh vegetables and fiber pellets. Remember to give them plenty of water daily.
Providing Recreation and Connection
As with any pet, it’s essential that you form a bond with your rabbit and allow it to have fun. Rabbits are easily bored, but fortunately, an easy answer to this can be found in cardboard. Specifically, a cardboard castle, or simply a cardboard box if you don’t have the time to put one together. Rabbits enjoy chewing through these and creating their own doors and windows. An obstacle course or “rabbit run” is another great way to provide fun and give your rabbit some much-needed exercise. Make sure it has platforms to jump from and tunnels to hide in. It’s best if you set up your exercise course somewhere with lots of grass. Additionally, toys should help keep them occupied when you’re not with them.
Rabbits have their own unique set of body language indicators, much like cats and dogs. Familiarize yourself with the meaning of all of their gestures and motions, such as flops, binkies, and nose nudges. By learning all of these, you will attune yourself much better to their wants and needs, and they’ll be able to trust you more.
Taking care of a rabbit can be a bit more work than taking care of any other pet, because of their fragility. But the fact that they can be much cheaper to feed can make up for that. With a little bit of management and preparation, they can be just as rewarding a pet as any other.