Owning Your First Rabbit
1. About Time for Paws
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2. Your First Pet Rabbit
If you’ve just bought your first rabbit, or indeed your first pair of rabbits, you’re bound to share many great moments together.
These small, curious, and adorable mammals make for great family pets and can be extremely comforting too. However, it’s fundamental to give your new pet the love and care they deserve so that they can live a healthy and happy life for many years to come. With this in mind, it’s fundamental to always look out for your rabbit’s needs.
3. Equipment and Supplies
Before you bring your rabbit back to its new home, make sure you’ve got all of the necessary equipment to look after it properly.
In order for you to know what to get, here’s a list of the important items to get you started:
- Cage or hutch
- Exercise run
- Litter box and scoop
- Food dishes
- Rabbit food
- Water bottle/bowl
- Cleaning sprays
Purchasing these items will ensure that your rabbit is able to live comfortably insufficient living conditions.
4. A Spacious Home
Rabbits need space to thrive and develop. Without this, they can become ill and potentially injure themselves.
So, when it comes to buying a cage, make sure that it’s spacious. Bear in mind that if you’ve bought a bunny rabbit, that it will get bigger over time too.
Ideally, your rabbit should be able to hop a few steps, as well as turn around and stretch without touching the top of the cage.
The cage you use should be large with open spaced areas and also include a solid base, as opposed to wire flooring, to avoid injury.
An exercise run can either be attached to the cage or alternatively used as a separate piece of equipment altogether. This is a vital item to purchase as it allows your pet to stretch, run around and get the exercise it needs.
If your exercise run is separate from your cage, use it outside and place the rabbit inside so that they can run around freely. Never use your exercise run in conditions that are too hot or cold.
Before placing hay inside the cage, line the floor with newspaper first. Soft hay or straw can then be placed on top and in the corners so that it completely covers the floor.
Any wet hay or straw will need to be changed on a daily basis with a full cage clean preferable once a week (for more information see (Cage and Equipment Maintenance).
Purchase bedding that is suitable for rabbits and avoids wood shavings as these can be harmful if your pet tries to eat them.
Spread around two inches of bedding in the cage in different locations so that your rabbit can sleep in comfort in different areas if desired.
Place one or two food bowls in the rabbit cage allowing your pet has access to food. One bowl can be used for rabbit food and the other for leafy greens, such as cabbage, broccoli, and kale (for more information see Food and Diet).
When cleaning food bowls, use hot soapy water and make sure that they are completely dry before reusing them.
Just like other small mammals, rabbits need constant access to fresh and clean drinking water. Provide water by using either a bowl or a bottle - both will suffice.
If you decide to use a bottle, check on a regular basis that the tube isn’t blocked and that your pet has access to the water.
If you notice that water levels are low at any time, top them up straight away – you don’t want your pet to become dehydrated.
You may also wish to purchase a litter tray or make one out of an old food tub. If you are going to use one, fill it with rabbit litter as well as adding hay or straw in one corner of the box.
Another tip is to place a healthy treat on the hay/straw to encourage your rabbit to get into the box initially. Place the tray in the corner of the cage and use a scoop to clean out any droppings on a daily basis.
Providing toys for your rabbit will offer them both mental and physical stimulation by keeping their mind active and their body fit and healthy.
Alternate the toys they play with, as they may become bored of the same ones after a prolonged period of time.
Toys can be purchased from a pet supplies store, or alternatively, you can use old items from your home.
Some examples include:
- Cardboard boxes
- Ceramic flower pots
- Shredded paper
- Food Tubs
If you wish to use your own toys, check that they don’t have any sharp edges beforehand as this could injure your pet.
5. Cage and Equipment Maintenance
To avoid mold, germs, and insufficient living conditions, it’s best to clean your cage on a weekly basis. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Remove all equipment, bedding, and hay from the cage
- Wipe down the surfaces with hot water and use vinegar to remove any urine stains
- You may wish to use disinfectant, although please note that this isn’t ideal for wooden cages
- Wash feeding and water bowls, as well as litter boxes with hot soapy water and let them dry thoroughly
- Clean any toys that have been soiled
- Once the cage is completely dry, place newspaper, hay, and bedding down
- Add the equipment, toys, and topped up feeding/water bowls back into the cage
During the cleaning process, your rabbit can be placed in an exercise run or a carrier until the cage is fresh and clean again.
Whilst a thorough clean should be completed once a week, daily cleaning activities should involve the following:
- Remove and replace wet and soiled bedding and hay
- Throw away any uneaten food
- Wash the food bowls and top up water/feeding bowls/bottles with fresh water
- Change and clean the litter box when soiled
If you carry out these tips on a daily basis, then the weekly task of cleaning the whole hutch will be much easier to manage.
6. Socialising and Handling
When interacting with your rabbit, you want to cause them as little stress as possible.
As rabbits are a prey species, you need to be careful how you act around them. It is best to be quiet and calm at all times and when it comes to handling them you need to be gentle.
Never be too rough as they have fragile skeletons and it won’t take a huge amount of force to cause them damage.
A great tip is to let your rabbit get used to you at their level first. So if you are lying down and feeding them leafy greens, this will encourage them to come closer and get used to your movements.
Before picking them up, you should wait until they are happy to approach you and are comfortable being stroked. This could take a few minutes or a few days if they are particularly shy.
Never pick them up by the ears, but make sure you have a fairly firm grip around them when moving them out of their cage. This will ensure that they don’t jump out of your hands or arms and cause an injury to themselves.
When it comes to handling them:
- Pick them up with both hands placed either side of their spine
- Cradle them against your body so that they are lying along your forearm
- Their feet should rest on your arm and their face should be placed between the side of your body, under your arm
- Ensure their nose isn’t blocked by your arm so that they can breathe freely
- They will then have the option to cover their eyes under your arm if they feel frightened by their surroundings
Be patient with your pet and never be forceful. If you are relaxed when interacting with them, it shouldn't take them long to feel comfortable with you in their new surroundings.
7. Integration With Other Rabbits
As rabbits are prey animals they can be very cautious and reactive to new surroundings and circumstances.
It’s because of this, as well as their individual personalities, that they may become aggressive if another rabbit enters their space.
Young rabbits from the same litter shouldn’t have any difficulty integrating with one another. So, if you are thinking about buying more than one as a pet, it might be worth getting them at the same time.
In this sense, if you purchase a male rabbit (buck) and a female (doe) the buck should be neutered as soon as possible to avoid unwanted pregnancy and aggressive behavior. Male rabbits can remain fertile after this stage, so separation is required for three to six weeks. For more information on neutering, please speak to your vet.
Introducing a new pet rabbit
If you already own a rabbit and you are looking to introduce another one within the same space then integration should initially be achieved on neutral territory.
An exercise run with a few vegetables and obstacles placed inside is a good place to start. Add the rabbits to the enclosure and monitor their behavior.
It’s natural for them to chase and smell each other, but if any aggressive behavior is displayed, split them up and try to integrate them at a later date.
This process should be repeated until both rabbits feel comfortable in each other’s company.
Once they have successfully bonded, rabbits will usually be friends for life. However, if they are separated for a lengthy period of time you may need to repeat this process again.
In the event that your rabbit sadly passes away, always leave it a few months before introducing another new rabbit, as they need time to grieve.
8. Registering with a Vet
It’s important to register with a local vet as soon as you can.
A professional vet will be able to help if your rabbit becomes unwell or they catch an infection, illness or disease. They will also vaccinate your pet and can advise on neutering both buck and doe rabbits too.
When you register, ask them any questions you have regarding your rabbit’s health, diet, and nutrition, as well as any other areas of concern.
If you are not registered with a vet and your pet becomes ill, it will be difficult to get the help you need.
If your rabbit falls ill or becomes injured you could incur expenses for which you weren’t initially prepared. As a result, it’s vital to get insurance setup as soon as you become a new pet owner.
Insurance will help with unexpected vet bills and medical treatment, as well as protect you against the following depending on your policy:
- Death from illness
- Death from injury
Look around to find the best policy to match your requirements. In the unfortunate event that your pet does become ill or injured, you’ll be thankful that you took out insurance in the first place.
10. Infections and Symptoms
Rabbits are prone to suffering from a number of infections and diseases, so monitor them on a regular basis to ensure they haven’t caught any of the following.
In cases where you do observe any of the symptoms below, seek veterinary advice immediately.
Eggs present on damp fur, the anus, or areas of the rabbit that are moist, maggots on the rabbit’s skin.
Sneezing, coloured discharge from the nose and eye, matted hair on legs from excessive wiping of the nose.
Lack of appetite, rough coat, weight loss, potbelly, diarrhoea.
Scratching the ears, shaking the head, brown waxy substance in the ears.
Loss of fur around the face, neck, and back, poor coat condition.
Open sores on the feet, hair loss, abscesses, inflammation of the tendons, rabbit also appears inactive.
Woolblock / hairball
Loss of appetite, lacking energy, firm stomach.
11. Food and Diet
Rabbits should consume their own body weight in decent quality and fresh hay. Therefore, ensure they have access to enough hay on a daily basis.
Commercial rabbit food can also be a part of their diet, as well as a handful of fresh greens served once in the morning and once in the evening.
Take a look at the following table to see which greens are safe for your pet and which are best to avoid.
Fruit is also an acceptable part of a stable and varied diet, although this should only be served in small quantities.
Apples, grapes, plums, and strawberries are a good starting point, but again only feed these in moderation.
Introducing new foods and treats
Like other animals, a sudden change in diet can potentially upset your rabbit’s stomach or have an impact on their health.
If you are looking to alter their diet, do so gradually over a week by introducing larger portions of the food you want them to eat.
Treats can also be provided, although opt for natural types over sugary variations as this will help to preserve their teeth.
If your rabbit is experiencing dental problems you may observe the following behaviour:
- A wet chin
- Weight loss
- Discharge from the eye
- Avoiding food
- Dirty bottom
Speak to your vet if you notice any of the above or if you are unsure about a change in diet.
It’s vital that your pet has access to fresh drinking water at all times. Water can be provided in either a bottle or in bowls kept in their cage.
Make sure all equipment used to provide water to your rabbit is cleaned on a regular basis and if levels are low, top them up immediately.
During the summer, you may have to provide more water for your pet as they are exposed to the heat. Also, bear in mind that if they have been out in an exercise run, they could become dehydrated if there is not enough water available for them.
If you notice that less or more water is being consumed than normal, speak to your vet as they could be suffering from a medical problem.
In the wild, rabbits will run about three miles a day; so where possible, they need to get a similar amount of exercise each day in your home.
To achieve this, make sure they get around two-three hours of free run time a day to stretch their legs and be more active.
If you wish to let them out in an exercise run in the garden, you need to keep an eye on them at all times. Predators, escaping, and dangerous plants are some of the potential threats to them if they’re left unattended.
With a regular exercise routine your rabbit will feel and look healthier and happier, so make sure you adhere to their needs.
14. Final Thoughts
Thank you for reading our guide. Please share this with anyone you know who’s about to embark on caring for their first bunny. Remember to give your pet rabbit the love and care it deserves for it to live a happy and fulfilling life.
If you are responsible and you look after your pet, you’ll have a better relationship with them and share many happy memories together in the future.
Remember that if at any stage you need further assistance, you vet is always on standby should you need them.
All that’s left to say now is best of luck in looking after your new fluffy friend!
15. References and Resources
- Buzzle, So You Want a Pet Rabbit:
- Woman’s Day, 10 Essential Pet Supplies for New Rabbit Owners:
- PDSA, Rabbit Environment:
- About.com, Rabbit Cages – Cleaning Tips:
- RSPCA, Handling rabbits:
- RSPCA, The Nature of Rabbits:
- PDSA, Rabbit Health:
- MedicAnimal.com, The symptoms, treatment and prevention of fly strike in rabbits:
- Long Beach Animal Hospital, Pasteurella-Rabbit:
11. PDSA, Rabbit Diet: