It is essential that your rabbit be healthy and have all its needs met in order to have success with training and to be a happy pet. Some important information that you must have if you own a rabbit or are considering adopting a rabbit is listed below. Please consult the rabbit care resource guide for links to more information on all these topics.
Rabbits require a comfortable cage or other escape-proof enclosure free from hazards such as electrical wires, poisonous plants and predatory pets such as cats and dogs. Wire bottom cages are not comfortable for rabbit's feet, so please get a cage with a solid bottom. The rabbit should have room to move about and is most happy if there are multiple levels and a house to hide in and sit on. One or preferably two litter boxes should be provided.
Bedding and Litter
Bedding material can be hay, straw, hardwood shavings (maple, oak, apple) or bits of cloth (if the rabbit is well litter trained). Rabbits like to arrange their beds and comfortable material should be provided. The bedding should be changed at regular intervals to keep the cage smelling fresh and the rabbit feeling comfortable. The bedding should be completely changed and the cage cleaned once every month or two (more frequently if the rabbit urinates outside the litter box).
Some material other than the bedding material should be provided in a litter box. The litter should be changed and the litter box cleaned with warm soapy water at least once a week or more frequently if required.
Pine and cedar shavings are not suitable for use as bedding or litter for rabbits or other small pets. Research has shown that chemicals emitted from these shavings can cause liver disease and reduce the lifespan of your pet. Click here to read about this research and to find out about alternative bedding and litter materials.
Rabbits must have hay available at all times and should not be fed a diet that is mostly made up of commercial rabbit pellets. Grass hay consisting predominantly of timothy is best. A diet high in alfalfa-based hay or alfalfa-based pellets can cause urinary crystals due to the high calcium content. Commercial rabbit pellets made from timothy hay should be fed in small amounts (a handful) every day since these provide essential nutrients. These are great to use as training treats.
Rabbits require green vegetables every day and also enjoy receiving carrots, fruit and other vegetables. Add a new food in small amounts, gradually increasing over time since a sudden change in diet can cause diarrhea which can be fatal in rabbits.
Refer to the House Rabbit Society website at www.rabbit.org for feeding information and recommendations for baby, juvenile and senior rabbits and to www.carrotcafe.com for detailed information about what to feed, how much to feed and why. Consult our training treats guide for guidelines on what can be used as training treats and how much is enough per day. Rabbits can be very persuasive in begging for treats and trying to share our food, but giving in to the begging rabbit can be very bad for its health. Never give your rabbit salty crackers, sugary cookies or other human snack foods and be sure to read the ingredients of any commercial rabbit treats carefully. Avoid treats that contain seeds, nuts or are high in salt or sugar.
Rabbits need exercise and they love to run and jump, go through tunnels and in and out of boxes. A cardboard box with a few holes cut in it placed in the middle of a room will entertain a rabbit and provide lots of exercise for the rabbit and entertainment for you. Rabbits should have some free time out of their cage every day in a supervised and rabbit-proofed area. The bathroom can be a good place to let your rabbit loose - be sure to close the toilet lid! Give your rabbit a litter box and a place to hide during these free periods. You can also get a harness and leash and take you rabbit outside. Be sure to avoid brushy areas where cats could be hiding and areas where there could be loose dogs.
Veterinary and Health Care
Take your new rabbit to the veterinarian to be sure it is healthy. Try to find a veterinarian with experience in looking after rabbits. Not all general practice vets are trained in rabbit care. If you rabbit's behavior suddenly changes and especially if your rabbit stops eating, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Visit the House Rabbit Society website to find out about the symptoms of various rabbit ailments and how to treat and prevent them.
If you have outdoor cats and dogs in your house, be sure that they are treated for fleas and have had their shots so as to keep your rabbits healthy and flea-free as well.
Rabbits require regular grooming with a soft brush or a damp cloth, especially when they are shedding excessively. Rabbits do a lot of grooming of themselves and each other and ingestion of too much fur can cause intestinal blockage. Nails should be clipped monthly since long nails can cause painful deformities of the foot.
The House Rabbit Society recommends spaying or neutering your bunny to improve its longterm health, prevent unwanted behavior and to prevent unwanted pregnancy. be sure to use a veterinarian with training in rabbit surgery. Consult your local chapter of the House Rabbit Society or local rabbit rescue or animal shelter to find the names of qualified veterinarians in your area.