Rabbit - Oryctolagus cuniculus
Please note: These are general recommendations; they are not meant to be construed as veterinary advice, and may not be appropriate for your pet. Be sure to schedule a visit with your local veterinarian to discuss the best care for your animal!
Rabbits are wonderful companions and make great pets. Rabbits are lagomorphs, a group of mammals closely related to rodents. While basic rabbit care (or ‘husbandry’) is fairly simple, they are quite different from dogs and cats, and as a result require very different care.
Below are some basic guidelines and tips for rabbit care.
Rabbits have unique digestive tracks similar to horses. Their cecum (an off-shoot of the small intestine) acts as a large fermentation vat, which requires a constant stream of food input to stay healthy. This means that rabbits need to graze on food throughout the day, and that they should be pooping all day as well! All rabbits should have 24/7 access to Timothy hay to help their GI tracts stay healthy. Any reduction in eating (or pooping!) is of concern in rabbits; be sure to call your veterinarian ASAP if you notice your rabbit is not eating well, or if they are producing less poop. A rabbit who is not eating at all is an emergency!
Along with hay, rabbits should have daily fresh veggies and can be offered a small amount of rabbit pellets. Dark leafy greens such as Romaine or Red Leaf lettuce can be given daily. High calcium vegetables, such as Spinach, Kale, or Parsley, can cause urinary issues if given too often, and should not be offered more than weekly.
Along with their unique digestive track, rabbits also have special teeth, which continue to grow throughout their lives. If a rabbit is not eating a balanced diet, their teeth can overgrow, which then causes oral pain and discomfort, and then prevents them from eating. Any rabbit with a reduced appetite should be examined for possible dental disease.
All rabbits should be given access to fresh water daily (generally in a water bottle, though some rabbits will accept a water dish).
Rabbits typically are given a litterbox in their enclosures. To ‘train’ your rabbit, simply put a litterbox in the corner where your rabbit urinates and defecates. Newspaper pellets or hay are a good choice for rabbit litter; do NOT use feline clumping-type litters with rabbits. Be sure to clean the litterbox regularly!
The first step of a rabbit’s digestive process involves producing a special type of feces called cecotropes. These are softer feces which the rabbit then re-ingests to continue the digestive process. In healthy rabbits, you will likely never see these cecotropes. If you do see cecotropes you should contact your veterinarian, as this can be a sign your rabbit is not feeling well. In older rabbits, arthritis pain can prevent them from appropriately ingesting their cecotropes.
Rabbits should not be kept on wire-bottom cages, as this can hurt their feet and lead to pododermatitis (‘bumblefoot’). Solid plastic bottom cages should have a softer substrate (bedding) on top, such as hay or straw. Be sure to regularly replace the bedding and clean out the whole cage.
Rabbits should be spayed (for females) or neutered (for males), usually around 4-5 months of age. Female rabbits in particular have high rates of reproductive disease and tumors, and this risk can be significantly reduced with spaying.
Because rabbits are prey animals, they are very good at hiding signs of illness and disease. Often the only ‘signal’ an animal gives us is a reduced appetite or reduced fecal production. If you have any concerns about your rabbit, be sure to call your vet right away!
Be sure you wash your hands well after playing with your rabbit to make sure you don’t get germs!
Dr. Chuck recommends rabbits go to the veterinarian at least once per year to make sure they are healthy and happy!