Rabbits are pretty easy to take care of, as long as you keep in mind that she is a rabbit. Some people seem to think that rabbits are vegetarian cats. They’re cute and furry and snuggly, right? Yes, but she is a completely different animal, with completely different health requirements. For instance, she needs to wear down her teeth and have constant access to good hay. Unlike a cat, she cannot spit up her food (i.e., vomit). Therefore, it isn’t necessary for her to fast before surgery. And not only is it not necessary, it is a serious health risk, for the same reason she needs to have hay available all the time: If her gut is empty, the microbes which help her to digest her food will die. Cats don’t have that problem.
There are many varieties of domestic rabbit. Some of them are a sandy brown colour like a wild rabbit, some are white, some have splotches in distinctive patterns (the popular Dutch rabbit is one of these), and some even have Himalayan points like a Siamese cat.
In addition to the many coat patterns, there are also several sizes to choose from. For example, dwarf lops and mini lops are very popular, and they are small: The mini doesn’t get bigger than 1.6kg (3.5lb), and the dwarf only gets to 2.5kg (5lb). These are the rabbits whose ears are very long and droop down to the ground. Many people, when they think of pet rabbits, are thinking of lops. By contrast, the Flemish giant is well-named. Often topping 6kg (14lbs), this rabbit is larger than most pet cats and many kinds of dog (up to and including some spaniels). Unlike the lops, Flemish giants have ears that stand upright. A little bigger than a dwarf lop and much smaller than a Flemish giant, the “rex” weighs in at approximately 3kg (6.5lb) and is noted for its curly fur.
All breeds are suitable as pets, but young children must always be supervised when they are visiting with Bunny Buddy. It is very easy to injure a rabbit by handling her awkwardly, and it is even easier to scare her. It’s rough being at the bottom of the food chain! If she is scared or hurt, she will bite or scratch to defend herself.
Spaying and neutering is essential for pet rabbits, and not just to avoid being overrun with hordes of cuteness. Sadly, domestic rabbits are very susceptible to reproductive cancers. These cancers tend to be painful and fast-growing. A complete spay can save your doe from terrible suffering later in life.
A rabbit enclosure is called a hutch. Your rabbit needs enough room to make three or four full hops, to figure out a bare minimum size. This will be somewhere in the range of two metres for most rabbits. Outdoor hutches need to include a shady area and protection from wind. Indoor hutches may be more open.
Your rabbit will need to visit the veterinarian from time to time, and she may need to travel for other purposes. A pet-carrier of the type made for small dogs and cats is suitable for short-term use. Spread hay on the bottom for bedding.
Food and water dishes are obvious equipment for any animal, of course. You’ll also need a brush and spritzing bottle for grooming.
Last, but certainly not least, your rabbit needs a litter box and litter. (Yes, I know I insisted she’s not a cat. And, she isn’t. She still needs a litter box.) A regular litter pan of the kind sold for medium or large cats is ideal. Spread paper-based cat litter on the bottom, and then cover that with hay. Your rabbit will use one end for her toilet and the other end for her kitchen.
If your rabbit lives in a large hutch, she can get most of her exercise just hopping around in her home. She would enjoy exploring the house, too. Rabbit-proof any room where she will be roaming by checking for anything she could chew on: electrical cords, wooden ornaments, shoes, clothing, furniture, woodwork. A large playpen with a litter box makes a safe playroom, if all else fails.
Some rabbits like playing with balls, nosing them around and kicking them. In multi-rabbit households, the rabbits will play with each other, too.
Rabbits might be the easiest pet to feed. Provide fresh hay, good commercial rabbit pellet, and well-washed fresh vegetables, and your rabbit will eat well. The hay should be an unlimited supply. Pellets should be supplied in a quantity between ¼-cup and ¾-cup per day, depending on the size of your rabbit. As for vegetables, provide approximately a cup of greens per pound of your rabbit’s weight, every day. Avoid rhubarb and members of the tomato family. Carrots are great chew-toys, if your rabbit likes them. However, contrary to popular belief, most rabbits don’t enjoy carrots.
As with most pets, your rabbit needs access to clean water. A drip-bottle is one way to provide water. A sturdy bowl is another.
Nobody is ever going to accuse a healthy rabbit of being dirty or unkempt. Rabbits groom themselves obsessively. However, you will need to help or your rabbit will make herself sick by swallowing huge amounts of fur. Brush her regularly, at least a few times a week, and more when she is moulting. If she is a rabbit that moults quickly, spritz her with warm water and rub her with your hands. Gently remove the loose fur, and brush her again.
Rabbits cannot vomit (See – I told you she wasn’t a cat!). If your rabbit gets a furball in her tummy, she’ll stop eating and starve, even though she might look “full”. Eating lots of nice, fresh hay can cut down on the production of furballs, but keep an eye on her. If she stops eating, take her to the vet.
Rabbits do best in calm, quiet environments away from predators. Your indoor hutch should be in a room that your dog or cat can’t get to.
Handle your rabbit gently and frequently, so that she learns that you are not going to hurt her. As she becomes more comfortable, she’ll enjoy being held and petted. The only other training she really needs is litter-training.
Where to next?
With reasonable attention, rabbits are easy to take care of, and they are friendly, cuddly pets. What’s the next step? Set up a comfortable hutch, then check out a local shelter or rescue organization and choose a rabbit.