How to Care For Your Rabbit Friend

This information is provided to you by Bonnie Shelton of THE ITTY BITTY FARM.

FEEDING
Please feed your bunny pellets each day: 1/2 c. per 5# of rabbit- adjust accordingly. The pellets should be 14- 16% protein. Always allow as much fresh hay as your rabbit will eat. A suet feeder (for birds) makes a great hay rack.

Alfalfa hay is fattening and is great for kits, but as your bunny matures you should switch to Timothy hay to keep your bunny from getting overweight. A dwarf bunny will be mature between 4 and 6 months. A giant will mature between 10 and 12 months.

Introduce fresh fruits, veggies, and grass, SLOWLY! Give one bite at a time- one day at a time, until you are sure that your bunny can tolerate it, as rabbits have sensitive digestive systems. If you begin feeding an abundance of fresh veggies, you may cut back on the pellets. The important thing is that you are sure that your rabbit is getting the correct amount of protein. The unlimited supply of hay will assure the fiber. NEVER feed your rabbit anything that creates gas (beans, etc.) or from the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers). Your bunny is not designed to pass gas or to vomit and he will likely die if fed something disagreeable. And be sure that you never allow your bunny to graze in an area that has been sprayed or treated, or that is a habitat for plants that are poisonous to bunnies. They love roses and roses are highly nutritious- they will eat them up for you! Some plants (azalea for instance) will create nausea and rabbits will learn to avoid them, but others are fatal. Do your research!

Many pet bunnies are curious about whatever you are eating, and will indicate their desire for a bite. You may discover that your bunny has a sweet tooth or is a junk food junkie! A taste now and then will not hurt, but daily indulgence will surely shorten your rabbit’s life. Limit the treats!

Also, be sure that your rabbit always has a supply of fresh water. A water bottle is best, as is a heavy food bowl, because your bunny may turn dishes over.

GROOMING & HYGIENE
Your rabbit will need to have her nails trimmed about every three months. You may do this or your vet may do it. Baby nail clippers work well.

At the same time (every three months), you may want to treat your bunny with ivermectin- 1 ml. (cc) per 1 lb. of bunny, behind his ears, at the nape of his neck. Combine this treatment with piperazone, given orally- one tenth of 1 ml. (cc) per# of rabbit- and parasite coverage is usually complete. Rarely, a parasite may not be exterminated by these treatments and a different approach is necessary. In that case you will know because your rabbit will develop signs of illness in spite of regular preventative treatment. Also, this regimen may not prevent fleas or ticks. If fleas or ticks become a problem, use imidacloprin- at APPROPRIATE dosage! Do the math or purchase Advantage flea and tick control from your veterinarian. These chemicals are available on amazon.com.

No vaccine or other routine healthcare is required by law or deemed necessary for rabbits at this time.

Our breeds are light shedders, all but the Holland. The Hollands are heavy shedders. All rabbits shed a little more noticeably in the spring and summer months. If pet hair is a bother, comb or brush your bunny each day in a place where you are able to sweep up immediately. This will remove most of the loose hair at once and will keep it contained to the one area.

Your rabbit will have a general dislike for swimming, and will keep himself clean for the most part. The careful and occasional bath will do your rabbit no great harm, however, and most bunnies love to be brushed. (A Lionhead must be brushed once in awhile.)

HOUSING & HYGIENE
A Flemish Giant or Holland Lop will do fine inside as a house rabbit or outside in plenty of shade with plenty of fresh water; however heat stroke is the thing most likely to kill an otherwise healthy bunny, so be smart in your treatment of an outdoor bunny, especially during summer. Some owners freeze water in two liter bottles and place them in the hutches for their bunnies to lay against, others place fans to direct air on their bunnies.

Your rabbit will tolerate well the cold temperatures that we think are terrible. He has his own wonderful God-given fur coat! He will be fine in temperatures below freezing if you have provided solid walls in part of his hutch and filled that part with a layer or two of straw, shredded paper, pet bedding, or old soft rags. He will do well if able to retreat from wind and rain, ice, or snow.

A Netherland Dwarf or Lionhead should be kept indoors. These breeds will not thrive in an outdoor hutch. They will survive, but their lives will be shortened. These bunnies do best in an indoor “house” in any area or room that is climate controlled, and that you will access frequently to say hello. A house rabbit will be happy with almost any sort of “hole” as long as he feels safe there. It can be as simple as an old wooden crate, drawer, or cabinet with screen/wire enclosure and proper ventilation, or as elaborate as a hand carved mahogany condominium. You will need a tray of some type lining the ground floor. This tray is where you should place bedding, or a litter box on top of a paper liner. Various tray/pan sizes, as well as litter boxes and urine guards are available from www.bunnyrabbit.com, www.kwcages.com, www.martinscages.com, and many other suppliers.

A wire floor is hard on your rabbit’s hocks (feet). A solid floor is best for your friend, but a wire section for raking pellets onto to drop out, is fine. (It has been my experience that a rabbit will quickly and easily learn to urinate in a litter box, but I have never had a rabbit that did not drop a few pellets wherever she went. Rabbit pellets will be firm and dry if a bunny is healthy though, so it is a breeze to sweep them up- from the hutch floor and from the house floor! And if you use wood chips, pellets, or shavings for litter, remember to deposit that Garden Gold directly onto your planter beds or garden- no need to compost- and you’ll have easily both fertilized and mulched in a moment!

We find that Craigslist is a great resource for second-hand and hand-crafted bunny hutches and cages. But, we usually make a family project of building our own! If you wish to purchase new- try Tractor Supply or amazon.com.

Remember: Never use cedar or pine chips, or shavings for bedding, as oils are released when mixed with urine creating a toxic environment for your bunny! Use aspen shavings, instead, or choose (as we do) not to use bedding for your rabbit, only a paper cage liner and a litter box. Outdoor bunnies do not need bedding in warm weather, and indoor bunnies do not need it at all, though they do love to dig in it! You may wish to provide a pan of bedding, sand, or hay just for the purpose of digging.

Should you choose to use a litter box, you may want to consider compressed pine pellets for litter. If changed every second to third day, you will experience nearly no odor from the elimination of a dwarf breed of rabbit. The one exception to this is the Mini-Rex. The Mini-Rex’s pellets have a significant and a stronger odor. His pellets are a bit larger than the others as well, so you will want to change his litter more often. Some say that adding apple cider vinegar to their water helps to reduce odor. If you decide to use a litter box, use one that is the right size for your rabbit. He should be able to sit in it, but it should not be any larger.

If you feed your bunny in the evening, he will pass fewer pellets during the day, conversely if you feed your rabbit in the morning, she will pass fewer pellets in the evening. Keep this in mind when you are scheduling time out of his hole, and you will have less clean-up from his playtime. But, remember to keep fresh hay available around the clock.

Never use clay-based cat litter! If your friend eats it, he will probably experience a blocked intestine and die.

Please keep your rabbit’s habitat clean as a filthy hole leads quickly to serious illness. We love our small two gallon hand-carry Shop Vac! A paint scraper, whisk broom, and mini dust pan are indispensable cleaning tools to the rabbit owner, as well. White vinegar is the best cleaning solution for hutches, etc. Use bleach following an illness only, and keep your bunny out of his hole for a few hours after cleaning.

BUNNY BEHAVIOR

Your bunny is crepuscular. This means that he is highly active and likes to eat and play, at dawn and at dusk. She will enjoy some dozing during the day, and perhaps an afternoon nap, as well as sleeping at night. (This makes a rabbit an ideal pet for families who are busy during the day, but want to socialize with their pet in the early morning and in the evenings.

Your friend, housed indoors or outdoors, needs time out of his hutch each day. A half an hour is the minimum necessary, but more time out is certainly better. However, your bunny will love his “hole” and will become quite attached to it- obviously viewing it as his personal safe space. In fact, it is helpful to place your bunny into his hole- rear end first. This is because he will often be so excited to see it that he will scratch you and try to leap from your arms to get into it! Never place him there as punishment.

We allow our rabbits to graze freely in our backyard, being sure that it is a yard free of chemicals and free of plants that are seriously toxic to bunnies, as well as free of predators. We are good to our animals and they do not seem interested in abandoning our home. This is not a guarantee that YOUR rabbit will stay inside YOUR fence. If you decide to try it, be sure to offer tight supervision until you feel sure of your pet.

Your rabbit, whether indoors or out, is a highly social creature and will not thrive in isolation. Your bunny needs daily contact with you or another bunny. If you do not spend a bit of time with him each day, he will revert to a wild type of behavior- distrusting humans and other animals, and always attempting to flee and hide, or to pretend that you don’t exist! It is important to note that bunnies REQUIRE relationship to build trust and faithfulness. They will not offer these things blindly as most dogs will, nor will they withhold them indiscriminately as most cats appear to do; also, while your bunny may grow to love and trust you- this will not become the rule for every human or animal of any species. Your rabbit will choose his friends carefully.

If you choose to keep more than one rabbit, consider two does from the same litter, or at least very near the same age. If the two have been raised together it is best, as it will lessen the chance of their fighting. Though rabbits may occasionally share the same space, they each need their own “hole” to which they may retreat, and to consider their own safe place.

Rabbits are territorial by nature. Two does may have a spat, particularly if a lone buck is near. Occasionally, two male rabbits will fight to the death. During the teenage phase a male may- as he is dancing around your feet- spray you with a few drops of urine in an effort to mark you with his scent, letting other male rabbits in the area know that you belong to him and that he will fight to the death for you!

Of course, rabbits may be neutered or spayed at four to six months of age by a qualified veterinarian, and this will reduce some undesirable behaviors. Also, a male with a pretty female of his own species around is highly unlikely to continue to flirt with you! You may keep a pair, both or one (the male) surgically altered, and they will typically bond and enjoy one another for life.

As you train your bunny, neverscold in an extremely loud or overly harsh voice, and never hit or physically attack your bunny. It is unusual, but a rabbit can die of fright. Simply use a firm, commanding tone, say “no,” and make a loud clap with your hands-in front of his nose if possible. And remember your bunny will mature and simply grow out of some of his annoying behaviors; as well as urinating and dropping pellets much less often and less indiscriminately as an adult.

It may help you to know that a bunny in your lap generally gets restless for one of two reasons: 1) He’s tired of being held or 2) She needs to ‘go potty.’ When a rabbit needs to urinate he or she will attempt to achieve a bit of a squatting position and will lift his or her tail just before relieving himself or herself. Take your bunny to his litter box if you catch him in the act! Eventually your rabbit will mature enough to understand your desire for him to urinate in the box.

Many people wrongly assume that rabbits are rodents. Rabbits are NOT rodents. Rabbits are lagomorphs. They have more in common with a sheep or a cow, than with a squirrel or a rat. However, they do LOVE to chew! And that is great because a rabbit MUST chew to keep her teeth from growing too long! If her teeth grow too long she will be unable to eat or to drink from her water bottle. Provide plenty of safe chew toys and fresh hay because this is a lifetime occupation for your rabbit!

As you love and appreciate your bunny, he will come to trust you and will return your affection. Often, his way of returning your affection will be to accept you as a member
of the warren- which entitles you to complimentary grooming. This generally consists of his licking you, nibbling on you and on your hair, and scratching at your clothing.

If your bunny is completely enraptured, she will run, leap, twirl, spin and hop at incredible speeds to the amazement of most who are fortunate enough to see it. She will typically finish with a flourish, then flop over onto her side to rest. This is known as ‘The Bunny Dance.’

Remember: While your bunny may display traits that are similar to those of a cat or a dog- it is a rabbit and is different in many ways. A primary difference is that your bunny will not retain his affection for you if you ignore him. Without daily attention and affection your rabbit will revert to a wild type of behavior toward you, distrusting and retreating from you.

Rabbits do not vocalize much. In infancy, kits will whimper like puppies, and your growing rabbit will make a growling or snorting noise occasionally if truly aggravated. Sometimes she may accompany the growl with a charge or a kick (usually this occurs if you are attempting to remove bunny from her home/hole when she isn’t ready or when you attempt to force something). He will make a honking sound (usually while circling your feet) if he is flirting with you. This is quite common during the “teenage” phase of development (twelve weeks or so to about sixteen weeks of age for all but the giant breeds who go through this phase at twenty-four to twenty-eight weeks). You may hear or feel your bunny’s teeth chatter if she is especially content or pleased. This is not to be confused with grinding, as grinding is one indication of pain. Grinding is much more intense, and makes a louder sound, also grinding generally takes place when a rabbit is NOT in a relaxed posture.

Hopefully, you will never hear your bunny scream, but if you do you are unlikely to forget it! It sounds almost human and indicates tremendous fright or pain. If you determine that pain is the source, you will almost certainly need a veterinarian.

While your bunny needs exercise, be careful to keep him out of situations where spinal injury may occur, and always remember to support his back feet. Spinal injury is common in rabbits- more common in the giant breeds.

If your bunny NEEDS something- attention, food, water, etc.- he will make a great deal of noise in whatever way available to him. He may rattle his water bottle or knock it down, slide his food bowl around, and/or thump hard with his hind feet.

Don’t count on him to remember his needs and to alert you, however! You are responsible for making sure his needs are met.

Never underestimate your bunny’s intelligence. We are startled regularly by their cognitive abilities as we continue to work with and to enjoy our rabbits.

ILLNESS
Remember to observe your rabbit outside of his hole for at least thirty minutes each day. This is a grand practice for many reasons, not the least of which is to notice physical, emotional, and behavioral changes.

It is difficult to tell that a bunny is sick unless you are truly familiar with him. Rabbits are prey animals only, and therefore instinctively attempt to hide all that may make them vulnerable to a predator, especially physical weakness.

If you suspect that your friend is ill, please call your local rabbit-wise veterinarian! If you are unable to do this, please feel free to call or text us@901-201-0968. While we are not animal medical professionals, we are experienced rabbit handlers and breeders, and as so may be able to help.

Signs of illness include:

•Discharge from the nose or eyes
•Extremely cold or hot ears
•Loose to runny stools
•Mucus coated pellets
•Blood in or around feces
•Lack of urination or blood in urine (PLEASE NOTE: Rabbits often have very orange to rust colored urine as a result of excess protein; it is no cause for alarm.)
•Excessive scratching and biting at self
•Loss of appetite
•Noticeable weight loss or inability to gain weight
•Lackluster fur, or bald or thin patches in fur
•Brownish clumps of waxy-looking stuff in ears
•Continually scratching at ears
•Loss of interest in grooming himself
•Head tilted with an eye toward the ceiling- with the appearance of being stuck that way (extremely dangerous situation)

And obviously, you should always notice sores/wounds on any part of the body and assume the need for treatment.

Remember that positive or negative stress is a source of weakness for animals- just as it is for humans- and consider adding 1/4t. of Probios for horses to a pint of water for 2-3 days, or longer if needed to strengthen your bunny’s immune system.

Again, please call or text if we may be of assistance.

LIFE EXPECTANCY
These instructions should guide you and your bunny through a healthy relationship for the duration of your pet’s life. There are many good books and websites available with a wealth of information on rabbits, too. A well cared for rabbit may live seven to ten years. Rarely, one will live even longer! Enjoy!

The Itty Bitty Farm
bonnieshelton@gmail.com
901-201-0968

Copyright 2012