Bunnies are adorable, clean and easy to look after, but they’re still a big responsibility. They need just as much care, exercise and attention as a dog or cat. There are a number of realities to consider before bringing a rabbit into your home. Click through for 10 tips on how to care for a pet rabbit, courtesy of the ASPCA.
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You might think that having a rabbit as a pet is less expensive than a dog or cat. Actually, rabbits live between 9-12 years, and need just as much food, shelter and vet care as other pets. To get started, you’ll need about $100 for a good cage, $30 for a carrier and $25 for a litter box, according to the ASPCA. Then, to maintain your rabbit’s cage and its health, you’ll have to budget about $700 annually for food, treats, toys, vet care and litter/bedding materials.
BEST TO KEEP RABBITS INDOORS
Did you know that a rabbit can suffer a heart attack at the mere sight of a predator if it has nowhere to hide? The safest and healthiest place to keep a pet rabbit is in a cage indoors, away from potential dangers and isolation. It will also prevent your rabbit from picking up fleas and mites from the outdoors. And note that rabbits shed just like cats and dogs, so be sure to groom your bunny at least once a week, and possibly more if it has long fur.
Rabbits may be small animals, but they’re energetic and need plenty of room to hop around. The ideal cage size should be 4-feet by 2-feet and about 2-feet high. Cages with solid bottoms are ideal to protect your bunny’s delicate feet and prevent accidental injury. Rabbits are nesters, so provide your pet with hay so it can rest comfortably. Clean your bunny’s cage and replace the hay once or twice a week.
Rabbits need hay for more than just a soft place to nest. Hay is a major part of a rabbit’s diet, and helps the animal maintain a healthy intestinal tract. However, protein and fiber-rich rabbit pellets should be the main source of its food, with leafy greens — like collard or turnip greens and carrot tops — thrown in for variety and nutrients. And of course, fresh water is a must. Don’t be alarmed if your rabbit eats its own feces. As disgusting as this seems to us, it’s a perfectly normal behavior that is actually not bad for your rabbit.
Poor Roger Rabbit was constantly grabbed and held by his ears. While that’s a fine way to handle a cartoon rabbit, you must never hold a real one by its ears. Rabbits are fragile creatures and can be easily injured by improper handling. Always supervise children when they’re handling rabbits, as kids often don’t realize their own strength when playing with animals. When picking up a rabbit, support its hindquarters with one hand and its forequarters with the other. The key is to make it feel secure so it doesn’t panic and hurt itself in the process of being handled.
Luckily, rabbits are very clean animals that are easily litter trained. Most rabbits will choose a side of the cage as their bathroom. Once you notice your rabbit favoring one corner, place a newspaper-lined litter box in that area. Fill the box with hay — but not alfalfa — and never ever put cedar wood shavings or cat litters in the box. These items can cause liver, respiratory and gastrointestinal issues in your rabbit. Your rabbit should happily use its litter box as long as you clean it on a daily basis.
Do you want to keep multiple rabbits together in one cage as rabbit friends? Well, if you don’t spay or neuter your rabbits, you may wake up one morning with a litter of bunny babies on your hands. Make sure you have all rabbits spayed or neutered before putting them together to prevent reproduction and territory battles.
Believe it or not, your bunny needs at least 2 hours of exercise a day. They just love to run and jump around without the limits of a cage. You won’t have to set up a rabbit-sized treadmill, but allowing your rabbit free time in an enclosed and safe exercise area is key. This can be done indoors or out, but you should supervise your rabbit at all times.
If your rabbit appears to be in good health, one annual vet check-up is all it needs. When you first get your new pet rabbit, take it to the vet for a checkup and to make sure it is spayed or neutered. Doing so will prevent issues like unwanted litters and spraying, and can help prevent certain cancers. If your rabbit appears to not be eating, or hasn’t passed stool or urine for longer than 12 hours, it may be a sign of illness and should be taken to the vet immediately. Also keep an eye out for runny nose and eyes, lethargy, diarrhea, fur loss and irritated skin.
Next: 10 Popular Pet Rabbit Breeds
STUFF TO CHEW ON
Rabbits love to chew, chew and chew some more. According to the ASPCA, the number one reason people surrender their pet rabbits to shelters is because of destructive behavior. Curb this natural instinct away from your fine furniture and electronic cables by providing your bunny with plenty of chew toys and treats. If your rabbit is enjoying his free time out of the cage, throw a few chewies into the mix so he’s attracted to them instead of other items. Even something as simple and cost-effective as a cardboard box phone book is sufficient.