When you hear the word “pet,” you probably think “dog” or “cat” automatically. But today, there are numerous other choices people make when it comes to animal companionship. One choice many people make is the cute, furry, and quiet rabbit.
Now, although rabbits may look cute and don’t make noise, they are very different from keeping a dog or cat. They have very specific needs and in some ways take more maintenance and care than dogs or cats. It’s important to learn as much as you can about rabbits before you take one in as a pet.
What’s a rabbit?
A rabbit is a mammal in the Laporidae family, of which there are about 50 different species. Rabbit breeds can vary in size (from dwarf to giant), color, and temperament. Research the different breeds available to determine which type is the best fit for you.
What do they eat?
Rabbits are herbivores. Their diet should consist of fresh hay, greens, and fruit. You can also purchase commercially available pellets, but they tend to be high in fat and starch, so you may want to limit the amount of pellets you give the rabbit.
Fresh hay is very important for the rabbit and should be available all the time. Grass hays, such as Timothy, Oat, Brome, Orchard, or Bermuda is preferable to legume hays, such as Alfalfa or Clover. The hay will help wear down a rabbit’s constantly growing teeth and aid in digestion.
It can also be used to help keep the rabbit entertained because they love to pick through hay, looking for the most tasty parts. It can also promote good litter box habits. If you put a pile of hay at one end of a litter box, the rabbit will root around, finding the best pieces to eat while finding comfort in a cozy box, and be able to eliminate in the other end of the box.
Rabbits will tend to curl up in their litter box more often than not. The best type of litter for rabbits is some type of organic litter or paper. Keep in mind rabbits will nibble on litter, so don’t get anything that would be harmful to the rabbit if ingested.
Be sure to purchase good, quality hay that is fresh. Avoid brown, dusty, moldy hay. You can purchase hay at pet stores, feed stores, horse farms, or even online stores. You should offer your rabbit a small amount of fresh hay about twice a day instead of just a big batch of hay once in a while.
Other elements to a rabbit’s diet should include fresh greens, such as broccoli, celery, green peppers, brussels sprouts, and bok choy. You can also feed the rabbit fruits such as peaches, apples, pears, blueberries, plums, pineapples, and strawberries. More sugary fruits such as grapes and bananas should be given more sparingly.
Another essential part of a rabbit’s diet is something the rabbit takes care of itself. Rabbits excrete two types of substances. One type is ordinary fecal matter and the other type is the cecotrope, which is produced in a different part of the rabbit’s digestive tract called the cecum. The cecotropes provide the rabbit with essential nutrients for optimum health.
Keep in mind that rabbits’ digestive systems are fairly sensitive, so care should be taken with proper
Where should I keep the rabbit?
Ideally, rabbits should have a large space to roam, as well as a cage that contains fresh water, hay, a litter box, and straw or paper for bedding. Rabbits can be litter box-trained, but it might take a bit more time and patience than a cat.
You can have their litter box in their cage to to start and keep them confined to monitor their habits. Once they are consistently going potty in the box, you can let them out more and place litter boxes in other areas of your home for them to use. If you see them use a spot where you don’t have a box, place a box there for them.
The cage should be viewed as a “nest,” and not as the place they spend the bulk of their time. Rabbits are social, inquisitive creatures, and they’ll need your attention and companionship. The cage should be closed only if it’s bedtime, or if you are away and need to keep your rabbit confined to that space for a short time.
If you’re at home, you should rabbit-proof your home or part of your home and leave the cage door open so the rabbit can roam and play at will. The cage should be cleaned regularly and your rabbit should always have a nice fresh batch of hay to nibble on.
A big part of making your home rabbit-proof is putting away anything the rabbit might chew on. They love to chew and they won’t know the difference between the nice chew toy you bought them and your new pair of expensive shoes.
Even if you clean off the floor, rabbits might target your carpet to nibble on, so make sure your rabbit’s play area is suitably clean and free of anything you wouldn’t want chewed up.
Rabbits need exercise just like any animal and the best way for them to get it is just to be able to get out and explore. If you have a backyard, you can build an enclosure and let your rabbit roam outside. You do need to be cautious, however, since rabbits love to dig holes and can possibly escape an inadequate and unmonitored outdoor enclosure.
Where can I get a rabbit?
Just like with dogs and cats, you can get a rabbit from reputable breeders, pet stores, animal shelters, and rescue organizations. Before you adopt a rabbit, be sure to check the person or organization offering the rabbit to make sure they provide proper care for the rabbits they are offering.
A few other notes:
- Rabbits are fragile. Be gentle with him and never pick him up by his ears! Don’t let children play unsupervised with rabbits as they can be too rough and may also provoke the rabbit into biting or scratching.
- Rabbits need regular veterinary care just like your dog or cat. Find a vet that is knowledgeable about rabbits. Healthy and happy rabbits can live up to 10 years.
- Rabbits should be neutered or spayed when about 4 to 6 months of age. Neutering will make the rabbit easier to litter train, less aggressive, and less destructive.
- Rabbits will bite or scratch. Not all rabbits (like with dogs and cats) will be friendly, affectionate or cuddly. Every rabbit will have a different and distinctive personality and temperament.
Be sure you find out as much as you can about rabbits and their needs before picking one as your animal companion. You and the rabbit will be glad you did.