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Rabbits 101
Monday, September 17, 2018
  By: Kingsdale Animal Hospital  In: Pet Health
Rabbits 101

Rabbits are becoming more popular as domestic pets over the years! If you have a pet rabbit or are thinking of getting one, here is some information on rabbit care.

Rabbits should always be eating (and thus always pooping!). The vast majority of their diet should be hay. Approximately 80% of their diet should consist of hay. Timothy hay is the best kind of hay for adult rabbits, since Alfalfa hay is quite high in calcium.  Hay has many important benefits for rabbits. The fibre in hay helps grind down a rabbit's teeth as they chew as well as helping move everything through their gastrointestinal system. The second most important part of their diet is fresh vegetables, ideally about 15% of their diet. The best veggies are dark, leafy greens including romaine, kale, swiss chard, carrot tops, dill, cilantro, parsley etc. Some other favourites of our rabbit patients include carrots, bananas, bell peppers, berries and zucchini. The final, smallest component of their diet should be pellets, at 5% of their diet. A nice analogy is to think about the size of your bunny when allocating their food for the day. The volume of hay should be about the size of their body. The volume of veggies should be about the size of their head. Finally, the volume of pellets should only be the size of their eye! Many people feed their bunnies too many pellets and not enough hay.

If your rabbit stops eating (or pooping) for more than a few hours (generally 8-12 hours), please call us right away! It is extremely important to have them diagnosed and treated right away as rabbits can get very sick very quickly if they stop eating.

Rabbits need a fair amount of exercise every day. They like to run and jump and play! Their area should have a soft bedding area, a tunnel or box to hide in, a litter box, various levels to play on, and toys to chew. Their enclosure should be at least 2 hops wide, 3 hops long, and tall enough for your rabbit to stand on their hind legs. Great ideas for housing include dog pens and bunny condos.

Litter box habits:
Rabbits can be successfully litter trained like cats, which makes them excellent domestic companions as they can run around an area of your home without making a mess. The first step in successfully litter training your rabbit is to spay or neuter them. This decreases their hormone levels resulting in less territorial marking.
The litter box can be a commercial litter box for cats or even a large, flat tupperware. Some commercial litter boxes for rabbits are too small for adult rabbits, especially the large breed rabbits.
The best type of litter is a paper bedding, such as Carefresh. Cat litter can be ingested by the rabbit resulting in a gastrointestinal blockage. Wood shavings are not recommended as litter as this can result in the development of respiratory conditions in your rabbit.
The first step in litter training is to place the litter box in the their environment. If your rabbit already has an area of the environment where he or she naturally urinates/defecates place the litter box in that area. When he or she goes to the bathroom in the box give him/her a treat and praise! Rabbits learn well from positive reinforcement. If he or she makes a mistake outside the box, pick up the stool or soak up the urine in a paper towel and place it in the litter box. Having the scent of the urine and stool helps attract the rabbit back to the box. With time, patience, treats and encouragement, many rabbits can be successfully litter trained!
If your rabbit is litter trained but starts having accidents outside the box it could be from an underlying medical issue. Please give us a call and book an appointment. Rabbits may urinate outside the box from infections, urinary stones or crystals, or kidney disease. Some rabbits also have trouble getting into and out of the box from arthritis, which we can help manage with pain medication and environmental modifications.

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