How to keep your pet healthy -- and what
to do when he's not
The best way to maintain
the health of your rabbit is to learn proper care techniques and to plan
ahead in case a health emergency should arise. It is also
important to pay attention to your pet -- for his emotional well being
but also because this is what will help you spot a change in behavior or
appearance. If you don't spend time with your bunny every day, it
will be almost impossible to catch a problem before it becomes a full
Below you will find some
very basic rabbit care information. Please note that the material
presented here does not represent the whole of what you, as a rabbit
owner, should know to properly care for your pet and ensure him a long,
happy life. However, it should be enough to keep your bunny alive
and well until you can talk to your vet, surf our rabbit links, and
purchase and read a good book on rabbit care (such as those listed
Do be sure to check out our
information on rabbit illnesses,
near the bottom of this page. We also have several more pages on
this site with useful rabbit care information so be sure to surf around.
Most importantly, if your rabbit is
currently experiencing health problems, contact a veterinarian as
soon as possible.
But first, many of you have emailed us about how to pick up your
bunnies properly. Here is a helpful video that shows
Keep your rabbit supplied
with clean, fresh water at all times.
a gravity water bottle which can be attached to the cage so that
your little friend does not knock the water over while you are
away a work or school.
A vitamin enriched salt lick should always be provided.
not try to feed your rabbit only on lettuce, or carrots, or even
fed this way do not grow and develop properly. All rabbit's
need rabbit chow.
Commercially packaged rabbit chow, available at any pet or feed
store and even your supermarket, contains a variety of nutrients
that are essential for your rabbit's health, including protein.
Previously we advocated letting your rabbit have unlimited
access to pellets (unless otherwise recommended by your
veterinarian). But recent research into rabbit health
shows that the high protein content in rabbit pellets may be too
much for some rabbits if fed in larger quantities. And of
course, the high concentration of calories can be problematic
for rabbits who don't receive sufficient exercise! So
while we still recommend a bin feeder for pellets for those of
you who chronically forget to feed your rabbit... for most folks
the better course of action is to
supply your rabbit with
an unlimited quantity of timothy hay.
The hay will satisfy their
need to nibble nibble throughout the day as well as provide them with
valuable fiber and roughage for their digestive health. You can
purchase a hay rack or holder to mount in your cage so that the hay
remains clean and dry. This means less uneaten hay tossed
out because of being urine soaked or etc.
Remember that baby rabbits
should still have unlimited access to rabbit chow pellets
as their bodies are
Nursing or pregnant females too should have unlimited access also.
For all other
rabbits, over one year old in age, feed about 1/4 cup of feed per day.
(Experts recommend 1/8 cup of pellets per 4 lbs of rabbit.
So adjust the amount accordingly for smaller or larger breeds.)
Supplement the rabbit chow
with 1/2 cup of raw veggies each day.
Leftovers from the kitchen such as broccoli stems, carrot tops and
peelings, banana peels (or bananas too bruised to appeal to you or your
children), apple cores, will all be a big hit. Don't give your rabbit
too much sweets however. And avoid giving too much
"watery" fruits or vegetables-- it can give "the runs".
Similarly, avoid ice berg lettuce or cabbage. See the list
at right for more ideas of healthful fresh veggies and greens.
Remember to always wash fruits, vegetables, and greens before feeding
--even organic as this can have bacteria such as e coli. And of
course, never feed fruits and vegetables that are beginning to spoil;
these too can have harmful bacteria. Lastly some plants are
deadly to your rabbit, so be sure to read the
Poisonous Plants List for things you must never allow
them access to. Important reading if you have houseplants or your
rabbit plays out in the yard.
A note about introducing fruits
and veggies to baby bunnies: evidence shows it is best
to wait until your bunny is at least 8 to 12 weeks old before beginning
to introduce fruits and veggies. This is because it takes a
while for the baby's good gut bacteria to develop to the level that will
allow it to safely digest these foods. When you do introduce, make
sure to do so in very small amounts. Also, some experts recommend
introducing only one new item at a time, just as with human babies.
Finally, add some nice
little wood blocks for your adult rabbit to chew on. From the pet store is
best, as those from the lumber store are often treated with arsenic to
deter termites. The wood they chew isn't
nourishing, but they will provide a healthy outlet for your
rabbit's need to chew.
For extra fun try this: Super Pet Bunny Shake 'n' Chew Toy for Rabbits
Provide your rabbit with a
home that is clean, safe, & large enough to allow healthy movement.
As a rule of thumb,a rabbit's cage should be
4 times as large as the rabbit itself.
smaller is cruel and inappropriate.
should ideally be allowed out for exercise for at least 2 hours a day,
in a safe place (i.e. safe from escape, predators, heatstroke, etc.).
Rabbit's kept in outdoor hutches are as much in need of this as those
kept in indoor cages. Keeping your rabbit caged up 24/7 is like
someone locking you in the bathroom (without reading material) and never
letting you out. Good bye joy in life.
Protect your rabbit from
Remember a wild rabbit lives in a cozy
burrow in the ground that shelters it from cold wind, shades it from hot
sun, and keeps it snug and warm during snow and rain. Whatever shelter
you provide should do the same
sure that your rabbit's shade does not completely disappear during the
An hour or two without
shade, on a hot day, could quickly lead to death.
Also realize that a rabbit
does not like a home that is damp. You might want to consider
relocating your rabbit (or its hutch) if the hutch seems wet and drippy
Your rabbit will also not
appreciate a cold windy location. Dwarf rabbits are especially
susceptible to catching a chill this way.
Do be sure that your
rabbit's cage or hutch offers something more to sit on than cage wire!
One trick is to insert a piece of untreated wood (no paint or stain) to cover
part of the floor.
You must be sure however that this
wood has not been treated with arsenic or other pesticide.
Another great idea is to insert
one of the woven grass mats pictured at right.
provides a comfy resting spot up off the cage wire, as well as an
appropriate item for chewing.
To see our full selection of rabbit hutches, cages,
Mother rabbits are not the
only ones who enjoy a cozy nest. In fact,
if your rabbit lives outside, a
nest box will be an essential part of his or her shelter.
For an outside rabbit, think
of a nest box as enclosed on all sides, with a small entry hole just
large enough for your rabbit to enter. The nest
box should be large enough for your rabbit to move around comfortably
and even to stretch out.
For an indoor rabbit, a box
that is open on top will do fine. A nest box may be purchased
commercially or made at home, but be sure that wooden nest boxes are
made from untreated wood (that is with not insecticide such as arsenic).
We have many times used a new plastic litter box, deep sided, as a nest
box. But if your rabbit starts chewing on it, remove and replace
it with a wooden one.
Keep your nest box lined
with cozy hay or straw.
This insulating filler helps your bunny
conserve his body heat. If your rabbit is using the nest box
for a litter of babies, you may also want to line the bottom of the nest
box with CareFresh, to absorb moisture from the kit's urine.
Some Cautions About Bedding &
Although, in years past, we had always
used pine shavings for our rabbits, we are now very concerned about studies
that suggest that
"soft wood" shavings may give off natural chemical
compounds that are harmful to caged animals, including rabbits. It has
been found that small caged animals such as mice, hamsters, rabbits, and
etc. will live much longer lives (2 to 3 times as long) if they are not
housed with soft wood shavings as litter.
doubt this effect is intensified when the animal's cage is not extremely
well ventilated or with cages that have the animal in direct contact
with the soft wood shavings (such as most habitrails and "guinea pig"
cages). However, until more information is uncovered on this topic,
small pet owners will want to exercise caution about using soft wood
shavings -- despite the fact that they are commonly sold in pet stores.
shavings have been shown to be especially high in toxins, high enough
that we strongly recommend that
no one should ever use cedar for pet bedding,
litter, or nesting box material.
As for pine, there is still some debate
over whether it is toxic "enough", but the numbers suggest that it would
be better to avoid pine as well. As an alternative, one may use dried
grass products such as timothy hay or alfalfa for bedding and a product
such as Carefresh (essentially a paper pulp product) for litter.
To learn more about Carefresh,
here to visit their website
Scooping The Poop:
Keep your rabbit's home
clean! Rabbit's are clean animals by nature. They do not
enjoy wallowing in their own feces!
If you do not clean the cage
daily, then do so at least every three days
-- no longer.
Not only are the strong odors and vapors from the build up unpleasant to
your rabbit's sensitive nose and eyes, but they can actually cause
In addition, poop built up
in a dirty cage can ending up smearing on your bunny's bottom. Not
only is this messy and gross, but in extreme cases it can close off
the area where the poop and urine comes out. This can lead to pain
and infection for your rabbit, and ultimately death.
Even if this never
happens, sitting in dirty build-up can certainly create sores on your
Realize too that flies are
attracted to the built up feces in the cage bottom or litter box, and
will not only pester your pet, but actually lay their eggs in his feces.
If these feces are stuck on to your rabbit, the situation can lead to
maggots infesting the fur and flesh of your little friend.
And of course, keeping
your bunnies home clean means that you will enjoy visiting your bunny so much more if he or she is not crouching in
a big cloud of stink.
The Value Of A Litter Box:
A great way to keep things
tidy is to provide your rabbit with a litter box.
With a litter box, you simply reach in the cage, grab the litter box,
carry it to your outside garbage or compost heap and shake out the
contents. Add fresh litter, and voila -- you're done!
Naturally, if you let your
rabbit roam free in the house, you will want to train him or her to the
Although we have never
litter box trained a rabbit ourselves (it does not do to leave litter
boxes laying about when you have babies and toddlers exploring your
home), we have read many accounts that say
you will be most successful
if you first spay or neuter your rabbit.
The reason is that rabbits
will otherwise "spray" urine about the house to mark their territory.
To litter box train, start
by providing a box in your rabbit's cage. As your rabbit becomes used to
using it, provide litter boxes outside the cage as well ("seed" this with
poop from the dirty litter box, just to let your rabbit know what the box
is for). To make it more likely that your rabbit will use the box,
confine her to one small room. This way the litter box will be easy
to find. Later you can expand her territory a little at a time.
Praise your rabbit and give
her a treat when you see her using the litter box.
as consistent as possible so that she comes to associate using the litter
box with positive feedback.
You can also put some fresh
grass or hay in the litter box, to help attract her to it. (This is
like leaving a newspaper in the bathroom for Dad.)
If your rabbit keeps making
mistakes on the floor, try either:
Putting her in a smaller
space where she can't help but notice the litter box.
Adding additional litter
boxes so that she, again, can't help but notice the litter box.
Whether or not grooming your
rabbit is a big deal will depend, in part on the breed of rabbit you
rabbits are English Spot with an admixture of English Lop and Netherland Dwarf. Therefore, they have short
haired coats that are easy to care for. However I once owned an
angora rabbit -- what a lot of work! The brushing and combing was
quite a hobby!
Just like some people
rarely brush their dog or cat, you can probably get away with almost
never brushing your short-haired rabbit. But doing so can be a fun
way to socialize together and to create an affectionate bond. It's
also a great way to check up on fleas, ticks, ringworm or other problems
that could develop.
Another aspect of combing
is whipping out the flea comb. Check your rabbit from time to time
to see if he or she has picked up any little hitchhikers. Do not
use flea powder, flea spray, baths, or Advantage to deal with fleas.
Instead, have your vet (or someone who has been instructed by their vet)
show you the proper way to use a flea comb. See tips at right.
Do not use a plastic
flea comb if you really want to get all the fleas off your pet.
Nor do you want one of those big long-handled numbers. To comb a
small animal like a rabbit effectively we recommend a product like the
2 1/2" with compact
handle. Features 28 non-rust chrome-plated, tightly-spaced teeth per
inch that easily remove fleas from your pet's coat. Comfort grip palm
handle made of long-lasting and high-impact plastic. (Click item
image for more details or to purchase.)
Many of my rabbits seem to keep their nails down through digging.
But most caged rabbits, and many house rabbits will need to have their
nails trimmed. This can be an awful job! The rabbit squirms,
the hair gets caught in the nails clippers, the bunny shrieks or grunts
as the fur gets pulled, you get panicky and cut too much nail and the
blood begins to flow!
To cut this job down to
size, try this technique:
Invest in a high quality
pair of nail clippers. You should be able to find them with the
dog grooming supplies.
Dampen the fur of each paw
before attempting to trim the nails,
this will make it easier to keep
the little hairs out of the way and allow you to put all your
attention on cutting to the right length.
Have another person hold
the rabbit while you operate the clippers.
Do not over trim the nail
or it will bleed
-- a lot! Look at the nail and notice where the
inside of the nail appears to darken. This is where the blood vessel
starts. Be sure your trim does not come too close to this area.
Our rabbits do not enjoy
bathing. Also, if you ever have bathed a rabbit, you will appreciate
how difficult it really is to get them dry again. But if you must
bathe your rabbit, I strongly recommend the following approach:
Lay a thick bath
towel, folded double, in your bath tub. Do not plug the tub! The
whole idea is to let the water down the drain, away from your rabbit. As you can well
imagine, it is very frightening to a bunny to find herself surrounded by water,
especially water that is rising higher and higher! If you simply
let all the water drain
away, your rabbit will merely feel annoyed, not terrified.
If you have a shower
massager or some other shower-on-a-hose arrangement, turn on the water
-- on low, and moderately warm and begin gently wetting down your
rabbit. If you don't' have one of these, use a pitcher of water ( you may need a helper, to refill it for you). In either case,
take care not to
let the water run
down your rabbit's face or into her ears, mouth, or nose.
Wash your rabbit
with no tears shampoo -- adding just a little at a time.
with warm water. (Please note that if
only one part of your bunny needs bathing, such as her bottom, then
only bathe that area.) Do not let soap run into her eyes.
Wrap your rabbit in
a dry towel and remove her from the tub. Towel dry her as much
You can try using a
hair dryer, but stop if she acts very frightened. (Your rabbit will
only tolerate this at all if she feels very comfortable with you. Otherwise she will be
terrified.) Respect her cues. Cowering with bulging eyes, trying to hide
behind the toilet or etc, all signal "STOP!"
Let your rabbit stay
in the bathroom with a dish of food and some water until she is dry.
Be sure her litter box is also present. Keep the bathroom warm. If need be,
place a small space heater up high where she cannot reach it or nibble
on the cord.
From time to time,
fluff her fur with the towel and towel dry her some more.
If your rabbit lives outside,
do not return her outside until you are sure she is 100% dry and at
normal body temperature.
Remember to speak softly
and kindly to your rabbit throughout this process.
Finish the whole
procedure off by giving her a special treat that she enjoys.
Detecting & Dealing With Illness
Pre-select a veterinarian
near you who has experience caring for rabbits
(many vets are
strictly cat & dog veterinarians). The time to find a qualified
rabbit vet is now, not when you are upset and racing against time to
save your pet's life.
It's also useful to find
out where the closest emergency pet hospital is too -- or to ask your
vet about his policy toward after hours emergencies.
Purchase a book with
information on rabbit illnesses to keep on hand, so that you have a good
understanding of the symptoms that accompany the various ailments.
In general however, pay
attention to diarrhea, high fever, lack of appetite, lethargy, discharge
from the eyes or nose, difficulty urinating, swelling,
bleeding (from skin or in urine or poop), limping, paralysis,
spasms or seizures.
Also, if your bunny is
just acting strange and looks unhappy, you should investigate further.
Check her droppings, gently feel her body noting any bumps, swelling, or
a tendency to pull away as if in pain. If you would like to check
her temperature, insert the thermometer rectally (not in the mouth, as
in the cartoon above)!
If you have any doubts at
all, you should contact your vet and discuss your concerns over the
phone. He or she may suggest that you bring your rabbit in for an
strongly recommend you read this article now, so you will know
just what to do in an emergency. Includes instructions on
what to do in case of bleeding, near drowning experiences,
choking, and even insect bites.
Alfalfa Sprouts Basil
Broccoli,leaves/stems only Brussels sprouts
Carrots,with tops Celery
Dandelions,flowers and greens Endive
Green Bell Peppers
Sugar Pea Pods, flat stir fry type Watercress
Note that you must
comb at an angle to the skin if you are to have any success
dredging up fleas. Have a cup of water nearby that has a drop
of dish detergent in it. You will scrape the fleas off the
comb, with your finger, into the
water cup after each pass with the comb. The soap breaks the surface tension and allows the
fleas to drown. Do not allow the water to get sudsy or the
fleas will climb about on the suds and hop out. When you are
done, dump the water down the toilet -- not the sink.
Sterilize the cup. Use a cup that will not tip easily if
bumped. I like to use a heavy mug.