Why a House Rabbit?
Perhaps you’ve just adopted your first rabbit, or maybe you already have a rabbit and would like more information to help you understand her better. House Rabbit Society, a national nonprofit organization, recommends that you keep your rabbit in the house rather than outdoors. Rabbits are intelligent, social animals who need affection, and they can become wonderful companion animals when given a chance to interact daily with their human families. Learning their body language opens up a whole new appreciation of the rabbit personality.
The Benefits of Spay and Neuter
Although most rabbits will use a litterbox, hormones may cause unneutered males and unspayed females to “mark territory.” Spaying or neutering your rabbit improves litterbox habits, lessens chewing behavior, decreases territorial aggression, and gives your rabbit a happier, longer life. Have your rabbit neutered between ages 3 1/2 to 6 months, depending on sexual maturity, by an experienced rabbit veterinarian. For rabbits more than 2 years old, get a veterinary checkup first.
Rabbits may have free run of the home. However, it’s best for most–and necessary for some–to start in an enclosure of some kind. Place a litterbox in the corner of the enclosure your rabbit chooses for a “bathroom.” As soon as he uses the litterbox consistently, you can give him some freedom. Place one or more large litterboxes in corners of the running area outside the cage. Use only positive reinforcement (treats and praise), never punishment during housetraining.
Living with a house rabbit requires bunny-proofing your home. It is natural for rabbits to chew on furniture, rugs, drapes, and–most deadly of all–electrical cords. Cords must be concealed so the rabbit cannot reach them. Exposed cords can be encased in vinyl tubing (found at hardware stores). By splitting the tubing lengthwise with a utility knife, the cord can be pushed inside it.
Give your rabbit enough attention, safe chewables, and toys, so that she is distracted from chewing furniture and rugs. A cardboard box stuffed with hay makes an inexpensive playbox. Young rabbits (under a year old) are more inclined to mischief and may require extra supervision and/or more bunny-proofed areas than mature rabbits.
House rabbits and other animals
House rabbits and indoor cats can get along fine, as can rabbits and well-mannered dogs. Dogs should be trained to respond to commands before being trusted with a free-running rabbit, and supervision is needed to control a dog’s playful impulses (this is especially true for puppies). Adding a second rabbit is easiest if both rabbits are neutered adults of opposite sexes, and when they are introduced for short periods in an area unfamiliar to both rabbits.
Major Health Problems
Intestinal blockages: Because rabbits groom themselves constantly, they get furballs just as cats do. Unlike cats, however, rabbits cannot vomit, and excessive swallowed hair may cause a fatal blockage. Rabbits can also develop a serious condition known as GI stasis which has many of the same symptoms. If your rabbit shows a decrease in appetite and in the size of droppings, get advice from a rabbit veterinarian. Prevention: keep bunny brushed (less hair is swallowed); provide exercise time/space–at least 30 hours a week; give a handful of fresh hay daily; add fresh vegetables gradually to the diet; give petroleum laxatives during a heavy molt or if synthetics have been swallowed.
Bacterial balance: A rabbit’s digestive tract is inhabited by healthful bacteria. If the “good” bacteria balance is upset by stale food or a sudden change in diet, harmful bacteria can take over the digestive track and kill the rabbit.
Prevention: Keep all rabbit food in a cool dry place and make dietary changes very slowly, giving any new food in small amounts. If no abdominal gurgling or loose stool results in 24 hours, the food may be offered again. If your rabbit goes outdoors to exercise, check for pesticides and toxic plants. (A list is available from your local poison center.)
Infectious bacteria: Many rabbit diseases are caused by bacteria, not viruses, and can be successfully treated with antibiotics. If your rabbit shows symptoms of a “cold” or “snuffles,” take him to a veterinarian familiar with antibiotics that can be safely used in rabbits. Oral drugs of the penicillin family, such as amoxicillin, should NOT be given to a rabbit, since there is risk of destroying good intestinal bacteria.
It’s up to you
Find an experienced rabbit veterinarian before a problem develops. If your rabbit has been harassed or injured by a predator, take him to a veterinarian even if no injuries are apparent. On hot days, keep your rabbit cool indoors with wet towels, cool tiles or frozen water bottles wrapped in a towel. Regularly check your rabbit’s eyes, nose, ears, teeth, weight, appetite, and droppings for signs of possible illness.
If your rabbit goes outdoors, you should also check the bunny all over for fleas, ticks, mites, or cuterebra. (Read about cuterebra here.)
Don’t waste valuable time! Call your veterinarian immediately if you see:
- Diarrhea with listlessness
- Sudden loss of appetite with bloat and abdominal gurgling
- Loss of appetite with labored breathing
- Loss of appetite with runny nose
- Head tilt
- Incontinence (urine-soaked rear legs)
- Abscesses, lumps or swellings anywhere
- Any sudden behavioral change