On Sunday, March 23, many well-meaning parents will purchase live bunnies for their children as an Easter gift. Many of these Easter rabbits will wind up at shelters weeks later after the novelty has worn off. Unlucky ones may be released outside where they face predators, cars, illness, and injury. Others may live out their lives bored in a cramped cage.
Rabbits aren’t as easy to care for as most people think. Many parents have the wrong notion that a rabbit is a good “starter” pet for their child. Rabbits are intelligent, friendly, and quiet and can be great pets for children; however, a child should not have the sole responsibility for caring for a pet rabbit. Rabbits require quite a bit of work–too much for a small child to handle by themselves.
The following is a brief list of rabbit care requirements:
Rabbits require good quality rabbit pellets. It is best to buy pellets high in fiber and keep them refrigerated to prevent spoilage. Over-feeding is the number-one cause of health problems in rabbits, so be sure to read the food’s feeding instructions.
Timothy hay should be offered daily and in unlimited amounts. The fiber in the hay is extremely important in promoting normal intestinal health. Hay should be stored in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Wet or damp hay should be discarded. The most efficient way to offer hay is to use a hay rack on the outside of the cage. Your pet can pull the hay into the cage through the bars as he needs it, while the rest stays clean and dry.
Vegetables are an essential part of a rabbit’s diet. Dark, leafy vegetables must be fed daily. They include: carrots and carrot tops, dandelion greens and flowers, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, parsley, basil, radicchio, and spinach just to name a few. Rabbits require at least three different types of vegetables daily; feeding just one type may lead to nutrient imbalances. On average, a rabbit needs one heaping cup of vegetables per five pounds of body weight.
Fruit can be given as a treat, but should not be the mainstay of your rabbit’s diet. No more than two tablespoons per five pounds of body weight should be given daily. Appropriate fruit treats include: strawberries, papayas, pineapples, apples, pears, melons, persimmons, peaches and tomatoes. Bananas can be addictive and fattening for rabbits, so only offer them occasionally.
Water should always be available to your rabbit. The container should be either a water bottle with a sipper tube or a bowl that is weighted or secured to the side of the cage so it doesn’t tip over.
The cage size for one rabbit should be at least 36″ long x 36″ wide x 24″ high. A solid floor is necessary to prevent sore feet and to provide an area for resting. A piece of carpeting or synthetic fleece cloth works nicely for floor covering. Newspaper can be used under the cage, but should not be used as bedding.
Pelleted paper or other organic products make the best bedding. These products are nontoxic and digestible if eaten. Some examples are Yesterday’s News products, Harvest Litter (pelleted wheat grass products) and Gentle Touch (pelleted aspen shavings)
Rabbits can be litter box trained easily. Initially you need to keep your pet in a small area, either in a cage or a blocked off section of a room and place a litter box in the corner, preferably a corner that your pet has already used. It is helpful to put some of his droppings into the clean litter box. Always praise your bunny and give treats when the litter box is used.
The main thing to remember when picking up your rabbit is to always support the hind quarters to prevent serious spinal injuries. A rabbit’s backbone is fragile and can easily fracture if the hind legs are allowed to dangle and the rabbit gives a strong kick. When first learning to handle a rabbit, it is best to work near the floor so that if he jumps out of your arms he will not have far to go.
Your bunny should be allowed out of the cage every day with supervision. Make sure electrical cords and other hazards are out of harms way.
A toilet paper roll, an old phone book, and other rabbit-appropriate toys should be provided in your rabbit’s cage so they don’t get bored.
The optimum range for a rabbit is 60-70 degrees. Temperatures in the upper 80s and beyond may bring about a fatal heat stroke. If air conditioning is not available, it is helpful to leave a plastic frozen water bottle in the cage as a portable “air conditioner.”
If your family is thinking about adopting a rabbit for Easter, give a chocolate bunny or a stuffed toy along with a book on rabbit care. If your children are still serious about adopting after reading about rabbit care, wait until after the holiday has passed and go to your local shelter or rescue group to adopt a rabbit (or two!) B.U.N.S. (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter) has dozens of rabbits available for adoption. For more information, visit www.bunssb.org
B.U.N.S. will be holding a free Basic Bunny and Guinea Pig class from 1:30-4 p.m. on Sunday, April 20 at the Goleta Public Library located at 500 N. Fairview Ave. Learn about housing, diet, training, handling, and health. Free nail trimming will be included. Bring your bunny or guinea pig. For more information, call 683-0521.