On Sunday, April 4, 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. Still others may live out their lives bored in a cramped cage.
Rabbits aren’t as easy to care for as most people think. Many have the wrong notion that a rabbit is a good “starter” pet for their child. Rabbits are intelligent, friendly, quiet house pets 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 know-how:
Rabbits need good quality rabbit pellets (buy the green kind). It is best to buy pellets high in fiber and keep them refrigerated to prevent spoilage. Over-feeding of pellets is the number-one cause of health problems in rabbits, so be sure to read the feeding instructions on your food package. According to the Santa Barbra rescue group Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter (B.U.N.S.), this is the amount of pellets that you should feed your bunny:
2-4 lb rabbit 1/8 cup daily
5-7 lb rabbit 1/4 cup daily
8-10 lb rabbit 1/2 cup daily
11-15 lb rabbit 3/4 cup daily
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. B.U.N.S., Petcetera, and La Cumbre Feed sell partial bales of grass hay. The Oxbow Hay Co. sells hay by mail: call (800) 249-0366. Rabbit pellets can be purchased at any pet or feed store.
Vegetables are an essential part of a rabbit’s diet. On average, a rabbit needs one heaping cup of vegetables per five pounds of body weight daily. These 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.
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. According to B.U.N.S., Petromalt, fresh papaya, or fresh pineapple can be given weekly (daily during molt) to aid in the digestion of fur and to prevent hair balls.
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 (ceramic crocs work great) 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. B.U.N.S. recommends using a folding exercise pen as an alternative to a cage. This offers more room and has more uses. The cost is $30-$50 and can be ordered from Morton Jones (800) 443-5769 or KW Cages (800) 447-CAGE.
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). B.U.N.S. suggests using grass carpet squares to get the bunny’s feet off of the wire floor.
Rabbits easily can be litter box trained. 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. For more information on litter training your rabbit, visit bunssb.org/rabbitcare.
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; B.U.N.S. recommends a minimum of four hours a day. When allowing your rabbit free-run of the house, be sure to place electrical cords out of the rabbit’s reach. You can cover cords with one or two layers of sea grass mats or place the electrical cords inside of plastic tubing.
A toilet paper roll, an old phone book, or 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, instead 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 area 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 bunssb.org. All adopted rabbits are spayed or neutered, but if you happen to acquire a non-spayed or neutered rabbit, get the surgery as soon as possible! Male rabbits are less aggressive and spray less if neutered. Female rabbits, which are not spayed, have an 80 percent rate of uterine cancer after the age of three. In addition, once spayed, a female rabbit is less likely to dig or spray.
Animal-Friendly Easter Baskets
Ninety-eight percent of egg-laying hens in the United States spend their entire lives in tiny wire cages with no more area than a sheet of notebook paper. They are stacked in cages in huge warehouses and most never see the light of day. This year, consider making a chicken-friendly Easter basket by only purchasing eggs that come from free-range chickens. You can also purchase marshmallow peeps made entirely from non-animal ingredients. For more information, visit www.sweetandsara.com.
Wishing you and your family a happy, animal friendly Easter!
Adoptable Pet of the Week
Ruffle is young and beautiful. She is only two years old and is a very responsive cat who loves any attention you are willing to give her, including brushing, playtime, or just quiet cuddling. She is looking for someone who won’t mind her little imperfections, which are chronic weepy eye and some problems with balance. Come visit this green-eyed beauty and see if she is the one for you. Ruffle herself is unaware that she is anything but perfect. However, our staff veterinarian will be happy to answer any questions you may have about her.
For more information, visit the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road, or call 964-4777. Shelter hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. You can also visit sbhumanesociety.org.