Many years ago, when I worked at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit, I could tell it was the end of Easter season when an influx of bunnies started coming into our shelter. Many well-intentioned parents would purchase live bunnies for their children as an Easter gift, but unfortunately, many of these Easter “presents” would wind up at our shelter once the novelty wore off.
Rabbits aren’t as easy to care for as most people think. Many parents have the wrong notion that a rabbit would make a good first 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. Rabbit care requires quite a bit of work, and parents need to help with the responsibility. If you are serious about adopting a rabbit, make sure you know the requirements.
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 of pellets is the number-one cause of health problems in rabbits, so be sure to read the feeding instructions on your food.
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 harm’s 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 animal along with a book on rabbit care. A week or so later, if your children are still serious about adopting, go to your area shelter or rescue group to adopt a rabbit (or two!). BUNS (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter) has close to 50 rabbits up for adoption at their Santa Barbara location, and it has guinea pigs, too. For more information, visit www.bunssb.org. For more information on a shelter in your area, visit www.petfinder.com
Project RespnsiBull Worshops
CARE4Paws will host Project ResponsiBull workshops for owners of pit bulls and pit mixes at the Santa Barbara Humane Society with trainer John Sorosky from Camp Canine on Saturday, April 28, 1-3 p.m. For more information, visit www.care4paws.org
Adoptable Pet of the Week
Dutch rabbits are known for their sweet dispositions and Raleigh is no exception. He is very calm and approachable and likes being pet and groomed. His small size and sweet personality make him the perfect lap rabbit. Raleigh is waiting to charm a lucky person’s home. Could it be yours?
Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter (BUNS) is a volunteer organization that cares for abandoned rabbits. BUNS is located at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road. BUNS works to find bunnies permanent homes, and educates the public on caring for a companion rabbit. You can call the County Shelter at (805) 681-5285 or call BUNS at (805) 683-0521 and leave a message for someone to call you back. For more information, visit www.bunssb.org