Loving Family Pets      Rabbits
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Rabbits as Pets

Rabbits can make good pets and may be an especially good pet for people living in small apartments. If you want your rabbit to be affectionate and social you will need to spend some time with it early on.  They are also better suited to families with older children, children well instructed in rabbit care, or for adults with no children. Young children may be too anxious to hold rabbits. Rabbits are sensitive animals and being poorly handled can lead to a bunny that will be poorly bonded making it a less enjoyable pet. Although most rabbits don't like to be held, with patience and care, you can have a pet rabbit that will come when called and snuggle on your lap. Keep in mind, as with all animals, rabbit temperament can vary so not all bunnies will be as naturally friendly as other.

Contrary to popular belief, rabbits can be litter box trained. They do, however, have the tendency to explore things by chewing, so one should have a rabbit-proofed environment. It is especially important to supply lots of safe chewing opportunities and chew toys. You can buy rabbit toys but a simple canning jar lid will provide your rabbit with some enjoyable playtime. As well, electrical plugs and exposed wires are very dangerous to the rabbit, so these should be kept well out of sight. The House Rabbit Society has a great deal of information about behavior and training your pet rabbit.

Bedding and Litter for Rabbits

Bedding material can be hay, straw, hardwood shavings (maple, oak, apple) or bits of cloth (if the rabbit is well litter trained). Rabbits like to arrange their beds and comfortable material should be provided. The bedding should be changed at regular intervals to keep the cage smelling fresh and the rabbit feeling comfortable. The bedding should be completely changed and the cage cleaned once every month or two (more frequently if the rabbit urinates outside the litter box).

Some material other than the bedding material should be provided in a litter box. The litter should be changed and the litter box cleaned with warm soapy water at least once a week or more frequently if required.

Pine and cedar shavings are not suitable for use as bedding or litter for rabbits or other small pets. Research has shown that chemicals emitted from these shavings can cause liver disease and reduce the lifespan of your pet. 

Rabbit Feeding

Rabbits must have hay available at all times and should not be fed a diet that is mostly made up of commercial rabbit pellets. Grass hay consisting predominantly of timothy is best. A diet high in alfalfa-based hay or alfalfa-based pellets can cause urinary crystals due to the high calcium content. Commercial rabbit pellets made from timothy hay should be fed in small amounts (a handful) every day since these provide essential nutrients. These are great to use as training treats.

Rabbits require green vegetables every day and also enjoy receiving carrots, fruit and other vegetables. Add a new food in small amounts, gradually increasing over time since a sudden change in diet can cause diarrhea which can be fatal in rabbits.

Refer to the House Rabbit Society website at www.rabbit.org for feeding information and recommendations for baby, juvenile and senior rabbits  for detailed information about what to feed, how much to feed and why. Rabbits can be very persuasive in begging for treats and trying to share our food, but giving in to the begging rabbit can be very bad for its health. Never give your rabbit salty crackers, sugary cookies or other human snack foods and be sure to read the ingredients of any commercial rabbit treats carefully. Avoid treats that contain seeds, nuts or are high in salt or sugar.

Exercise For Your Rabbit

Rabbits need exercise and they love to run and jump, go through tunnels and in and out of boxes. A cardboard box with a few holes cut in it placed in the middle of a room will entertain a rabbit and provide lots of exercise for the rabbit and entertainment for you. Rabbits should have some free time out of their cage every day in a supervised and rabbit-proofed area.  Give your rabbit a litter box and a place to hide during these free periods. You can also get a harness and leash and take you rabbit outside. Be sure to avoid brushy areas where cats could be hiding and areas where there could be loose dogs.
Rabbits actually like to play with "toys". Some good rabbits toys are paper towel tubes, canning jar rings, or branches from an apple tree. Rabbits are not rodents but, like rodents, their teeth grow throughout their lives so they they must chew on things to keep them from over growing. Rabbits love to toss and push their toys around but they will most likely chew on them so toys should be made of materials that won't be harmful if the rabbit ingests pieces from them.  Providing play time and toys may reduce some undesirable rabbit activities such as digging carpet or chewing on furniture. Rabbits love to play but they also need interaction

Spaying/Neutering Your Rabbit

It is very important to spay or neuter your rabbit. If you have more than one rabbit it prevents unwanted litters and helps with the overpopulation problem. It also provides health benefits including prevention of reproductive system cancers which can strike both male and female rabbits. Also, both male and female rabbits can spray and exhibit sexually aggressive behavior unless they are altered. These behaviors include excessive digging, marking territory with urine or droppings, nipping, fighting with other rabbits, and "humping" everything within sight. Once your rabbit has been "fixed", the hormones and instincts which cause these behaviors are reduced and your rabbit will be happier, more relaxed, and more enjoyable to have around the house.

Rabbit Communication

Rabbits communicate through a variety of ways. They seldom vocalize but may occasionally snort or grunt if annoyed. A very frightened rabbit screams like a tea kettle. Unaltered rabbits hum little love songs, and happy rabbits "purr" by lightly grinding their teeth together. Body language is more important: happy rabbits dance, race around or leap in the air, flop over on their side or back, stretch flat out, etc. A rabbit who places his or her chin on the ground is usually asking to be groomed, by you or another rabbit-- this is called "presenting". Rabbits that are frightened or stress may "thump" their hind feet. If approached too abruptly, a rabbit may box, rear up and even bite.  They have a blind spot in front of them because their eyes are placed to detect predators from above and behind, so a cautious approach from above where the rabbit can see your hand is recommended. Gentle, respectful handling and an understanding of rabbit behavior will help you and your bun enjoy your relationship.

Is A Rabbit Right For You?

With care and attention to its needs your pet rabbit will live from  8-12 years. A rabbit is not the best pet for everyone and not recommended as a pet for young children.  If you feel that a pet rabbit would fit your personality and living style you can get one at many pet stores or breeders. Keep in mind that often animal shelters have rabbits up for adoption. 

PetSmart - Small Pet

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