Basic Rabbit Care
Feeding the correct diet to pet rabbits is extremely important as it can stop up to 90% of preventable diseases like overgrown teeth, dental abscesses, jaw infections, diarrhoea, bloat, bladder stones and other nutritional disorders. We recommend that your pet rabbit is fed a diet as close as possible to what it would otherwise consume in the wild (that is, mostly grass and vegetation).
We recommend that every rabbit be offered a constant supply of good quality fresh grass and/or grass hay (such as oaten, wheaten, pasture, paddock, meadow, ryegrass or timothy hay) every day.
Lucerne and clover hay should be avoided unless the animal is growing, pregnant or lactating. The high amount of fibre in hay is important for keeping their continuously growing teeth worn down and keeping their gut in good health. Hay or grass should comprise 80% of the volume of their diet.
Fresh vegetables and herbs
The second most important ingredient in a rabbit’s diet is fresh vegetables and herbs. An adequate volume to feed is 2 cups per kilogram of rabbit per day. These can include Asian greens (bok choy, choy sum, Chinese broccoli), broccoli, carrot/beet tops, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, celery, endive, dark-leafed lettuce and brussel sprouts. Suitable herbs include dill, mint, parsley, dandelion, coriander and basil. Fruit, carrots, sweet potato and capsicum may be fed only on an occasional basis. Peas, corn and beans are too high in starch and should be avoided.
Good quality pellets
Pellets such as Oxbow are designed to be fed as supplements only and not as a sole source of food.
Note that supplements do not need to be fed daily. A maximum of 1-2 tablespoons per rabbit should be fed on an occasional basis. Before buying pellets make sure you examine the nutritional analysis on the packet (if there is no analysis, don’t buy it!). Pellets should contain 18-20% or more crude fibre, 12-16% crude protein, 1-4% crude fat, 0.6-1% calcium and 0.4-0.8% phosphorous. You generally get what you pay for. Oxbow is a good brand to look out for.
What NOT to feed
Commercial rabbit ‘mixes’ containing seeds, grains and fruit should NOT be fed due to the high carbohydrate and fat content and more importantly, the very low fibre content. Other foods that should not be fed include nuts, grains, sugar, chocolate, avocado, cereal, corn, beans, peas, bread and biscuits.
Other edible items
Rabbits will naturally want to chew things, especially objects made of wood. This is important to keep their teeth healthy. Chew blocks, natural untreated wood or old telephone books can be provided for this purpose.
Note that rabbits will naturally eat their own faeces. They normally do this at night, when their digestive tract produces a special type of dropping, which is a lot larger and softer than normal faecal pellets.
Water should ALWAYS be available, either from a heavy bowl that cannot be knocked over, or from a dropper bottle, which is easier to keep free of faecal, urine and food contamination.
Note that some rabbits will need to be taught how to use these (e.g. a rabbit that has learnt to drink from a dropper bottle may not know how to drink from a bowl, and vice versa).
Hutches should be rain-proof and draught-proof. A hide-hole such as a box is a good idea to have in one corner for your pet to hide or sleep in. Be aware that rabbits are excellent chewers and as such it should be chew-proof (wood is not suitable). Enclosing the hutch with mosquito-netting is recommended, as rabbits are prone to several diseases that are spread by biting insects (see Vaccination section below).
Suitable bedding includes hay, straw and shredded newspaper. Faecal matter and urine-soaked bedding should be removed daily and the entire cage should be thoroughly cleaned with a non-toxic substance and rinsed well with water weekly. Wire flooring and hard surfaces such as wood and metal should be avoided as they can cause severe foot problems, which are very common in rabbits.
It is also possible to toilet-train your rabbit to use a litter tray, much like a cat does.
Other things to note
We do NOT recommend that rabbits be kept in hutches all day. Rabbits need to be able to perform normal behaviours such as running, exploring their environment and digging, which are usually not possible when locked up in a small enclosure. As such, they ideally should be allowed out of their hutch for several hours per day either in a secure, escape-proof backyard (beware that rabbits are very good at digging and chewing their way out!) or indoors. This exercise is important for preventing obesity due to inactivity.
Rabbits are extremely susceptible to heat stroke, so they should be brought indoors on hot days where the temperature exceeds 30 degrees Celsius.
We strongly recommend that every pet rabbit be vaccinated against the deadly Calicivirus (Rabbit Haemmorhagic Disease). This is because your pet does not have to be in contact with other rabbits to contract the illness, as it is also commonly transmitted via insects such as fleas and mosquitoes.
One dose of Calicivirus vaccination is effective for up to one year, so we recommend at least once- yearly boosters. If your pet is less than 10 weeks old at its first vaccination it will also need a booster one month later.
Please note that there is currently no vaccination available in Australia for another common deadly virus known as Myxomatosis. The only protection is to avoid contact with other rabbits such as pets from neighbouring properties and also feral rabbits. As this disease is also spread via insects such as fleas and mosquitoes it is also a good idea to keep your pet in a mosquito-proof enclosure and use regular flea prevention.
It used to be commonplace for vets to only recommend desexing female rabbits in multi-rabbit households, however it is now recommended that all females be desexed, even if they are housed on their own. This prevents the development of uterine cancer in the future, which can occur in up to 80% of females.
Desexing females has the added benefit of eliminating unwanted pregnancies and reducing behavioural problems like roaming (escaping) and aggression.
It is recommended that males be desexed in order to reduce roaming, territorial soiling and aggression towards other rabbits and humans.
Rabbits generally do not require routine worming if they are kept in clean environmental conditions and faeces are cleaned away daily. Overcrowding, dirty conditions and inappropriately small enclosures are major causes of worms.
There are also some beneficial worms that may naturally found in the intestine of a healthy rabbit that may be adversely affected by over-worming.
You may wish to worm your new rabbit after purchase if you are unsure about the conditions it was living under previously. In this case, it is preferable that one of our vets first performs a faecal test on a fresh sample.
Please talk to one of our staff members about which worming product is best to use for your situation, or if you suspect you pet has worms.
Most rabbits, especially those with long fur, will require regular brushing. Don’t forget to brush under the arms, legs, bottom and belly. Some will need to have their fur clipped, especially in hot weather or if it becomes matted.
Never try to brush out matted fur as it is very painful. Matted fur usually needs to be clipped off by an experienced groomer or veterinary nurse (usually under sedation) as severe skin problems can arise underneath the affected area.
Note that some rabbits will stop grooming themselves, especially around their back end, if they are feeling unwell or sore. If you notice that this is happening more often than normal, then it may be time for a check-up.
It is a good idea to teach your rabbit from a young age to accept its entire body being touched. This is a good way for you to notice any new health problems that may arise such as lumps or sores. It will also make it easier and less stressful for it if you or your vet need to examine and perform any procedures such as nail trims.
Health Insurance for pets is becoming increasingly available. Depending on the level of cover chosen you may be covered for up to 100% of costs related to injury, illness, desexing and preventative medicine. We recommend that everybody does their own research into which product is best for their individual situation. In some instances, a pet may be added on to your family’s private health cover.