DCSPCA's Top 5 Tips
Cats and dogs aren’t the only animals you can adopt at a shelter. Dutchess County SPCA also rescues small animals including guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters and… bunnies! Rabbits can be fantastic companion animals. If you haven’t spent much time with these soft, sweet, cute, and adorable animals, you are in for a treat. Bunnies are smart, and can even be trained to use a litter box. Many people opt for these compact cuties instead of cats and dogs.
Interested in bringing home a bunny? Remember, they’ll need to visit the vet at least once or twice a year, just like a dog or cat. Here are 5 essential tips for making sure they have everything they need for a hoppy life in your home.
1. Offering rabbits proper protection
Just like cats and dogs, rabbits are social animals, who enjoy human companionship. They also need protection from harsh weather. Even if you offer your bunny some outdoor time (with proper protection from predators) in a covered pen or hutch, it’s important that they have a space inside your home, so that they can enjoy the benefits of family life. Bunnies should be treated as furry family members.
2. Feeding and watering
Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they get all of the nutrients they need from plants. They will need grass and/or hay as part of their diet to be healthy and happy. So, make sure they have good quality hay available to them at all times. Don’t feed them lawnmower clippings, though, which could make them sick. They do enjoy (washed) leafy greens and should eat a variety of these daily. Feed your bunny 5-6 different types of greens each day, such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, parsley, and mint. Find out more about feeding your rabbit here. Despite what you’ve seen in cartoons, rabbits should only eat carrots in small amounts as treats. Be sure your rabbits always have access to fresh water (that you check twice daily).
3. Spaying or neutering your rabbit
In some ways rabbits are similar to cats and dogs, and in some ways they’re different! All of these pets need to be spayed/neutered. Altered rabbits will be healthier and live longer than rabbits who are left intact. For female rabbits, spaying reduces the risk of ovarian, uterine, and mammarian cancers. Spaying and neutering also eliminates the risk of accidental litters of bunnies. Rabbits are wonderful, but just like with kittens and puppies, there are already so many who need homes, we don’t need to bring any new ones into the world!
Like cats, rabbits lick their coats to clean themselves. But unlike cats, you won’t find a rabbit coughing up a hairball in the middle of the night. That’s because rabbits are unable to vomit. This means that hairballs can become big masses of fur and food that can block their stomach exit, causing a painful death even though the bunny may appear to be fat. You can prevent all of this by brushing your rabbit at least once a week. A healthy rabbit will shed their fur about once every three months. This happens in different ways. A rabbit will shed their fur in anywhere between 1 day and 3 weeks. If a rabbit is shedding all of the time, though, it’s time to take them to visit the vet. It could be a sign that something is wrong. Once your rabbit begins shedding, you can often remove much of the hair with your hand. Be sure to assist your rabbit out by helping them shed as much as you can, because otherwise your rabbit will remove the hair during grooming, a health risk.
5. Litter training
Just like cats, bunnies may be litter trained. Urine-training is relatively easy. You can put a litter box filled with natural litter and topped with hay where they choose to go. To poop-train your rabbit, put a box in a place they know will not be visited by others. Believe it or not, older rabbits may be easier to train than younger ones. As it turns out, you can teach an old bun new tricks. Change the hay that is on top of the litter daily. Avoid litters that are made from pine or cedar, which can be toxic for rabbits, and also clay, clumping, and corn cob litters. Safe litters include fluffy or pellet paper litter, compressed sawdust pellets, wheatgrass-based litter pellets, oat- and alfalfa-based litters, and newspaper.
Rabbits can make fantastic pets and by taking a few easy steps you can be sure they will be as happy and healthy as possible. Note: Due to Rabbit Hemorrhagic Virus, which can infect both wild and pet rabbits, the latest recommendations are to keep rabbits inside as much as possible. There is a newly available vaccine that can reduce the risk, especially if your bunny is going outdoors.