Rabbits are popular companion animals and are offered for adoption at many animal shelters, but careful consideration of their needs is essential before bringing one into your home. Keep in mind that no pet should be adopted on impulse or offered as a gift without the caregiver's full knowledge of what will be necessary for the animal's well-being.
Do rabbits require special care?
Rabbits are a prey species and as such have different, often subtler, behavior patterns than dogs and cats. Greeting behaviors may be more subdued and expressions of pain or discomfort may be less obvious. Rabbits also have specific needs for a safe and fulfilling home environment that require time and commitment. Naturally, they require proper veterinary care and should be spayed or neutered at the appropriate age to diminish aggressive and territorial behaviors and urine spraying.
Pet rabbits should be safely housed indoors in a rabbit cage at least five times their size to provide plenty of room to move around. Wire cage floors should be covered with cardboard, and a cardboard box for hiding is also a good idea. The room where the rabbit will live also should offer privacy for the animal and a constant cool but comfortable temperature.
Rabbit food should consist of a diet of timothy grass hay for necessary fiber supplemented with green leafy vegetables and a quality timothy-based pellet feed-but avoid iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cabbage. An experienced veterinarian can provide more dietary advice. Fresh water is also essential.
Can rabbits be litter trained?
If allowed to choose, rabbits will usually eliminate in a specific dedicated location. This tendency can often easily be adapted to litter training. Choosing a safe and nontoxic litter material is the first step. Clay, clumping, or crystal cat litters are not appropriate for rabbits, and cedar shavings should also be avoided. Recycled paper products and compressed pine sawdust pellets make effective and safe litter material. Litter boxes should be cleaned often to encourage use. Initially, the box should be placed where the animal eliminates, and the rabbit should be kept in a small area until litter box habits are well established. Gradually more freedom can be given, but several litter boxes may be needed throughout any large area to which the animal has access.
What about exercise and grooming?
Rabbits love to chew. In fact, chewing is important for their oral health and to prevent tooth overgrowth. Providing cardboard, paper, and used paper
towel and toilet paper rolls will allow for safe chewing options. Rabbits also need daily exercise, and the opportunity to roam and move about is essential. Once your rabbit is allowed more freedom, it is extremely important to make sure your home is safe for the animal. To avoid any chewing of inappropriate or dangerous items, your rabbit must always be supervised outside of the cage and access to objects such as electrical cords and houseplants should be restricted.
Rabbits need regular grooming because they shed approximately every three months. They can get hairballs from self-grooming-a serious concern-so weekly brushing is necessary to remove loose fur. If you have a long-haired rabbit, keeping the fur short may be easier than trying to manage all of it.
While rabbits like to be handled, most do not enjoy being picked up, so several precautions are necessary. First, approach the rabbit slowly and gently stroke the animal on top of the head. Because rabbits can injure themselves when they struggle, care must be exercised when lifting them. Their ears or scruff should never be used, and they should always be supported both from the front and back ends.
With careful attention to their needs and welfare, rabbits can make wonderful, loving house pets and companions.