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Small Pets


Rabbit information

Rabbits are small mammals belonging to the family Leporidae, a family where you will also find the closely related hares. Rabbits live in many different parts of the world, including environments to which they have been introduced by man. Rabbits are kept as pets as well as raised for their meat and fur, or to become food for other animals such as pet snakes. 

What’s the difference between rabbits and hares?
Rabbits give birth to blind and hairless offspring, while hares tend to be born seeing and covered in fur. Hares live in simple nests above the ground, while all rabbits except the cottontails live in underground burrows or warrens.

Rabbit taxonomy                                                                 

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Vertebrata
Class:            Mammalia
Order:           Lagomorpha
Family:          Leporidae


Rabbit care

Rabbits kept as pets are normally housed in indoor cages or outdoor hutches. In favourable climates, it is quite common to let indoor rabbits spend time outdoors during the day to enjoy the fresh air and natural sunlight, but they should always have access to cover.

Rabbits need to be allowed out of their cage to run around and play on a daily basis, e.g. in a playpen or rabbit-proofed room. Spending all their time in a cage can make them obese and depressed and increase their susceptibility to other health problems. They can be thought to use a litter box, but will usually need one in every room they spend time in since they might not bother to go back to a box in another room. Rabbits can also be trained to walk in a harness and some rabbits enjoy jumping over hurdles in an obstacle course, just like horses and agility dogs.    

Rabbits are social creatures so if you have enough space it is advisable to get more than one. If you introduce strangers to each other, expect the bonding process to take some time and involve quite a lot of hostility before they’ve worked things out. Some rabbits prefer to always have a cage of their own and only socialize with others on neutral ground, e.g. in the playpen. Do not keep unneutered / unsprayed males and females together unless you are a rabbit breeder. Rabbits are known to bond well to other pets, e.g. gentle dogs and the more peaceful members of the order Rodentia, but you never know how to individuals will react to each other so keep an eye on them.

To make life in captivity less monotonous, you can provide your rabbit with playthings such as balls, tunnels and things to climb on. It is better to rotate through a collection of toys than to cram the cage and playpen full with all of them. PVC-pipes large enough to run through, virtually anything made from untreated wicker, and toilet paper rolls stuffed with hay or other treats are just a few examples of things that most rabbits appreciate. It’s extremely important to provide rabbits with pieces of wood, hard pellets and similar stuff to chew on because rabbit teeth continue to grow throughout their life.   

Children under the age of 8-10 are usually not mature enough to handle rabbits unsupervised and may unintentionally frighten or injure these easily startled creatures. Rabbits are prey animals with a timid temperament and should be handled with great care. Their bones are very delicate, especially in the back, and easily broken if handled roughly. Always support the belly of the rabbit when picking it up.

Rabbit feeding

Rabbits are herbivore creatures that feed chiefly on grass, forbs and leafy weeds in the wild. This means that captive kept rabbits should be kept on a similar diet rich in cellulose fibre and low in protein and fat. Pet rabbits are typically given free access to Timothy hay or similar, supplemented by high-quality pellets, fresh vegetables (especially green leafy ones) and a smaller serving of fruit. New food items should always be introduced slow and gradually since rabbits have sensitive digestive tracts.

If you wish to give your rabbit a treat, avoid purchasing ready-made rabbits treats high in refined sugar. A piece of fruit will usually be just as appreciated and is healthier for your pet.

Rabbits should always have access to fresh water.

Cecal pellets
To meet its nutritional needs, the rabbit ingests its droppings to let the nutrients go through the digestive system once more (they digest them in a special part of the stomach). It will not eat its dropping indiscriminately; only a special type of droppings known as cecal pellets will be recycled in this fashion. Cecal pellets are soft black and viscous and contain a high level of vitamins, minerals and proteins. As soon as they leave the body, the rabbit will devour them again so they are rarely seen by humans. The other type of droppings – hard pellets consisting mostly of cellulose –  are not eaten.

Rabbit breeding

The recommended breeding age for domesticated rabbits varies depending on breed size, with small breed females normally being ready to mate when they’re 5 months old and the male 6 months of age or more. Medium sized breeds shouldn’t be bred until the female is 6 months old and the male 7 months, and heavy breeds are normally not ready until the female is 8 months old and the male 9 months.

Choose healthy rabbits for breeding purposes, ideally ones that come from healthy ancestors without any known genetic disorders. Before mating them it is also important to check that they aren’t suffering from any temporary health problems like diarrhoea or infection.

When its time for the rabbits to mate, always take the female to the cage of the male and not the other way around since males tend to be so distracted by being in a female’s cage that they spend the evening sniffing, not mating.  

Four weeks after mating, the female should be provided with a suitably sized nesting box in her cage unless she already has one. Domesticated rabbits normally give birth 31 days after mating.

Young rabbits benefit from alfa-alfa and other types of nutrient rich legume hay. You can start giving them vegetables when they’re three months old, but fruit should ideally not be introduced until another four months have passed. At that age, they will also begin transitioning from legume hay to more grassy foods.

Rabbit health

Vaccinating your rabbit
Vaccines exist against myxomatosis, calicivirus and certain hemorrhagic viral diseases. In most parts of the world it is not mandatory to have your rabbit vaccinated, but many owners do it anyway.

Spaying or neutering your rabbit
If you don’t intend to use your rabbit for breeding purposes, it is a very good idea to have it spayed or neutered. It will eliminate the risk of unwanted rabbit litters, reduce aggression, and make it easier to teach the rabbits to use a litter box. Spayed females are also less likely to develop ovarian cancer.

Claws and teeth
If your rabbit doesn’t wear down its claws by running around on rough surfaces you need to trim them regularly. You can either ask someone with plenty of nail trimming experience to teach you or take your rabbit to the vet. Doing it the wrong way can lead to bleeding and suffering.  
Just like nails, the teeth of a rabbit continue to grow throughout its life and it is therefore extremely important to provide your rabbit with suitable items to gnaw on. There is also a genetic defect, malocclusion, which causes so called “wolf teeth” in rabbits.

Myxomatosis is a deadly disease that causes lumps, puffiness and around head and genitals, acute conjunctivitis (pink eye), blindness, listless, anorexia, and fever in infected animals. After a while, secondary bacterial infections begin to run rampant and death normally occurs within 14 days after the first symptoms.

The risk of constipation can be reduced by making sure your rabbit eats a lot of roughage, such as timothy hay. Indigestible fibres are necessary to keep the gut of a rabbit moving. Rabbits should be given access to hay and water at all times.

Moon eye
Moon eye is a genetic defect causing cloudy cornea. Carriers should ideally not be used for breeding purposes.

Rabbit facts

Rabbit facts # 1
Rabbits have been used as therapy animals since the 1970s.

Rabbit facts # 2
Earlier, the word rabbit was used for youngsters only and the adult animal was instead referred to as coney or cony, pronounced [kʌ.ni] (rhymes with "money"). During the 1800s, coney became a vulgarism by analogy to the word cunt. This caused more and more people to start using the word rabbit regardless of the age of the animal, and those who stuck to the word coney / cony began pronouncing it [koʊ.ni] (rhymes with "phoney") to avoid misunderstandings.

Read more Rabbit Facts

Rabbit lifespan

The expected lifespan for a domestic rabbit is 8-10 years.


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