Rabbit Basics

Rabbits can make wonderful pets, but it is important to understand some basic rabbit characteristics before adopting one. Although usually timid in new surroundings, rabbits can quickly acclimate to living with people, becoming friendly and affectionate. They are easily trained to use a litter box and most often get along well with other domesticated pets in the household. Because rabbits are neither diurnal or nocturnal, but crepuscular, (most active in early morning and early evening), their natural schedule fits easily in with human comings and goings. Like all pets, rabbits require an initial examination by a veterinarian when adopted and annual checkups thereafter.

Home Environment

Although rabbits can happily roam the house, they do need a crate or cage to use as a home base. Wire-bottomed cages are dangerous for rabbits since they may cause foot sores. A rabbit can live comfortably in a dog crate that is at least three to four feet long.

Because rabbits spend a great deal of time chewing, any area that the rabbit will explore without supervision has to be rabbit-proofed. This includes making any electrical wires, houseplants, or valued items inaccessible. Rabbits that will be sharing the house with dogs or cats should be carefully introduced to their companions in a supervised setting.

Some rabbit owners allow their pets to roam freely and never crate them, but this requires extreme rabbit-proofing and vigilance to keep the rabbit, and the household, safe.

Diet and Exercise

A mature rabbit's daily diet should consist of an unlimited supply of fresh grass hay, as well as a variety of dark green leafy vegetables. High-fiber commercial rabbit pellets should be fed to the rabbit only in limited quantities. Needless to say, the animal should always have a fresh supply of water.

Assuming the rabbit is confined to its crate for much of the day, it is important that it be freed to exercise and have human contact for at least 30 hours per week. Rabbits are playful creatures and can be amused with simple toys, such as old towels or pieces fabric or plastic baby toys.

Litter Box Training

Usually, a pet rabbit will select a part of its crate as a toilet area. Once this spot is chosen, the owner should locate the litter box there. The box should be newspaper-lined and filled with grass hay or sawdust litter. Pine, cedar and clay litters should not be used for rabbits.

Even though rabbits can be easily litterbox-trained, they occasionally mark their territory. Adult unneutered males spray urine, and both male and female rabbits may defecate at territorial boundaries to mark them with personalized anal gland secretions. Less troublesome, but interesting to observe, rabbits also do territorial marking by rubbing objects with their chins. In this instance, the substance excreted from a small scent gland is not perceptible by humans.

Handling and Grooming

A rabbit should always be well-supported when lifted, with one hand supporting the forequarters and one hand supporting the hindquarters. The rabbit should be held snugly against the body. A rabbit should never be picked up by its ears since this may cause the animal serious injury.

Grooming a rabbit is usually pleasant and easy since rabbits are docile creatures. Regular brushing and nail clipping, as instructed by the veterinarian, should be sufficient. Nail clipping is necessary because if a rabbit's nail tears, it can open the area to infection.

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