What are rabbits like?

Small, cute-and-cuddly, fragile and pretty quick to dash here and there but in no comparison to cats and dogs. Rabbits are strictly indoors in Malaysia. They are social animals that require companionship of humans or other animals. Many rabbits can get along with cats and dogs if properly introduced and supervised at the initial stage. Rabbits can also be trained to voice commands. Also require as much care as cats and dogs.

How is a rabbit different from a cat or dog?

Rabbits are prey animals whereas cats and dogs are predators. Due to this factor, there are a few things to bear in mind. Since rabbits are prey animals, they don’t generally like to be held as instincts would reveal they are “captured”. Cats and dogs like to be held and yearn for human companionship. Cats and dogs investigate unknown noises. Rabbits either freeze or run for dear life! When cats and dogs are ill, it is easily detected. As for rabbits, they mask it pretty well so the rabbit parent must know their behavior inside out in order to detect. Cats and dogs get easily stressed if there are changes toward their environment.

What rabbit is suitable for me?

For new rabbit parent/s who are beginners, it’s best to get an adult rabbit that is a year old and above rather than a younger one as it is still “growing up” and exploring their world. Adult rabbits are easier to litter train, learn appropriate behavior faster yet playful and enjoyable.

Size of rabbit is also important. The smaller ones at times are skittish and much more active. The larger ones are recommended, though still active, but not as much compared to the smaller ones. They are easier to handle and also recommended for households with children because of their size, children are reluctant to pick them up. Households with children, please remember that supervision is required at all times.

Can rabbits be litterbox trained?

Most importantly, sterilize your rabbit as this prevents the urge to mark territory. Rabbits also choose one or a few places to pee (which is usually at corners) and poo (called pill). Also make sure the litterbox is only used by them and no other pets in the house. Older rabbits are easier to train to use the litterbox compared to young rabbits and learn within a few weeks so be patient.

What types of litter to use?

Litters made from recycled paper or other natural products. Rabbits prefer some hay in their litterbox and that can be mixed with the current pellets used or exclusively hay. Wood pellets are also economical.

Avoid the following:

Clumping litter
When accumulated in rabbit’s digestive tract, it causes physical problems

Litters made of softwoods, like pine or cedar
can cause liver damage

Corn, oat and alfalfa-based litters
rabbit will ingest them instead that would lead to unnecessary bacteria

How are rabbits litter trained?

For starters, restrict bunny to a small space like her cage for the first week. Be sure to have one litterbox in a back corner of this space. During the week, bunny will choose a corner for her “toilet” area. If this isn’t where you originally placed the litterbox, relocate the box to your rabbit’s selected area. Few days later, bunny will associate the litterbox as her “toilet”. At this point, provide more run space. Be sure to supervise her carefully at this time so any accidents can be corrected immediately by placing bunny back in her litterbox. Best as possible, try not to relocate the litterbox.

Common mistakes of litter training:

  • Letting bunny out of the cage and not watching her with undivided attention. If bunny does not get herded into the litterbox every time she urinates inappropriately, a much longer time will be needed to make her understand what is expected
  • Getting in a hurry – Don’t rush bunny. Each rabbit learns at his/her own pace. Supervise carefully and reinforce her behavior, she will learn to use her litterbox

What kind of cages are ideal for rabbits?

Rabbits are not designed to live on wire floors as it is hard on their feet. They have no paw pads like cats and dogs. If a cage with a wire flooring is used, please provide a resting board or rug for her to sit on;otherwise she’ll merrily sit in her litterbox!

To solve the matter, get a pen that is meant for small animals which are affordably priced at Lazada and Shopee and of good quality.

What size of cage is best?

Bigger the better! The cage should be at least 8 times the size of your rabbit – this is taking into consideration of litterbox, space to run, food bowl, etc and still allow your rabbit enough room to stretch out completely. Which is why a playpen for small animals is recommended rather than a cage whereby everything is provided right down to proper flooring.

How do I make my rabbit’s cage/playpen more enjoyable?

The cage/playpen should be an area where your rabbit feels safe, secure, calm and most importantly comfortable. Let her/him be so comfortable and enjoyable to the point the door of the cage/playpen can be left open! Have toys, a washable soft rug, a piece of baseboard that is attached to the
cage/playpen inside and at night before sleeping a nice veggie or fruit snack. Pet shops have plenty of rabbit treats and of course monitor the amount given like once a night is sufficient.

Can my new rabbit run freely in the house?

Not advisable as the rabbit is untrained and still adapting. She/he should be in the playpen when you’re at work and at night. Rabbits are crepuscular meaning generally sleep during the day and night but are ready to play at dawn and at twilight. Remember to let bunny out of the cage/playpen when you’re at home and have a short playtime before heading for work. Once bunny is properly trained and bunny proof, she/he can freely roam in the

How do I bunny-proof my house?

Rabbits are curious and often chew on things so their exercise areas need to be “bunny-proofed” by moving or concealing anything you don’t want chewed like electrical cords especially. Common steps that are usually taken to conceal or move are house plants, electrical cords, apply anti-chewing substances to furniture and woodwork, blocking access to spaces under furniture or beds
that are difficult to get rabbit out. Also once you feel all has been done, allow rabbit to roam around and he/she will identify areas you missed. This requires close supervision until “bunny-proofed” 100%.

What can I do to make exercise more enjoyable for my rabbit?

Most importantly is to spend time with your rabbit. Play with him on the floor so he can hop to you when he/she chooses. Even if he/she has a lot of room to hop about, he/she can get bored and when that happens, he/she becomes a naughty rabbit. If  insufficient entertainment is provided, rabbit will entertain itself by “rearranging” your rugs, furniture, or some item he/she has found entertaining!

Google for rabbit toys where links are provided and array of selection you have. This will provide mental stimulation and exercise. Some good toys to start with are:

Hiding toys
cardboard boxes, paper bags and tunnels

Chew toys
untreated baseboards, untreated wicker baskets, grass mats, cardboard paper tubes

cat toys with bells inside

Can my rabbit run loose outside?

Ideally no as the rabbits we keep as pets are domestic and have limited defenses if faced with danger. Best to keep bunny indoor. However, you can have bunny  outside for a while like an hour or two max provided:

  • Throughout the time outside bunny is supervised by an adult
  • Grass has no pesticides or fertilizers
  • Make sure garden has no holes and poisonous plants
  • Daytime only when allowed outside

What is the best nutrition for rabbits?

Rabbits should be given fresh grass hay for instance Timothy, fresh vegetables, water and good quality pellets. Treats should be given in limited quantities
(approximately 1 tablespoon per day in total) to prevent weight gain.

How important is feeding hay?

Hay is the foundation of all rabbit’s diet as it is essential for good health, providing roughage which reduces hairballs and other blockages. Hay must be available at all times. Most rabbits can eat a pile the size of themselves daily!

What type of veggies are most suitable for my rabbit?

Most produce is safe for your rabbit but they particularly enjoy romaine lettuce, broccoli, carrots, spinach, kale, collard greens and anything that’s green basically. Serve, if possible, 3 types of veggies each day, introducing one new vege at a time. Rabbits are fed up to 2 cups per 5 lbs of body weight daily. AVOID: Rhubarb leaves, peas, potatoes, beans, corn, onions and garlic.

What is the best pellet?

Pellets should make up a small portion of your rabbit’s diet. Pellets should be high in fiber (>18%), and low in protein (<14%), calcium (<0.9%) and fat (<2%). Avoid pellet mixes that contain seeds, grains, dried corn, or other colorful additives, as these can be difficult for rabbit to digest and have low nutritional value. Purchase a packet at a time, do not over purchase as nutritional value degrades over time.

What treats are best for my rabbit?

From experience, rabbits consider anything hand-fed a treat, especially fresh veggies. It is not necessary to feed sweet treats or commercial treats. Rabbits
should have no more than 1 tablespoon per day of any of the following:

Fruits: banana, strawberry, blueberry,
grapes, papaya, pineapple, apple

Other: whole oats, whole peanuts,
alfalfa cube

Why spay or neuter rabbits?

They live longer and healthier. Display fewer obnoxious behaviors. Won’t overpopulate. Better companions. It is also a safe procedure that is performed only by a veterinarian.

Female rabbits can be spayed as soon as 4 months of age where they are sexually mature but many veterinarians prefer to wait until they are 6 months of age as surgery is riskier when younger. Male rabbits can be neutered as soon as their testicles descend usually around 3 ½ months but many veterinarians prefer to wait until 5 months of age.

Neutering for male rabbits generally cost lesser compared to spaying female rabbits.

What other health issues should I be concerned about?

No vaccinations are required. Just take note that rabbit’s teeth continously grow and checked by the veterinarian annually.

Rabbits also have sensitive digestive systems. The best way is to maintain a
proper diet. Grazing animals they are, hay must be constant to keep their system moving. Ensure their housing, potty, etc is properly cleaned and well maintained at all times. Uneaten food to be removed daily and fresh water replenished.

If bunny has a change in behavior including lack of appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, sneezing or nasal discharge or even panting heavily, to the veterinarian immediately.

Do rabbits require grooming?

Rabbits shed 4 times a year and because they ingest fur during self-grooming, the fur builds in their digestive tract which can cause severe problems so it’s important to brush them regularly to remove excess fur and prevent matts. In additon, their nails need trimming monthly.

How should rabbits be handled?

In general, rabbits like to hop on their own but if handling is required due to grooming or even a cuddle, pick bunny (not by the ears!) firmly not tightly on his shoulders with one hand and support his rump with your other hand and place closely to you. Rabbits will kick and struggle if they are not held securely (in their opinion). They also have the tendency to kick when nearing the ground or cage floor so if you have to accidentally drop them, make sure it’s near ground zero. To help calm a struggling rabbit, cover his eyes.

How should I introduce my new rabbit to other pets or to a current rabbit?

Rabbits are territorial and do not welcome a newcomer easily. The most important element is to create a successful pair of 2 spayed or neutered
rabbits. Expect a transition period where each rabbit is maintained separately while they get to know each other. Basic process is to introduce both rabbits in neutral territory where neither rabbit has been to before in small amounts of time and close supervision. Normal behaviors for introductions are:

Love at first sight: If this happens, you can try placing them in the space both will live in. If nothing happens, bingo!

Tentative friendship: If this happens, separate both when you’re not around and bring them together when you’re around and if fights occur, separate both and repeat the process. They’ll be friends eventually

Amorous behavior: If one rabbit mounts the other and that rabbit permits, it is a sign of a friendship that will go well. If not and there is aggression or runs away, you must prepare for a lengthier intro period

One chasing, one running: If this happens, make sure the one running doesn’t fight back and doesn’t get hurt. If neither of these occurs, watch and wait. If one gets hurt, then separate them and go slower and if one fights back, be prepared for a lengthier intro period

Fighting: If both rabbits fight, separate both and work on them daily for about 20 minutes a day when you’re at home and keep an eye on them. They’ll get along eventually but this requires patience from you.

Veterinary Nursing New Zealand 2nd Edition – Edited By D.R. Lane & B.Cooper
This article is courtesy of Pets Corner Sdn Bhd. For more pet care tips, visit www.petscorner.com.my