April 28th

Written By: Joanne Hua, Animal Care Attendant

Joanne Hua, Animal Care AttendantSo, you are considering adopting a rabbit but don’t know how or where to start? How can you differentiate between what is accurate and what is a misconception? This will be your starting line to the enriching world of rabbit care. For more information, visit our website and view our Rabbit Care Guide!

Rabbits are a prey species. This means they generally would not like to be handled, so if you are looking for a cuddly companion, a bunny may not be right for you. With some patience and socialization, there is always a chance they will seek out the occasional snuggle over time. Of course, each rabbit is different, and there are some friendly ones from the get-go.

Getting your rabbit a companion should also be considered in your plan as they are social creatures and will thrive with a bonded buddy. However, it is prudent that you introduce a new rabbit to yours very slowly to limit the risk of aggression — yes, rabbits can be aggressive. After all, they do need to defend themselves from predators or mark their territory. It is best to bond a spayed female and neutered male to increase the likelihood of the two bonding. Two spayed females may also work. Two neutered males may result in fighting for dominance, but that is not always the case. Depending on their temperaments, they could spend their whole lives without issues. These are not hard set rules as there are always exceptions, and it just comes down to each individual personality.

The Enclosure

Contrary to popular belief, “rabbit cages” that are marketed in pet stores are often not suitable for your rabbit. They require a bare minimum enclosure size of 36in L x 24in W x 24in W, but of course, the bigger, the better. Using an exercise pen (like ones for dogs/puppies) is recommended. You will be able to comfortably place a large litter box, hides, a dig box, varying chews and toys, and of course, food and water bowls. Displayed is an example of an ideal setup, with Tron (one of our available bunnies) being the star of the show.

Pictured is Tron in his 2.4m L x 1.2m W enclosure. It contains:

A large litter box that he can comfortably sit and move around in. It is filled with unscented paper pellets.

A large hay bag (from Wags & Whiskers Co.) with an unlimited supply of hay.

A dig box filled with paper bedding to encourage foraging when food/treats are tossed inside.

Variety of Oxbow Animal Health toys to promote chewing for grinding down their ever-growing teeth.

Multiple hides so he can feel safe and secure.

A ceramic water bowl.

A dish for his pellets and greens. Although, you can scatter-feed the greens to add enrichment.

The great thing about rabbit set-ups is that they can be as expensive or inexpensive as you would like. Hides and dig boxes can easily be cardboard boxes (with tape removed). Foraging toys can be toilet paper rolls stuffed with hay and a treat in the centre. The DIY projects will be entertainment for you as well!

As lavish as you create your enclosure, to keep your bun happy, they will need at least four hours of out-of-cage time, whether free-roaming your home or at least an entire room that is bunny-proofed.

Diet

A rabbit’s diet will predominantly be high-quality timothy hay or a mix of the various grasses if ordering some from your local farm. You would want to avoid feeding alfalfa hay as the primary source because it is high in calcium and fat, leading to adverse health issues over time. Alfalfa is typically meant for young rabbits less than five months old. It was no coincidence that the hay bag in the photo was placed above the litter box. Rabbits will eliminate where they eat and spend a good chunk of their time eating hay.

Pellets from a reputable brand, like Oxbow, will act as a supplement and should be given daily. The amount should be measured out daily, according to the weight of the rabbit. There is usually a feeding chart on the bag that you can follow. It is important not to overfeed your bunny on pellets. They will become overweight, and that will come with a plethora of health problems.

Greens are also to be given daily—about a cup per kilogram of body weight. At the shelter, we provide mixed greens that includes romaine lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, and chard. Spinach and kale are only to be given in moderate amounts. Avoid iceberg lettuce as there is no nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables that are high in sugar (i.e. carrots, apples, bananas, etc.) should only be given as an occasional treat and should never be part of their staple diet. Our booklet will go more in-depth about the do’s and don’ts to feed your bunny.

Health Concerns

Rabbits are notorious for hiding their illnesses; they must not appear weak in front of predators! Once you notice your rabbit is not eating, it is time to speak with a rabbit-savvy vet. When your rabbit’s poop is no longer uniform and round, or there is none, it is time to go to your vet. When you see blood in your bunny’s urine, it is time to go to your vet!

Although, do not be alarmed when the urine is orange or red. This is normal as it can be plant pigment excretions. Bloody urine will look more like hints of red drops, creating a light pinkish hue when mixed with the normal urine. Opaque white in the urine is a normal calcium deposit. Refer to the diagram from bunnylady.com to have a better idea of normal rabbit urine.

Fostering

You have now gotten a better picture of what goes into rabbit care after reading through our resources and conducting your own research. Are you still experiencing hesitancies? Supplies are more costly than you expected? Consider fostering with us! Not only will you get hands-on experience with rabbits, but you will be helping us manage our influx of rabbits at the shelter. The bunnies will also greatly appreciate having someone to spoil them all day!

Through our foster program, we will provide you with all the necessities and refills on supplies as needed. Being able to foster different rabbits will allow you to become acquainted with a variety of behaviours. If you ever require advice, we are just a call or email away at fostering@kwsphumane.ca.

Rabbits are an 8-12 year commitment and are not a “low-maintenance” pet. Please do your research and consider the logistics of owning a rabbit in your home. Do you have the space? Will you be able to provide veterinary care if something happens? What is your plan for when you must go away for the week? Will your bunny thrive and not just survive in your care? If you have gotten it all figured out, your bun will cherish the time it has with you as its fur-ever home.