Adapted from Animal Sheltering Magazine.
Rabbits may be easy to love, but they're not quite as easy to care for. Rabbits are social creatures and wonderful companions to people who take the time to learn about their needs. To learn about providing care for these adorable creatures, check out books and web sites on rabbit care. This set of quick reminders will give you the basics.
1. Help Them Hop to It
Every rabbit owner should know that the safest place for a rabbit to live is indoors. Rabbits shouldn't be kept outdoors! If kept in a cage, rabbits need a lot of room so they can easily move around. A rabbit's cage should be a minimum of five times the size of the rabbit. Cages with wire flooring are hard on rabbits' feet, which do not have protective pads like those of dogs and cats. If you place your rabbit in a wire cage, be sure to layer the floor with cardboard or paper. Place a cardboard box in the cage so the bunny has a comfortable place to hide, and respect your animal's need for quiet time. (Rabbits usually sleep during the day and night, becoming playful at dawn and dusk.)
Always house rabbits indoors and maintain comfortable room temperatures, as rabbits do not tolerate extreme temperatures. Also, be sure to keep your rabbit entertained by providing plenty of toys in his cage and giving him exercise time out of the cage every day.
2. Please Put Litter in Its Place
Rabbits can easily learn to use a litter box. Place a litter box in the cage to encourage this behavior. When creating a litter box or bedding, stay away from cedar or other wood shavings, which may cause liver damage or trigger allergic reactions in rabbits. Instead, stick with organic litters made of paper, oats, alfalfa, or citrus. Hay is another option for litter material, but it requires even more frequent changing because rabbits will nibble on it.
3. Give 'Em Hay
If there were a food pyramid chart created for rabbits, timothy grass hay would form the entire base. Rabbits should have access to a constant supply of this hay, which aids their digestive systems and provides the necessary fiber to help prevent health problems such as hair balls, diarrhea, and obesity. Alfalfa hay, on the other hand, should be given to adult rabbits in limited quantities because it's too high in protein, calcium, and calories.
4. A Balanced Diet
In addition to hay, the basic diet of a mature rabbit should be supplemented with leafy dark green vegetables such as parsley, dandelion greens, and carrot tops; one to two tablespoons per day of treats such as rolled oats or fruit; and a good pellet feed with 12 to 20% crude fiber and 14 to 17% crude protein (check the packaging). Begin feeding pellets at one-fourth cup per five pounds of body weight, divided into two meals per day, and then adjust the amount according to the rabbit's body condition. Avoid lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, or table scraps, which can all cause bloat and diarrhea. Keep fresh water available, preferably in sipper bottles, which take up less space than water bowls and are less likely to spill. Watch new rabbits to make sure they know how to use the bottles, and clean bottles daily so the tubes don't get clogged.
5. Chew on This
Chewing is part of a rabbit's natural behavior, but it doesn't have to be destructive. To keep rabbits active and amused, you may want to put untreated wood blocks or cardboard in their cage. Your best bet is paper-towel rolls, toilet-paper rolls, and other chewable cardboard materials that can be tossed in the trash once they've served their purpose. Avoid plastic toys and objects with sharp edges, loose parts, or soft rubber that rabbits could chew into pieces and swallow.
6. Caution: Handle With Care
Rabbits are fragile animals who should be handled carefully. Their bones are so delicate that the muscles in their powerful hind legs can easily overcome the strength of their skeletons. As a result, if not properly restrained, struggling rabbits can break their own spines.
One way to take a rabbit out of a cage is to gently gather a handful of loose skin at the scruff of his neck, turn the animal's face away while pulling his body toward you, and immediately place your other hand underneath his rump to support his body weight. Another method is to slide one hand underneath the front of the rabbit and the other hand underneath his back side, lifting him carefully with both hands. Whichever method you use, make sure you never let his body hang free, never lift him by the stomach, and never pick him up by his ears.
And remember that because rabbits groom each other around the eyes, ears, top of the nose, top of the head, and down the back, they'll think of you as a kindred spirit if you pat them there, too.
7. Rabbit-Proof Your House
Rabbits need several hours of exercise each day. One way they can get it is by running around the house. Whether you choose to give your rabbit run of the entire house or just a few rooms, it's important that he can exercise and explore safely.
First of all, supervise your rabbit. One little bunny can easily find a whole lot of trouble in an average home. Because rabbits like to chew, make sure that all electrical cords are out of reach. Chewing through a plugged-in cord can result in severe injury or even death. Their chewing can also result in poisoning, if the wrong objects are left in the open. Aside from obvious toxins, like insecticides, rodenticides, and cleaning supplies, beware of common plants, like Aloe, Azalea, Calla lily, Lily of the Valley, Philodendron, and assorted plant bulbs.
Reprinted by permission of The Humane Society of the United States.