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Small Animals

Rabbits – A Great Little Pet

Val Cairney September 16, 2022 6


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Three rabbits side by side

Hi everyone.  Thank you for joining me on this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  In this episode I’m going to talk about one of our most popular small animal friends, and that is rabbits.  Rabbits are a great pet for many families, single pet, seniors and for multiple pet households, so that means, pretty much everyone!   Domestic rabbits are cuddly, fun and trainable.  So, let’s take a look at the rabbit as a pet.

Longevity

Pet rabbits can easily live up to 8 years with many living up to 12 years.  In the scheme of so-called starter pets, rabbits come in around the same commitment as having a cat or dog.  Although cats can easily live to be 20 years of age, dogs depending on breed could have around the same lifespan as a rabbit.  The care level of a rabbit is often equated to being the same as a cat.  So, if it is decided to get a child a rabbit and that child is 8 or 10 years old, be prepared that by the time this child goes to University at 18, that rabbit will most likely still be in the home.  So, what kind of rabbit makes a good pet?

Lionhead Rabbits

Lionhead Rabbit
Lionhead Rabbit

Well each breed of rabbit has its own personality traits.  The most common domestic breeds are, Lionhead, Holland Lop, Netherland Dwarf and Dutch rabbit.  There are many more breeds but let’s take a look at these.  The Lionhead rabbit originates from Belgium and has a characteristic mane like a lion.  It is a smaller rabbit, very fluffy, has erect ears and weighs approximately 2.5 to 3.75 pounds.  These little guys are smart and energetic.  They love cuddling and petting and have high social needs.  It may actually be best to have more than one rabbit if you have a Lionhead.  A Lionhead can easily fit in well with a multi pet household if the other pets are calm and well-mannered.  Diet for a Lionhead is like rabbits in general where a varied diet is needed and as for housing, when it comes to rabbits, the bigger the better is the way to go.  Lionheads like their exercise so out of cage time is a must.  

Holland Lop Rabbits

Holland-Lop-Rabbit
Holland Lop Rabbit

The Holland Lop originated just like its name, with a Dutch breeder.  They have a typical rabbit coat, maybe a bit denser than most, that comes in all kinds of colours but their most distinct feature are their ears.  They have almond shaped ears that are about 4.7 inches long and lay at the side of their heads.  Holland Lops are small rabbits with a maximum weight of about 4 pounds.  They are considered to be a very calm rabbit that likes play time and relaxing time with their humans.  The males can be a bit messier in their cage and destroy things. 

Netherland Dwarf Rabbits

The Netherland Dwarf rabbit also originated in the Netherlands and is one of the smallest rabbit breeds.  These little guys weigh about 1.1 to 2.5 pounds.  The Netherland Dwarf has large eyes, a short body and short ears that are carried high on their head.  Their face is rounded and brachycephalic which means flat or sort of pushed in.  These rabbits also come in a variety of colours.  The Netherland Dwarf would be more recommended for an experienced rabbit person as they do tend to be skittish and have been labelled a bit as grumpy.  An experienced rabbit enthusiast would see this as spunky so as a first time rabbit maybe not the best choice.  But, they are still very popular.

Dutch Rabbits

Netherland Dwarf Rabbit
Netherland Dwarf Rabbit

The Dutch rabbit has also been known as the Hollander rabbit.  Although it sounds like this is another breed from Holland, the Dutch rabbit was imported to England from Belgium.  The Dutch rabbit has a very definable colour pattern.  All recognized colours include white, but the rabbit is defined by a blaze of white running up the rabbit’s face with colour on the cheeks, a white wedge on the back of the head and a straight line running behind the shoulders and across the belly.  These rabbits are small weighing 3.5 to 5.5 pounds. The Dutch is a calm rabbit, easy to train and would be a good choice as a family friendly pet.  

There are many more breeds of rabbits and each and every one is worth looking into if rabbit adoption is on your mind.  So let’s look at the care and feeding of a pet rabbit. 

Caring For and Feeding Your Rabbits

A rabbit needs a proper habitat, be it a large cage or hutch, and to be clear, this is an indoor hutch. Domestic rabbits should not be kept outside. But, on a lovely warm summer day, you can take your bunny outside on a special rabbit harness and leash so he or she can enjoy some fresh grass and sunshine.  Rabbits need shavings and bedding as well, a large water bottle, food, hay, vegetables and toys.  Apart from their basic needs they also need love and attention.  One of the best things about bunnies is that they can actually be litter trained like a cat.  There are specific cage trays that you can get that you can train your bunny to use as a litter.  That makes things a lot easier for keeping the cage clean.  Now, let’s talk about bedding for a minute, because when it comes to rabbits, there are some rules.  Rabbits should not have cedar as bedding and pine is usually something to avoid as well, although some say kiln dried pine is acceptable.  I would just avoid both to be safe. The lovely smell of pine is actually attributed to the phenols in the wood.  However, these phenols are the problem as they cause changes in the liver enzymes of your rabbit.  So, I think it is best to play it safe here and go with either aspen or recycled paper litter. 

Rabbit Facts

Dutch Rabbit
Dutch Rabbit

Now, an interesting fact about rabbits is that they are often the 3rd most surrendered animal to shelters.  Why on earth is that considering how cute they are?  Well, several reasons do come up for this.  One, is that rabbits can be destructive in that they will chew things they should not.  Rabbits just like hamsters, and guinea pigs have teeth that continue to grow and just like hamsters and guinea pigs, they need to chew so the teeth wear against each other and therefore stay trimmed.  Often destructive chewing results from boredom, so this is why it is very important to make sure you have chewing toys for your bunny and give them lots of attention.  One of the other reasons bunnies end up in shelters is the fact that they do live from 5 to 10 or 12 years.  Parents often get their child a rabbit, but fail to realize that the child may outgrow the rabbit and not be interested in it any longer.  This then creates the next reason why bunnies end up in shelters and that is that despite all best intentions and promises, the adult guardian or parent will end up caring for the rabbit and if that is something you are not prepared to do, don’t get a rabbit.  But, this also means that if you are looking for a rabbit, go to your local or area shelter because there is probably a lovely bunny waiting desperately for a loving home.  In this case, seriously, adopt, do not shop! 

Rabbit Diet

So, let’s talk about food for your bunny.  You’ll be surprised with some of the do’s and don’ts in this area.  First, bunnies need a good quality pellet.  You will have to try different brands until you find the one your bunny likes.  Second, bunnies need hay. Good quality hay be it alfalfa or timothy will make up most of their diet.   Now, for vegetables.  What can a bunny not eat?  Well…most lettuce is on the no list for one.   Quite a few common vegetables as well and other culprits like chocolate, yoghurt, seeds, cereal.  What about carrots?  Everyone believes rabbits eat carrots.  Well, they do, but they should only eat carrots sparingly as carrots are high in calcium so it is better to give them the carrot tops.  So some vegetables that bunnies will enjoy are dandelion leaves, broccoli tops, romaine lettuce, no iceberg or cabbage, and bok choy.  And one thing you can do is wet the veggies before you give them to your bunny. The moistness of the wet veggies will give some good hydration for their digestive system. As for treats, some fruits they seem to like are bananas, strawberries, pineapple and apples as long as there are no seeds.  There are also some special bunny treats you can pick up at your pet specialty store.  One other very important fact about bunnies, is that many vets are now spaying or neutering rabbits, so that makes for a calmer bunny and the possibility of having more than one. And finally, bunnies can be injured easily with improper handling and remember, never, ever pick up a rabbit by its ears!  Scoop up your bunny like a kitten and hold its bum so it feels safe.  

Rabbit Health Issues

Two baby rabbits sitting side by side
Baby Rabbits

Some of the health issues to be aware of with rabbits are, overgrown teeth, snuffles, hairballs, uterine tumours, myxomatosis, and rabbit Haemorrhagic (Hem or a gic) Disease virus. Overgrown teeth is a neglect issue.  Rabbits should be given chew toys on a regular basis and if the teeth are getting out of hand, a trip to the vet should be scheduled.  Snuffles in rabbits relate to runny eyes, noses and sneezing.  These are symptoms of a chronic bacterial infection in the tear ducts and nasal sinuses.  Myxomatosis (mix a ma tosis) is a serious viral disease that presents with fever, lethargy and inflamed eyes.  Unfortunately Myxomatosis is often fatal.  Haemorrhagic Disease virus “is a highly contagious and usually fatal virus that affects both wild and domestic (“pet”) rabbits. The virus can be transmitted not only from rabbit to rabbit, but via food, bedding, or other contaminated materials.”

Summary

On the whole, rabbits are rather easy to take care of and can be amazing pets. The most important thing to keep in mind when getting a rabbit is how long they live.  Everyone in the household has to be on board for the rabbit’s care for its entire life.  As mentioned rabbits are the third highest animal surrendered to shelters so making sure when adopting a rabbit, all the information has been gained if vital.  This means understanding their lifespan, their habitat and food needs and knowing that they require social time and loving time just like any other pet. And remember, a wild rabbit or bunny is just that, wild.  Finding an orphaned bunny is heartbreaking and giving that helping hand is just fine.  But, when it’s time, that wild bunny needs to return to its natural habitat and a wildlife rescue can help with that.  In terms of our domestic little furry bunny friends, if this is the pet for you, as always do your research so you can give them their pet life because as I say, knowing is caring. 

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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