rabbit pet health

Do Rabbits Make Good Pets?

Do rabbits make good pets? You bet they do! Rabbits are smart, quiet, most are small and can happily live in an apartment. They can live indoors or outdoors or a mix of both. Pet rabbits tend to live for 8-10 years or longer. Keep reading for more helpful bunny tips!

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

How to Litter Box Train Your Rabbit

Most rabbits can be litter box trained easily. Start as soon as you get your bunny. Keep her in a small area - either in the cage or in a small part of the room that has been sectioned off and put the litter box in the corner. You can add hay to the litter box and some fecal balls to give your rabbit some hints on what you want them to do.

Once your bunny masters the litter box in the smaller area, you can let them have a larger area to roam with a few extra litter boxes put into various corners. Be sure the litter box is low edges in the front so your rabbit can get in and out easily.

Exercising Your Bunny

Being able to move around and exercise is critical for a healthy bunny. They need this movement to keep their GI tract moving and happy. Exercise also reduces the risk of obesity, which is very common in pet rabbits. Allowing your rabbit out to explore also reduces boredom and gives you time to interact and bond with them.

Be sure to have all electric cords out of reach or encased in PVC pipes so your bunny won’t chew on them. Chewing on electric cords can lead to burns in the mouth and possibly electrocution and death.

If you’re allowing your rabbit exercise time in the yard, be sure to stay close by and supervise them to ensure they don’t eat inappropriate plants or items. You also want to be sure no predators can get to them including cats, hawks, etc. A fully enclosed outdoor play area, like a large dog kennel or run, is a good option.

Be sure to have a hide box in the exercise area for your bunny to retreat to if she feels nervous or threatened. This can be something as simple as a cardboard box or cat carrier with the door off.

Your Bunny Needs Toys!

Rabbits love to chew on things! Having toys they can chew on is a great way to direct this behavior to items other than your shoes and floorboards. You can get straw or wicker baskets for them to chew on (no paint), hide food treats inside empty toilet paper rolls and roll up the ends so they have to chew it open, or use safe branches for them to chew on (some are toxic, so be sure to read our article in Safe and Toxic Plants for Rabbits!).

There are also a variety of toys you can buy for your bunny at the pet store, just don’t be upset when they chew it to pieces.

How to Safely Handle Your Rabbit

Rabbits have very strong lower back and leg muscles. When you pick your rabbit up, be sure to have one arm under her lower belly and use the hand to support her feet. You don’t want her kicking out hard when picking her up as this can lead to a severe injury like a broken back. The other arm and hand should be supporting her chest.

With new rabbits or new owners, sit on the floor with your bunny and practice picking her up onto your lap. This is safer because it allows you both to be close to the ground in case she gets out of your arms.

Do not pick up your rabbit by the ears!

If your rabbit is timid or stressed, you can use your hand or a towel to cover her eyes. This can reduce her stress level.

Not all rabbits like being picked up and cuddled. If your bunny does not enjoy this, find other ways to bond like brushing her coat, hiding treats for her to find, and talking to her.

Common Rabbit Medical Issues

Dental Disease

Dental Disease is very common in rabbits. Be sure your rabbit’s diet is mainly hay, at least 75% of the diet. The rough hay will help keep the teeth filed down and also improves the GI tract function and health. Giving your bunny wooden chew toys will also help. If your rabbit starts to eat less, drools, or seems unable to chew their food well, take them to the vet immediately.

Obesity

Pet rabbits are prone to obesity. Keeping their pellets to a minimum and allowing plenty of exercise will help keep them at a healthy weight. You should be able to feel your rabbit’s ribs along the sides with gentle pressure. Female rabbit’s dewlaps should not so large they get moisture trapped in this area which can lead to infections.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea in rabbits is serious. This can indicate a severe imbalance of the GI microflora that can lead to death. If your bunny has watery diarrhea, take her to the vet immediately.

Rabbits on a good diet rarely have abnormal stools. However, introducing new foods too quickly can affect the GI microflora and lead to soft stools.

Don’t forget, rabbits produce 2 types of stool normally. The larger, dried stools you see during the day and at night they produce softer, smaller stool called cecotrophs that they ingest directly from the anus. This is normal and good for their GI system.

Reproductive Diseases

Female rabbits can develop uterine cancer and males can develop testicular cancer. Intact males and females can also be more aggressive once they reach sexual maturity.

Bladder/Urinary Issues

Bladder sludge and bladder stones can develop in rabbits, often as a result of an inappropriate diet. They can also develop urine scald and infections around the penis and vulva if they are obese or housed in dirty conditions.

Respiratory Diseases

Rabbits can get viral and bacterial respiratory infections. They may also sneeze, cough, and have watery eyes if they are housed on bedding that is dirty or dusty, are around irritating perfumes or scents, high dust areas (certain bedding or litters), or even dental disease can cause similar symptoms.

Sore Hocks

This is term used for sore, often ulcerated areas of skin on the lower part of your rabbit's rear legs in the hock region. This occurs more often when rabbits are obese, kept in dirty conditions, or on hard floors with no soft area to go to. These infections can go from the skin to the muscles, tendons, and bones of the legs. These often need medical treatment by your vet, along with serious changes to the housing of the bunny to allow this to heal and prevent it from recurring.

Fleas

Your bunny can get fleas, even if they are indoors only. Be sure to talk to your vet about safe flea control options for your rabbit as some can be fatal. Typically, you will be using a flea preventative that is labeled for cats and your vet can give you a safe dose and specific brand to use.

Be sure to read our articles on Rabbit Housing, Rabbit Diet, Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants for Rabbits for more information!

Additional Rabbit Resources:

Rabbit Care

Bunny Buddies

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This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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