New Rabbit Owners

Rabbits make wonderful pets, as they have lots of personality. Rabbits are naturally social and intelligent and become friendly and confident around people, if they are gently handled from a young age. Looking after a pet rabbit is a very special responsibility. With good care, and a bit of luck, rabbits can live between 8 and 12 years, especially the smaller breeds.

Responsible rabbit ownership

The most important things  you need to provide for your rabbit are:

  • adequate housing
  • a proper diet
  • regular grooming
  • regular veterinary check-ups
  • plenty of love and attention

What do I feed my pet rabbit?

Rabbits need a balanced diet that is high in fibre. Rabbits are strict herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. They should not have meat, dairy, fatty meals or lots of sweets.

The more roughage in their diet, the better! This should be in the form of grass and hay. Grass should be eaten from the ground, but your rabbit should not digest grass clippings, pesticides, herbicides, recent fertilizer or lawn mowing fluids.

The types of hay required for rabbits are:

  • straw for bedding (that they will also nibble on)
  • oaten hay
  • pasture (meadow) hay
  • lucerne hay

Other types of hay can be used, such as rye grass, but it is important to check for dust and prickles in the hay that may not be suitable for your rabbit.
All hay must be free of mould and signs of ‘vermin’ (rat or mouse droppings and creepy crawlies). This can be quite challenging until you find a reliable source of hay.

Other food for rabbits

Rabbits can also have a variety of veggies. Keep the amounts of small and take note of any changes in their faeces with any new food. If the change is towards smaller size (faecal) pellets, more moist pellets, or less of them, discontinue this food and make a note not to feed it again. Use hay only for a few days until they are producing normal sized, appearance and amount of pellets gain and then introduce another type of vegetable.

Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems (gut) and any changes (especially veggies), as well as stress can cause serious problems, including death.

Below is a list of good veggies for your rabbit to try:

  • Asian greens (buk/bok choy/pak choy/choy sum)
  • Chicory
  • Coriander
  • Endive
  • Parsely
  • Chopped celery
  • Spinach leaves
  • Broccoli

Root vegetables ,such as carrots, contain high quantities of sugar and should only be fed as a treat. Please avoid large amounts of fruit and sweet foods, molasses, rabbit mixes, chaff-based mixes and seeds. Veggies to be avoided are: iceberg lettuce, tomato plant and potato plant. There are many more foods that may cause problems, so it is best to stick to the tried and true types with lots of hay.

Are rabbit pellets healthy?

Most pellets in rabbits are junk food and cause lots of problems. If you would like to feed some pellets, then use only the Oxbow brand of pellets and only 1 to 2 tablespoons per day.

Water

Water is really important for your rabbit. Rabbits should have fresh water everyday in a bowl (that will not easily tip over) or a bottle attached to their hutch. You should check your rabbits' water twice a day and ensure it's fresh.

Housing a pet rabbit

Rabbits need exercise for good health and a happy gut. Ideally they should be kept in a hutch which they should be able to hop easily at least 4 times in their enclosure, but the bigger the better. Daily exercise outside their enclosure  is also important.
Many people actually keep rabbits indoors as they are easily litter box trained, especially when desexed.

Insect proofing your rabbit enclosure is important, especially during mosquito season. During this season we often see a spike in the prevalence of myxomatotsis virus which can be fatal and can be spread from wild rabbits.

Vaccination and desexing for rabbits

Rabbits should be protected from Calicivirus by vaccination. The first vaccination is given at 3 months, with annual boosters thereafter. In some cases, we may recommend starting at 8 weeks. If this is the case, your rabbit will need a booster one month later, at 3 months, and then again annually.

Myxomatosis is a deadly virus, which was deliberately released into the Australian wild rabbit population for population control. Unfortunately, pet rabbits are much more susceptible to this disease as they have not developed a resistance to it. It is commonly spread by mosquitoes during spring and summer. Whilst there is a vaccine available for myxomotosis overseas, we are currently not allowed to use this in Australia.

More information

Please contact us at Dr Paws Delahey Veterinary Clinic if you'd like any more information. 

Serving the pet community of the Brimbank City Council. The pawfect location for pet parents living in Delahey, Caroline Springs, Sydenham, Taylors Lakes, Burnside and surrounding areas!