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How to care for rabbits

Feeding

  • Rabbits are herbivores, and so their diet is based on vegetables.
  • Dry pelleted food formulated for rabbits, which is available from pet shops and some veterinarians, is a good base that can be supplemented with fresh, well-washed, raw fruit and vegetables. These are also good for their teeth. Suitable fruits and vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower, pūhā, dock leaves, carrots, swedes, turnips, apples, and pears. Each day, remove uneaten food.
  • A supply of good-quality hay is an important source of dietary fibre. Inadequate dietary fibre may lead to enteritis and diarrhoea. Furballs are common in rabbits that have a diet low in fibre. A combination of a high starch intake, such as bread, and low fibre can cause fermentation in the caecum by bacteria that produce toxins. This may kill the rabbit.
  • Avoid sudden changes in diet because these may lead to digestive upsets.
  • Store dry food in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Buy only three months' supply at a time to ensure good nutritional value.
  • Dry food pellets and water are best supplied in hoppers and bottles that can be attached to the side of the run because rabbits will often dig in open food containers. Wash the food hopper every week.
  • A 3.5-kilogram rabbit will drink 175–350 millilitres of water per day. (Calculate water needs as 50–100 millilitres per kilogram per day.)
  • Provide a gnawing block. Fruit tree branches are a good source. Remember that many garden plants are poisonous.

Handling

  • Never pick a rabbit up by its ears.
  • There are two methods you can use to hold your rabbit.Method 1: Place a hand under the rabbit's chest, gripping its forelegs between two fingers. Support its hindquarters with your other hand and cradle the rabbit close to your body.Method 2: With the rabbit facing your elbow, slide your arm underneath the rabbit and grasp its hindquarters so that its body lies over your arm and its legs are held firmly between your fingers. Clutch the rabbit firmly by the scruff of its neck with your other hand and hold it close to your body. You can tuck its head under your elbow to restrict its vision.
  • To restrain a rabbit on a table, place a towel on the table's surface so that it is less slippery. Gently clutch the skin behind the rabbit's neck and place your other hand over its hindquarters. Inadequate restraint may result in the rabbit fracturing its spine if it kicks or struggles.
  • Always take care when handling rabbits. They have strong hindquarters and will kick and scratch if they are frightened. Some may bite. Daily petting helps to keep them tame and provides an opportunity to check on their health.
  • Always supervise any handling of rabbits by students and children.
  • Wash your hands after handling rabbits.

Health

  • In your daily health check, look for normal activity. Is your rabbit eating and grooming? Check its fur and skin for scabs, scurf (dandruff), bald spots, or itchiness. Check that its eyes, ears, and nose are clear of any discharges and that its faeces and urine are normal. Know what is usual for your rabbit.
  • Cleanliness and good nutrition are necessary for rabbits' health.
  • Rabbits should be vaccinated annually to protect against rabbit calicivirus.
  • The toenails of caged rabbits may not wear down as they would in the wild, and they may become too long. If this occurs, trim them back, taking care not to cut the blood vessel or nerve in the nail quick. Ask a veterinarian to check the rabbit and demonstrate the correct technique.
  • Rabbit incisor teeth are open-rooted and grow continuously. To maintain good dentition, rabbits' teeth need constant wear. Provide a sufficient amount of hard food and a gnawing block.
  • The condition of rabbits may deteriorate rapidly if their illness is ignored. At any sign of illness, or if you have questions, consult a veterinarian.

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