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Keep your pet rabbit healthy

The pet rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a fun, gentle, and cuddly family pet that is often given as a gift for Easter. There are 14 distinct pet breeds now commonly available, from soft haired angora types, dwarf breeds, and lop eared (dropped ear) varieties. 

The average age at maturity is about 5 months. Their weight at maturity depends on the breed. Dwarfs average 2.5 pounds, medium breeds are about 8 pounds, and large breeds such as a lop ear may exceed 10 pounds. Their lifespan is quite variable, with an average of 7-12 years (it’s much shorter if they’re not spayed or castrated). Note that the record lifespan is around 17 years!

The rabbit is a herbivore, and coprophagy (eating its own droppings or “night feces,” early in the morning) is an important part of their digestive process. High quality rabbit pellets such as those offered at your local Co-op are fed twice daily or free choice, and hay is offered free choice also. Additional fresh fruits and vegetables are offered in small quantities to round out the diet.

Though rabbit hutches can be located in a sheltered location outdoors, the pet rabbit needs to be protected from temperature extremes, dampness, drafts and if the rabbit is allowed in a yard enclosure, make sure no predators are in the area!

The most common indoor house is in a wire mesh cage, with partial mesh and partial solid floor. 

Allowing time out of the cage for exercise every day is important for mental and physical health, but the room should be well “rabbit-proofed” first because they can damage furniture or chew on electric cords with serious consequences. 

Rabbits can be litter trained like a cat, but use recycled paper pellet type litter because regular cat litters cause digestive upsets. Water should be supplied in a wall bottle since floor bowls are apt to be tipped over and result in wet bedding.

Most rabbits are very docile if they have been handled consistently and gently from a young age. They are carried alongside the body usually, with their head tucked into the elbow area. It is essential that the hind end always be gently supported because if a rabbit twists suddenly or lets out a strong kick, the back can be injured or even broken. 

They have a very timid nature, and care should be taken to minimize stress. A frightened 

rabbit may swing the back legs out and release a very strong kick, so if they are being lifted or handled when stressed or in pain, care should be taken to protect the handler from a possible kick.

Rabbits are particularly susceptible to bacterial Pasteurellosis, or “snuffles,” a common respiratory system condition. Supportive therapy and antibiotic treatment are both very important strategies to help prevent serious complications that develop in some pet rabbits.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006