Sunday, March 2, 2014

Housing for your Rabbit

    One of the most important aspects of owning a rabbit is where you will house the rabbit. One of the most common misconceptions is that rabbits are caged animals that do not need much space. This is not true. A rabbit (even a dwarf of 2 pounds) needs a minimum amount of space of 4' x 2' x 2'. If you plan to house two rabbits then you should double this space.

What not to do:
    Lots of pet stores offer starter options for rabbits. These cages are often about 2' in length and slightly less in width and height. This is much too small for any size rabbit as a permanent option. Some people use these as if they are the litter box and fill the whole bottom with bedding. This doesn't necessarily teach the rabbit to go in one place and is too small even for a dwarf rabbit.
    Unless you live in a perfect climate between 60 and 70 degrees year round it is not a good idea to house your rabbit outside. You expose your rabbits to a lot of diseases, predators, and the climate. Rabbits live longer, happier lives when they are indoors and this blog is dedicated to the indoor rabbit.
    Do not put your rabbit in a wire bottom cage. My first rabbit (a mini rex) had been housed in a wire bottom cage and had sores on her feet because of it. I was able to rehabilitate her partially but the hair on the bottom of her feet never fully grew back. Wire bottom cages have the appeal of "being easy to clean" but if you litter train your rabbit any cage becomes easy to clean.

Other Options:
    A better option is a larger cage with a plastic bottom or a hutch. Unfortunately, these types of cages are often very expensive and may have small openings making it hard for the rabbit to get out or for you to get the rabbit out. I have the Living World extra large cage:
    I love this cage because it comes with a built in shelf, nontip bowl, hayrack, and water bottle. I didn't end up using the water bottle because my rabbits prefer to drink water from a bowl. One of the best features of this cage is the opening top. This allows me easy access to my rabbit along with easy cleaning. There is also a small sliding front door that I leave open for my rabbit to come and go as they please. It is about 6 inches deep so I put a shoe box in front of the door to help my rabbits travel to and from the cage. Beneath the platform is open so that the rabbit can hide if they are scared. My rabbits rarely take advantage of this built in "burrow" but it is nice to have. The whole shelf is removable if you want it to be all one level. (I plan on taking advantage of this feature when I get Ginny spayed in a few weeks.) Another great thing about this cage is that the whole surface is textured so rabbits don't slide around and provides traction.
One early Setup of Ginny's cage. This cage is very versatile.

Ginny's current set up. She has been using her litter box better. 

    A puppy exercise pen is another great option. What is so great about these is they are easy to set up and take down. Right now Leo is living in an Xpen next to Ginny's cage until she is spayed. The Xpen that I bought came with 8 panels that are 2 feet wide and 30" tall. Leo did escape once from it but it was our fault for not locking the gate properly. For a larger rabbit or one that jumps a lot I recommend getting an exercise pen that is 36" tall. I have it upside-down so that he doesn't have to jump over the 6 inch doorway and he can walk in and out as he pleases when we are home. The floor is a large piece of cardboard (this is temporary). Options for flooring include: laminate, an office mat, large rugs, or tile flooring. Some people combine an office mat with bed sheets or fleece over it. I provide Leo with a small towel. I originally had a large towel that covered the whole area but he digs at it and prefers the smooth floor.
    Exercise pens can be set up outside so that your rabbit can enjoy the outside world but there should be a top on them and you should never leave your animals outside without supervision. I have modified my exercise pen by folding up  panels on top of one another to make the area smaller. The area of Leo's cage is 4 feet long by 2 feet wide by 30" tall. This large area allows for space to sprawl out and hop around along with a litter box, hiding place, toys, and food/water dishes. A rabbit should have enough space to comfortably hop 3 times across the area of their cage.

One setup for the Xpen for Leo. He kept digging at the towel so I modified his cage setup.

Leo's current set up in the xpen. (the cords running behind are protected)
    There are lots of other options that are available for rabbits to live. Some people build their own cages out of closet squares or Nic cages. These are excellent options for rabbits because they provide variety and people can modify them as needed. They are often relatively inexpensive for the materials used to create them but they do take some time to set up. Below are some images of these homemade cages.

This is a great cage with floor and upper levels

This cage has a smaller footprint and is more verticle

This cage provides three rabbits with homes separate from one another.
Hope this gives you some ideas of how to house a happy, healthy rabbit!

What To Feed Your Rabbit

Rabbits have a lot of nutritional needs. They have a very sensitive GI system and can get sick very quickly if fed food that is incorrectly balanced. I'll go through several aspects of what I feed my rabbits and some options.

Adult Rabbits
    Contrary to common beliefs pellets should not consist of an adult rabbit. The rule of thumb is typically 1/4 cup of pellets per 5 pounds of rabbits. I feed Leo every morning and fill up a 1/4 cup and then shake out some because Leo doesn't weigh 5 pounds. Leo gets Oxbow Bunny Basics for adults. This is a timothy hay based pellet which is perfect for adult rabbits (I don't recommend feeding alfalfa based pellets for adults because it is higher in protein and can lead to obesity). It is best to feed a food that is high in fiber and low in fat.
This is an example of a pellet mixture that is not healthy for rabbits.
Rabbits will pick out all the treats and leave the pellets.
This is the dietary information for the Oxbow Bunny Basics Adult food.
I like this food because it has a hight fiber content and low in fat which is
great for an adult rabbit. 
    Adult rabbits should have hay available to them at all times and it should be the majority of their diet. Leo gets mostly timothy hay with some orchard grass mixed in. Mixing these two hays allows him to forage and get the nutritional benefit of both. Orchard hay tends to be a bit sweeter and softer than timothy hay. I put the hay in a hay rack positioned over his litter box because most rabbits like to munch and poop at the same time. Leo also gets a handful of hay in his litter box as an extra incentive to use it. Feeding alfalfa hay to adult rabbits can lead to obesity. Alfalfa also is higher in calcium levels which is correlated to bladder sludge (a painful condition similar to kidney stones).

Vegetables and Treats
    The key to vegetables is variety and leafy greens. If you do both of these things then you are doing great! I feed Leo a handful of a mixture of lettuce (romaine, red/green leaf, NEVER iceburg) as well as some herbs like cilantro and parsley. Occasionally, he gets some Kale or other herbs but he has never taken to spinach. Leo normally gets his vegetable "salad" in the afternoon or early evening.
    Treats should be given only in small amounts. Leo's favorites are small baby carrots and pieces of banana. As long as treats are given in moderation they are fine. The problem that people fall into is that rabbits are often labeled as "cute" and people want to keep feeding them treats. Feeding too many treats leads to obesity and other health problems. An obese rabbit is not a happy rabbit.

Here is a link to lists of Veggies and Treat options:

Young Rabbits (between 2 months until 7-12 months)
    Baby or young rabbits that are still growing should have access to pellets at all times. These pellets should be alfalfa based and have no seeds or treats (just plain pellets). Ginny eats the Oxbow Young Rabbit food and she loves it. Every day I fill up her bowl with pellets and mix it around with any pellets left over from the previous day. I also check on her pellets before I go to bed because she eats them mostly at night.
    When the rabbit reaches about 7 months old for dwarf breeds or a year for larger breeds they should be transitioned from their alfalfa pellets to an adult food that is timothy hay based. I plan on doing this with Ginny around 6 months because she is a dwarf breed and will be close to the end of her growing period. She will be switched to the same pellets that Leo is on (Oxbow adult rabbit food).
Note the directions on this food to have pellets available
at all times. This is incorrect except for in young rabbits but
this food was made for adult rabbits.
This is the Oxbow Young Rabbit food that I feed Ginny. Look at the
differences between the two foods especially the fiber and fat. 

    For young rabbits hay should always be available and hay should be a majority of their diet. Young rabbits should be getting predominantly alfalfa hay. I feed Ginny mostly alfalfa with timothy hay in her litter box. Ginny also has a hay rack above her litter box full of timothy hay and some orchard hay. She has an additional bowl of alfalfa hay next to her pellets because alfalfa is so messy I like to keep it contained.
    Once your rabbit is about 6 months old you can start transitioning them from alfalfa to only timothy or other grass hays. Ginny already gets some timothy hay. By the time the rabbit is about 7 months old they should only be eating timothy hay.

Vegetables and Treats
    It is recommended that before 6 months old young rabbits should not be exposed to vegetables or fruit. Once they are about 4 months old though it is ok to occasionally introduce one vegetable at a time in small amounts. It is very important to only introduce one vegetable at a time and to monitor the consistency of their fecal pellets. If they soften exponentially or are runny then reduce the amount or discontinue that vegetable. Also look for signs of gas (hunched over, loud teeth grinding) as some vegetables like broccoli are more prone to causing it than others but every rabbit is different. See the link above for a good system for introducing young rabbits to new foods.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Introduction: About me and more importantly Leo and Ginny

I have always been an animal lover. My first pet was a betta fish named Bubbles. From there I had two guinea pigs: Mr. Squeakers and Piglet. After their passing I got my first rabbit Butterscotch who was a large mini rex rabbit. Back in those days I probably made all the wrong mistakes with that rabbit. I was young and had a lot of learning to do about what is good for rabbits and how they differ from their rodent counterparts. 

This Blog is dedicated to a better future for our furry friends. There are many bunny myths about owning a pet rabbit. I hope to disprove these and  educate rabbit owners about simple ways to improve their rabbit's lives. 

Now for some introductions to my pet rabbits:

This is Leo a spunky neutered male lionhead rabbit. He was born April 14th, 2013 and came into our lives December 14th, 2013. Leo is a dwarf rabbit only weighing 3 pounds. We adopted him and are so glad we did! He knows what he likes and lets us all know it. He will grunt at you if you are doing something you don't like. Leo is fully litter trained so he can romp around our living room while we are home and only has to be in his pen at night. He loves to watch Downton Abbey (funny I know) but whenever that theme song comes on he jumps right out of his cage and comes over to the couch. He is quite the little athlete jumping from couch to couch. He is a bit skittish of hands outside the cage and doesn't love to be held but he binkies all across the living room showing us just how happy he is. Leo's favorite treat is a small piece of banana or carrot. He enjoys his daily salad of mixed leafy greens (red/green leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, cilantro, parsley etc.) and munches on hay happily. Leo is just a delight to our lives!

Ginny (as in Ginny Weasley) is our newest addition. She is a sweet Holland Lop doe weighing about 2 pounds. She was born on December 8, 2013 and came into our lives February 19, 2014. We adopted her from a sweet family not too far from us. Ginny doesn't mind being held and will stay quite calm if she is sitting in your lap or held like a baby. Leo and Ginny love to romp around together and are just getting to know one another. Leo loves to groom Ginny (what a gentleman!). She is very curious and enjoys following us around our apartment (she isn't afraid of the linoleum like Leo but he is more brave now that he has someone to follow). Ginny doesn't get any treats yet because she is too little but she does get loads of alfalfa hay and we are transferring her to a diet of Oxbow young rabbit food. Right now Leo and Ginny live separately until she is fixed (early April). Their cages are right up next to one another so they an still talk and almost touch one another's noses through the bars. Below are some fun pictures of them playing with one another.

 Ginny getting groomed by Leo.

Resting in one another's company all "flopped" out.