Your New Rabbit - The Sacramento House Rabbit Society

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Your New Rabbit
The world is a nicer place for me...
because you are in it.
Thanks for adopting me!
Need Help or Advice?............................................................................. 3
Your New Rabbit Information.................................................................. 4
First Few Weeks in a New Home............................................................. 5
A Rabbit in the House............................................................................ 6
Dietary Recommendations.................................................................... 10
Medical Concerns................................................................................. 11
Sacramento Area Veterinarians............................................................. 13
Reading Your Rabbit............................................................................. 14
Training Your Rabbit.............................................................................. 15
Litter-training Your Rabbit..................................................................... 17
Heat Danger......................................................................................... 18
Obesity................................................................................................. 20
Safe Grooming Techniques................................................................... 22
Introducing Rabbits.............................................................................. 25
9 Common Rabbit Myths...................................................................... 27
House Rabbit Society
Compiled by the Sacramento House Rabbit Society, July 2009
P.O. Box 19850, Sacramento, CA 95819-0850
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Need Help or Advice?
Use the following telephone numbers and email addresses for help.
House Rabbit Society:
Sacramento HRS website:
National HRS website:
Sacramento HRS hotline: 916-863-9690
Hotline is staffed by volunteers who will make every attempt to return your call within 24 hours
Foster Parent:
The foster parent has vounteered to be available to you for any questions about your new bunny. Please feel free to call them.
Email:__________________________________________________________________________________ Phone:_________________________________________________________________________________
Adoption Coordinators:
These coordinators have volunteered to answer questions or concerns about your rabbit, bonding procdures
or the adoption process.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Your New Rabbit Information
Name:____________________________________________________________ Age:__________________
Breed/Color:_______________________________________________________ Weight:________________
Spayed/neutered date:______________________________________________________________________
Rescued from:____________________________________________________________________________
Foster parent:____________________________________________________________________________
Diet History
It is important to keep your rabbit on the same diet. Pellet food changes must be made gradually
to prevent intestinal problems.
Food your rabbit is used to eating:
Pellet food:______________________________________________________________________________
Health History
Vet: ___________________________________________________________________________________
phone number:___________________________________________________________________________
Last checkup:____________________________________________________________________________
Habits and Personality
This is what your new bunny likes, dislilkes, and other fun facts about him:
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
First Few Weeks in a New Home
by Amy Espie
uring these early days your new family member may
not “be himself”. During this volatile period, the two
most important contributions you can make are: set up
a friendly, safe environment; and let him set the pace for
getting acquainted. When you first bring home a rabbit,
one of the most useful tools for helping him to feel at
ease is your imagination. How do you and your household look to him? Add a little common sense, a dash of
patience, and a few basics of rabbit care and behavior, and
you’ve got a recipe for a lifelong friendship.
While you are observing and learning about him,
bear in mind that during these early days he may not "be
himself." He or she may be too scared to show you how
affectionate he’s going to be once he recovers from the
shock of relocation. He may have too much on his mind
to be anything but perfectly box-trained; in a few weeks,
when he’s feeling more at home, he may need a course in
Litterbox101. He may be feeling so insecure that territorial marking is almost an obsession. He may be too scared
to let you hold or touch him; or he may be too scared to
tell you he doesn’t like to be held. He may seem extraordinarily loving and affectionate, leaving you stunned and
confused when this hormone-driven behavior decreases
in the weeks following spay/neuter. Or he may be one
of those rare mellow, confident individuals whose new
family needs none of the following suggestions.
During this period, the two most important contributions you can make are: set up a friendly, safe environment;
and let him set the pace for getting acquainted.
Home Base
Set up a small area or roomy cage (or both). Use a laundry
room, bathroom, hallway blocked off with baby gates, or
part of a larger room sectioned off using furniture, boxes,
or other objects he can’t scale or knock over. Choose a
spot that gets some regular, not-too-noisy traffic, where
he can see and hear but not be trampled by your daily
routines. Start housetraining by providing at least one
or two litterboxes. A fresh layer of grass hay on top will
both encourage and reward him for hopping in. Keep
him on the same brand of food he is used to (or if you
are going to shift to a new brand, do it gradually). Fresh
water in a bowl or bottle should be available at all times.
Give him at least one cardboard box with two bunny-size
doors cut, and a towel draped across one area of his cage,
as hiding places. Start him on the road to good chewing
habits by removing forbidden and dangerous temptations
such as house plants, electric cords, and books. Provide
permitted alternatives such as untreated straw, wicker, or
sea-grass baskets and mats (available at import stores such
as Pier 1), cardboard tubes and boxes, plastic baby-toys for
tossing, fruit-tree branches, and plenty of fresh hay.
Great Expectations,
and what to do about them
As with good housetraining habits, building a friendship
may take time and patience. If he’s not ready to be petted
yet, caress him with your voice. Talk to him, or to anyone
while in his presence. Many rabbits seem to enjoy listening
to their humans talk on the phone. Hang out with him in
rabbit fashion, by sitting quietly on the floor. Show him
that he can hop over to you, take a few get-acquainted
sniffs and gentle nibbles, and then hop away again. This
hands-off approach paves the way to a hands-on friendship, especially with shy or traumatized rabbits. As his fear
diminishes, his curiosity increases. Place a small treat or
two (a sprig of parsley or carrot-top, a sliver of apple) and
a few toys on the floor next to you, to make his visit even
more rewarding.
If no other humans are around, you might want to
say your first few words in Rabbit. Tell your new friend
how happy, content, calm, and delighted you feel in his
company. You may not be able, as he is, to "comb" your
long silky ears between your hands — but you can pretend
to wash your face the way he does, using hands and
tongue. When he responds by grooming himself, it means
you’re way cool, practically an Honorary Rabbit.
When adding a rabbit to your family, you may be
ready right away to give and receive generous amounts
of love and affection. Keep in mind that you’re not the
one who has just arrived in a strange place, populated by
foreigners who don’t speak your language. Imagine how
you would feel if the size difference between you were
reversed: a giant hand reaches down and plucks you from
your home. It sets you down on a planet of 2-ton, 30-feettall beings — a sort of giraffe/elephant hybrid. How long
before you’d feel relaxed? What would be your instinctive
reaction when one of these giants came lumbering over? Is
that a smile on the enormous creature’s face, or a grimace?
Only time (plus the occasional raisin or banana slice) will
tell your new companion that she’s among friends. §
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
A Rabbit in the House
by Amy Shapiro and Nancy LaRoche
abbits are very special animals. They are bright, interesting, inquisitive, loyal, affectionate — a joy to watch,
to touch, to be with. Like us, they are individuals. Caring
for a rabbit means getting to know him or her, a process
that takes time and patience.
Rabbits respond to love and attention. If you leave him
alone in a cage or hutch all the time, you will be missing
the best part of knowing your rabbit. Isolated rabbits
become bored and withdrawn. They may also have undetected illnesses.
Choosing a Rabbit
One of the best places to get a rabbit is from a rescue
group or an animal shelter. Although you can get rabbits
from breeders, pet stores, or people who wanted “just one
litter,” we urge you to avoid these sources. Most pet stores
sell animals:
• with physical and emotional problems (roughly 80%
of these rabbits die within the first week at home);
• confidently declare the sex of rabbits but are wrong
at least 50% of the time (as are vets who don’t have a
specialty in rabbits);
• offer all kinds of advice about caring for rabbits that is
almost always based on selling products.
Further, buying a rabbit from any of these sources
contributes to the suffering of many more bunnies.
Economic gain, breeding of show animals, and breeding
“just for fun” are major causes of the overpopulation of
companion animals. Every year 15 million cats, dogs,
House rabbits love to interact with their family
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
rabbits, and others are destroyed at shelters in this country,
and millions more die agonizing deaths without ever
reaching a shelter. Each purchase profits someone who
will then want to breed more. Rather than contributing
to this horribly cruel problem, be part of the solution by
saving a life. Get good information from the House Rabbit
Society about rabbit care, and then adopt a bunny who
needs a home.
Breed generalizations are easy to make and easier still
to find exceptions to. You may hear that a certain breed
is mellow, or good with children, but in fact there is
no such thing as a “good with children” gene. Choose
a rabbit as you would choose any friend, not by his
appearance but by who he is underneath his floppy
ears or spotted coat. Visit your local HRS foster home
or shelter. Spend time with a variety of rabbits to get a
sense of who they are and the “chemistry” between you.
Sit quietly and give the rabbit a chance to show you his
unique personality.
People often assume that baby bunnies are more easily
housetrained and that they can be held frequently so
that as adults they won’t mind being handled, held,
cuddled, and carried around. Nothing could be further
from the truth.
Being held and cuddled is something that very few
rabbits of any age enjoy. As ground-loving creatures, a hug
means restraint at a high altitude, not an expression of
affection. Baby bunnies are so full of energy and curiosity
about the world that they often hate being restrained. And
like puppies or young humans, they can’ t be expected to
have good control of elimination. Even when such control
is gained, they may be too busy chewing your shoes,
books, telephone cords, remote control, etc., to be bothered to return to the litterbox.
In the first year of life, most bunnies go through
some personality changes. The precious little ball of fur
who may have tolerated being snuggled may suddenly
become the bunny from hell as his or her hormones
being making themselves felt. A hissing, nipping and
apparently furious little beast now inhabits that soft
furry little body. You may be subjected to golden
showers sprayed on you, your kids, and your furniture,
and to attacks on legs and arms as your bunny experiences the powerful urges of sexual maturity.
But wait, there’s more. Your precious little pet may be
so unpredictable that you never know whether to expect
warm little kisses or painful nips. Litter training becomes
a distant memory. You and your possession are subject
to severe attacks of tooth and claw. And just as you are
wondering whether moving and leaving her behind is too
extreme a solution, the little monster sits up, looks adorable, and gently nuzzles your hand, melting your heart.
Unless you are one of those special people willing to
put up with the turmoil of the first year without losing
patience, and willing to replace or repair the damage
inflicted on your home, do not adopt a rabbit under a
year old.
Many people are surprised and disappointed to find
that rabbits rarely conform to the cute-n-cuddly stereotype prevalent in children’s stories. Bugs Bunny, with his
independence, mischievousness, and strong sense of self is
a more accurate portrait. Can you imagine Bugs tolerating
huge quantities of gooey affection or allowing himself to
be carried around in some mere human’s arms?
Rabbits can be taught to accept routine handling, but
there is nothing abnormal about a bunny who prefers to
sit beside you rather than on your lap.
Indoors or Outdoors?
You will get the most enjoyment from your rabbit — and
vice versa — if he lives in your home with you. People
sometimes consign rabbits to life in a hutch in the
yard because they do not realize what wonderful house
companions rabbits can be. With a little training, your
rabbit can be a delightful addition to your household.
You may want to set up an outdoor run where
Thumper can spend a few hours during the day, sniffing
and hopping around and enjoying the sunshine. A few
basics to remember when building an outdoor area: fresh
cool water at all times; a protected corner, shaded from
wind and sun; a roof to keep out raccoons and other
predators; a fence that angles down several feet underground, otherwise your rabbit will soon dig his way out
of his run.
To Cage or Not to Cage
The main reasons for caging a rabbit are if she is not
litterbox-trained and if she chews on forbidden objects.
The extent to which your rabbit can be trained will determine how much freedom it is safe to give her.
Most rabbits like to have a cage, a secure place that is
their own, where they can be quiet and alone sometimes.
Here are some considerations in choosing or building a
cage. First, bigger is better. However, a large cage is not a
substitute for free-running time. When she’s in her large
cage or habitat, she may be getting some physical exercise,
but unless you’re in there with her, she’s not getting much
social exercise. At minimum the cage should be four times
the size of your bunny when she is full-grown. A slatted
floor is more comfortable than a wire one; if you do get
a wire floor, be sure to provide a wood or cardboard area
as relief.
Fresh cool water (changed daily) should be available
at all times. Make sure the water bowl or bottle is not
in direct sunlight. If you use a bottle, check the release
action regularly to see that water is actually coming out
of the metal tube. Both food and water bowls should be
heavy enough that they cannot be tipped over (a favorite
bunny pastime).
Put a litterbox inside the cage. If your rabbit learns to
use one in the cage, then housetraining out of the cage
will be easier. Many rabbits will select one comer of the
cage as a toilet area. If yours does this, by all means put
the box in that spot. (More on litterboxes below.)
Many rabbits like to have a private area in the cage.
A cardboard or wooden box makes an excellent place for
Thumper to feel that he is in his “burrow.” A towel over
one corner of the cage also provides privacy.
Rabbits and...
As social animals, rabbits enjoy the company of other
living beings. In addition to his human friends, your rabbit
can get along with other rabbits, cats, guinea pigs, and
well-behaved dogs. Introduction to another rabbit should
take place on neutral territory. If both rabbits are altered,
their chances of forming a long-lasting bond is strong.
Two males will rarely become friends, but two females or
a neutered male and a spayed female can double the pleasure of sharing your life with a rabbit. The get-acquainted
period can last anywhere from a few minutes (love at first
sight) to a few weeks. It usually includes a fair amount
of chasing, nipping, time-outs, then more chasing, etc.
Eventually they will work out who’s boss, and the deep
friendship can begin.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Cats and rabbits can get along very well
Cats and rabbits generally work out their relationship
with little help from humans, especially if the rabbit is
confident and does not run from the cat. In fact, many
rabbits will boss their feline housemates, chasing them
and nudging them from favored spots. If the rabbit
does run from the cat, then introductions should take
place with Thumper in his cage. Most rabbits feel more
at ease in their cage, which is their familiar safe haven.
Alternatively, hold the cat on your lap, and allow the rabbit
to investigate at his own pace.
Similar guidelines apply to dog/rabbit introductions.
If the dog knows some obedience words, she can be put in
a down-stay so Thumper can get to know her at his own
level. Use a leash to control the dog if she is not trained.
Contrary to Eastertime hype, rabbits are rarely a
good choice of companion for a small child. The natural
exuberance, rambunctiousness, and decibel-level of even
the gentlest toddler stressful for rabbits. Children want
a companion they can hold and cuddle; rabbits need
some one who understands that they are ground-loving
creatures. It is unreasonable to expect a child to take full
responsibility for care of a rabbit. Unless the adults of the
household are enthusiastic and informed about the work
involved, do not adopt a rabbit, at Easter or any other
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
time. An easygoing, low-maintenance plush bunny from
your friendly neighborhood toy store makes a great pal
for a young child.
Neutering is one of the best things you can do for
your rabbit to help him or her live a long, happy life as
a member of your household. Females should be spayed
at 6 months, males neutered at 4 months. The behavior
changes that accompany sexual maturity include aggressiveness, extreme mood swings, spraying, and loss of
housetraining. Neutering will cure all these problems, but
it does not change your bunny’s personality. An assertive
friendly bunny does not lose her liveliness or responsiveness. The mood swings caused by her fertility cycle will
ease, but playfulness and inquisitiveness (to say nothing
of all-around cuteness) do not disappear.
Every year, thousands of wonderful rabbits are euthanized at animal shelters nationwide. Thousands more are
abandoned in fields. The reason for this tragic situation
is that there are simply more great rabbits than there
are responsible humans to care for them. Please do not
contribute to this problem by allowing your rabbit to have
even one litter.
You can also help solve the rabbit overpopulation
tragedy by adopting from a shelter or rescue group, or
finding someone who is planning to get rid of a rabbit.
It’s a sad fact, but no matter where you live, you are always
within ten miles or so of a rabbit who needs a home. It
may take a little more time and effort to find just the right
one for you, but don’t the rabbits deserve all the help we
can give them?
Yes, rabbits can be trained to use a litterbox. In fact,
some rabbits simply train themselves — you supply the
box and they do the rest. Most rabbits need a little help
from their human friends.
The first step is to keep a box in the rabbit’s cage, as
described above. Provide at least one more box outside the
cage. If you give Thumper several “right places” to go, you
increase his chances of success.
You can use organic litters made from alfalfa, oat or
paper (some brands to look for: Care Fresh, Yesterday’s
News, Cat Country, Critter Country). A wonderful and
inexpensive litter is wood stove pellets, which can be
purchased at home improvement stores. Straw, shredded
newspaper, or corncob also can be used as litter. Recent
studies have shown that pine and cedar shavings can cause
liver damage in rabbits, so stay away from these products.
Experiment with different fillers if your rabbit is not using
his box. Some have definite preferences in this matter.
Encourage your rabbit to use his box(es) by luring
him (with a treat) to the box and giving him praise and
the treat when he is in the box. Many rabbits will sit in
the box and groom themselves or even take a nap. This is
wonderful behavior! Let Thumper know he is doing the
right thing. Place a handful of hay in one comer of the box
daily for him to munch.
If you want to get fancy about it and amaze your
friends at the same time, teach your rabbit to go to his box
on command. As you are luring him to the box, say, “Hop
in your box,” or maybe “Hop to it.” Repeat this lesson over
and over. If Thumper really wants that treat, he will obey
your request. Training requires patience and enthusiasm,
but the rewards are worth the effort.
Reprimands and punishment have no place in housetraining. If your bunny is soiling outside the box, he is
not yet ready to have run of the house. Keep him in his
cage when you are not around to supervise and work on
Thumper may occasionally urinate or defecate outside
the box. Often this behavior is caused by excitement,
for instance, when he is first let out of his cage in the
morning. Fortunately, rabbit droppings are easy to clean
up. Unneutered rabbits of both sexes have a tendency
to mark their territory by spraying urine and defecating
outside the litterbox.
Destructive Chewing
Rabbits love to chew. It is as natural for them as
digging, hopping, sniffing and being adorable. Helping
your rabbit adapt to our human environment means
teaching her what she is and is not allowed to chew.
Provide plenty of plain untreated wood, branches,
and twigs. Offer these to your rabbit and encourage her to
nibble on them. Stay away from redwood, which may be
toxic for rabbits. Give her plenty of hay to munch on; it is
good for her digestion as well, A cardboard or wooden box
makes a delectable, inexpensive “edible” house.
One of the greatest household dangers to rabbits is
electrical cords. Most rabbits find them irresistible. Unless
you want to switch to a totally battery-operated house,
you will need to do some rabbit-proofing. Put cords out
of reach wherever possible, behind furniture. You can buy
heavy plastic cord-covering material at a lighting-supply
store. Hardware stores sell clear plastic hosing that can be
slit lengthwise and wrapped around electric cords. Until
all cords are protected, do not allow Thumper unsupervised time out of his cage; the results could be fatal.
To teach him not to chew on furniture and rugs, place
lots of permitted chewing objects all around the house, as
well as in his cage. When he goes after anything he is not
allowed to chew, tell him “no” and immediately distract
him with some wood, cardboard, or other chewable toy.
Repeat this lesson as often as necessary. Be patient, especially if you have a young bunny. He will learn, in time.
Spray commercial cat or dog repellents on furniture and
rugs to discourage chewing.
To be befriended by a rabbit is a great privilege. If you
adopt your bunny from a shelter or a rescue group, you
will have the added satisfaction of knowing you have
saved a life. In addition to being amusing and enjoyable,
sharing your life with a rabbit is also one of the surest ways
to become sympathetic to the animal-rights movement.
Once you realize that these sensitive, intelligent creatures
are the same ones being subjected to the cruel and unnecessary punishment of laboratories, breeding mills, and
factory farms, your perspective will be changed forever. §
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Good Veggies for Bunnies
alfalfa sprouts
beet greens (tops)
bok choy
broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)
Brussels sprouts
carrots and carrot tops
celery (chop in small pieces)
clover, clover sprouts
collard greens
dandelion greens and
flowers (no pesticides)
green peppers
pea pods (the flat
edible kind)
peppermint leaves
radish sprouts, tops
raspberry leaves
romaine lettuce (no iceberg or light colored
leaf lettuce)
wheat grass
Veggies to Give Occasionally
mustard greens
Swiss chard
Special Treats
cranberries (dried)
peach, pear
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Dietary Recommendations
by Sandi Ackerman
rabbit’s diet should be made up of good quality pellets, fresh hay, (alfalfa,
timothy or oat), water and fresh vegetables. Anything beyond that is a “treat”
and should be given in limited quantities.
Pellets should be fresh, and should be relatively high in fiber (18% minimum
fiber). Do not purchase more than 6 weeks worth of feed at a time, as it will
become spoiled. Pellets should make up less of a rabbit’s diet as he or she grows
older, and hay should be available 24 hours a day.
When shopping for vegetables, look for a selection of different veggies (see
sidebar). Look for both dark leafy veggies and root vegetables, and try to get
different colors. Stay away from beans, corn and rhubarb.
Hay is essential to a rabbit’s good health, providing roughage which reduces
the danger of hairballs and other blockages. Apple tree twigs also provide good
roughage, just be sure to let them dry for three months before given them to
your bunny.
Babies and “teenagers”
Birth to 3 weeks ­— mother’s milk
3 to 4 weeks — mother’s milk, nibbles of alfalfa and pellets
4 to 7 weeks ­— mother’s milk, access to alfalfa and pellets
7 weeks to 7 months — unlimited pellets, unlimted hay
12 weeks — introduce vegetables (one at a time, quantities under 1/2 oz.)
Young Adults (7 months to 1 year)
introduce grass and oat hays, decrease alfalfa
decrease pellets to 1/2 cup per 6 lbs. body weight
increase daily vegetables gradually
fruit daily ration no more than 1–2 oz. (1–2 tablespoons) per 6 lbs. body
weight (because of calories)
Mature Adults (1–5 years)
• Unlimited grass hay, oat hay, straw
• 1/4 to 1/2 cup pellets per 6 lbs. body weight (depending on metabolism
and/or proportionate to veggies)
• Minimum 2 cups chopped vegetables per 6 lbs. body weight
• fruit daily ration no more than 2 oz. per 6 lbs. body weight
Senior Rabbits (over 6 years)
• If sufficient weight is maintained, continue adult diet
• Frail, older rabbits may need unrestricted pellets to keep weight up. Alfalfa
can be given to underweight rabbits, only if calcium levels are normal.
Annual blood workups are highly recommended for geriatric rabbits.
Medical Concerns
by Sandi Ackerman
Red Urine
Rabbits’ urine varies in color from clear to yellow to brown
to bright red. This is usually not a cause for alarm unless
there are additional signs such as sitting and straining to
urinate, loss of appetite or temperature. When you see red
urine, don’t panic. Just keep your eyes open for other signs
that might indicate a problem. If in doubt, you can have your
veterinarian test to see whether there is blood in the urine.
Amoxicillin Danger
Never let a veterinarian give your rabbit amoxicillin. It
is a pink liquid antibiotic that smells like bubble gum.
Amoxicillin is very dangerous for rabbits, and has killed
many more than it has helped. Any penicillin-based drug can
be dangerous for your rabbit, so try to find a veterinarian
who is knowledgeable about rabbit-safe antibiotics, and who
is familiar with the safer drugs such as Chloramphenicol,
Tetracycline, sulfa-drugs based like Septra or TMS, or enrofloxins such as Baytril or Cipro.
Cedar and Pine Shavings
These are very bad for your rabbit and other pets. The
aromatic hydrocarbons produced from softwood beddings
can cause both respiratory and liver damage in rabbits and
other small animals. Use organic litter in the litter box and
put newspaper in the cage tray.
The House Rabbit Society has had over 1000 rabbits spayed or
neutered with approximately .1% mortality due to anesthesia.
On the other hand, the risk of reproductive cancer (which is
fatal) for an unspayed female rabbit stands at approximately
85%, which makes spaying a necessity. For male rabbits, the
benefits are primarily behavioral (eliminating spraying and
hormone-related aggression), but are just as important. A
knowledgeable rabbit veterinarian can spay or neuter your
rabbit with very little risk to a healthy rabbit.
This rabbit has a severe case of malocclusion
Rabbits’ teeth can be misaligned. This condition is known as
malocclusion, which means that a rabbit’s constantly-growing
teeth are not wearing down properly. If the misalignment is
bad, the teeth will need to be clipped periodically so that the
rabbit can eat. Your veterinarian can do this for you, or can
show you how to do it at home. Usually malocclusion just
strikes the front teeth, bu occasionally, the back teeth can
also be misaligned. One indication of this is a wet chin that is
caused by drooling. If this is the case, your rabbit will need his
molars trimmed by a veterinarian on a regular basis.
Rabbits shed their hair every three months. Every second
shedding is light, followed three months later by a heavy
shedding. This is an important factor in rabbit deaths. You
need to brush and comb your rabbit to get the hair off of
them when they start to shed. Rabbits groom themselves like
cats and will ingest all of the loose hair, which they cannot
vomit as can cats. For this reason, besides regular grooming,
they must have constant access to fresh hay every day, as
the fiber helps the hair pass through the digestive system.
You can also give your rabbit cat hairball preparations such
as Petromalt or Laxatone once a week when not shedding
and daily during their molt. Finally, daily exercise is another
important factor in the prevention of hairballs.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Be sure to work with a veterinarian trained in the care of rabbits
Bacterial Infections
A rabbit with a urinary infection or a disabled older rabbit
may not be able to project urine away from the body.
The result may be saturated fur around the hindquarters.
For milder cases, shave the areas that get wet so the skin
can dry (remember, rabbit fur takes a long time to dry),
rinse the affected areas daily, and follow up with a dusting
of baby powder or corn starch. For more infirm cases,
disposable baby diapers-turned backwards so the tabs are
up-do wonders for keeping the moisture away from the
skin. (Huggies Step 2 work well for an 8 pound rabbit.)
The first indication of an infection may be a runny nose or
eye, sometimes a high temperature, sometimes a rattling
sound from the lungs or (rarely) a coughing sound. It is
important to see your veterinarian as soon as the first symptoms of any infection appear, as they are more easily cured
when caught in the early stages. The bacteria you may hear
the most about is called Pasteurella. This used to be a major
problem, but with the newer antibiotics, this bacteria can
often be eliminated. And, if not totally eliminated, it can be
controlled with the use of long term antibiotics. Most of the
symptoms described are quite common for many types of
bacteria, so it is important to have your veterinarian do a
culture to determine exactly what is being treated.
Make sure your rabbit is in good health prior to elective
surgeries. Food and water should not be removed from a
rabbit the evening before surgery! Any change in diet can
upset a rabbit’s sensitive digestive tract and cause problems
in post- operative recovery. One of the reasons some veterinarians recommend removing animals’ food before surgery
is the possibility that they may vomit. Rabbits cannot throw
up, thus this is not a concern. Additionally, some veterinarians are concerned about spaying rabbits with a full cecum.
Unfortunately, the cecum would take 3-4 days of fasting to
empty out, and by that time, the rabbit would be dead. So
please, do not fast your rabbit before surgery! After surgery,
make sure the rabbit’s cage is clean, and check her incision
site daily for swelling or discharge. Do everything you can to
get your rabbit to eat again as soon as possible after returning
home. To coax him to eat again, you may have to offer a
variety of treats, including his regular pellets and hay. If your
rabbit has not eaten for 48 hours after surgery, consult your
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Digestive Problems
The following symptoms require that you see your veterinarian immediately. Diarrhea — as in human children,
diarrhea in rabbits can be fatal. Rabbits have various kinds
of diarrhea, if it’s runny, messy and smelly it’s easy to identify.
A more subtle form of diarrhea (which does not require the
urgency of runny diarrhea) is when the droppings appear to
be normal, but “squash” when you touch or sweep them up.
You may also see “clumpy” diarrhea. This will be the consistency of silly putty, with normal round droppings mixed in.
Diarrhea usually requires antibiotics from your veterinarian.
Other signs to watch for are loud tummy growling, small
and/or misshapen droppings or no droppings at all. See your
veterinarian if any of these symptoms appear. (Veterinarians
often misdiagnose this problem as being a hairball.) §
Sacramento Area Veterinarians
The Sacramento House Rabbit Society makes NO CLAIMS
regarding these recommendations. Our policy is to list
only those veterinarians recommended by House Rabbit
Society members.
Be sure to check out any vet before placing your rabbit’s
life in their hands! Ask them questions. Make sure you’re
comfortable with the vet. Don’t assume that because one
veterinarian at a pet hospital is experienced with rabbits,
all are. A recommended veterinarian may no longer be at
the location listed in this list, so be sure before you visit
the pet hospital. If you call for an appointment with one
of these vets, and you are told by the receptionist that they
are “extremely busy” and are offered an appointment with
one of their associates, insist on seeing the vet you asked for.
When calling a vet listed by the HRS, please tell the vet that
you got their name from the House Rabbit Society. §
Sacramento Area
Abel Pet Clinic
9098 Laguna Main St. #1
Elk Grove, CA 95758
Dr. Kelly Byam
(916) 684-6854
All About Pets
6104 San Juan Ave., Ste. 2
Citrus Heights, CA 95610
Dr. Linda Zucca
(916) 722-0400
Atlantic Street Veterinary Hospital/
Pet Emergency Center
1100 Atlantic Street
Roseville, CA 95678
Dr. Stacey Gillis
(916) 783-4655
Banfield Folsom (PetSmart)
2705 East Bidwell Street
Folsom, CA 95693
Dr. Ken Pawlowski
(916) 817-2538
Bird & Pet Clinic of Roseville
3985 Foothills Blvd.
Roseville, CA 95747
Drs. Vickie Joseph,
Gary Forney, Corrine Popke
(916) 773-6049
Bradshaw Veterinary Clinic
9609 Bradshaw Rd.
Elk Grove, CA 95624
Dr. Anne Gray
(916) 685-2494
Cordova Veterinary Hospital
2890 La Loma Dr.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
Dr. Melissa Gates
(916) 363-9443
Elk Grove Veterinary Hospital
8640 Elk Grove Blvd.
Elk Grove, CA 95624
Drs. Becky Van Riper,
Karyn McCulloch
(916) 685-9589
Hazel Ridge Veterinary Clinic, Inc.
4347 Hazel Ave.
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Dr. Marsha M. Birdsall
(916) 965-8200
Madison Avenue Veterinary Clinic
8520 Madison Ave.
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Dr. Marianne Brick
(916) 961-1541
Mobile Vet Connection
7438 Cardwell Ave.
Orangevale, CA 95662
Dr. Jyl Rubin
(916) 989-0738
Petcare Veterinary Clinic
1014 Douglas Blvd.
Roseville, CA 95678
Drs. Sandra McRoberts,
Laura Rensink
(916) 791-9599
Rancho Cordova Animal
Medical Center
3342 Mather Field Rd.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
Dr. Charlotte Tomich
(916) 362-1863
Acorn Veterinary Clinic
1340 E. Covell Blvd., #101
Davis, CA 95616
Drs. Sally Borges,
Joy Jackman, Kris Codino
(530) 753-7580
Adobe Pet Hospital
1543 First St.
Livermore, CA 94550
Drs. Sandy Dressler-Block,
Michelle Kapty
(925) 449-4228
Airport Pet Clinic
2995 Alhambra Dr.
Cameron Park, CA 95682
Dr. William Gallant
(503) 677-7387
Animal Medical Clinic
3449 Highway 32
Chico, CA 95973
Dr. Barry C. Dohner
(530) 343-1234
Bowman Veterinarian Hospital
100 Old Auburn Rd.
Auburn, CA 95603
(530) 823-6306
Dr. Nicki Kominek
Loomis Basin Veterinary Clinic
3901 Sierra College Blvd.
Loomis, CA 95650
Drs. Christine Holden,
Julia Larson
(916) 652-5816
hours clinic
Low-cost spay and
neuter services
Outlying Areas
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Reading Your Rabbit
by Amy Shapiro
abbits talk to each other and to humans using a wide
variety of body positions and facial expressions, and
a few vocalizations. Here is a basic vocabulary of rabbit
language to help you start a conversation with your
Ears forward. (TV antenna position) “Something has
caught my attention.”
Ears back. a) “I don’t like what you’re doing, or what I
think you’re about to do.” b) “I’m giving my radar a rest.
Wake me for supper.” Ears-back position shows the importance of context and of reading the whole rabbit. If your
rabbit puts her ears back, tail up, and growls and lunges
when you try to pet her, the message is entirely different
from that of a rabbit who is sitting in a favorite corner at
midday, ears at rest, front legs tucked (sometimes called
meatloaf position), eyes at half-mast.
One ear back, one ear forward or to the side. “Something
is going on but it doesn’t yet merit my full attention.”
The nose-nudge. a) You reach for your rabbit and he
thrusts his nose forward, chin flat on the ground: “Pet me.
Now.” b) You’re standing around, minding your own business. Your rabbit hops up and nudges your shin with his
nose: “You’re in my path. Make way, buddy.”
Tooth-grinding. You and your rabbit are sitting together
on the floor, listening to a ball game on the radio. you hear
a strange noise and notice that she seems to be chewing
something – like rocks, maybe, from the sound of it: “I’m
very happy. If I were a cat I’d be purring.” (Not to be
confused with the rarer tooth-chattering, which is a sign
of pain.)
Nipping. a) “You’re my friend, and I groom all my friends
very thoroughly.” b) “Quit trying to put that medicine in
my eyes.” c) “I’m a macho male bunny. If you don’t have
me neutered I’ll be running the show around here from
now on.” d.) “I’m in the mood for lust.”
Licking. “I trust you.”
Lunging. Her ears are back, her chin is thrust forward and
up, her tail is up: “Back off.”
Circling. As you attempt to walk across the room, your
rabbit runs in circles around you: “Let’s play, Let’s court.
I feel frisky.”
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Dancing. Your rabbit dashes half-way across the room
and makes a 180-degree turn in midair: “Yippee!”
Flopping. Your rabbit, who has been sitting quietly, or
grooming herself, suddenly falls over on her side, exposing
her belly. you think she’s having a heart attack: “I’m like
totally relaxed. Life is wonderful, and so am I.”
Mounting. Putting her front paws on a toy or another
rabbit or your foot, your rabbit makes thrusting movements with her hips. a. “This is just a reminder that I’m
top bunny around here.” b. “I’m in heat.” c. “I’m feeling
REM sleep. His eyelids twitch. His ears twitch. His whiskers vibrate. His head droops, then comes up suddenly. His
teeth grind. He starts to fall on his side, then rights himself,
then relaxes again: “I’m in another galaxy, dreaming of
giant groves of parsley and banana.”
Chinning. She hops from place to place, rubbing her chin
against table legs, human legs, bookcases, her litterbox:
“This is my home. I’m leaving a scented calling card to let
everyone know that I live here.”
Tail up. Your teenage bunny starts munching on your new
stereo speaker, even though you’ve just given her fresh
branches form her favorite fruit tree. You scold her with a
loud NO! She looks at you, then scampers off, tail high in
the air or switching rapidly from side to side: “Oh yeah?
Well, same to you and many more.”
Growling. “Leave me alone. I don’t trust you. If you keep
pushing, I’ll bite you.”
Honking. “I’m excited.”
Screaming. “I’m in excruciating pain. I’m panicked and
These are just a few elements of rabbit language. Your
own rabbit’s personal dialect can best be learned through
patient observation. Spend time on the floor with him.
See the world from his point of view. Pay attention to
your own body language and his responses to it. The
better you know his normal actions and positions, the
more quickly you will note any changes that may be the
first sign of illness. §
Training Your Rabbit
by Nancy LaRoche
Basics of Rabbit Behavior
Rabbit behavior is usually motivated by one of three
• their natural need and inclination to chew and dig; • their need to communicate in non-verbal ways;
• the social structure as seen by rabbits, in which all
members of the family relate to them by way of a
“pecking order.”
Rabbits should have a home of their own within the
family home, large enough for a litter box, food dishes,
toys, and them. They should be able to stretch full-length
in all directions. Ideally, a shelf is provided to give opportunity for vertical jumps. Rabbits can be kept in such a
home full time except for times of supervised outdoor
romps (within a restricted area or single room) and the
30 minutes of training they should have daily. As they
become well-trained within this restricted area, you can
gradually increase their boundaries and their free time.
Never attempt to use training alone to keep a rabbit
from household hazards. Toxic house plants and electrical
wires should be impossible for a rabbit to reach. Counting
on training or “the way he’s always behaved” with respect
to such things is asking for an accident that could leave
your rabbit injured or dead.
Chewing and Digging
During the training time, do nothing but concentrate on
the rabbit. Open the door to her home and let her (or
them) come out when she chooses. You may offer toys or
treats from your hand, but don’t interfere with her if she
wants to explore. Watch her carefully throughout the time
she is out of her cage. If she starts to chew on something
you don’t want chewed, immediately offer her as many
other things that are okay to chew on as you can. Block
whatever she was chewing on so it ceases to be a temptation (block it well, so you aren’t simply challenging her to
break through).
If possible, provide something with a similar (or
better) taste and texture to what is being chewed. For
example, a piece of untreated, unfinished baseboard
instead of the real baseboard; or a piece of scrap carpet
instead of the real carpet (as long as the rabbit isn’t
ingesting the pieces she pulls out); or a piece of apple
branch instead of chair legs.
The same thing applies to digging. If the rabbit loves
to dig in the carpet, build a small “corner” with carpeting
on the bottom and give this to her to distract her. A cardboard box filled with shredded newspaper can be a good
distractor as well.
Age is a factor in these behaviors. Like puppies, young
rabbits have more energy, more of a desire to explore and
chew, and a shorter attention span than older bunnies. Be
patient with your youngster.
Communicating Without Words
Rabbits are excellent non-verbal communicators. One
example of such communication is struggling when he is
being picked up. This is simply saying “I don’t like being
picked up! PLEASE put me down! I don’t feel safe when
you take control of my body this way!” There are a few
instances where it is appropriate for you to take charge
of your rabbit. If his teeth must be examined or clipped
because of malocclusion, it is necessary to hold him
against his will.
However, if you want a rabbit who enjoys jumping
on your lap and being stroked, it is better to teach him to
trust you by not grabbing or holding him against his will
when he comes to you. Use treats, nose-to-nose-touching,
chin-rubbing (your chin on the rabbit’s face), rubbing
around the ears — whatever he enjoys — to encourage his
pleasure in being with you. And if he happens not to enjoy
such activities, so be it. Respect and enjoy him for who he
is. After all, you want the same for yourself.
A rabbit who enjoys sitting on your lap and being
stroked may nip you sharply if you get distracted enough
to stop stroking her. She isn’t trying to hurt you, just
reminding you that she expects you to get back to the job
at hand. When a rabbit nips in an effort to communicate
appropriately (such as in this case), she probably doesn’t
realize how painful it is nor how severe the resulting bruise
may be. SCREECH one high, loud, sudden, and short
screech to let the rabbit know that she really hurt you. The
squeal should be loud, sudden, and high enough to startle
her slightly. The next time she nips, you will be surprised
at how much gentler it will be. Continue to squeal when
nipped, however, until the nip is gentle enough to cause
no pain or bruising.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Rabbits are curious by nature and need to learn through gentle but firm training
Who’s the Boss?
Your goal is to convince your rabbit that you are “toprabbit.” This is not the same thing as forcing your will
on him in a manner that ignores his needs and desires.
Rather, it is an important part of establishing a relationship that will meet his needs as well as yours (he will be
quite content accepting you as top-rabbit and himself as
subordinate to you, once he sees you as naturally dominant). It even makes it possible for you to carry out your
full function as his caretaker.
If your rabbit jumps onto the couch where you are
sitting and nips you deliberately, he is probably trying
to take the couch for his own. (This is inappropriate
nipping.) Not only should you screech, but you should
firmly (though gently), return him to the floor with a
sharp “No!” If he jumps back up and doesn’t nip you, he’s
learned that he can share the couch, but not drive you
off. If he jumps back up and nips again, you repeat the
screech, the “No!” and the return to the floor. If he comes
back a third time with a nip, it is time for him to “go to his
room” (i.e., he needs to be herded back to his cage for a
two-minute time-out). If he throws a temper tantrum in
the cage, shaking the “bars” and flinging himself around,
ignore him. After he’s quiet again, he can come out. If he
continues to try to force you from your seat, however, he
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
may need to stay in his cage until the next time he would
normally be allowed out. This same general method
applies whenever a rabbit attempts to dominate you.
Training your rabbit requires commitment of time,
effort, and thought. It isn’t just teaching the word “No!”
(which will only teach the rabbit to wait until you aren’t
looking). It’s learning to understand your rabbit’s likes
and dislikes, working to provide things he really enjoys,
thinking up new possibilities when old toys become
boring, and making the effort to switch toys regularly to
maintain interest.
Enjoy your rabbits to the fullest! Train them well and
carefully, love them with all your heart, appreciate them
for who and what they are, and you will experience the
great pleasure of sharing your lives with each other in
harmony. §
Litter-training Your Rabbit
y nature, rabbits choose one or a few places (usually
corners) to deposit their urine and most of their pills.
Urine-training involves little more than putting a litterbox
where the rabbit chooses to go. Pill training requires only
that you give them a place they know will not be invaded
by others. Here are some suggestions to help you to train
your rabbit to use the litterbox.
of your house, she will distinguish the family’s area from
her own and avoid marking it. To encourage this, make
the rabbit the king of his cage. Try not to force him in or
out of it — coax him. Do not do things to his cage that
he doesn’t like, or things to him that he doesn’t like while
he’s in the cage.
Even if your goal is to let your rabbit have full run of the
house, you must start small. Start with a cage and a small
running space, and when your rabbit is sufficiently welltrained in that space, gradually give her more space. But
do so gradually! If you overwhelm her with too much
freedom before she’s ready, she will forget where her box
is and will lose her good habits.
Older rabbits are easier to train than younger rabbits,
especially babies. A rabbit’s attention span and knack for
learning increases as he grows up. If you have a baby, stick
with it! If you are deciding whether to litter train your
older rabbit, go for it!
When rabbits reach the age of 4-6 months, their hormones
become active and they usually begin marking their territory. By spaying or neutering your rabbit, he will be
much more likely to use his litterbox (as well as be much
healthier and happier).
Types of Litter
House Rabbit Society recommends organic litters made
from alfalfa, oat, citrus or paper. (Some brands to look
for: Care Fresh, Citrafresh, Yesterday’s News, Cat Country,
Critter Country) A wonderful and inexpensive litter is
wood stove pellets, which can be purchased at home
improvement stores. Hay can also be used as litter, but
needs to be changed daily as your rabbit will be eating it
as well.
Stay away from litters made from softwoods, like pine
or cedar shavings or chips, as these products are thought
to cause liver damage in rabbits who use them. Also avoid
clay or clumping cat litters.
Cleaning and Disposal
Clean litterboxes often, to encourage your rabbit to
use them. Use diluted white vinegar to rinse boxes out.
Accidents outside of the cage can be cleaned up with white
vinegar or club soda. If the urine has already dried, you
can try products like “Nature’s Miracle” to remove the
stain and odor. To dispose of organic litters, they can be
used as mulch, or can be composted. Rabbit pills can be
directly applied to plants as fertilizer.
Pills vs. Urine
All rabbits will drop pills around their cages to mark it as
their own. This is not failure to be litter-trained. It is very
important for your rabbit to identify the cage as her property so that when she leaves the cage for the bigger world
Running Space
The Method
Start with a box in the cage, and one or more boxes in the
rabbit’s running space. If she urinates in a corner of the
cage not containing the box, move the box to that corner
until she gets it right. Don’t be concerned if your bunny
curls up in his litterbox—this is natural. Once she’s using
the box in the cage, open her door and allow her into
her running space. Watch her go in and out on her own.
If she heads to a corner where there’s no box, or lifts up
her tail in the characteristic fashion, cry “no” in a single,
sharp burst of sound. Gently herd her back to her cage
and her litterbox, or into one of the boxes in her room. Be
careful, however. You don’t want to make the cage or the
litterbox seem like punishment. A handful of hay in the
box makes it a more welcoming place. After she first uses
the box, praise her and give her her favorite treat. Once
she uses the box in her room a couple of times, you’re
well on your way, as her good habits will be forming. As
she gets better trained in her first room, you can increase
her space. Don’t hurry this process. If the area becomes
very big, or includes a second floor, be sure to include
more litterboxes, so as not to confuse her. Remember, as
she becomes more confident and uses fewer boxes, you
can start to remove some of her early, “training” boxes.
Get your rabbit into a daily routine and try not to vary it.
Rabbits are very habitual and once a routine is established,
they usually prefer to stick with it.
If your rabbit continually urinates in a spot where there
is no litterbox, put his box where he will use it, even if it
means rearranging his cage or moving a table in the living
room. It is much easier to oblige him than to try to work
against a determined bunny! §
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Heat Danger
by Kirsten Macintyre
t’s that time of year again — time for air conditioners,
swimsuits, and sunscreen. For our rabbit companions,
though, this isn’t a time of rest and relaxation. Your rabbit
is depending on you to help keep him cool and comfortable during the hottest time of the year. His life could
depend on it.
Rabbits and Heat:
A Little Biological Background
Rabbits, like dogs, don’t sweat. They lower their body
temperature in two ways: they pant, but even more
importantly, they use their ears to dissipate heat. If you
look at your bunny’s ears in the light, you’ll be able to
see a number of large blood vessels. When it’s warm,
they’ll become large and easily detectable. That’s because
the blood goes to the ears, where it’s closest to the skin’s
surface. The surrounding air then cools the blood down
before it passes back into the rest of the body. A rabbit’s
normal body temperature is about 102 degrees – still
much warmer than the air on a hot day – so the “ears as air
conditioners” system works perfectly for them.
Incidentally, this is why rabbits from warm climates,
such as jack rabbits, have large ears, while rabbits from cold
climates, such as Netherland Dwarfs, have small ears.
If your bunny has hot ears, don’t panic. This sign
in and of itself is not a bad thing; it just means the “air
conditioning” is working. Unless you see other signs of
overheating (read on!), there is nothing to worry about.
Precautions and Prevention
Even if your bunny lives indoor all the time, and you have
the air conditioner running constantly in the summertime, it’s still important to monitor your bunny’s behavior
and take precautions that he doesn’t overheat. Remember
that you’re much taller than he is, and the room’s temperature at his level may be higher or lower by a few degrees
than what you can feel. Also remember that he’s wearing
a fur coat. If he’s in a cage, make sure it’s away from the
sunlight. Even if he can move out of the direct path of
the rays, remember that the sun will quickly heat up a
metal cage and your bunny’s drinking water. After those
basic precautions have been taken, consider some of the
following solutions, which might suit your needs and
make bunny more comfortable:
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
• The most obvious solution is to get a water bottle
— either an old plastic milk jug, or perhaps a bottle
of drinking water — and freeze it. You can put the
solid bottle directly into the cage with the rabbit.
Some bunnies will curl up directly next to the frozen
bottle and sleep next to it as it melts. Other rabbits
won’t actually go near the frozen bottle, but will still
reap the benefits as the ice melts and cools off the
surrounding air.
• It may help to set up a fan so it blows over (but not
directly or continuously on) your rabbit’s cage. Some
people drape a wet towel over the top of the cage
and let the fan blow onto that to encourage quicker
• Put a large piece of ceramic or tile into the cage; make
sure it’s big enough for the bunny to stretch out on.
Ceramic and tile are poor conductors of heat and will
stay cool and comfortable even when the surrounding
air is heating up.
• Remember to brush your bunny regularly — preferably at night or early in the morning, when he won’t
mind being held against your warm body so much.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to get all that
loose fur out of his coat. He doesn’t need the extra
• If you have a long-haired rabbit, you might consider
using blunt-nosed scissors to trim his fur back a bit.
Comfort is more important than beauty this time
of year.
• Some people find that their rabbits like to be misted
with a spray bottle, especially around the ears. Be
careful with this technique, though — some bunnies
may hate this!
• Try offering a salt block. Not all rabbits care for them,
but if he’ll lick it, it will help him retain water.
• Keep giving your bunny fresh vegetables. Rinse them
in the sink before offering them, and don’t bother to
shake them dry. The extra water will do him good.
Warning Signs, and What to Do
in Case of Emergency
You may notice that your rabbit will do certain things
to make himself more comfortable — he may lie down
in the path of the floor fan, for instance, or drink more
water than he usually does. If he isn’t making any effort to
stay cool, though, you may have a problem on your hands.
Summer laziness is normal, but true lethargy is the first
sign of a bunny in trouble. Other signs of heat exhaustion
can include:
• Lying on side.
• Rapid, shallow breathing (the bunny’s sides heave with
the increased effort).
• Wetness around the nose and mouth/drooling.
• Slight bleeding from the nose (not always present).
• Slight nasal discharge and sneezing on overly hot
Pregnant females, overweight buns of both sexes,
and small babies surrounded by too much bedding are
particularly susceptible to heat exhaustion. In the latter
stages of heat prostration, the blood vessels in the ears will
enlarge and the mouth may turn blue. At this stage, the
condition is usually fatal. If you suspect that your bunny
is truly uncomfortable, dampen his ears. You can hold an
ice pack to his head or wrap his ears with a cool, wet washcloth. If he still doesn’t respond, get him to the vet clinic
right away! Do not wait any longer. A truly overheated
rabbit needs professional medical care, possibly including
fluid injections. Do NOT try to submerge your rabbit in
water — this will likely send him into shock and could
easily kill him.
Finally, there is one other health concern that crops up
during warm weather. This is also the primary season for
fly strike — a very serious and potentially fatal condition
in bunnies.
Fly strike occurs when a fly lays eggs on a rabbit’s skin.
Most commonly, this happens in an open wound, but it
can also happen to bunnies whose fur has become matted
or caked with urine or feces (moisture, warmth, and odor
all attract flies). All it takes is just one insect in the house.
At particular risk for fly strike are older rabbits,
disabled rabbits, or overweight rabbits who are unable to
clean themselves. Also keep a careful eye out if your bunny
has a temporary case of loose stools. Check your rabbit
to make sure he’s keeping clean and healthy. It’s a smart
thing to do anyway, but this time of year, it could make the
difference between life and death. §
Pasha and Vi enjoy the cooling benefits of a frozen water bottle.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
by Craig Dinger, DVM
any people assume that a chubby rabbit is a wellfed rabbit, and a well-fed rabbit is a healthy rabbit.
Actually, this is not the case; obesity is a major factor in
many diseases and other health problems of rabbits. If you
want your rabbit to live a long life, free of medical problems and emergency trips to the vet, you should monitor
his weight and take steps to slim him down if he’s already
on the hefty side.
How do you know if your rabbit is obese? As a general
guideline, you should be able to easily feel your rabbit’s
ribs when gently rubbing your fingers back and forth over
the rib cage (but your rabbit should never be so thin that
you can easily see the ribs). If you feel a soft spongy layer
between the skin and ribs, your rabbit may be too fat.
Look for extra flaps of skin around the hind end, which
is another sign of obesity. For females, look at the dewlap
(the roll of skin under the chin). It should not be so large
as to interfere with eating or drinking.
If you are in doubt about your rabbit’s weight, please
consult with your veterinarian. Obesity places additional
stress on the rabbit’s body. The extra body weight places
excessive pressure on the feet (especially the hind feet).
This increased pressure can negatively affect blood supply
to the foot, resulting in pressure necrosis (tissue that dies
due to poor blood circulation) and secondary bacterial infection of the skin called pododermatitis or “sore
hocks.” Pododermatitis ulcerations can range from superficial raw spots to wounds that are deep enough to involve
the bone. Other factors can add to the risk of pododermatitis, including foot trauma from sharp surfaces (such as
exposed wire cage bottoms), moist or dirty surfaces inside
the cage, and excessive stomping of the feet. An obese
rabbit may also be unable to turn his head far enough to
clean himself, thus allowing urine and feces to collect on
the feet. Urine is caustic and can result in burns called
“urine scald”. These are spots where the skin is red and the
fur has rubbed off. The surrounding fur may be stained
yellow, and there may be a strong odor of urine.
Obese rabbits may also have difficulty breathing.
Although rabbits are athletic animals, they have relatively
small chest cavities. Added fat in the abdomen puts pressure on the diaphragm, making it difficult for the animal
to expand the lungs and breathe. The excess fat also
provides excessive insulation, making it difficult for the
animal to avoid overheating in warm weather.
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Obesity may prevent a rabbit from consuming cecotropes, or “night droppings,” that provide important
nutrients and vitamins. The rabbit digestive system eliminates fiber rapidly, digesting only the non-fiber portion
of the diet. Hard feces produced from fiber are excreted
during the first four hours after feeding. Meanwhile,
the non-fiber portion of the diet is moved into the
cecum where it is fermented by bacteria. This fermentation produces amino acids, volatile fatty acids and
vitamins necessary for good rabbit health. This fermented
product becomes the cecotropes. The cecotropes are soft,
sticky and covered with mucous. They are excreted selectively and consumed directly from the anus during the
four- to eight-hour period following the rabbit’s meal.
Consumption of cecotropes (called “coprotrophy”) makes
the products of fermentation available to the animal. If
the rabbit cannot consume the cecotrophs, he may experience nutritional deficiencies.
Lastly, obesity predisposes the rabbit to hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver. This can cause serious problems if a
rabbit suddenly stops eating for any reason, or if the owner
of an obese rabbit tries to slim him down too quickly.
In obese rabbits, anorexia (a decreased food intake)
will result in the large amounts of body fat being mobilized and sent to the liver for an energy source. However,
in obese rabbits, the liver is already infiltrated with fat,
and the additional fat accumulates faster than it can be
converted into useable energy. This can result in damage
to the liver. Wool block, toxins, enteritis, organ failure, oral
pain, or even stress may trigger anorexia.
Obesity Prevention
Preventing obesity and its related disorders is easier than
correcting obesity, so let’s begin with prevention. Just as
with humans, exercise plays a major role in preventing
obesity. Many caged rabbits suffer from a lack of exercise; caregivers need to make certain that their rabbits
have safe housing that is large enough for the rabbit to
move around in. They also need to make certain that the
rabbits have supervised time outside of the enclosure for
play and exercise. If you have more than one rabbit and
the rabbits are not spayed or neutered and bonded, it
may be advisable to let them exercise separately to avoid
potential fighting.
Diet is also an extremely important aspect of rabbit
health and prevention of obesity. Rabbit pellets should
have crude fiber content greater than 17 percent. Below
are feeding recommendations for house rabbits:
• 1/8-1/4 cup alfalfa or timothy pellets per 5 lbs optimum
body weight daily. (Do not feed free choice pellets
except to baby bunnies, pregnant or lactating does.
Most rabbits will eat more than they need to, if given
the opportunity.)
• Timothy hay or other grass hay, fed free choice. Hay
is high in fiber and low in calories. Alfalfa hay can
be offered as a limited treat due to calories and high
calcium content.
• An iodized salt lick is recommended (although
not all rabbits like them). The iodine counteracts
the tendency of cabbage, kale, mustard greens and
similar food to produce goiter, an enlargement of the
thyroid gland.
• Small amounts of leafy greens (broccoli, kale, etc.)
• Small pieces of carrots, apples, etc.
• Fresh water should be also available at all times. Water
bottles are generally better than bowls for preventing
contamination and waste (some rabbits tend to defecate or sit in bowls).
• Do not feed seeds, nuts, candy, cookies or other
similar dessert-type treats. Processed foods for
humans (and often ones made for animals as well)
are both high in calories and hard for rabbit digestive
systems to handle.
Healthy Weight Loss
So what do you do if your rabbit is already too chubby?
Because of the risk of hepatic lipidosis, obese rabbits need
to lose weight gradually. The best method of weight loss is
a combination of exercise and diet management. Increase
the rabbit’s exercise and play time to help burn up extra
calories while slowly decreasing calorie intake by reducing
the amount of feed per day. Pay particular attention to the
amount of pellets offered and continue to offer unlimited
amounts of hay.
A healthy rabbit is a happy rabbit…proper weight
management will both extend the life of your pet and
reduce the risk of medical problems later on. §
Christopher is an overweight bunny, at risk for a variety of health
issues. Increasing his exercise and slowly decreasing his pellet intake
will get him to a healthier weight.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Safe Grooming Techniques
by Carolynn Harvey, DVM
abbits can act as if they’re hardy creatures, but they
are, in fact, extremely delicate-from their skin to
their spines to their external systems. Care must be taken
to maintain their good health. The following basics are
necessary to know in order to groom rabbits safely and
to help keep them healthy. For information specifically
geared towards the caring for long-haired rabbits, see the
reprint of the House Rabbit Journal article, “The WellGroomed Rabbit.”
Rabbits shed every 3 months. Every alternate time they’ll
have a light shedding that may not be very noticeable.
Next they’ll have a heavy shedding that you will not be
able to escape.
Rabbits are fastidious groomers. They insist on being
clean & tidy and will lick themselves like cats, and like cats,
they can get hairballs if they ingest too much hair. Unlike
cats however, rabbits cannot vomit. If hairballs are allowed
to form they can become gigantic masses of tangled hair
Babette gives herself a bath after a grooming session. During shedding season,
outdoor brushing is a good way to go!
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
and food and will block the stomach exit, causing the
rabbit to starve to death while his stomach appears to be
very fat.
Rabbits need to be brushed at least weekly. In addition
to removing any loose hair, this weekly brushing session
helps prepare them for the multiple daily brushings that
they must undergo when their heavy shedding begins.
Rabbits will shed in different ways. Some rabbits will take
a couple of weeks or more to loose their old coat of fur.
Other rabbits will be ready to get rid of their old coats all
in one day and these rabbits are the ones that cannot be
neglected once they start shedding. You can often remove
a very large percentage of hair by just pulling it out with
your hand. But, however you remove it, remove it as soon
as possible or your rabbit will do it during grooming.
Bald spots on rabbits are quite common when they
are shedding. I have one Angora rabbit for instance, that
gets totally naked except for her face and feet. But, short
haired rabbits can do the same thing. If these bald spots
occur from shedding, they will begin to grow back within
a week or two.
Long Haired Rabbits
These types of rabbits are truly wonderful to look at,
but require a lot more attention than their short haired
cousins. We recommend that you use your scissors and
keep their hair trimmed to one inch or less, otherwise you
may be fighting hairballs most of the time.
Expert Help: If you are not comfortable with the
above you can have someone, maybe your veterinarian,
show you how to do all of the above tasks.
Fleas and Mites
Safe treatments to prevent and kill fleas on rabbits include
Advantage (imidocloprid), Program (lufenuron) and
Revolution (selamectin). The latter is preferred, as it is
also effective against various types of mites that cause
symptoms of mange, ear canker, and “dandruff” (which is
often caused by fur mites in the genus Cheyletiella). These
products are available from your rabbit-savvy veterinarian, who can explain dosage and treatment regimens
to you at the time of prescription.
A flea comb is a non-toxic device that takes more
patience, but is both physically and psychologically
rewarding. Most rabbits learn to love the attention of
being flea combed, and it can be used as a supplement to
your main flea-control program.
The following products should NOT be used on rabbits:
• Frontline (fipronil) has been linked to neurological
damage and death in rabbits, although this product
is apparently safe for dogs and cats. The manufacturer (Merial) has placed a warning on the Frontline
label stating that Frontline should never be used on
• Flea powders, even those considered safe for cats and
kittens or advertised as “rabbit safe”, are not recommended for use on rabbits.
• Flea shampoos, even those considered safe for cats
and kittens or advertised as “rabbit safe”, are not
recommended for use on rabbits. Bathing of rabbits,
in general, is strongly discouraged because the stress
of the bath itself can cause serious health problems,
and has in some cases been linked to the death of the
rabbit. Flea baths or dips are not recommended for
this reason.
• For environmental flea control, sprays and “bombs”
are not recommended, as they may leave harmful
residue that the rabbit can ingest. Safer alternatives
include borax and diatomaceous earth, worked into
the carpet where fleas leave their eggs.
Although a rare bunny may grow up swimming in the
family pool and going on camping trips where she paddles
around in the lake, the vast majority of rabbits, like their
ancestors, do not relish getting wet. Even an occasional
bath is quite stressful to the average rabbit, and is not
Never – unless your veterinarian advises it to bring
down a fever – should you give a sick rabbit a bath.
Because seemingly healthy rabbits can have undiagnosed
problems, it’s best not to subject them to the stress of a
bath. If your rabbit is very badly infested with fleas, there’s
a good chance that he is already compromised and may
go into shock when bathed. There are many safe alternatives to flea control (see these under “Fleas,” above). Also, a
thoroughly wet rabbit takes a very long time to dry, so spot
cleaning the dirty area with an application of baby cornstarch (available at any supermarket in the baby section)
(do not use talcum, as it is carcinogenic) and then gently
combing out the dirt with a fine flea comb is better than
a wet bath.
A wet rabbit can quickly become hypothermic. If
your rabbit is wet to the skin for any reason, be sure to
thoroughly blow dry the bunny until even the undercoat
is dry and fluffy. Normal rabbit body temperature ranges
from 101oF – 103oF. Because rabbit skin is very delicate,
and rabbits are sensitive to heat, never use a blow dryer
on a setting higher than “warm,” and constantly monitor
the temperature of the air on the bunny’s skin by placing
your hand in its path.
Rabbit skin is delicate and highly susceptible to cuts, so
mats should not be cut off with scissors. Instead, use a
mat splitter or mat rake to take the mass apart. Bunny fur
usually requires a finer blade than most cats and dogs.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Scratchy, flaky skin with bald patches is usually a symptom
of mites or, more rarely, an allergic reaction to fleas.
Products described under “Fleas” will usually clear up such
problems. A veterinarian should be consulted for such
conditions as open sores, or chronic skin inflammation.
Rabbits nails can grow to be very long and sharp and will
be uncomfortable for the rabbit. If the rabbit has light
colored nails they are very easy to trim. You can see the
blood inside the nail and you clip just before that point.
The dark colored nails are harder to see where they should
be clipped but it is still visible.
People are often afraid to clip nails for fear that they
will cause the rabbit to bleed. You can purchase a product
called Kwik Stop to keep on hand for this problem, but
I’ve found that just holding pressure with a cotton ball
works better for me. Your veterinarian will also clip nails
for you. They should be checked every 6-8 weeks.
House rabbits who spend all of their time in homes with
carpeting and linoleum periodically need to have their
toenails trimmed, in the same way as dogs and cats.
Because of risk of infection, declawing is definitely
not recommended for rabbits. If excessive digging or
scratching is a problem, then a large box of hay or straw,
where bunny can pursue these activities, may help.
If the padding (fur) on the feet is worn down, exposing
inflamed or callused skin, then soft dry resting pads (rugs)
should be provided. Exposed skin that becomes urine
burned or broken is very likely to infect. Take extra care
that rugs and litterboxes are kept clean and dry.
Ear wax can be lifted out with a cotton swab, being careful
not to push on wax in the canal, or you can try a mild ear
cleaner containing Chlorhexadine, such as Nolvasan Otic.
For ear mite infestation, apply a topical medication such
as Mitox. The veterinarian may also prescribe Ivermectin.
Rabbits teeth grow continuously and must be
checked to ensure that they are wearing down
properly.While you’re brushing your rabbit
or clipping his nails also look at his teeth
to make sure there is not a problem.
See page 11 for further information
about tooth issues.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Watery eyes or and eye discharge needs to be diagnosed
by a vet. In addition to any medications or eye drops,
the cheek needs to be kept dry and clean so the area will
not become chafed nor the fur peel off. Clean tissues will
absorb mild wetness. Ophthalmic saline solution (what
people use with their contacts) carefully poured onto the
cheek will crystallize the tears so that they can be removed
with a clean flea comb. A touch of prescription anesthetic
powder on a finger can be applied to the area if there are
painful lesions. §
Introducing Rabbits
by Margo Demello
Possible Types of Introductions
How To’s: Work with Space
• Boy and girl: one of the easiest, often fall in love at first
sight — but not always.
• Girl and girl: sometimes easy, often fighting.
• Boy and boy: sometimes easy, sometimes difficult,
usually fighting at first, but not at all impossible.
• Two babies: extremely easy.
• Three or more rabbits: Difficulty varies, depending on
sexes, personalities, and whether or not two of the
rabbits are already bonded.
• Baby and adult: Sometimes difficult, but goes well if
adult is very tolerant.
• Bringing home a rabbit to an existing rabbit: Much
easier if you bring a girl home to a boy than if you
bring a rabbit home to a girl.
• Bringing two rabbits home at the same time: Quite
easy, even if they’re same sex. Usually the new space
is enough to make them become friends quite on
their own.
Rabbits are extremely territorial. In wild rabbits, territorial behavior includes depositing marking pellets at the
boundaries of the territory, chinning, urinating, and
aggressive behavior such as digging, circling, and fighting.
Wild males tend to defend larger territories while females
concentrate on their nests. In our neutered domestic
companions, hormonal causes may be absent, but territorial behavior still exists. Thus, when introducing new
rabbits, territory must be considered and used to your
advantage. What you are trying to do is eliminate the
possibility for there to develop any territorial behavior in
the rabbits. So you choose introductory spaces that are as
different from your bunny’s territory as possible. You are
also trying to mimic positive feelings in your rabbits. By
creating artificial situations where your bunnies are snuggling, rubbing noses, smelling each others’ fur, etc., you are
creating positive memories, even if they are also stressful. I
call this “coerced closeness.” They are positive in the sense
that they don’t associate the other bun with the stress (of
the car ride, for example), they associate the other rabbit
with the feelings of security that they receive. If they fight,
then they will carry those bad memories around with
them, and will remember that they fought together.
• Always introduce rabbits, regardless of sex or age,
in neutral space first. (Obviously, if you’re bringing
home two bunnies together, then any space in your
home is neutral space.) Possible neutral spaces might
be: a room that your rabbit has never been in, a
friend’s home or apartment, the seat of a car, on top
of the kitchen table, the garage, the bathtub, or a pen
in the back yard.
• Try to bring your current rabbit with you to pick up
your new rabbit, so that they can share that first car
ride together.
• Work with the rabbits for at least twenty minutes per
day. Make sure to spend some time with the rabbits
in one or more neutral space every day. When you’re
not actively working with them, they should be apart
if they fight when together. If they do not fight, then
they can be left alone if you’re not working with them,
but not when you’re not home at all.
• Every day, try using two different situations, one
relatively stressful (like a car ride), followed by one
relatively normal (the floor of a new room, the top of
the bed). That way, you can try to gradually transition
Possible Scenarios after First Introduction
• Love at first sight: If this occurs, you can try them in
the space they’re going to live in. If it’s still good, then
they’re fine, you have nothing else to do.
• Tentative friendship: If this occurs, just watch them
when they’re together, keep them separate when you’re
not around, and if no fighting occurs, they’ll eventually become friends.
• Amorous behavior: If the (neutered) male mounts the
female, and the female does not mind, then this is
usually a sign that the relationship will go well. If she
does mind, and runs, it is still not usually a problem. If
she minds, and becomes aggressive towards him, then
you must prepare for a lengthier introduction period.
• One chasing, one running: If this occurs, just make sure
the one running doesn’t fight back and doesn’t get
hurt. If neither of these things occurs, then just watch
and wait. If one gets hurt, then separate them and go
slower and if one fights back, then you must prepare
for a lengthier introduction period.
• Fighting: When two new rabbits (or, for that matter,
two existing rabbits) fight, then you must prepare for
a full introduction period.
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
The first meeting should take place in a neutral space with a gate between the rabbits to guage their initial reaction to
each other. Marshmallow and Tracker seem very at ease.
them from strange to normal situations, without them
fighting. If you immediately attempt to let them run
around on the floor together, without first having
taken them for a car ride, they may forget that the
space is neutral and fight anyway.
• Use a water bottle (with the nozzle set on “stream”)
to break up any fights if they occur. It’s best to spray
the instigator before a fight actually occurs (watch
for aggressive body language) rather than work on
breaking up an existing fight. None of these suggestions will work by themselves, and none will work
immediately (usually). Work with your rabbits every
day, for at least twenty minutes or so a day, and when
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
you’re not working with them, keep them in eye
contact of each other. Start with extreme scenarios
and gradually move to less extreme. Do one extreme
and one less extreme every day. The more often you
work with them, the quicker the progress. If you want
to move at a quicker pace, then you need to arrange
a large block of time (like a week’s vacation) in an
extremely neutral space (like a friend’s or relative’s
house). If one rabbit is elderly or otherwise compromised, then go slowly to minimize the stress. §
Myth 1: Rabbits
are great,
starter pets.
Reality: Although they don’t need to be walked like dogs, rabbits are anything but low-maintenance.
Their quarters need daily cleaning, and fresh food and water must be offered daily, including a
salad of well-washed, dark-green leafy vegetables. Certain rabbit health problems can become
chronic and can require regular (and sometimes expensive) veterinary treatment. To complicate
the picture, veterinarians skilled in rabbit medicine are often hard to find.
Myth 2: Rabbits only
live a year or two, so
no long commitment
is necessary.
Reality: Well cared-for indoor rabbits can live 7-10 years, and some live into their teens.
This is approximately the same life span as some breeds of dogs, and requires the same
long-term commitment.
Myth 3: Rabbits do
not need veterinary
care the way dogs
and cats do.
Reality: Although rabbits in the USA do not require annual vaccinations, nevertheless,
regular veterinary checkups help to detect small problems before they become big ones.
Companion rabbits should be spayed/neutered by veterinarians experienced in rabbit
surgery. This not only reduces hormone-driven behaviors such as lunging, mounting,
spraying, and boxing, but also protects females from the risk of uterine cancer, the incidence of which can exceed 50% as rabbits grow older.
Myth 4: Rabbits are
happiest outdoors
in a backyard
Reality: Rabbits kept outdoors in hutches are often forgotten and neglected once the initial
novelty wears off. Far too frequently, they are relegated to a life of "solitary confinement"
and are subject to extremes of weather, as well as to diseases spread by fleas, ticks, flies,
and mosquitoes all of which can adversely affect their health and their life span. They can
die of heart attacks from the very approach of a predator – even if the rabbit is not attacked
or bitten. Rabbits are gregarious creatures who enjoy social contact with their human caretakers. The easiest way to provide social stimulation for a companion rabbit is to house him
indoors, as a member of the family.
Myth 5: Rabbits are
rather dirty, and
have a strong odor.
Reality: Rabbits are immaculately clean, and, once they have matured and are spayed/
neutered, they go to great lengths not to soil their living quarters. They will readily use a litterbox, and if the box is cleaned or changed daily, there is no offensive odor
Myth 6: Rabbits love
to be picked up and
cuddled, and do not
scratch or bite.
Reality: Although some rabbits tolerate handling quite well, many do not like to be
picked up and carried. If rabbits are mishandled they will learn to nip to protect themselves. If they feel insecure when carried they may scratch to get down. Unspayed/
unneutered rabbits often exhibit territorial behavior such as "boxing" or nipping when
their territory is "invaded" by the owner.
Myth 7: Rabbits –
especially dwarf
breeds – do not
require much living
Reality: Rabbits have powerful hind legs designed for running and jumping. They need living space that will permit them ample freedom of
movement even when they are confined. Dwarf rabbits tend to be
more active and energetic than some larger breeds, and require
relatively more space.
Myth 8: Rabbits can
be left alone for a
day or two when
owners travel.
Reality: Rabbits need daily monitoring. Problems that are
relatively minor in some species (e.g. a day or two of anorexia)
may be life-threatening in rabbits, and may require immediate
veterinary attention.
Myth 9: Rabbits do
fine with a bowl of
rabbit food and some
daily carrots.
Reality: The single most important component of a rabbit’s
diet is grass hay, which should be provided, free-choice, daily.
Rabbit pellets should be given only in very limited quantities.
© Mary E. Cotter, 2002
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
House Rabbit Society
Sacramento House Rabbit Society
P.O. Box 19850
Sacramento, CA 95819-0850

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