Rabbit Husbandry and Management

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Rabbit Husbandry and Management
All adult rabbits should
be identified
The most common
identification method is
an ear tattoo.
A permanent number is
tattooed on the central
groove inside the pinna,
where the number is
easy to see
Ear clip
Another acceptable
method of identification is
an ear clip that contains a
unique identification
number. A disadvantage of
ear tags is that they may
cause a local infection that
will not heal until the tag is
Cage interior
Adult rabbits are housed
individually, preferably in
cages made of stainless
steel. The sides are
perforated or made of fine
wire mesh to provide
circulation, and the front
door should allow
visualization of the animal.
A mature animal weighing 4 - 5.4 kg
requires 4 sq feet, and an animal heavier
than 5.4 kg requires 5 sq ft. The USDA,
which enforces the Animal Welfare Act
regulations, may require more spacious
cages than stated in the Guide, and it is
important for all facilities subject to USDA
inspection to comply with their standards.
Racks of cages
Rabbit cages can be tiered to
utilize vertical space within
the room. The room,
however, should not contain
any other animal species. In
addition, it is wise to house
rabbits where they cannot
hear noisy species, such as
dogs and nonhuman
primates, as they are
disturbed by intermittent
loud noises
Good ventilation in the room is important
as it supplies oxygen; ventilation dilutes
accumulations of ammonia caused by
evaporating urine; removes heat
generated by the animal's respiration,
lights, and equipment; and carries away
airborne hair
Temperature / Humidity
Rabbits can tolerate a reasonably wide
fluctuation in room temperature; but
because of their very dense hair coats,
they are susceptible to overheating.
 Their most comfortable environment is a
temperature between 60.8° and 69.8°F
with a humidity level of 40 - 60%.
A cycle of 12 hours of
light and 12 hours of
darkness is
satisfactory for
routine housing of
rabbits, but increasing
the light period to 16
hours, with 8 hours of
darkness, facilitates
breeding activity
Daily food intake: 5gm/100gm BW/day
Daily water intake: 5-10 mls/100gm
Daily urine output: 50-90 mls/day
Nutrition (cont)
Special feces eaten directly
from anus, then digested
Not waste materials – rich
in organisms from cecum
Contains nutrients:
Amino acids
Fatty acids
Should not see these
droppings on bottom of
Appearance: elongated,
green, coated with
mucous, strong odor
Pellet diet
Under natural conditions, rabbits normally
live on green herbage nutrients and other
plant material.
 However, in a laboratory setting they are
normally fed a pelleted diet that contains
14 - 19% crude protein, not less than
1.5% fat, and 16 - 25% crude fiber
Nutrition (cont)
Commercially prepared pelleted diet
Ad lib or restricted
Grass Hay – very important
Rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins
Types available:
Timothy grass
Meadow grass
Oat grass
Rye grass
Barley grass
Bermuda grass
Nutrition (cont)
Fat rabbits do not breed
Rabbits that do not breed become fat
Excessive Vit A and/or D can lead to toxicity
Reluctant to move and anorexic
Acid treatment
An acid solution
should be used on all
surfaces, as
necessary, to dissolve
solidified particulate
matter that results
from rabbit urine. This
is followed by
thorough rinsing.
Pick Up
Grasp by scruff
with one hand
 Support Hind
quarters with
other hand
Pick up by ears
Let rear legs
Removing the rabbit from its cage
With your dominant
hand, firmly grasp the
rabbit by the scruff of
fur behind its neck
Have the rabbit face
the back of the cage
Lift gently by the
Scoop under the
hindquarters with your
other hand and
remove the rabbit
from its cage
Replacing the rabbit into its cage
Using the restraint
described before,
gently place the
rabbit into its cage,
facing toward the
Place the hind feet
down first
If the rabbit takes
off, it will run toward
the back of its cage
General transport techniques
Scruff the rabbit by
its neck
Place the rabbit's
head under your
arm (armpit)
Allow the rabbit's
body to lie on your
lower arm and
spread your fingers
on either side of the
tail, supporting the
Place the hand of
your upper arm on
the dorsal surface of
the rabbit to
maintain control
Flying bunny" transport
This method is used for
aggressive and hard-tohandle rabbits
Scruff the rabbit's neck
with one hand and grab
the skin over the
hindquarters with your
other hand
While lifting, rotate your
fists inward, gently
arching the rabbit's back
Hold firmly- the rabbit
may struggle and you
don't want to drop it or
allow it to hurt itself
Wiggly Rabbits
 Bunny
 Rabbit
 Cat bag
MethodFirmly scruff the rabbit's neck with your
dominant hand
Cross your nondominant hand underneath to
scruff the rump
Invert the rabbit onto its back
Roll the rabbit onto its rump
Quickly lie it on its back
Transfer your hand from the rump to the
Keep the rabbit's spine and head straight
Gently stroke the rabbit's abdomen
(the nictitating membrane- 3rd eyelid- should
move over the pupil when the rabbit is
Check the pedal reflex by pinching the toes- a
properly hypnotized rabbit won't move
To end the hypnotism, slowly and gently sit the
rabbit on its rump and then onto its feet
Towel wrap (bunny burrito)
Place the rabbit on an
opened towel
Snuggly wrap the towel
around the rabbit's body
Gently pull out the part
you need to work on
IMPORTANT: ensure that
the rabbit has proper
ventilation when using
this restraint. Rabbits
overheat readily, so
constant monitoring is
Cat bagA nylon bag made for
restraining cats may
be useful for
rabbits. Unzipping the
appropriate zipper
makes the needed
body parts readily
Restraint boxes
Several different types of restraint boxes specifically made
to hold rabbits are commercially available. It is imperative
that the box properly fit the size of the rabbit that you are
working with in order to avoid injury to the rabbit.
20 to 25 g needle of suitable length with
syringe. (A short bevel needle not more
than 1 inch long and a syringe of 5 ml
capacity or less is recommended.)
 Butterfly infusion sets also work well
Venipuncture of rabbit
lateral saphenous vein
Rabbit jugular stick
You can use the lateral saphenous vein or jugular
vein to obtain blood from a rabbit.
The marginal ear vein is NOT recommended; if a thrombus
forms in this vein, it can lead to sloughing of the ear pinna.
Use the central artery
IM- Lumbar muscles
injections may be
given into the lumbar
muscles on either
side of the backbone,
or into the large
muscle groups in the
back leg, either
anterior or posterior
to the femur
Nail Trimming:
The nails of rabbits can be
trimmed, just like the nails
of dogs and cats. It is
very useful to trim the
sharp tips of the nails of
rabbits that struggle or are
The screws of a guillotinetype nail trimmer should
face the rabbit, and your
fingers should move the
hinged part of the
handle; the stationary
side of the handle should
be placed against your
It is easy to see the blood
vessels (called the "quick")
that are located in the
nail. It is important not to
cut the quick, because
bleeding and pain will
occur. Use the trimmers
to cut the sharp tip that
extends beyond the quick.
If bleeding does occur,
apply a silver nitrate stick
to the quick until bleeding
ceases (this is painful,
because nerves have been
exposed, so be as gentle
as possible.
Physical Examination:
Research animals must be
maintained in a health
condition for experimental
results to be valid.
Look at the rabbit in its
cage BEFORE you open
the door of the cage.
Initial examination- The
initial exam should be
performed before the
rabbit has been handled
extensively (i.e. before it's
Observe the general
appearance of the rabbit and
how it has been cared
for. Does it look well-cared
for, unthrifty (with poor hair
coat and sunken eyes) or
over- or underweight?
Describe the rabbit's
attitude: is it BAR (bright,
alert and responsive),
QAR (quiet, alert and
responsive), depressed,
lethargic, excited or
Changes in an
animal's weight are
an easy way to
monitor its overall
health. Gently place
the rabbit on the
scale and weigh it
Record the weight to
Vital signs
Along with body weight, the vital signs-temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate-are important parameters used to monitor the
health of an animal. These values should be
obtained early in an exam, before the animal
becomes excited.
Temperature.– 101.3º-104º
Heart rate.- 130-325 beats per minute
Respiratory rate.- 30-60 breaths per minute
Pulse - Respiratory rate
Place your index finger on
the medial (inside) thigh
over the femoral
artery. Palpate (feel for) a
slight groove and apply
gentle pressure until you
feel the pulse.
Watch the sides of the
rabbit or listen with a
stethoscope to the animal's
Systems Examination:
When performing a physical examination, it is
essential that the entire animal be evaluated in
a systematic manner. You should examine the
rabbit from its nose to its tail. Develop a
routine and follow the same pattern every time
that you perform an exam, and you will be less
likely to overlook a problem.
Restraint for Physical Exam
One handed
palpation-Hold with
forearm and tuck into
Two handed
palpation- tuck
hindquarter into
abdomen and face
nose away
Short duration of action (25-45 minutes)
Ketamine: 30-40 mg/kg + Xylazine: 3-5
mg/kg IM
Ketamine: 25 mg/kg + Medetomidine 0.5
mg/kg IM
Page 212
For minor surgical procedures
Rabbtis: 7.5 mg/kg IM
Can have prolonged recovery
Used in combination with xylazine
Decrease dose
Better effect and faster recovery
Use for any major surgical procedure
 Induce with gas alone or with injectable
 Isoflurane is the agent of choice
The sexual development
of a rabbit is strongly
dependent on breed, sex,
nutrition, and season of
In the small and medium
breeds of rabbits, females
are sexually mature and
ready for breeding at 41/2 to 5 months.
The larger breeds are not
ready until 8 or 9 months
of age, with the bucks
maturing approximately
one month later than the
Reproduction (cont)
Take doe to buck’s cage
Very fast
Buck screams and falls over backward when done
Kindling = parturition
Split parturition can occur – up to 3 days
Babies – “bunnies” or “kits”
No postpartum breeding
Reproductive behaviors
In breeding colonies, one buck
is maintained for 8 -12 does.
The doe is usually taken to the
buck's cage and left for 5 - 30
minutes. Mating normally
occurs rapidly; however the
buck may display a form of
courtship behavior that
includes rapid circling around
the female, elevating his hind
quarters, walking stiff-legged,
and laying his tail flat down
against his back or flagging it
Reproduction (cont)
Do not touch bunnies for 3 days after birth
Cannibalism does occur
Young does
Excitement, thirst, malnutrition
Pseudopregnancy common
Sterile matings
Excitement by nearby buck
Mounting by other does
Signs: nest building, mammary enlargement
If the doe is receptive and the buck is
experienced, copulation occurs rapidly,
and she will normally ovulate 10 - 13
hours after mating. Eighty percent of
matings will result in pregnancy, which
can be confirmed by marble-sized uterine
swellings that can be palpated through the
abdominal wall by the 12 - 14th day of
Nest box
A nest box should be provided for
the pregnant doe as a secluded
place for kindling, or giving birth.
Nest boxes vary in size, but in
general measure 18 - 22" long,
11 -12" wide, 12" high at the
back and 9" high at the front.
Hay, straw, or some other form
of nesting material should be
Several days prior to parturition,
the doe will carry the nesting
material into the nest box and
mix it with fur plucked from her
body to form a nest. The nesting
box can be removed when the
young are 3 weeks of age.
After a 31 - 32 day gestation
period, the doe will normally
give birth to a litter of 7 or 8
young, weighing 40 - 60
grams each.
They are hairless for 4 days,
have closed eyelids for 7
days, and are poikilothermic;
i.e., unable to control their
body temperature, for 7 days
or more.
The doe will normally nurse
them for approximately ten
minutes in the early morning,
and then leave the nest
Reproduction (cont)
Kits – Eyes open 7-10 days
Begin solid food at 3 weeks
Wean at 4-6 weeks
Lactation – milk very rich
Nurse 2-3 times daily as pets
Wild - nurse only once a day
In most commercial
production systems, the
young are separated
from the doe at about 41/2 weeks.
Does are usually rebred
6 - 8 weeks after
kindling, when the
young are weaned, but
they can be mated 15
days after parturition

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