Rabbits are, without any doubt, among the most appreciated pets along with cats and dogs. Easy to keep and loving, they offer lots of joy and pleasure to their keepers and kids just love them. If you have no idea about raising rabbits, this article is a comprehensive guide to help you start. So look no further, all what you need to know for rabbit keeping is here.
Rabbits’ origins belong to ancient times. Scientists think that their ancestors lived millions of years ago. The wild rabbit has always been part of human beings’ culinary choices. His cousin, the domestic rabbit, is more recent. He appeared in Europe in middle ages.
First kept for meat, rabbits progressively became pets as new breeds were created. As a result, if you visit a pet shop, you will surely come across breeds of all colors and sizes. Recently, dwarf rabbits gained popularity among rabbit lovers because they are more adapted to indoor life.
Like for chickens, there is a wide variety of rabbit breeds. Discover the most popular of them here.
The domestic rabbit has 2 family members: an ancestor and a bigger cousin.
Wild rabbit: the ancestor
The wild rabbit is relatively smaller, attaining only 3 lbs. at adult age. He is easily recognized by his grey/brown fur and his white belly.
Although very sensitive to Myxomatosis, a disease that caused the death of large numbers during 50s, the wild rabbits still are widely available in US and across Europe thanks to their high breeding capacity. The expression “to breed like rabbits” is thus very rightfully used: A doe can have 3 to 5 litters of 3 to 6 bunnies a year. Besides his rusticity, the little rodent is also very prolific which explains his availability.
The wild rabbit lives in burrows he makes. We can find him in meadows as well as in woods.
Hare: domestic rabbit’s bigger cousin
Weighting around 10 lbs. the hare is more corpulent than the wild rabbit. Unlike the latter, he prefers to freely run around in cereal fields. The hare has long erect ears and a strong athletic body.
I cover here aspects related to the domestic rabbit. Whether you intend to keep your bunny indoors or in a backyard, I hope this guide will be helpful. In both cases, keep in mind that despite being easy to raise, domestic rabbits are fragile and need a non-negligible amount of care.
The rabbit’s lifespan is generally 6 to 8 years. Your rabbit can of course life longer provided you take good care of him.
A bunny grows rapidly. Bunnies are born furless and eyes closed. They spend their first week huddled in a nest of grass and hair made by their mother. When they reach 2 weeks of age, they start having thin hair and opening their eyes.
After three weeks, bunnies start moving. Their diet diversifies: they begin eating hay and pellet food while continuing to be breast fed. During this 2 months long phase, try to get your bunny used to your presence. For that, carefully grab him from time to time and play with him.
As of 2 months of age, the bunny can be totally independent. He can live far from his mother and brothers. However, if you intend to put him in a new environment, make sure not to rush things as your bunny would need a certain time to adapt to the new situation.
Just before they become 3 months of age, separate males and females because the most premature of them can prove to be sexually vigorous. Females can live in groups without any problems, but males start fighting after the age of 4 months. So make sure you separate them.
Bunnies’ growth continues until 6 months of age. They become able to breed generally since the 8th month with variations depending on breed’s size: the smaller the breed, the sooner the rabbit can mate.
The hutch is your rabbit’s apartment. In order for him to feel at ease in it, it should be large enough and weather resisting. It also should provide good protection against predators. A comfortable hutch is 20 inches deep and 30 inches large per adult rabbit.
If positioned outdoors, the shelter must ensure excellent protection against bad weather. Rain should in no case penetrate inside the hutch. Install it under a roof and orient the openings toward the rising sun. Preferably, slightly elevate the shelter to prevent pests from accessing it.
As for materials, plastic trays have become a tendency mainly for convenience reasons, especially in apartments. In some old farmyards, you can still come across some old wooden and concrete hutches.
If you intend to build your own hutch, the best esthetical and sanitary compromise would be an association of wood, steel and plastic. In this way, you would have at the same time a beautiful piece of furniture and a comfortable house for your bunnies.
Let’s concentrate on the essentials: the feeder and the drinking trough.
For each hutch, you will need to provide for a feeder. This feeder should be large enough so that many bunnies can use it at the same time (if you are raising them in the same hutch). The feeder should also be placed in an elevated position to prevent litter and potential dejection collection.
Your rabbit should be able to drink whenever he feels like it. Water must be clean and continuously available. Do not opt for bowls as they get soiled quickly. The dropper (pipette) system attached to the grid is the most adapted.
Good nutrition is paramount. It should be balanced, rich and most importantly stable, meaning that no abrupt diet changes should occur as it may harm your bunny’s digestive system which may lead to anorexia among other diseases.
Let’s first clarify some misconceptions:
- Some carrot tops and some hay are enough.
- Three meals a day for my rabbit.
- A rabbit shouldn’t be eating his own poop.
All of these three statements couldn’t be further from the truth.
Like for other animals, a rabbit has diverse nutritive needs. His diet should include all the nutritive ingredients: vitamins, minerals, carbs, fat and protein. A combination of some pellet food (rich in protein) and various types of hay (rich in fibers and excellent for digestion) would be great. You can complement this with some vegetables.
Unlike us, rabbits do not have specific times to eat. They are the kings of snacking. Can you imagine that an adult rabbit has between 25 and 30 mini-meals a day? For newborn bunnies, this frequency can go up to 60 times a day!! That’s why it is essential that food is permanently available.
A rabbit eats his own feces, this is totally normal. We say he is coprophage. By re-ingesting his food, he can ensure a better assimilation.
Keepers generally use wood chips or straw as litter. You can also combine both of them. If you go for straw, try chopped straw: it absorbs better and is more comfortable. You can add some hay as well. Unlike for straw, your rabbit can eat some of it, and the rest would constitute the litter. Hay is thinner than straw and is more comfortable but also more expensive.
For good urine absorption, the litter should be 4 inches minimum.
Like for any other keeping activity, prevention is key. Let’s not forget that dirt is the main cause of many parasites and diseases your pets catch. So be sure to change your rabbit’s litter every now and then (I would suggest once a week) and ensure that the new litter is perfectly clean. Along with a balanced and rich nutrition, it’s the best way to avoid illnesses.
Do not mix rabbits and chickens
This is a sanitary rule. To avoid parasites transmission between the two species, it is important that they don’t share the same habitat and litter.
Examine your pets
Do not hesitate to always pet your animals. Of course, it’s a great way to share some loving moments and to get your pets used to your presence. But also, you will be able to detect eventual diseases early and thus treat them better. Hair loss in specific parts of the body, nasal discharge, and weight loss are all signs that you should be taking your bunny to the veterinary as soon as possible.
I personally recommend annual visits to the vet as a precaution.
While the wild rabbit only breeds in spring, his domestic cousin’s reproduction continues all year with some breeds being more prolific than others.
Rabbit’s sexual maturity
In order to get some healthy litters, avoid breeding when your bunnies are still young. Let them enjoy their carefree youth for at least 7 or 8 months. After puberty, does are quite receptive. They can even get pregnant the following day of parturition. There are periods during which a doe shows unmistakable signs of receptiveness: she would be very agitated, move her litter and lay on her side. Outside of these periods, she simply refuses to mate and it is unnecessary to impose on her any male presence. She would curl up into a ball as a way of expressing categorical refusal.
Mating is done at the male’s house. Our gentlemen accept more easily stranger’s presence. Ladies don’t.
Once the doe is ready, she raises her tail and offers herself to the male.
Mating is very brief. After he is done, the male falls on one side and emits a little sound. There is no need to let the male and the female stay too long with each other, 2 sexual intercourses are more than enough.
Pregnancy and parturition
Pregnancy lasts around 30 days. To welcome the newborns, do not forget to change the litter and to clean the hutch. The doe makes her own nest by combining some of her hair and hay. Make sure she has enough food and water.
24 hours after birth, take the doe out of the hutch and examine the nest. Verify that all babies are healthy and take away stillborn ones. Then put the doe back and let her take care of her troop.
That’s it!! As far as raising rabbits is concerned, you’re not a dummy anymore.