How to Raise and Care for Rabbits
Rabbits are often kept as pets or as meat animals, they are also used for show, for fiber or fur, their droppings are great for the vegetable garden. If you would like to learn more about keeping rabbits, read further.
First of all you should note that rabbits are not rodents, they are lagomorphs and unlike rodents they are strictly herbivores. The term rabbit and bunny are interchanged, but hares are a slightly different animal, they are larger and their babies are born with fur, where as rabbits young are born naked.
You should select a breed that fits with your needs (breeds will not be covered here) and note that if you want to get into breeding for show or sale, it is best to breed registered purebred animals. Some breeds are larger than others, some require more grooming, these are factors to consider when selecting your breed.
If you want to be a proper breeder you need to buy from a proper breeder (pet store rabbits are lower quality). If you just want a “pet” bunny you should try to adopt from your local animal shelter, in fact some of these rabbits come with their cage and supplies.
Housing and Care of Rabbits
As with all pets, the more space the better. Rabbits need at least 3 sq ft of space in their cage and should have at least 2 hours out of their cage per day. They should not go in balls but should be let loose or put on a harness and leash. They can go out in the yard if the grass and plants have not been treated with chemicals, they like to nibble on dandelions especially. In the house they can be litter trained, but care should be taken that they cannot reach any cords or they will chew them. Keep stairs off limits. Some people leave their rabbit loose in the house all day.
Some people keep rabbits in outdoor hutches. This is fine only if the hutch is roomy, and has shelter from cold weather. The rabbit still needs socialization and attention, which is sometimes overlooked when they are in hutches. Outdoor rabbits face a risk of fly strike.
The bedding should be straw or aspen shavings, pine shavings are okay, but never use cedar shavings.
Your rabbit will need rabbit food, you can buy pellets in large bags at a livestock feed store as this will be more economical than buying small bags from the pet store. Your rabbit will also need hay, alfalfa when young, and timothy when over 6 – 8 months. Your rabbit will also need fresh veges every day, such as apples, and carrots. Romaine lettuce is the only type of lettuce they should have, and always remember to wash store bought food first.
Your rabbit will enjoy chew things, if you have an apple tree you can give it a branch. This will keep its teeth in good shape, but you still want to monitor their teeth some rabbits are prone to dental problems from having a poorly shaped jaw. These rabbits should never be bred.
Rabbits also need fresh water, they can drink from water bottles or non-spill bowls.
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You should not buy a rabbit under 8 weeks of age, and if you are interested in breeding you should not buy one older than 2 years if it has not been bred before.
Small rabbits can be bred at 5 months of age, larger rabbits should not be bred until 9 or even 12 months of age.
Make sure you selected pair are in good health and compliment each other genetically. Always take the doe (female rabbit) to the buck (male rabbit) and put her in his cage, not the other way around. Female rabbits can bred at any time but that does not mean they always want to, if mating does not occur within 10 minutes the doe should be removed because the buck will continue to chase her and this will only stress her out, and exhaust him, try again in a day or two.
After they have mated the doe should be kept in her own cage and will deliver in approximately 35 days. She will need extra food. She should be given a nesting box around day 25, and she will pull out her stomach fur and line the box with it. Sometimes the first litter does not survive. She should not be rebred until another 3 weeks if this is the case.
A female will have between 1 and 6 kits, you need to check them daily to make sure none fall out of the nest. Never let a nursing doe near a male because she can get pregnant even when she has a litter already. This is very stressful on her body.
The young rabbits should stay with their mother at least 7 weeks, and can be sold at 8. Do not give them any greens, such as lettuce, because that can upset their stomach.
Tips and other Facts on Rabbit Care
Rabbits often get nervous about being picked up and handled. Always carry your rabbit so it feels safe and secure.
Rabbits produce 2 kinds of droppings, some are soft and sticky, called cecotrophes, and the rabbit does need to eat these.
Do not breed rabbits unless you have a market for them because they breed so rapidly you need to be sure you have a home for all the rabbits you produce.
Some fluffy rabbit breeds, such as Angora rabbits, need extra care.
Rabbits should not be given baths, they tend to find this stressful and it can send them into shock.
This has just been a basic introductory guide on how to care for, and raise, rabbits, you should do more research if you are seriously considering getting rabbits.