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    Here Comes Peter Cottontail… bunny basics 101!


    By Dr. Campbell, DVM
    Riverview Animal Clinic

    It’s hard to imagine anything more precious than a baby bunny… except perhaps a baby bunny eating a dandelion. Well, before spring fever infects you with symptoms of impulsiveness, let me provide you with a crash course on bunny basics 101.

    In a world of cats and dogs, it is easier to begin with what rabbits do not need. Like our other four-legged companions, rabbits do not need annual vaccines against infectious diseases. Most do not even need flea prevention unless they are exposed to a heavily infested environment.


    The list of what rabbits need is a fair bit longer. Let’s start with the basics: Rabbit shelter and diet. In the south, it is strongly advised that rabbits be housed indoors, preferably in a cage or pen. This protects from heat stress during our hot summers. They should not be allowed unsupervised exploration of the home because of their inquisitive scratching and chewing which can get them into trouble when electrical wires and poisonous plants look like so much fun. However, it is encouraged that they be allowed out of their cage daily for supervised exercise. When kept indoors, rabbits can easily be trained to a litter box. The diet consists of primarily of an unlimited supply of hay, modest amount of timothy hay pellets, and a handful of fresh greens daily. If the diet is not fed in the proper proportion, this could lead to serious health problems such as dental disease and gastrointestinal stasis. Rabbits have a higher water intake than other animals and need fresh water at all time whether it be from a bottle or bowl.


    Secondly, rabbits are in need of socialization. It is important to spend quality time with your rabbit, particularly during the first few months at home so that it acclimates well to its new environment and learns to trust human interaction. This helps us vets be able to do our jobs easier as well. It would also be ideal to try your hand at frequent brushing of the haircoat and perhaps nail trims at an early age to further that bond. Although not a hard and fast rule, for most rabbits, their emotional health is improved by bonding it to another rabbit. This brings up another crucial point. We all know the old idiom, “breed like rabbits.” Well, there is a science to this. Female rabbits, like cats are induced ovulators; meaning, that when breeding occurs, conception is almost guaranteed. So when contemplating purchasing two rabbits, one might want to consider ensuring they are of the same sex or if not, keeping them separate as they reach sexual maturity which can occur as early as 4 months. For this reason, we recommend spaying and neutering rabbits anytime after 4 months of age. Another reason for spaying despite population control is that females are prone to uterine cancer which is avoidable with this preventative surgery.
    I hope this helps those who are still bunny bound. Rabbits make great pets, and if you do your homework, you can have a great, quiet little companion with a lifespan of 10-15 years. For those of you I have talked out of it this year, there is always next spring.


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