Information about your new Rabbit.
To help you get the most enjoyment out of your new family member we have provided some information on the following topics:
- General Facts
- Handling and grooming
- Signs of illness
Life expectancy: Males 8years, Females 6years (maximum 15 years)
- Sexing of rabbits is more difficult when they are younger. After about 6 weeks of ages the sexes can be determined as displayed to the left.
If in doubt, bring bunny in to us and our nurses will take a look.
Rabbits generally mature between 4 – 8 months (breed dependant)
Male (bucks), not intended for breeding, can be desexed anytime after 5 months of age. Reducing some health risks and behavioural problems.
A rabbit differs from other mammals in that they are induced ovulators. This means the female will ovulate once the male has mated with her. This usually happens between January and October/November.
28-35days (31 day average)
Size of litter:
4-10 (average of 7)
Age at weaning:
Varies between 1-10kg (breed dependant)
Rabbits have the four characteristic central incisors; they grow continuously at a rate of approximately 2mm per week. So diet pays an important factor in keeping them down.
They are born hairless and blind. Their eyes open at approximately day 10-14. They are weaned at about 4-8weeks. The doe nurses her kittens once a day for about 3-5 minutes. (This is a lot less than cats and dogs).
Rabbits practice Caecotrophy (eating of faeces) They pass 2 sorts of pellets (dry, normal looking) and Caecal pellets (dark, mucous covered sticky pellets), which are the ones eaten to maximise all possible nutrient uptake by the second passing through the gut. This usually occurs in the early morning. It is normal behaviour and required for their health.
There is a variety of feeding options available for your rabbits.
- Fresh vegetables
- Commercial rabbit foods (Rabbit pellets, Rabbit mixes, Extruded food)
Grass – Rabbits are designed to eat grass. The most natural life for a rabbit would be to run around loose in the garden, grazing the lawn, sampling a wide variety of plants and vegetables and stripping bark from trees. Although this would suit most rabbits nicely, this is not ideal for most owners.
So a compromise of daily access to the lawn or a run on the grass is ideal.
The grass plays an Important role in the diet as is:
- High in fibre- at least 20%
- Moderate Protein- 12-15%
- Low fat, starch and sugar
- Abrasive action for the teeth
Hay- Unlimited, good quality hay (Sweet smelling with minimal dust) is the foundation of a healthy diet for your pet Rabbit. As well as meeting their basic nutritional requirements it has many other benefits. In fact, hay is so important that it is recommended to be fed to all rabbits, even those eating “complete” rabbit food.
Hay also helps keep rabbits busy for hours, reducing boredom and helping to prevent behavioural problems. Chewing hay strengthens teeth and Jaws, helping to wear down the constantly growing teeth. All of this whilst providing lots of long strand fibre to maintain healthy gut movement.
Vegetables – Vegetables should make up a large portion of the diet. A variety must be fed daily to ensure a balanced diet. Suggested vegetables include carrots, carrot tops, parsley, broccoli, dandelion greens, turnip greens, cabbage leaves, romaine lettuce, kale and spinach., Iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value so should be avoided. Rhubarb should also be avoided for toxic reasons.
If a rabbit is used to eating mainly pellets, the change must be made gradually to allow the rabbit’s digestive system time to adjust. Only add one new vegetable to the diet at a time so if the rabbit has diarrhea or other problems it will be possible to tell which vegetable is the culprit.
Fruit – should be given as a treat in small quantities as rabbits can develop a preferential sweet tooth. The following are some of the fruits they like; Apple, Blueberries, Melon, Orange, Papaya, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Plums, Raspberries, Strawberries and Banana.
Commercial rabbit diets:
- Rabbit mixes- look like muesli and are popular with owners. Choose a reputable brand (some are excellent, others are poor). The main draw back is selective feeding by the rabbit.
- Rabbit pellets- are bite sized nuggets. Every pellet has the same composition which helps ensure that the rabbit eats a balanced diet. They’re not as popular as rabbit mixes, largely because they look less appetising to the owner.
- Extruded foods- are new. The ingredients are mixed, cooked and “extruded”. They have all the important advantages of pellets but are much more palatable. We stock and recommend Oxbow Animal Health Essentials.
So what to feed:
A combination of fresh and prepared is the best combination for ease and health of the rabbit. As the complete commercial diets provide the animal with the nutritional requirement.
Hay helps with boredom and teeth wearing. Fruit and vegetables give a variety and treat, whilst also offering something else to explore and play with.
Calcium and vitamin D:
Rabbits absorb calcium in proportion to what is present in their food and excrete excess calcium via the kidneys – which is why rabbit urine is often chalky.
Calcium deficiency is linked to dental disease, but excess calcium causes urinary stones and bladder problems. Rabbits also need vitamin D to enable dietary calcium to be absorbed from the gut. Outdoor rabbits with access to a lawn run can synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, but rabbits living indoors must either have vitamin D in their diet or spend time sunbathing outdoors, or they will become deficient. Vitamin D is added to commercial rabbit foods and is also present in hay.
This is generally in ok amounts in the normal fed diet. Only if problems arise should you tamper with calcium levels.
Rabbits must have access to fresh water at all times. Their average requirement is 50 – 150ml per kg bodyweight per day. Rabbits eating lots of greens may not drink very much; those on commercial food and hay tend to drink much more. Bottles are easier to keep clean for hutch rabbits, but some rabbits prefer a water bowl.
Rabbits may be kept indoors or in outdoor caging. If left uncaged outdoors, care will need to be taken to protect them from predators (and also to protect your garden!)
A rabbit cage has certain requirements:
- Sufficient size – high enough for the rabbit to sit or stand up on its hindlegs, wide enough to allow it to sprawl out on its side. For the average sized rabbit, the floor space should be 1.5 to 4 square feet per adult animal.
- A retreat area for sleeping, comfort and security with the entrance just large enough to give a burrow-like feeling
- Easy to clean & disinfect
- An area of solid floor – too long a time spent on wire net/mesh floors can cause “sore hocks”
- Well ventilated
- Made of non-toxic materials
Provided with “furniture” (boxes and platforms) and toys ( cardboard tubes, Paper piles for shredding, pine cones, untreated branches, ramps and platforms, plastic rattles as well as commercially available toys for rabbits and parrots)
Handling & Grooming
To pick up your rabbit use both hands. It is important to support the hind legs, which are very powerful. Violent kicking can result in fractures or dislocations of their backs, potentially leaving them paralysed.
It is important to groom your rabbit often (daily for long fur breeds such as Angoras and weekly for short fur breeds) to prevent the formation of fur balls in their stomachs.
Signs of Illness
Diarrhoea, lack of appetite, discharge from the eyes or nose, swelling anywhere, lethargy, fur loss not associated with nest building, overlong teeth, excessive scratching, foul odours, lameness, weight loss, any changes in urination, defecation, or attitude. If you see any of these signs, call your veterinarian immediately.
Calicivirus was introduced into New Zealand a few years ago. We advise vaccinating against this disease.
Vaccination should be done at 3 months of age. If done before 3 months old, boosters will be required at 3 to 4 week intervals until your rabbit is 3 months old.
It is recommended that boosters are then given annually.
We gratefully acknowledge the work of Dr Elizabeth-Jo Vickridge BVMS MACVSc and Alan M. Fudge DVM, Dip. ABVP in producing this information handout.