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With nearly 50 breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, rabbits come in all sizes and colors, and make terrific pets in the right circumstances. Although they do need exercise outside of their cages, they generally don’t need to be walked, don’t take up huge amounts of space and don’t make a lot of noise. They often love to interactand form close bondswith their owners. Rabbits can be loving companions in the right situations, but they aren’t right for everyone. Unfortunately, many people impulsively rush out and get pet rabbits without really knowing what they’re getting into. Consequently, owners become frustrated or disappointed when they can’t keep up with their rabbits’ care, and their bunnies end up abandoned in shelters.
This month is Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month, so if you’ve done your research, and you’re sure you’re ready for a rabbit, check out the House Rabbit Society — a national, volunteer-based nonprofit organization with chapters in almost every state — which rescues abandoned rabbits and finds permanent homes for them. While there are hundreds of reputable rabbit adoption organizations in the U.S., the House Rabbit Society is a great place to start if you’re interested in adopting a rabbit, as its staff focuses not only on rabbit adoption but also on education of rabbit owners to help ensure they are providing proper care.
1. Rabbit personalities differ.
Just like people, some rabbits are shy and quiet, while others are mischievous and rambunctious. Potential rabbit owners should spend time with a bunny before taking it home to ensure the bunny is a good match with their family.
2. Bunnies can live a long time.
When properly cared for, rabbits can live eight to 12 years or more, so before you take a bunny home, be sure you are ready to provide appropriate pet care — including food, housing, daily attention and veterinary visits — for this length of time.
3. Socialization is essential.
Many rabbits can be reserved when they are first taken home, wanting to hide and resisting handling. That’s why it’s very important that when a bunny is brought into a new environment, a new owner is willing to spend time talking to it and working up to petting and handling it to ensure it becomes acclimated. New owners must also learn how to handle bunnies safely and gently. It is important to always support a rabbit’s rear legs.
4. Proper nutrition is key.
Rabbits are herbivores (vegetable eaters) and should be offered unlimited amounts of timothy or grass hay each day to help them wear down their continuously growing teeth. Alfalfa hay is not generally recommended for full-grown rabbits (those approaching one year of age) as it is too high in calcium and calories; it is appropriate for young, growing bunnies up to 1 year, and pregnant or nursing bunnies. Rabbits also should be offered dark green or yellow leafy vegetables, such as collard greens, beet or dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, carrot tops, endive, basil, kale, cabbage, radicchio, wheat grass, squash, Brussels sprouts, and pea pods (not loose peas).
Fruits should be limited to small amounts of high-fiber apple, pear, plum, peach or berries. Carrots also contain a fair amount of sugar and should be offered in small quantities. Some rabbits tolerate produce without any gastrointestinal (GI) disturbance, while others develop soft stools or diarrhea from small amounts.
Along with the hay and limited amounts of produce, rabbits also may be offered high-fiber, timothy hay-based pellets in limited quantities (no more than half a cup per four to five pounds of rabbit weight per day). Pellets should not be mixed with seeds, cereal, grains, corn or nuts, as rabbits will select these items out, and these foods can cause GI upset and weight gain. Bunnies also require fresh water daily to encourage drinking. Rabbits also normally eat the soft stool, called cecotropes, which they pass early in the morning or late at night; it contains important vitamins and nutrients, so don’t think it abnormal if you observe this behavior.
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