Good health starts with a good diet. Left to their own devices, domestic rabbits will eat almost anything put in front of them, so it’s up to you to making sure their diet is one that will support a long and healthy life. Start by ensuring your rabbit has unlimited fresh grass hays (timothy or orchard grass) available to munch on all day. The indigestible fibers from grass hays are the staple of their diet, and keep their digestion working properly and their teeth worn down. Add some daily fresh greens and you enrich the diet with vitamins and minerals. A small portion of plain, high-quality pellets rounds out their daily routine. Be sure to keep pellet portions limited according to your rabbit’s age, optimum weight and health condition. You can learn more about proper portions at www.sandiegorabbits.org/diet. Severely limit or stay away from sugary, high-fat treats like those found at the pet store. Yogurt drops, honey sticks and other treats that contain seeds, nuts and dried fruits can lead to obesity, chronic soft stools, GI blockages and lifelong health issues. It’s best to avoid them from the start.
Housing your rabbit indoors will greatly contribute to its health and longevity. Predators (foxes, raccoons, coyotes, stray cats, etc.) and parasites (fleas, flies and mosquitoes) are a serious threat to the health and safety of a rabbit housed outdoors. Temperatures above 80 degrees and wet weather also pose health hazards, with heat being a factor in many summertime fatalities. When you house your rabbit indoors, it is much happier and healthier and you enjoy it more as you are likely to have a more rewarding relationship. Rabbits are very social and need a lot of interaction with their human family members.
Regular veterinary care is important to catch health issues early and prevent costly, long-term or even fatal conditions. San Diego House Rabbit Society (SDHRS) recommends you schedule a “well bunny” exam when you first adopt your rabbit to establish a baseline for care. A checkup every two years keeps your vet on top of any issues that may arise. At 6 years old, it’s recommended you make annual checkups a priority, with basic blood work or X-rays to check for potential issues. Ensuring your vet is rabbit-savvy also is necessary. Rabbits are considered an “exotic” species and some veterinarians are specially trained in their care. This is especially important since many medications safe for dogs or cats are deadly to rabbits and could accidentally be prescribed by a vet who is not knowledgeable about rabbit medicine. Check SDHRS’ website for a list of recommended rabbit vets in San Diego County.
An important key to your rabbit’s long-term health is to ensure it has been spayed or neutered. Rabbits are especially prone to reproductive cancers when not altered. Taking this into account, along with behavioral benefits and the obvious — overpopulation issues — getting your rabbit altered should be at the top of your list. We are lucky in San Diego County that we have many resources for rabbit spays and neuters — even lower-cost options. Getting your rabbit altered makes it a much better companion. An unaltered rabbit may be difficult to litter-box train, more likely to destroy its surroundings, and more aggressive and difficult to handle. Raging hormones turn young rabbits into little “hellions” and is likely the number-one reason for rabbit relinquishments. Getting males neutered at approximately 12 weeks and females spayed at 20 weeks settles them down and helps to make them better family companions.
San Diego House Rabbit Society is available to advise you on the best ways to get your rabbit companion to a healthy state and to keep it there. Contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our help line, (619) 718-7777.
~ Judith Pierce, chapter manager, San Diego House Rabbit Society