February Is Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month: 10 Things You Should Know About Pet Bunnies

5. Bunnies are usually very clean.

Rabbits generally do not need to be bathed and will groom themselves frequently. Their cages should be lined with paper-based bedding (either shredded newspaper or a commercially manufactured recycled paper product). They can be trained to use a litter pan containing a different type of paper-based bedding in a corner of their cage. Their cages and litterboxes should be spot-cleaned (scooped) daily and completely cleaned out once a week. All rabbits, but especially long-haired breeds, such as the Angora, should be brushed weekly to prevent matting of hair with food, stool or bedding, and all require nail trimming every few months.

6. Exercise is important.

Though rabbits don’t need to be walked like dogs, they do need time every day out of their cages. Activity helps prevent weight gain and promotes healthy digestion. Many rabbits like to run around and hop on top of things, so a bunny-safe area should be penned off for them in which to exercise (see No. 8 below for some bunny-proofing tips). They should be left out only when supervised, as they are great escape artists and may get into trouble when not monitored.

7. Bunnies and extreme weather don’t mix.

With their thick and sometimes-long fur coats and lack of sweat glands, rabbits don’t tolerate heat well and overheat easily. Signs of overheating include lethargy, a loss of appetite and panting. If they are allowed outside, they should be provided with water and a shaded area. If the temperature is warm and/or humid, they should be brought inside to a cooler area. Conversely, some rabbits with sparsely haired skin on the bottoms of their feet and ears can become frostbitten in freezing temperatures, so limit playtime outside if temps are below freezing.

8. Chewing is a must.

Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously. They must not only have an endless supply of hay to nibble on, but also hard wooden toys and branches (such as commercially available apple wood sticks) to gnaw on to help keep their teeth worn down. Rabbits’ propensity for chewing isn’t very selective, and if given the chance, they will chew on wires, furniture, moldings, door frames and other inappropriate objects. Therefore, play areas must be bunny proofed by removing or securing such items out of reach, and they must be supervised at all times if they are out of their cages.

9. Never trust predators.

Rabbits are prey species, and other commonly kept pets, including cats, dogs and ferrets, are predators whose instincts are to catch prey. Even the most well-intentioned predatory pet raised with a bunny may not mean to inflict harm, but should the pet pick up the bunny, the predator’s sharp teeth and long claws may inadvertently injure the bunny. Therefore, dogs, cats and ferrets should never be left alone in the presence of a rabbit, no matter how gentle and sweet they are. Also be aware that the presence of such species may stress out your bunny.

10. Veterinary care is vital.

Bunnies, like dogs and cats, require regular, preventive veterinary care. While they do not typically require vaccines, they should have annual checkups and fecal examinations to check for parasites. They should also have new rabbit exams as soon as they are acquired. In addition, female rabbits not intended for breeding should be spayed, as after three years of age, 70 to 80 percent of un-spayed females get uterine cancer.

Adopting a rabbit is a big step. If you understand the care they require and are ready to take on the responsibility, contact your local shelter and see which bunnies are waiting to find great homes!

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