Text From: COMPANION-RABBIT FAQ: edited 4/21/94
Pulled: Sun, Sep 14 2014 01:58:54 PST


                        COMPANION-RABBIT FAQ
                           edited 4/21/94

This FAQ covers only a few topics on rabbit care.  There are many more
important topics, not available in this FAQ, but available in three other

   1. The "House Rabbit Handbook"

      This is a most useful resource for new rabbit owners.  It is more
      complete and in depth than the FAQ.  (If this book isn't available
      locally, ask your bookstore or pet store to order and carry it).
      Or send $11 ($8.95 plus $2.05 postage) to:

                        Drollery Press
                        1524 Benton Street
                        Alameda, CA 94501.

   2. A packet of notes available from the Colorado Chapter of the HRS

      Topics covered include those in the FAQ, as well as additional
      ones such as "Finding a Good Rabbit Vet," "Rabbit Proofing Your
      Home," etc.  Topics yet to be added, but that will be sent when
      completed are "Care of Rabbits Following Spays and Neuters" and
      "Summer- and Winter-Specific Dangers for Your Rabbit."

      To receive this packet, send $3.00 to help cover costs of copying
      and postage to:

                        House Rabbit Society
                        P. O. Box 238
                        Broomfield, CO  80038-0238

   3. The "House Rabbit Journal"

      This is sent to all members of the HRS as part of its educational
      effort.  It keeps members abreast of new developments in
      understanding and caring for our rabbit companions.  To join the
      House Rabbit Society, send $12 (non-USA residents send $15) to

                        House Rabbit Society
                        1524 Benton Street
                        Alameda, CA 94501

      You will receive the Journal whenever it is published, usually three
      or four times a year.

           >>                                                         <<
           >>                    PLEASE NOTE:                         <<
           >>                                                         <<
           >>        This is NOT A SUBSCRIPTION to a magazine         <<
           >>        --you are joining the national level of          <<
           >>        the HRS, and as a member are sent                <<
           >>        educational materials from time to time.         <<
           >>                                                         <<

- - - ---------------------------------------------------------------------------


   Female rabbits should be spayed for four reasons:

        - by the age of 6 years, there is more than a 50% probability of
          uterine cancer, not to mention a variety of other reproductive
          problems (breasts, ovaries, etc.)
        - spayed females won't contribute to the problem of overpopulation
          of rabbits
        - spayed females tend to be happier, less aggressive, more
          friendly; some females are utterly miserable from hormonal
          problems (bunny PMS) until they are spayed
        - spayed rabbits are easier to litter train.

   Male rabbits should be neutered for three reasons:
        - neutered males won't contribute to the problem of overpopulation
          of rabbits
        - neutered males don't spray (except in the presence of another
          male), are less aggressive, and are relieved of the intense need
          to mate which limits their ability to enjoy other things in life
        - neutered males lose their hormonal urge to mark territory with
          urine and poop and are therefore easier to litter train.

   Surgery can be as safe on rabbits as on any animal:

        Many vets say that surgery is not safe on rabbits.  These are vets
        who aren't aware of the latest techniques.  DON'T HAVE THEM SPAY
        OR NEUTER YOUR RABBIT!!  Using isofluorene as the anesthetic and
        appropriate surgical and after-surgery techniques, spaying and
        neutering of rabbits is as safe as for any other animal.

   At what age should rabbits be spayed or neutered?

        Females should wait until they are 6 months old.

        Males can be neutered as soon as the testicles descend, usually
        around 3-1/2 months of age, but many vets prefer to wait until
        they are 5 months old.

   When is a rabbit too old to be spayed or neutered?

        Vets will have their own opinions on this, but in general, after a
        rabbit is 6 years old, anesthetics and surgery become more risky.

        It is always a good idea, in a rabbit over 2 years of age, to have
        a very thorough health check done, including full blood work.  This
        may be more expensive than the surgery, but it will help detect
        any condition that could make the surgery more risky.  This is
        especially important if anesthetics other than isofluorene are

   If the history of a female rabbit is not known, how can one know if she
   has been spayed already?

        The probability is very high that she hasn't.

        One can shave the tummy and look for a spay scar.  However, when
        vets use certain stitching techniques, there is no scar whatever.
        Hopefully, these vets will tatoo the tummy to indicate the spay has
        been done, but otherwise, the only way of knowing is to proceed
        with the surgery.

   What does the surgery cost?

        Most vets charge somewhere between $55 and $120!!  Most spay and
        neuter clinics charge between $25 and $50 dollars.

   How can I find a vet that can do the surgery safely?

        Don't assume that a vet who works with breeders or 4-H knows much
        about rabbits.  Such vets tend to approach rabbits as stock animals
        rather than as beloved companions.  They may never have done a
        spay or neuter and "treatment" of any difficulty may amount to
        euthanasia (when dealing with stock or show animals, the
        financial bottom line may be the primary consideration).

        Go through the vets in the phone book, if necessary.  Vets who are
        listed as vets of exotics are most likely to know rabbits.  Ask
        direct questions, and don't hesitate.  After all, you are
        considering hiring this person as your employee to do a job for
        you.  You have every right to ask questions.  If the vet seems
        offended, or unwilling to discuss this level of detail, it isn't a
        vet you want to trust your bun to!

           - about how many rabbit clients does the vet see in a year?
           - how many spays/neuters OF RABBITS has the vet has done in
             the past year?
           - what was the success rate?
           - if any were lost, what was the cause?
           - does the vet remove both uterus and ovaries? (they should)
           - does the vet do "open" or "closed" neuters? (closed is
             preferable--let your vet explain the difference)
           - is entry to the testicles made through the scrotum or the
             abdomen? (Entry via the abdomen, as is done in dogs,
             unnecessarily increases the trauma for male rabbits)
           - does the vet require withholding of food and water prior to
             surgery in rabbits?  (It is better not to do this--rabbits
             can't vomit, so there is no risk of that during surgery, and
             rabbits should never be allowed to get empty digestive
           - what anesthetics are used (some vets are quite successful with
             anesthetics other than isofluorene, but the bunny is "hung
             over" after surgery, which increases the probability that s/he
             will be slow to start eating again, which can lead to serious
             problems if not dealt with
           - follow the (excellent!) advice given by David Stubbs:

                Review the procedure (op and immediate post-op) with your
                vet.  Ask how problems will be detected: how often will
                they (the vet and the techs) look in on your kid and what
                will they look for?. What will they do pre-op to find any
                potential problems?  How will they support your bun in the
                hours after surgery:  O2, warmth, quiet (barking dogs and
                yowling cats in the next cage are probably not helpful),
                and stimulation?  What are they going to do to make it
                come out right?! Ask questions!  That will get your vet's
                attention.  Let them know you're concerned and that you'll
                be paying attention.

   What pre- and post-operative care should one give?

        Give the rabbit acidophilus for a couple of days prior to surgery,
        just to be certain that the digestive system is functioning in fine
        form.  Don't change the diet it any way during this time.

        After the surgery, continue giving acidophilus until the appetite
        has returned to normal.

        Inspect the incision morning and evening.  After a neuter, the
        scrotum may swell with fluids.  Warm compresses will help, but it
        is nothing to be overly concerned about.  With any sign of
        infection, take the rabbit to the vet immediately.

        Keep a newly spayed female away from all male rabbits (neutered or
        not), as serious internal damage can be caused if a male mounts her.

        After surgery, keep the environment quiet so the rabbit doesn't
        startle or panic, don't do anything to encourage acrobatics, but
        let the rabbit move around at her own pace--she knows what hurts
        and what doesn't

        Some vets keep rabbits overnight.  If your vet lets you bring your
        bunny home the first night, note the following:

           - Most males come home after being neutered looking for
             "supper"-- be sure they have pellets, water, and some good
             hay (good, fresh alfalfa is a good way to tempt them to
             nibble a bit)

           - Most females want to be left alone, are not interested in
             eating at all, and will sit quietly in a back corner of
             the cage (or wherever in the house they feel they will
             be bothered the least)

             The following morning, or at latest by the next evening, it
             is important for the rabbit to be nibbling something.  It
             doesn't matter what or how much, as long as she is taking in
             something, so the digestive tract won't shut down.  If she
             isn't, tempt her with everything possible, and as a last
             resort, make a mush of rabbit pellets (1 part pellets, 2 parts
             water, run through blender thoroughly, add acidophilus, and
             feed in pea-sized bits with a feeding syringe through the side
             of the mouth)

             Occasionally a female will pull out her stitches.  Get her
             stitched up again, and then belly-band her by wrapping a dish
             towel around her whole middle and binding that with an elastic
             bandage wrapped snuggly over it.  If she can breath normally,
             it isn't too tight.

Nancy LaRoche (HRS)

- - - - - - ----------------------------------------------------------------------


   To train a rabbit well, you must be willing to spend some time every day
   doing nothing but watching the rabbit and acting only on the behavior
   that needs to change.  Only when the rabbit is fairly reliable can you
   begin giving it time outside its cage (home) when you aren't watching
   like a hawk.

   There are two steps in training rabbits not to chew and dig.  These
   apply to any behavioral training except for:

      - litter training, which is based on an entirely different aspect
        of bunny psychology; and

      - chewing of electric wires which pose a serious enough threat to
        the life of the rabbit to require that they be physically
        inaccessible--don't rely on training alone to protect a rabbit from

    The steps in training a rabbit are:

    1.  Communicate what you don't want the rabbit to do.

    2.  Offer alternatives as similar as possible to whatever the bunny

   Example: Bunny is chewing on furniture

    1.  Slip hand between bunny's mouth and the furniture, and say
        "No!" (not loudly, just firmly)

    2.  Give the bunny things that are OK to chew, and that it will
        enjoy more:
           - apple, willow, aspen branches;
           - pine firewood;
           - untreated fresh pine lumber attached to cage so it
             doesn't move--piece of molding, 1"x2"s, or 2"x4"s;
           - basket with hay in it--let the bun chew the basket as
             well as the hay;
           - compressed alfalfa cubes
           - etc.

   Sometimes, you can give rabbits pieces of the thing they want to
   chew: their own bit of carpet, for example, providing they aren't
   ingesting it.  This is especially useful when the attraction is
   the particular consistency (nothing pulls quite like the threads from a
   piece of carpet).

   Warning: Ingestion of non-natural fibers can be deadly!  A few bits
   aren't likely to hurt, but if a fair amount is consumed, it can block
   the rabbit's stomach to the point that it loses interest in eating.
   Enzymes will not break up a major blockage of such fiber; surgery is
   the only option.

   For digging, build a "tunnel" (top isn't needed, just bottom, high
   sides, and end.  Cover the bottom with a bit of carpet or something
   similar.  Bunnies LOVE to dig at the end of tunnels.  (Same thing can be
   accomplished by putting a board with carpet tacked on between two pieces
   of heavy furniture against the wall...just be sure the board can't move
   or the bun will be digging the carpet beneath where the board was meant
   to be.

   Finally, if the rabbit insists on chewing YOUR carpet, even if he has
   his own piece (or whatever behavior you're trying to stop), use the
   "No!' and put him in his cage for three minutes or so.  (Ignore his
   angry shaking of the cage bars.)  Let him out after a few minutes (but
   not until he is no longer shaking his bars), and repeat the procedure,
   if necessary.  If you have to do it a third time, leave him in his cage
   until the next period he would normally have out.

   (Loss of freedom is the severest of punishments--remember this when you
   want to hold a bunny that wants down.)

Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 18:58:52 GMT


   L1.  How do you teach rabbits to use a litter box for urine?

   L2.  What if my cage is on legs or has a door that opens on top so
        the bunny can't get into it on his own (to use the litter box)?

   L3.  What if my cage is too small for a litter box or I don't use a

   L4.  What kind of litter should I use?

   L5.  Won't rabbits get confused if you use food pellets for litter?

   L6.  What should I do if my rabbit starts dribbling all over her
        cage instead of using the litter box?

   L7.  How can I train my rabbit not to leave pills all over the



   L1.  How do you teach rabbits to use a litter box for urine?

        By nature, the European rabbit (from which the domestic rabbit
        is descended), never soils its burrow.  It chooses one place
        out away from the burrow where it deposits its urine.

        When rabbits live in a human-home environment ("cage" or the
        special place that they think of as "home"), they bring this
        same behavior with them.  So training a rabbit to use a litter
        box amounts to putting the litter box where the rabbit chooses
        to put its urine.  :-)

        However, it's relatively easy to get the rabbit to use a
        litter box in its cage by putting it in whichever corner the
        rabbit chooses to use and keeping the rabbit in the cage for
        a few days until it is consistently using this box.

        To extend the training outside the cage, open the door and let
        the bunny come out when she chooses to.  Limit the space to
        which she has access to that of a single room and let her out
        ONLY when you can sit and do nothing but watch.

        If the rabbit lifts its tail or heads for a corner, say "No!"
        in a single, sharp burst of sound (try to imitate the "thump"
        rabbits make with their hind feet).  This triggers the "startle
        reflex" causing the rabbit to freeze (urinating is postponed)
        and give its full attention to you.

        Gently herd the rabbit back to its cage.  Leave the cage door
        open and let her out whether she has used the box or not.  (You
        aren't trying to force her to urinate, but to learn that when
        she chooses to do so, she must return to her litterbox.)

        Repeat this procedure until she returns to the cage and litter
        box on her own.  Then gradually extend her territory in small


        1. Letting the bunny out of the cage and not watching her with
           undivided attention;

           (You can't watch TV or read the paper or knit or talk on
           the phone and expect to keep your mind on what the bunny
           is doing every second--if she urinates without being
           "caught" and herded to the litter box, she'll be that much
           slower in learning what she's supposed to do.)

        2. Getting in a hurry.

           (Bunnies take time.  Perhaps that's one of their special
           gifts to us in this hectic world.  They require that we take
           time out to sit and watch and do nothing else.  Besides
           getting a well-trained bunny for your efforts, you also get
           a short period of time each day to watch one of the most
           charming little creatures on earth explore, skip for joy,
           and in general entertain you with her bunny-ness.)

   L2.  What if my cage is on legs or has a door that opens on top so
        the bunny can't get into it on his own?

        If it is on legs, build a ramp or stairs, or pile boxes to make
        steps--anything so he can come and go on his own.

        If the door is on top, put a small stool or box inside to help
        him get out, a board or piece of rug to help him walk to the
        edge of the cage, and a ramp, stairs, stool, or boxes  to help
        him get down (and up again).

   L3.  What if my cage is too small for a litter box or I don't use a

        If your cage is too small for a litter box, you may have a cage
        that is too small for your rabbit.  (See Section E on the
        Rabbit's Environment (not yet written).)

        Or you may have a dwarf rabbit and can't get a small litter
        box.  A good substitute is a pyrex baking dish.  Even 9" x 9"
        is sufficient for a Netherland Dwarf.

        You may have a cage with wire on the bottom and a tray
        underneath that catches the urine.  In this case, the tray is
        the litter box and the cage itself is where the bunny learns to

        If you don't use a cage, you need to give the bunny a
        particular area to call its own.  Just put a litter box
        wherever the bunny seems to prefer.

   L4.  What kind of litter should I use?

        It depends on what's available in your area and what your
        rabbit's habits are.  Keep in mind the following as you
        choose your litter:

          - most rabbits spend lots of time in their litter boxes
          - rabbits will always nibble some of the litter
          - rabbit urine has a very strong odor.

        Pros and cons of the various types of litter include:

          - clay litter is dusty--if your bunny is a digger, the
            dust can make her vulnerable to pneumonia
          - the deodorant crystals in some clay litters are toxic
          - clumping litters will clump inside the rabbit's digestive
            and respiratory tracts (the latter if they manage to make
            enough dust to breathe) causing serious problems and often
            leading to death
          - pine and cedar shavings emit gases that cause liver damage
            when breathed by the bunny
          - corn cob litter isn't absorbent and doesn't control odor
            but can be added, with the bunny's waste, to compost
          - oat- and alfalfa-based litters (available from Purina,
            Manna-Pro, and King-Soopers groceries (not sure what the
            geographical range of this chain is)) have excellent odor
            controlling qualities, but if a rabbit eats too much, they
            expand and cause bloating;  these, too, can be added, with
            the bunny's waste, to compost
          - newspapers are absorbent, but don't control odor
          - citrus-based litters work well, offer no dangers, and can
            be composted, but may be hard to get and expensive in some
            areas of the country/world
          - some people have reported success with peat moss which can
            also be composted
          - Many people have great success with litter made from paper
            pulp or recycled paper products. These litters are very
            good at absorbing and cutting down on odors. A litter called
            CAREfresh is available by calling 1-800-242-2267. A similar
            litter in a pelleted form is called Cellu-Dri 1-800-382-5001.
            These litters are harmless if ingested.
          - Litters made from Aspen bark are safe and good at absorbing
            odors. One brand is called GentleTouch 1-800-545-9853.
          - An economical and safe litter is the food pellets themselves.
            If bought in 50 lb bags, rabbit pellets are cheaper than
            most litters.  They don't absorb as quickly, but they do
            absorb and they do control odor.  And of course, they can
            be used in compost. This option may not be the best one for
            a rabbit who is overweight.

   L5.  Won't rabbits get confused if you use food pellets for litter?

            A young rabbit may use both the litter and its food dish
            for both food and litter.  However, if you always dump the
            soiled food out of the dish into the litter box, and clean
            the dish before more food is given, the rabbit will very
            quickly catch on.

            Rabbits will nibble at the food pellets in the litter box
            for awhile when they are fresh, but as the litter become
            soiled, they lose interest.

            Finally, some rabbits urinate or drop pills in their dishes
            as a matter of course.  This is not confusion, but a
            statement to others that "This is MY food dish!"

   L6.  What should I do if my rabbit starts dribbling all over her
        cage instead of using the litter box?

        Dribbles usually indicate a bladder infection.  Get your bunny
        to a rabbit-vet who will probably put her on an antibiotic.
        If the dribbling stops, you know that that was the problem.
        (Fear antibiotics given by vets not familiar with rabbits as
        companion animals!)

        If the "dribbles" are more than dribbles, or if the antibiotic
        doesn't stop the problem, consider any factors that may be
        making your bunny feel insecure (new pet, house guests, change
        in location of cage, etc.), any of which can cause a bunny to
        mark her cage more enthusiastically (similar to someone
        having a dispute with a neighbor about the location of a fence
        setting up a flag at the property boundary marker).

   L7.  How can I train my rabbit not to leave pills all over the

        When a rabbit is dropping his pills (droppings) all over the
        house, he's laying claim to it as belonging to him, or at least
        searching for a place he can call his own.

        From the rabbit's perspective, urine is primarily waste
        material to be depostited in the litter box, but pills
        are a tool to be used to mark that territory that the rabbit
        believes it owns.

        The trick to getting the rabbit to keep his pills in the cage
        is to give him ownership of his cage--respect the cage as HIS:

           - Don't reach into the cage to take him out; open the door
             and let him come out if and when HE wants to come;

           - Don't catch him and put him back in the cage or it will be
             his prison, not his home.  Herd him back gently, and let
             him choose to go in to get away from you (I walk behind my
             buns, clap my hands, and say "bedtime."  They know that
             I'll not stop harrassing them with this until they go into
             their cage, so they run in except when they feel they
             haven't gotten their fair share of time outside the cage.)

             It's a bit like a child going home and closing the door,
             because someone is calling her names. They may make the
             playground an unpleasant place for her, but they can't
             bother her in her own home.

             If the rabbit has been snuggling with you, it's okay to
             carry him to the door of the cage and let him go in--just
             don't put him directly into the cage, and never chase and
             trap him and put him in the cage.

           - Don't reach into the cage to get food dishes--anchor them
             near the door of the cage so they can be filled with a
             minimum of trespassing into the cage, or wait until the
             rabbit is out to fill them.

           - Don't clean the cage while the rabbit is in it--wait until
             he comes out.  He'll come over and supervise you, even
             help you move things around that you've set down outside
             the cage, but as long as he isn't in the cage, he won't
             see your cleaning as an invasion of his territory.  (Smart
             rabbits--I wouldn't object if someone were cleaning my
             house, either...  :-)   )

        The same technique can be used if a rabbit doesn't live in
        a cage, but in a particular part of a room.  Mark the territory
        with a rug, tape, whatever, and don't trespass over that.

Nancy LaRoche (HRS)

This is taken from the Spring Edition of _The Carrot Gazette_ published
by Harrisburg's chapter of the HRS.  (Some editing has occured)
"A rabbits dietary needs can also be provided through alternative [to
pellets] foods.
Most important is access to unlimited fresh timothy hay, grass hay, or
alfalfa.  Timothy hay is the best, alfalfa is more fattening.  But some
bunnies have a preference for one over the other.  In addition to the
hay, bunny must have a variety of fresh vegetables (approximately one
heaping cup for every five pounds of body weight).  You can feed more if
weight is not a concern.  Dr. Brown advises that you feed a minimum of 3
different vegetables daily.

Add one veggie at a time.  If soft stools or diarrhea occurs, eliminate
that vegetable from the diet.

Choose one each day that contains Vitamin A (with an asterisk next to it)
Beet greens*
Bok Choy
Brocolli (including leaves)*
Carrot & carrot tops*
Collard Greens*
Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides)
Green peppers
Pea pods (flat edible kind)*
Peppermint leaves
Radish tops
Rasberry leaves
Romaine lettuce (not iceberg or light colored leaf)*
        Spinach and kale may be given occasionally in small quantities but
        can be toxic if given over a period of time.

Fruits: one daily
(Only one tablespoon per five pounds of body weight)
Apple                   Peach
Banana                  Pear
Blueberries             Pineapple
Melon                   Strawberries
        May give one teaspoon of dried fruit in lieu of fresh fruit.

If your bunny has had digestive problems and you try this diet, please
let us know how it works for you so we can share the results with our
Source: Washington House Rabbit Society"

Sorry about the length.  Hopefully this will help.

Laura Tessmer