How do I keep my pet rabbit healthy?

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It’s easy to keep rabbit’s healthy, once you get the basics right. If you follow all these tips, you should be looking at a healthy, happy bunny.

1. Keep your rabbit healthy by keeping it indoors

Controversial I know, but having kept rabbits inside and outside, I firmly believe that it’s easier to keep rabbit’s healthy if they’re keep inside. It’s easier to keep an eye on their weight, to see when they need grooming, and to see if there are any subtle changes in behaviour.

2. Neuter your rabbit to ensure it stays healthy

Spaying or neutering your rabbit will not only make it happier and friendlier (since they’ll no longer be obsessing with humping whatever they can find), but a fixed rabbit is at less risk from certain cancers.

Female rabbits especially are at great risk from cancers in the reproductive system. In fact, there is a 90% chance that an unspayed rabbit will get uterine cancer in her lifetime.

3. A healthy diet is essential to a healthy rabbit

The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is hay. Your rabbit should be offered unlimited hay 24/7. The amount of hay individual rabbits eat varies, but ideally rabbits should be eating an amount of hay that’s twice the size of the rabbit.

Overfeeding rabbits pellets is a common issue in rabbit care. Make sure that your rabbit is eating a good quality pellet, not one of the old fashioned muesli-style feeds, which are full of sugar and sometimes consider foods that aren’t suitable for rabbits, such as seeds.

Most of us feed our rabbits too many pellets (I definitely used to) – 1/4 cup per 6lbs of rabbit is a good guideline to follow.

4. A healthy rabbit has a great set up

Ideally, your rabbit should have the run of the house, or at least one room, but I’m aware that that isn’t always an option. Rabbits can be very destructive and if you live in a rental house it’s not always possible to let your rabbit out 24/7.

A great, cheap option is to keep your rabbit in an x-pen, or a couple joined together. Not only are they budget-friendly, but they’re easy to move, store, and you can manipulate them to the shape of your room, so your rabbit can have as much room as possible.

I have an article about building a great set-up for your house rabbit.

5. A healthy rabbit needs to be checked regularly

For those of you that are new to rabbit care, I’d recommend visiting a vet. They can trim your rabbit’s nails, check their scent glands, and teeth, and give you tips on how to do it yourself.

There’s no shame in relying on a vet for nail care – one if our rabbit’s was a squirmer and had black nails so we didn’t ever attempt to do it ourselves.

How and why to check your rabbit’s teeth

Rabbit’s teeth grow continuously and can cause problems if they’re growing too quickly or wearing own unevenly. I know a lot of people check their rabbit’s teeth themselves, but I prefer to let a vet do it when I take my rabbit’s in for their vaccinations.

To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m looking for, and none of my rabbits appreciate being held. I do check to see that their front teeth aren’t overgrown, and I make sure to watch them eat regularly, so I can see if any of them are having issues.

How and why to check your rabbit’s nails

Rabbit’s nails also grow continuously, and can cause them pain and mobility issues if they get too long. In the wild, rabbits cover a lot of ground, and spend a lot of time digging, so their nails wear down quickly.

They also don’t live long enough to get really long nails.

Indoor rabbits don’t really get the opportunity to wear down their nails, especially since it’s best for their overall health if they have soft flooring, like rugs and carpets.

Like I said, it’s perfectly fine to pay a vet to trim nails, but it’s not hard to do it yourself, especially if your rabbit is friendly and has clear nails.

I like to wrap my rabbit in a towel, gently uncover one paw at a time and snip. Shine a torch though the nail so you can see where the quick of the nail is, and be sure not to cut that far.

If you accidentally cut too far, you can use corn flour to stop the bleeding.

The quick grows longer as the nail does, so I personally prefer to snip just the ends of the nails but do it fairly frequently, though obviously if your rabbit is a demon and hates having their nails clipped, get yourself to the vet.

How and why to check your rabbit’s bottom

Rabbit’s can suffer from stinky bunny butt, often caused by an overload of healthy gut flora. There’s usually no reason to grab your bunny and look. Either you can smell them, or you can see a poopy butt when they’re flopped over.

However, the way most of us discover the onset of poopy bunny butt is poop smears on the floor. Rabbits are absolutely delightful. I have an article here that goes through bathing bunnies and treating stinky bunny butt.

How and why to check your rabbit’s ears

It’s important to check your bunnies ears for infections and wax. Unless there’s a problem you shouldn’t need to clan your bunny’s ears, butI would recommend keeping some ear cleaning liquid in the house.

Waxy build up can be removed with tweezers, but if it’s a persistent problem consult a vet.

I always check my rabbit’s ears now (although Daisy and Holly don’t trust me enough – yet) because they can be a weirdly good way to diagnose other health issues. My Dutch, George, loved ear rubs, and one day I noticed white gunk in his ears. When I removed it, more bubbled up. It was GROSS. When he shook his head you could hear it sloshing.

Off to the vet we went, and the stuff was pus from a deep ear infection in the early stages, and we were able to get rid of it before it did any damage. Apparently white gunk can accumulate in ears from dental problems, and eye infections too.

Gross, but useful to know. Check those ears!

The best way to check ears is to pretend you’re just petting. Don’t grab your bunny unless you need to remove gunk – you can see into the ear without having to grab if you just pretend you’re going for a good ear massage. The vast majority of rabbits LOVE IT.

Oh, and a lot of rabbits, lops in particular, get dry skin in their ears, that builds up and looks gross. Pus is usually cream coloured, skin is greyer. God, this is gross.

The best way to remove the skin is to scritch it (make sure it’s not red – that could be a sign of infection) and then take away you hands. Cue bunny head shaking because they can feel something in their ear.

6. A healthy rabbit is vaccinated

I had no idea that this wasn’t a thing in the US, but here in the UK it’s best to get your rabbit vaccinated.

The myxomatosis/R(V)HD combination vaccine is the basic one you’re offered, but we get the R(V)HD2 as well, because it’s a requirement should we need to board our bunnies somewhere.

I have an article on vaccinating rabbits here.

7. A healthy rabbit is well-socialised

In the main, it’s best to get rabbits in pairs, although some rabbits are happy to be alone. Either way, you’ll get the best out of your bunny if you take the time to get them accustomed to you.

I don’t recommend worrying about ‘handling’ them. Rabbits don’t tend to like being handled. Instead, teach them to trust you by sitting quietly with them.

We actually don’t even do that – I’ve found that the best way for a rabbit to learn that we don’t pose a threat is to studiously watch TV and let them creep over to you. I pretend I don’t know they’re there, and they realise that I’m not hatching a dastardly plan to kill and eat them.

You don’t need to teach your rabbit to be picked up and manhandled. Even when we take our rabbits to the vet we put the carrier in the pen and guide them in.

If your rabbit is really nervous, try hand feeding them. I use a measuring cup to measure out their pellets, and when we first got Holly and Daisy, Holly would run away as soon as I approached.

Every day I’d keep the cup in my hand over the food bowl, and Daisy would come and eat out of the cup. I’d tip half in the bowl for Daisy and offer the rest to Holly.

After only a few days, she was eating out of the cup, and now she runs over to eat out of it before I’ve had a chance to tip it out. She’s learning that I’m a good thing that brings food, and I won’t take food from her or try to grab or hurt her.

8. A healthy rabbit is (usually) bonded with another rabbit

Rabbits are generally happier together, but please don’t worry if you have a single bun.

One of my rabbits much preferred humans to rabbits, and whilst I’m not saying it would have been impossible to bond her, it would have been extremely stressful for everyone.

If you have a single bun, you just need to make sure that they’re not lonely. Luckily, rabbits don’t require too much in terms of attention – they’re mostly perfectly content to sit with you and enjoy pets.

Of course, mine wasn’t – she demanded attention constantly and for hours, right up until the point when she wanted to be alone, at which point she’ll let us know by biting us.

I’d sneakily watch her through a crack in the door, entertaining herself perfectly happily- plastic cups were a favourite – but the second she could see either of us, it was time for attention and nothing else would do.

9. A healthy rabbit is relaxed

Rabbits are amazing at relaxing, although the degree to which they do it does vary. In general, if your rabbit lies down, it’s a good sign that they’re relaxed.

The classic ‘loaf’ formation is still a sign that your rabbit is relaxed, but they can go full on sploot – on their belly with their legs straight out behind them.

Often if you move or make a noise, they’ll surreptitiously tuck their legs in, in case you were tempted to pick them up wheelbarrow-style or something else equally distressing.

One of my rabbits is big on flopping. She flips over like the donkey from buckaroo, and is equally noisy. Sometimes she overshoots and rolls all the way over onto her other side, which is apparently mortifyingly embarrassing, and warrants spending the rest of the day in the TV cabinet, away from prying eyes.

Daisy, the one with a touch of head tilt (thankfully almost totally gone) is far more refined in her relaxing, despite being the more confident of the pair. She prefers a half-loaf-half-legs outstretched look.

It may take a few days for your rabbit to settle in and really relax.

Things like washing machines can be frightening, but I’d advise you to go about your everyday life as normal – it’s more stressful for your rabbit initially, but it can help them to settle in faster if they can get used to everything quickly.

10. A healthy rabbit is well-groomed

One of the things I’ve learned from having house rabbits is that there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to which rabbits need grooming when. I had a pain or nearly identical Dutch rabbits, one of whom needing grooming at least monthly, and the other which moulted twice a year but barely shed apart from that.

Some rabbits get a bit down in the dumps when they’re moulting. Rabbits moult year-round, but there are periods in spring and autumn when they’re growing/shedding a coat when they get a bit…sad.

I give them a good groom because not only does it get rid of excess fur, but it massages their body and can help alleviate any gas and help digestion. Rabbits can get hair balls when they’re moulting excessively, and a massage can help ease it along.

Final thoughts on keeping your rabbit healthy

Like I said, keeping a rabbit healthy and happy isn’t rocket science, but it has changed a lot since I was a kid, when we kept rabbits outside in hutches and insisted on picking them up.

The great thing about rabbits is the aerobatic displays you get when they’re happy, and splooted legs when they’re chilling.

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