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Deciding to get a rabbit can be a big decision.  At AVC, we know that all pets are family and deserve the best care available.  Rabbits make wonderful pets and are a popular choice for a first pet, for children, and for those with limited space.  Rabbits are easy to care for, have a relatively low cost to set up and maintain, and provide companionship and entertainment to their owners.  To help you determine if a rabbit is right for you and your family, here are some veterinary guidelines to consider before you get your pet:

RESEARCH –Before getting a rabbit, do the research.  Determine which breed of rabbit is best for you, where you will keep the rabbit, and whether you can afford the initial set up and continuing care.  If you have children, especially young ones, make sure they understand how and when to interact with the animal.  If you have other pets, ensure the rabbit is safe from predatory dogs or cats.  Decide if you want a single rabbit or a bonded pair.  If you want a bonded pair, make sure you choose the right breed and get them spayed or neutered.  Remember to take your time before getting a new pet.  Many owners, especially young children, are enthusiastic when they first get their pet and quickly lose interest.  A domestic rabbit has a lifespan of approximately 8-10 years.  A pet is not a good way to teach children responsibility.  Teach them responsibility prior to getting a pet and let them demonstrate it by caring for their pet.

SELECTION –Rabbits can be bought at pet stores, through private parties, and may sometimes be adopted through rescue organizations.  Once you determine which breed is right for you, find a reputable seller.  A healthy rabbit should have clean ears, clear eyes with no discharge, and healthy teeth with the upper incisors overlapping the bottom.  A rabbit’s coat should be smooth and fluffy, with no bald spots or signs of inflammation.  The rabbit’s nose should be clean and dry.  Matted fur on the rabbit’s front legs is a sign of nasal discharge and should be avoided (Rabbits rub their noses with their front paws).  If there is more than one rabbit available, spend some time observing them.  Look for a rabbit that is not too aggressive or shy.  Be aware that rabbits may bite, and not only when they feel threatened.  Ask the person you are getting the rabbit from if you may hold them and ask them about their observations regarding the rabbits.  Avoid rabbits that bite.  Do not force the decision.  If the first or second place you go to does not have the rabbit you want, keep looking.  The right rabbit for you is out there.

HABITAT – While the initial cost of a rabbit may be relatively low, rabbits are very active and require a lot of space.  Your cage will need to be large and should be divided into sleeping, activity, litter, and food/water areas.  Do not select a cage based upon the size of your young rabbit.  Research his adult size and purchase a cage large enough to accommodate your adult rabbit.  If you have a restricted amount of floor space, consider a two-level cage with a ramp connecting the two levels.  Rabbits can also be housed in pens, fenced areas, and can even make good house pets if they are litter box trained.  Provide an area for your rabbit to exercise.  When housing your rabbit, remember that they are prey animals and put safety first.  Remember that rabbits love to chew and position them away from hazards.  Unless you are an experienced rabbit owner, it is best to only have one rabbit at a time.  When you get your rabbit home, allow them a few days to acclimate to their new home.  Make sure your rabbit has a sheltered area with bedding for sleeping.  Bedding choices include hay, straw, and wood pulp, but blankets and towels may also be used.  Clean your rabbits cage approximately once a week and replace or wash the bedding.  If using a litter box, clean it every day.  If you have any questions when setting up your rabbit’s habitat, contact one of the experienced staff members at AVC.

DIET – Feed your rabbit every day.  A small metal or ceramic dish can be used to feed your pet.  A rabbit should have grass hay available 24 hours a day and will not eat more than it needs.  Supplement the hay with rabbit pellets and fresh vegetables.  Pellets are available at most pet and feed stores.  Vegetables may include sprouts, carrots and other root vegetables, and assorted greens.  Provide at least one vegetable that is high in Vitamin A daily. You may also provide treats for your rabbit.  Treats may include fresh fruits and grains, and should be provided in small quantities to limit caloric intake.  Remember that young rabbits have different dietary needs then older rabbits.  If you are unsure if a food item is safe for your rabbit, please contact the staff at AVC.  Make sure your rabbit has clean, fresh water in a dispenser or a bowl.  Refill the water daily and wash the container every week.

HEALTH ISSUES – Because rabbits are prey animals, they are good at masking the symptoms of illness or injury that may mark them as weak.  Because of this, it is important to be a responsible and attentive owner.  Keep the enclosure safe and clean.  Provide clear, fresh water.  Provide sufficient nutritional food and snacks.  Make sure your pet has chew sticks and an exercise area.  Inspect your pet regularly for signs of disease or injury.  The best time to do this is when you are cleaning the cage.  An overabundance of uneaten food may indicate loss of appetite and a lack of droppings could indicate constipation.  These symptoms may be signs of gastrointestinal stasis or other digestive problems.  Rabbits may also suffer from dental problems, parasites, and respiratory problems.  Watch your rabbit for “head tilt.”  Head tilt is the name of a condition that can be caused by a variety of factors, from an infection of the inner ear to potentially life-threatening illnesses such as pasturella or enchephalitozoon cuniculi, both of which are extremely serious and require immediate treatment. If your rabbit’s head is held in an unusual position or your notice that they are becoming uncoordinated and their head is tilted to one side, contact AVC immediately.  We also recommend regular vaccinations for your rabbit to prevent myxomatosis and Rabbit (Viral) Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD).  If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, or just want to bring them in for a wellness exam, the doctors and staff at AVC would love to meet you and your pet.  Congratulations on your new rabbit.