In this week’s Pet Talk, Maneka tells about keeping rabbits as pets, its diet, life span and health care.
By Maneka Gandhi
Do rabbits make good pets?
Rabbits have strikingly distinctive personalities. They can be as playful and silly as puppies or kittens, as independent and fascinating as cats, or as loyal and openly affectionate as dogs. And long-time rabbit owners claim that domestic rabbits are, in their own way, every bit as smart as cats and dogs.
Are rabbits low maintenance pets?
Although they don’t need to be walked like dogs, rabbits are anything but low-maintenance. Their quarters need daily cleaning, and fresh food and water must be offered daily, including a salad of well-washed, dark-green leafy vegetables. Certain rabbit health problems can become chronic and can require regular veterinary treatment. Unfortunately, veterinarians skilled in rabbit medicine are hard to find.
What is the average life span of a rabbit?
Well-cared-for indoor rabbits can live 7-10 years, and some live into their teens. This is approximately the same life span as some breeds of dogs and requires the same long-term commitment.
How often should I take my rabbit to the vet?
Companion rabbits should be spayed/ neutered by veterinarians experienced in rabbit surgery. This not only reduces hormone-driven behaviours such as lunging, mounting, spraying, and boxing, but also protects females from the risk of uterine cancer, the incidence of which can exceed 50% as rabbits grow older.
Do rabbits love cuddling and get picking up very often?
Although some rabbits tolerate handling quite well, many do not like to be picked up and carried. If rabbits are mishandled they will learn to nip to protect themselves. If they feel insecure when carried they may scratch to get down. Unsprayed / unneutered rabbits often exhibit territorial behaviour such as “boxing” or nipping when their territory is “invaded” by the owner.
What should I feed to the rabbits?
The single most vital component of a rabbit’s diet is grass hay, which should be provided daily. Rabbit pellets should be given only in very limited quantities.
Can I leave the rabbit unattended for a day or two?
Rabbits need daily monitoring. Problems that are relatively minor in some species (example, a day or two of anorexia) may be life-threatening in rabbits and may require immediate veterinary attention.
Are dwarf rabbits relatively weaker?
Rabbits have powerful hind legs designed for running and jumping. They need living space that will permit them ample freedom of movement even when they are confined. Dwarf rabbits tend to be more active and energetic than some larger breeds and require relatively more space.
What do I do if my rabbit has fleas?
Even though rabbit fleas are not that common in indoor pet rabbits, they happen occasionally. If your rabbit is infected by fleas he/she might be showing symptoms like self-biting or chewing, excessive scratching and licking. To get rid of the fleas, run a flea comb thoroughly through your rabbit’s fur coat and then dip the comb in soapy water, or alcohol, to drown the fleas before combing again. If the condition persists, use a rabbit-safe topical solution on the backside of the rabbit’s neck so that he/she does not lick it off, as consumption of solution can lead to side-effects and stomach problems. If you have more than one rabbit then keep them separate so that they don’t lick each other’s solution off.
Don’t use any medication on your pet without getting consultation from your vet first. Avoid flea collars and flea powder as the dosage could be too strong for your rabbit to handle. Your rabbit might end up getting poisoned. Avoid flea dips, as taking a bath is stressful for your rabbit and could send him/her into shock.
Is it alright to feed my rabbit roti, rice and other Indian food items?
No! Rabbits have their own dietary needs and certain food items which they can consume. All cooked food must be avoided. Food with condiments, masala, oil etc. is also bad for your rabbit’s health. You should NOT give your rabbit rice or roti, or any wheat based item like bread or pasta. Even raw fruits should only be given in small quantities. Rabbits can enjoy a variety of fresh leafy vegetables such as coriander, spinach, carrot tops or lettuce and also hay. But keep in mind that over-feeding your pet rabbit can have adverse effects.
My rabbit’s teeth are misaligned and she is constantly drooling. Should I be concerned?
Misaligned teeth, along with signs of drooling, frequent dropping of food, lack of appetite, wet fur around the mouth etc., can be a sign of something serious like Malocclusions. Teeth are a vital part of the rabbit’s digestive system, so, dental problems can lead to more serious conditions. If you see any of these symptoms in your pet rabbit, it is better to get your rabbit checked out by a vet, so that you can catch any problem early and fix the problem before it gets worse.
How frequently and how much should I feed my rabbit?
A rabbit should ideally be fed twice a day, morning and evening, with a balanced diet consisting of unlimited access to hay or grass, a small amount of fruits and fresh leafy vegetables. In addition, a small quantity of good quality rabbit mix or pellets can be added to the diet to make it more nutritional and healthy. These pellets should be given in the ratio of 25g per kg of your rabbit’s weight. You can give your rabbit treats, but don’t give it too frequently or it will spoil the rabbit’s dietary habits. Your rabbit should be fed according to its weight. Keep a track of his/her food intake and weight to ensure he/she does not get over or under weight. If unsure, or ever in doubt, it is best to consult your vet for more detailed information about the best diet for your rabbit and to find out which plants or food items are safe to be consumed by your rabbit.
My rabbit bit me. Is it dangerous? Do I need to get shots?
If your pet rabbit has bitten you, the first step is to properly clean the wound and apply a disinfectant. If the wound is deep, or does not stop bleeding, then it is best to consult your physician. If your rabbit has not been vaccinated then tetanus shot will be necessary. Even if your rabbit is vaccinated, it is recommended to get your tetanus shots periodically (every 10 years), but if you have not had a shot in the past five years then it is safer to get a tetanus injection.
Does experimenting animals saves human lives?
We cannot decide on whether an experiment is justified or not by merely showing that it is of some use. In order to save human lives, animal testing should not be an option. Lives could be saved, and suffering can be stopped by educating people on the importance of avoiding fat and cholesterol, the dangers of smoking, reducing alcohol and other drug consumption, exercising regularly, and cleaning up the environment, than by all the animal tests in the world. The distinction is not between useful and useless experiments, but between barbarous and civilised behaviour. There are some medical problems that can probably only be cured by testing on unwilling people, but we don’t do it because we recognise that it would be wrong. We need to extend this same concern to other living, feeling beings, regardless of what species they may be.
Is it important for children to have a pet?
Not only do pets teach children many life skills, they are also wonderful friends. Along with responsibility for a pet comes the building of self-confidence. Learning about the need for exercise for pets to stay healthy, helps children apply the same concepts to their own well-being. Pets tend to bring about a sense of calm for children. Some youngsters are more relaxed around their pets than other humans. Like adults, children turn to their pets when they are feeling sad, angry, or otherwise upset. Magically, pets will bring peace to the situation and provide their humans with unconditional love. There are many life skills children learn as a result of caring for another being and committing to the responsibility. Children become more disciplined, smarter and sensitive according to all scientific studies. They also make many more friends.