Rabbit Care in Temporary Shelters
DIET: Young rabbits give unlimited alfalfa hay (may add timothy hay) and rabbit pellets.
Adult rabbits give unlimited grass hays such as timothy (not alfalfa), and limited timothy based pellets: 1/3 cup for small rabbits, 1/2 cup for medium to large. All ages give dark green leafy vegetables (kale, romaine lettuce, escarole, parsley, endive, collard greens, dandelion greens, leaf lettuce, carrot/beet tops) 1/4 cup per pound daily. Treats (Limit to a heaping tablespoon per 2 lbs. of body weight per day) include carrots, turnips, beets, & sweet potatoes. No sugary treats or seeds, rarely offer fruit. Water bottles should be checked daily for malfunctions. May drink more from a bowl. Ideally they should drink 50 to 100 ml/kg (1/8 to 1/4 cup per pound) of water every day.
HOUSING: Minimum temperature 45 degrees, maximum 80 degrees. Very sensitive to high heat and humidity, move to indoor climate controlled facility if needed.
Wire cage 3 times body length with at least partial solid floor; avoid all solid walls. Use hay, straw, shredded paper or paper towels as bedding, no wood chips. Include toys and a hide box for security. Keep away from direct sunlight or drafts. Provide a litter box. Recyclable litters should be used; shavings are not advised. Do not house males and females together unless spay/neuter status is known. For babies, use cardboard box with soft material lining and door 6 inches above floor. Use heating pad for extra heat if needed. Bunnies normally only nurse once daily.
RESTRAINT: If rear legs are not well supported the rabbit can break its back by kicking.
Use a towel on the exam table for traction. Cover the eyes with a towel to calm. Use gloves as needed to prevent biting. The scruff or ears should not be used to lift a rabbit, but scruffing can be used for restraint. Wrap in a towel or tuck against your body with your forearms like a football. Tuck the head into your elbow, with one forearm underneath and one over back to carry.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS: Overgrown teeth, may not eat, may be drooling.
Diarrhea: Intermittent soft stools are normal and commonly seen at night. Sudden diet change may cause diarrhea, follow recommendations above. Pasteurellosis: runny nose, decreased appetite, abnormal head posture, skin lesions. Fur mites: hair loss and dandruff. Ear mites cause head shaking. Fleas may be found, use products safe for rabbits or kittens. Foot sores: from constant exposure to wire flooring.
OTHER: Rabbits need plenty of time out of cage daily to provide exercise if a secure space is available; lack of exercise can lead to numerous medical problems.
Chewing wood is also natural, calming behavior for rabbits. Use apple, pear, willow, or maple. To sterilize the wood: soak in diluted bleach solution and dry completely. Normal urine may look red or cloudy, but thick sludge is abnormal. Brush occasionally to decrease incidence of hairballs, cat laxative may be offered.
Compiled by Julie Burge, DVM, Burge Bird Services, August 2016
Unusual Pet Care Volume I, Teresa Bradley, DVM, edited by Peter Fisher, DVM
Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook for Veterinarians by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Diplomat ABVP-Avian