I just spend one afternoon (August 15th) examining 450 rabbits for the California State Fair. Actually, I just checked any bunnies with questionable signs of contagious diseases. It left me a little (OK - as Yumi may tell you, A Lot) distressed.
I did have to tell some young 4-H kids to take their bunnies home. You should have been there for the parents' reactions! It was NOT pretty! For penance I am going to write a "How to Prepare Your Rabbit for the State Fair".
The following information is for anyone even considering obtaining one of these wonderful animals as a pet.
The Pet Rabbit
The domestic rabbit is descended from the wild rabbits of western Europe and northwestern Africa. They are related to hares (genus Lepus ) and cottontials (genus Sylvilagus ), but cannot be crossbred. In the wild, rabbits are gregarious, burrowing, herbivorous, nocturnal or crepuscular animals.
Life Span: 5 to 6 years, maximum 15 years
Temperature: 62* F to 70* F. Greater than 85* F may produce heatstroke.
Urine: Normally turbid and varies from a light yellow to deep orange or red brown.
Weight: Depends on the breed, Dwarfs from 2 lbs to the Giant breeds at 9 -10 lbs.
Sexual Maturity: Females (Does) - 5 to 9 months. Males (Bucks) - 6 to 10 months. With pet rabbits not intended for breeding, neuter any time after 5 months of age. This can reduce unwanted behaviors such as biting, aggression, urine spraying and prevents some reproductive tract tumors. It is not easy to sex very young rabbits.
Gestation: (Pregnancy) 29 to 35 days.
Litter Size: 4 to 10 with an average of 7 bunnies.
Young: They are born hairless and blind. The eyes open on 10 to 14 days and they are weaned at 4 to 8 weeks. The doe nurses her bunnies about once a day.
Miscellaneous: Rabbits' teeth continuously grow, they are called open rooted teeth. Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits are unable to vomit. Does tend to develop large dewlaps (or chin) and they can be more territorial than the buck. All rabbits practice coprophagy (eating their soft feces or night feces). Coprophagy generally occurs in the early morning. The soft feces provide proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
A good commercial rabbit chow should comprise 80% to 95% of the total diet. The rest of the diet can be small quantities of carrots, cabbage, spinach, alfalfa sproats, beet greens, apples, and a good guality hay (oat, grass, alfalfa, and clover). Clean water should be available at all times. Use a heavy ceramic dish or the hanging drip-style waterers. Vitamins and minerals are not necessary if the rabbit is eating a commercial chow. A salt lick can be provided.
For the average sized rabbit, the floor space should be 1.5 to 4 square feet per adult animal. Provide enough height for the rabbit to stand upright. Construct the hutch with non-toxic materials and provide good ventilation. The floor should be partially solid, so the rabbit is not on a wire surface all the time. All wire floors can cut a rabbit's feet and cause severe infections. Provide the rabbit with "furniture" (boxes, platforms) and chew toys (hardwood, boiled soup bones). Rabbits can be housetrained to use a litter box.
If your rabbit is a house bunny, you need the bunny-proof your home. If they can reach it, they will chew on it!
Use both hands when picking up your rabbit. DO NOT lift or restrain the rabbit by the ears. Be sure to support the hindlimbs. If improperly restrained, a rabbit can inflict painful scratches with their long, sharp toe nails. Rabbits have very powerful rear limbs. Violent kicking can result in fractures or dislocations of their backs which may leave them paralyzed. It is important to groom your rabbit often (daily for long fur breeds such as Angoras and weekly for short fur breeds) to prevent the formation of fur balls in their stomachs.
Signs of Illness
Diarrhea, lack of appetite, discharge from the eyes or nose, swelling anywhere, lethargy, fur loss not associated with nest building, overlong teeth, excessive scratching, foul odors, lameness, weight loss, any changes in urination, defecation, or attitude. If you see any of these signs, call your veterinarian.
American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc.
Glen Carr, Sec.
P.O. Box 426
Bloomington, Illinois 61702
Magazine Domestic Rabbits
House Rabbit Society
1615 Encinal Avenue
Alameda, California 94501
House Rabbit Journal
House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit
by Marinell Harriman
Drollery Press, Alameda