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OWNING A RABBIT

General Information

Rabbits make a nice alternative to a dog or cat. They are usually not aggressive, don't have to be walked, and usually learn to use a litterbox quite easily. Their average life-span is 5-10 years old, and they reach breeding age at 6 months of age. Early spaying and neutering at 4-6 months of age is recommended to decrease both medical and behavioral problems. Rabbits are known for their easy breeding abilities; pregnancy lasts about 30 days and the average size litter is 4-10 bunnies.

Proper handling of rabbits is important. Rabbits have a lightweight skeleton compared to most animals. Their powerful back legs allow them to kick with a large amount of strength. If held improperly, a swift kick can easily cause a rabbit to break its back, resulting in euthanasia for the now paralyzed rabbit. When carrying your pet, always support its rear end. If the rabbit struggles, it should be placed down immediately, given time to quiet itself, and picked up a few minutes later. NEVER pick up your rabbit by its ears. Have your veterinary surgeon show you the proper way to restrain and carry your rabbit.

Anatomical interests

Rabbits have large ears, which give them an excellent sense of hearing. The ears also serve as a way for the rabbit to regulate its body temperature. The ears contain large veins which are often used for drawing blood for diagnostic testing.

Rabbits have a digestive tract that is adapted for digesting the large amount of fiber that is required in their diets.

Compared to other pets, the skeleton of a rabbit is very light in relation to the rest of its body. This means that their bones fracture (break) more easily; carrying a rabbit improperly can predispose it to bone fractures.

Rabbits have two pairs of upper incisor teeth (the second pair is hidden behind the first).

Like rodents, rabbit teeth grow throughout the pet's life and may need periodic trimming by your veterinary surgeon. Providing your rabbit with blocks of wood to chew often prevents overgrown incisors, a common condition in pet rabbits.

Selecting your pet

Rabbits can often be purchased at pet stores or through breeders. Ideally, select a young bunny. The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. It should be curious and inquisitive. The rabbit should not be thin and emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. Also check for the presence of parasites such as fleas and ear mites (ear mites cause the production of waxy black exudate in the ears). If possible, examine the rabbit's mouth for broken or overgrown incisors (front teeth), discolored gums (they should be light pink), and any obvious sores. Inquire as to whether the rabbit has been spayed or neutered; most have not been at the time of purchase. These operations should be performed by 4-6 months of age. Finally, inquire as to any guarantee of health the seller is offering.

The first veterinary visit

Your rabbit should be examined by a qualified veterinary surgeon within 48 hours of purchase. Make sure the veterinary surgeon has experience in treating rabbits. The veterinary surgeon should discuss housing, proper diet, and appropriate toys for the rabbit. A fecal sample should be examined for parasites. Rabbits require annual physical examinations and fecal tests to check for parasites, although no annual vaccinations are required.

Vaccinations

Rabbits can be given vaccinations against both myxomatosis and hemorrhagic viral hepatitis. Ask your veterinary surgeon about both these diseases, transmitted by insects and fleas, and preventative measures which can be taken against them.

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