Rabbit Care for Beginners
The first thing to consider when buying a pet rabbit or beginning to show rabbits is breed. Over 40 different breeds are accepted by the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association). A description and standard of these breeds can be found in the Standard Of Perfection, which is available for purchase on the ARBA site. Some things to think about when deciding which breed is best for you are:
- Show Competition
- Why You Want a Rabbit
Rabbits can be small (2-4 pounds), medium (4-8 pounds), or large (8 pounds & up). If you are getting rabbits for a 7 year old, a large rabbit may not be the best thing. Also, if you have limited room on your property, smaller rabbits may be a better choice. So keep size in mind when picking a breed.
I’d love to tell you that there is no such thing as a mean rabbit, but I’d be lying. Some breeds are just more…aggressive than others. These breeds tend to be the running breeds, such as Tan or Britannia Petite. If you’re looking for a gentle breed, then a Mini Lop, Netherland Dwarf, or Florida White may be the one for you.
This may not be important for pet owners, but if you plan on showing your rabbit, it’s a big deal. In some areas of the country, certain breeds are more prevalent than others. If you like a lot of competition, buy a breed that has a lot of breeders and exhibitors in your area. If you like winning rosettes and ribbons, but don’t need competition, then a less common breed is for you.
This ties into the last item. If you plan on buying quite a few rabbits or want the possibility of adding to your stock later on, you don’t want to have to ship rabbits from 2,000 miles away. It’s better to get a breed that is well-known and common in your area.
Why You Want a Rabbit:
Different rabbits are for different things. Some breeds are better suited for, let’s say, fur production. If you want to have a side business besides showing and breeding, then you might want to get a meat breed or a wool/fur breed. Meat breeds include New Zealands, Californians, Palomino, or Champagne D’Argent. Wool breeds include French Angora and English Angora. Fur breeds are Rex, New Zealands, and Californians. Some breeds, such as the Netherland Dwarf, Mini Rex, and Holland Lop, are just for showing and possibly for pets (although pretty much any breed can be a pet.)
Once you’ve figured out what type of breed of rabbit you want, you should make sure that you have the proper equipment and supplies. You need to think about:
The type of housing you needs depends on whether you have one rabbit for a pet or whether you want more than a few rabbits. The more rabbits you have, the more accommodating your space must be. A recommended cage size for a small rabbit is 30″ X 30″ X 14″. This will give your rabbit plenty of room to run around and be a rabbit, while providing room for a nest box in the future. Larger rabbits should have around 36″ X 30″ X 18″.
Wire is the best material for cages because it’s the easiest to clean and sanitize. Wood will get messy quickly, and rabbits tend to chew on it. An all-wire cage is best, but if wood is needed, try and keep the amount of wood available to the rabbit inside the cage or hutch at a minimum.
Cages should be kept out of drafts, away from predators, and out of the weather. Also, they should be kept in the shade, because rabbits are very susceptible to heat and can get ill if they are not well-cooled.
A sitting board should be provided for larger breeds and for rabbits which have a thinner hair surface of their feet. This is to prevent sore hocks.
Pellets are the best bet for pet and show animals alike. They contain most if not all of the nutrients a rabbit needs to stay healthy. Several different brands and formulas exist, so ask your pet shop employee or feed store worker to help you choose the correct feed. In my experience, pellets are cheaper in feed stores, and if you have quite a few rabbits, it may be helpful to buy in bulk. Just be warned that feed does go bad, so watch for mold that can make your bunnies sick. The amount to feed a rabbit depends on size and situation. If you have smaller rabbits, such as a Netherland Dwarf, 3 ounces a day is plenty. For larger breeds, the recommended formula is one ounce of pellets per pound of body weight. If a rabbit is pregnant, lactating, or is still growing, they can have full feed, which is unlimited food in front of them all day.
Along with pellets, a rabbit’s diet can be supplemented with roughage (hay) of some sort. Rabbits love alfalfa, but it’s very rich and should be fed only in moderation. Grass hay such as timothy hay is best and less expensive. Give them all grass hay they want.
Food dishes should be heavy and not easily tipped or have some sort of device to hold them down. Lord knows how much money has been wasted in any rabbitry because of spilled feed.
Water is the most important thing your rabbit needs in his daily diet. Unlike humans, rabbits cannot get water from their food, so we must provide them with clean, fresh water daily. If you notice that the crock or dish is dirty, please take five minutes and clean it out very well. Especially in warmer weather, you should be sure your rabbit has a constant supply of water.
Water dishes should hold plenty of water and be heavy ceramic crocks or large Croc-Locks. Water bottles work also, but some rabbits don’t know how to use them. Just make sure all of your equipment is clean and sanitary.
Although a lot more goes into keeping rabbits, this article should get get you started on the right path. Good luck!