Caring for Your New Rabbit(s)

Thank you to Kate Sawyer of Hinterland Rabbitry for allowing me to use her care sheet for rabbits as a model for my own, as well as allowing me to use her list of rabbit safe foods.

Bringing your new rabbit home is an exciting time! Your new rabbit is leaving her siblings, mother, and friends. For the first few days set your rabbit up in their new area and let her adjust. Rabbits, as a prey species, are naturally uncomfortable being picked up or held upside down. Work slowly, don’t force them, and they will become more familiar with you. Many rabbits learn to enjoy human attention. Just remember, don’t force them.

Starting your rabbit off right with the best nutrition and environment is the key to long term success.

WATER

All of our rabbits use metal crocks I purchase from Klubertanz in Edgerton, WI (they also do mailorder). These crocks are heavy, and the rabbits can not flip them and waste feed. They are also easy to de-ice and do not break like ceramic crocks or bend like the thin metal crocks.   Our barn is unheated, so water bottles freeze quickly, so I don’t use them. If you wish to use a water bottle with your rabbit you must give them a crock and a water bottle until they get the hang of using to bottle. This may take a few days.

Rabbits will not eat if they are thirsty, so it is very important that they always have access to fresh, clean water. In winter (freezing crocks) or summer (high water consumption) this means checking and filling water at least twice a day.

FOOD

I feed my rabbits Heinhold Wool Formula (angoras) and Heinhold Show or Family (Silver Fox and American Chinchillas. There are other good brands available, but Heinhold is what is available near to me. I’ve also heard good things about Kent Family and MannaPro Gro. Do not feed any pellets if they are ever clumped together, or smell “off” or moldy. If you choose to feed something  other than Heinhold you must carefully transition your pet to this type of feed. Over a week period start to phase out the original food by mixing in more and more of the new food. An abrupt change of food can upset the delicate balance in a rabbit’s gut.

Supplements:

I mix in black oil sunflower seeds and rolled oats to the pellets. If a doe is struggling to maintain condition before or after nursing her kits I offer a small amount of calf manna.

Hay: We bale some hay, off our land, which we use first for the rabbits. If we run out, we supplement with hay bought from a farmer down the road. Our hay is a grass mix, small amounts of clover, alfalfa and weeds. I do not advocate for people to use pet store bought hay. It is often dusty, old, and very expensive. It is pretty easy to find a farmer on craigslist to sell you a few bales of hay. Unfortunately, since we already have to supplement our hay by buying from another farmer we do not sell hay.

Fresh Fruits and Veggies:

We try to give the rabbits as varied of a diet as possible. In the summer, we give fresh grass and “weeds” such as comfrey, chicory and plantain. Never feed a plant to your rabbit unless you know it is safe. During the winter all rabbits have free choice hay. We are lucky enough to have a farmer near us that gives us her organic veggies that are to large, small, or broken to sell in the grocery store. Typical veggies that the rabbits get from this deal are: carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets, rutabagas and cabbage (large quantities of cabbage can cause gas so feed small qualities).

Young rabbits, by eating the feces of their mother, and ingesting her milk will have the gut flora to eat green foods if their mother has been eating them while pregnant/nursing. A young rabbits guts are maturing until they reach the age of 4-6 months. Until a young rabbit has mature guts at 6 months introduce new foods with extreme caution. When you purchase your angora I will let you know, what if any, greens/fruits/veggies your rabbits have been exposed to.

Treats:

Just like humans, treats should be fed in moderation, to avoid obesity as well as prevent diarrhea. I will say it again, limit treats for the health of your rabbit.

Good treats are:

dried fruit with no added sugar( blueberries, blackberries, cherries, raspberries and cranberries), unsweetened banana chips, dried papaya, dried pineapple, dried mango, and small amounts of dried coconut. If you grow fruit, or buy it in bulk from a farmers market, you can make “dried fruit leather” using a dehydrator or dry your own berries.

Fresh fruits can also be used. Again, these are treats, so give in small quantities. Good fresh fruits to give are: apples (no seeds), blueberries, cantaloupe, pineapples, banana, blackberry, pears, plums and strawberries.

The treats found in the pet stores are often filled with sugar, which I don’t feel is good for a rabbit’s digestion. I discourage these types of treats. I also encourage, when possible, to feed organic fruit.

I try to make fresh grasses, weeds and herbs, make up about 25-50% of my rabbits diet(depending on availability), vegetables about 10-25% (depending on availability). Pellets make up about 25-65%.

Fresh grasses that rabbits enjoy are: bermuda grass, bluegrass, crabgrass, alfalfa(high protein don’t need exclusively), red clover (high protein don’t feed exclusively), rye, timothy, and orchard.

Fresh Vegetables and plants that rabbits enjoy are:

arugula (feed sparingly as I have seen it cause diarrhea), beet greens and beets(feed sparingly as they have a high sugar content), Brussels sprouts (save the sprouts for yourself and feed the entire plant to the bunnies), cilantro, cucumber, endive, garlic leaves, edible mints, dried nettles(when cooked or dried nettles lose their sting), parsnips, radish tops(my rabbits won’t eat the radishes but you can try), savory, sunflower seeds and leaves, turnips,  basil, dandelion(entire plant), kale, spinach(high oxalic acid content can cause diarrhea so feed sparingly), broccoli(entire plant), cabbage(can cause gas, feed sparingly), carrot, dill, green pepper, lettuce (NEVER iceburg), parsley, and sage.

Herbs:

You can also feed herbs to your animals…some of them can also be used as herbal medicines or tonics

Peppermint-calming on an upset stomach

White or Black Willow- small amount of leaves or branches can be pain reliving, large amounts can induce nausea/upset stomach. Weeping willow contains less medicine than black and white willow.

Chicory- Some preliminary studies are showing that chicories may reduce intestinal worms (not cure, reduce)

lemon balm-lemon balm can suppress thyroid production, do not us as a staple in the diet

Plantain- Plantain is soothing to irritated tissue, taken internally it can sooth irritation in the digestive tract

Raspberry leaf- tones the uterus

Fennel- calms upset stomach

Pumpkin (flesh and seeds)- may act as a natural wormer

(More coming soon)

Branches:

Rabbits enjoy chewing branches. Only give them non-sprayed, organically raised branches. They enjoy applewood, raspberry/blackberry canes, and willow(to much can cause an upset stomach so feed in moderation).

Fodder and sprouts

I have not yet tried fodder or sprouts but they are on my list of projects to start. Sprouts I know people have fed to rabbits include: barley, wheat, sunflower, alfalfa, buckwheat and oats.

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