This is a page devoted to the care of bunnies, developed through my own experience caring for Valentino and researching information over the years. I have to admit that I am an animal fanatic, meaning I am as in love with my animals as I am my own children and treat them accordingly. I believe in training animals so they are well-behaved, just as I trained my children to be polite with good manners. All of us who have pets and raise a family know that this takes dedication and effort.
Creating a home and habitat for your bunny
When I first got Valentino, I had one 16"x 19" cage that accommodated a small litter box, a small fleece bed and room for his hay, bowl of pellets and water. I had to use a cup as he would not drink from a mountable water dispenser. However, he had little to no room to comfortably move around. So, the next thing I did was buy a Marrchioro "LUNA" deluxe rabbit cage. It is a large cage with a platform where I feed Valentino his fresh veggies, fruit and water, a nice large area below with room for his litter box, hay, a cozy round fleece bed and room to stretch out. This unit also has a roomy hutch attached so that he can have private time and be warmer. It is really worth investing in creating a comfortable spacious accommodation for your bunny, because he/she will understand that you respect them and include them as an equal member of your family. NEVER forget, rabbits are extremely sensitive and intelligent creatures.
For a long time, I kept the smaller size cage in the living room so that I could keep Valentino’s set-up contained and he would have a place that was his own. He would go in and out throughout the day, then into the big "condo" at bedtime. Now though, besides the cage being cumbersome, he prefers to be right in the middle of the action, so I set up a comfortable place for him under our coffee table. That may sound impractical, but as much as Valentino wants to be with us, we want to be with him and you will see by the photo that it is not a problem.
What to feed a bunny
I couldn't say if other rabbit owners go to the extremes that I do for their bunny's care, but I want Valentino to live for a very long time. I believe that by giving him the best nutrients available there is a good possibility he will enjoy a long, healthy life. You see, rabbits can live up to 15 years and even longer if they are very well cared for, not to mention adored. So, every morning, Valentino gets a bowl of beautiful fresh fruit, diced up into small pieces. Fruits are a tricky business and they are often given as a treat, only because of their high sugar content. You don't want to get your rabbit sick by giving them too much fruit. In fact, after giving Valentino carrots for a long time, I immediately stopped when one of my daughters told me that giving him a carrot was like giving him a Snickers bar! At 3 lbs 4 oz, he does not need that kind of sugar in his bloodstream. However, the fruit is a daily thing and he is well-adjusted to it and gets lots of good exercise. He gets banana and papaya no matter what, then I add another fruit. The papaya is excellent for his digestion and he smells sweet because of it! In winter, I feed him pears, blueberries, and occasionally kiwi fruit, but it is hard to find sweet ones and you do not want to upset your pet’s tummy with sour fruit of any kind. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn't like it, he/she won't either! Valentino also likes strawberries, watermelon, cherries (in small quantities and tiny bites because they stain his fur), apples, oranges and especially white peaches in season. The GOLDEN RULE for this part of the diet is quantity control! In the accompanying photo you will see how much he gets, which is about 2 tablespoons.
It's a bunny's nature to chew, chew, chew
Valentino likes to enjoy his fruit throughout the morning in addition to a ramekin with a small handful (about 1/8-1/4 cup) of bunny pellet food which is a base of Timothy hay and other nutrients that are good for rabbits. This food comes in young and adult rabbit formulas, so use the appropriate one for your pet’s age. Whatever you do, do not overfeed these pellets. Pellets are not intended for free feeding. They will make your bunny fat and they can die too soon! I also give him a large handful of Timothy hay which he has to have available at all times. Hay is the most important nutrient in a rabbit’s diet. Hay is a tough grass that rabbits like which keeps the digestive tract in check and helps to keep their teeth the right size. Rabbit teeth continue to grow throughout their lives and sometimes, if the rabbit’s own habits are not enough to keep the teeth in check, they can grow too long and cause problems. Veterinarians actually "float" (file) rabbit teeth the same way they will "float" horses teeth that get too long. Be sure to change what your bunny doesn't eat regularly as the hay dries out.
Also at Valentino's disposal is a nice piece of pine wood for chewing, some pinecones that are an appropriate size for rabbits and available at most pet shops (i.e. Petco), and a phonebook; he loves to tear and nibble the pages! As you can see, CHEWING is what rabbits do the most - it is their NATURE. I discovered this when Valentino commenced devouring the baseboards in our home and our pine breakfast nook. It was actually a very humbling thing to discover this. I mean, how can you get upset at a pet that does what is instinctual? It is important to keep this in mind. Give your bunny what it needs to satisfy that need in them. CHEW, CHEW, CHEW- it is what bunnies do!
Dinner: "Goin' green"
For dinner, Valentino gets a generous 2 cup portion of fresh assorted greens. Once a week I go to the market and buy ORGANIC kale, Italian parsley, dandelion greens, cilantro, and dill. I bring it home and put it all in the sink together for a good wash. Always wash food as a safety measure to remove any dirt or residual chemicals before feeding it to your bunny. Like I said before, take the same care for your pet rabbit as you do for yourself. I then spin dry all the greens and make packages for the week (see photo). This way, his meal is ready to go and it makes the greens last longer in the fridge when they are washed and packaged.
Valentino's diet is very basic, healthy and tasty for him. I do not give him snacks with grains and he has rejected all of the snacks I have found for rabbits at pet stores. However, there are many snacks and treats to choose from for rewarding and training your bunny, such as yogurt snacks and different types of timothy hay-based snacks. Valentino's go-to snack is hay mats; he often lays on top of them and nibbles away. The only real treat I give Valentino is freeze-dried pineapple or strawberries. I sometimes shake the bag, making a sound he recognizes well, to get him to come to me so we can enjoy a good "hang out" together.
There are many things to learn as a rabbit “parent,” not the least of which is about their pooping habits. I remember the first time I saw Valentino eating what I thought was his poop, but it was actually something different called a cecotrope. This is something a bunny’s body creates and that they eat to maintain the bacteria in their intestines, allowing them to healthfully digest their food. If that bacteria is compromised, a rabbit can deteriorate very quickly and die from GI stasis. As a responsible bunny and pet owner, it is important to keep track of your bunny's poop as it is a marker for his or her overall health. Bunnies poop a lot if they are eating properly, so if you notice that your pet isn't eating or drinking, the amount of their poop will drastically change and the size will be smaller indicating your rabbit may be having intestinal issues. If this is the case, it is essential to get him/her to a veterinarian immediately. Valentino once had a GI stasis episode and I rushed him to a vet who cares for rabbits (not all vets do) right away. He was put on medication to normalize his digestive tract and a timothy-based nutritional supplement.
The good thing about rabbit poop is that rabbits are herbivores and their poop is small, round, dry (when healthy) and not smelly; it’s basically innocuous. Valentino has two litter boxes, one in the condo and the other in whatever room of the house he is recreating in. He was potty trained at an early age and is truly the cleanest animal I have ever owned.
Speaking of cleanliness, you must never bathe a rabbit. They spend a huge part of their lives cleaning themselves, and again, being herbivores, they are not a smelly animal. The only off-smell I have ever experienced is a strong urine smell if Valentino is slightly dehydrated. A rabbit can die from being bathed due to hypothermia. Rabbit fur takes a long time to dry and when their body temperature drops it is impossible to get it back up again. I have heard of numerous people losing their rabbit due to bathing it.
Health & longevity
One of the first things I did when I got Valentino was take him to the family vet. It is essential to get a baseline check-up for your rabbit as you would for a cat or dog and get reassurance in knowing that your pet is healthy or, to discover any issues they might have. It is in the animal and pet owner's best interest to have your rabbit neutered. It extends their lifespan and it also inhibits aggression due to territorial or defensive behavior.
Don't forget, rabbits in their natural environment are animals of prey and are equipped with traits that keep them alive. They are delicate creatures so you have to keep a good eye on them. I hope the bunny care tips I’ve learned from living with Valentino will help you enjoy years of happy companionship with your own loving bunny!