Last Updated: 11/5/05
General Care and Maintenance of Rabbits
Is a Rabbit Right for Me?
Buck or doe, spayed/neutered or intact? - Sexual differences and compatibilities, spaying and cancer, neutering, one or more rabbits?
Most information that one needs to know is found in books and from talking to people. There are a few things; however, that I would like to stress. ALL rabbits need to see the vet as soon as possible after you get them. Firstly, they all need to be checked for their general health and sex. I cannot tell you how many times a male became a female or a female became a male! Rabbits need to be checked for malformed teeth and feet, ear mites, fleas, pasteurella and later be neutered/spayed. This vet visit is also a good time to learn about your pet's care.
The next item I would like to stress is that an animal's home can NEVER be too big. If your choice is between a tiny cage and a large one, ALWAYS opt for the larger one. The animal will be happier, and you will not have to clean it as often.
Finally, keep any cages, litter pans, etc. as clean as possible. Most cages should be cleaned well at least once a week. I change my rabbits' litters twice a week. There is NO such thing as "an easy to care for" pet. All require your time and love!
Rabbits generally live 8 to 12 years (if they do not develop cancer or contract pasteurella). The oldest rabbit in the Guiness Book of World Records died at the age of 18. Teenage rabbits are common. Larger breeds generally have shorter lifespans than dwarf breeds. Purebred rabbits generally have shorter lifespans than mixed breeds. Lops (all kinds) and Netherland dwarfs are known for their longevity. The oldest rabbits I ever had died at the age of 7 but from cancer (Ricky) and pasteurella (Loppy) and not from old age and its related ailments. Isabella is now almost 9-years-old now though (11/5/05)! Rabbits lucky enough to live to an old age (12+) often die of heart attacks.
Too often rabbits are bought on impulse by people who do not realize that rabbits are not the easy pet that some would have you believe. Rabbits require a good amount of time and money. Money goes for a vet visit, spaying/neutering, health problems, cage, litter, food, bowls, toys, hay, and more. Time is required to change litter pans, clean the cages, and spend some time playing with the rabbit. Baby rabbits are very sweet but people should be aware the adult rabbits (like cats and dogs) can and do bite and scratch when they do not feel secure. Rabbits usually do not liked to be handled that much. For that reason, they may not be the best pet for young children. Guinea pigs may be a better choice. Rabbits also need exercise, time out of their cages to hop and play. They also do best with a buddy (spayed/neutered as well). Some rabbit agencies require adoptions to be in pairs. Having a rabbit is more like having a cat or dog than a guinea pig or hamster.
Sexual Differences and Compatibilities
If you have your rabbits spayed/neutered by late puberty (by 6 months), you can keep as many as you want of both sexes together provided they each have their own nest box and can get away from each other on occasion. Between 3-6 months, young males and females should be separated because they can breed then. It is best to let rabbits mature to 6 months or so before spaying/neutering. In intact rabbits, males are sweet and want to mate with everything. Females are grumpy and often kick, bite, and act mean. Spaying, even older does, usually yields a sweet, layed back doe but months after my doe's spay, she still kicks, bites, grunts, runs from me, and generally acts like an intact doe. If you want more than one and do not intend to have them spayed/neutered, a mother and daughter or two sisters is the best. Even they will fight if intact. Two intact males, even brothers, will eventually fight. When I was young, we had two bucks; one killed the other. And obviously, a male and a female will yield lots of needy, often unwanted babies. If you have mixed sexes, spay/neuter both sexes, not just boys or girls. This is because any unfixed rabbit will not know the other is fixed and will try to mate or be frustrated all the time.
Spaying and Cancers
A large percentage of unspayed does who do not have babies get uterine or ovarian cancer by the age of five. They also have a much higher risk of breast cancer. The percent for doe reproductive cancers is said to range from about 14% quoted by some vets to more than 85% quoted by some rabbit groups with most people saying at least 30-50%. Because risk varies from rabbit to rabbit, small studies yield conflicting results. Age, breed, and individual genes may all play a part. Spaying, at any age, negates the first two cancers unless they are already present and have spread. Spaying young reduces breast cancer greatly. So, unless you are breeding, spay your does.
For a lot more information on spaying and neutering, visit the House Rabbit Society's page on this topic.
Neutering males reduces their desire to breed with everything in site, and they stop spraying urine on everything. It also improves hygiene, especially in the future, when bucks get old and cannot reach between their legs to clean or if they develop diarrhea. If the testes are not there, they cannot collect messy feces and debris as easily.
One or more rabbits?
All this said, wild rabbits live in large groups and keep each other company but does keep their own nests and bucks fight violently. Rabbits are not solitary animals nor do they always get along. Each individual rabbit will have its own tolerance of other rabbits. Some may love all other rabbits, and some may not tolerate any other rabbits at all.
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