Rabbit

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Many people think rabbits and hares are the same....wrong! Although they belong to the same scientific family, hares have longer, stronger legs and bigger ears than rabbits.

Scientific name: Oryctolagus cuniculus

Size: There are more than 60 different types of domestic rabbits. The small breeds are two to six pounds; medium breeds are six to nine pounds; large breeds are nine to 11 pounds; and giant breeds weigh more than 11 pounds....that's a lot of rabbit!

Lifespan: Seven to ten years

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Many people think rabbits and hares are the same....wrong! Although they belong to the same scientific family, hares have longer, stronger legs and bigger ears than rabbits. Rabbits are born without any fur (brrrr!), while hares are born, well...hairy, and with full vision. Rabbits, on the other hand, don't usually open their eyes for their first seven to ten days. Their homes are different, too. Wild rabbits burrow, hopping around in underground towns called warrens, while hares live alone in simple, shallow holes.

The most popular breed in the United States is the Dutch rabbit, who weighs about four pounds and usually has a white face with black, blue or brown on his back and head--this is called a saddle. The largest breed is the Flemish Giant. This big boy weighs more than 13 pounds.

There's a lot of variety among rabbits. You can have a bunny with a long, thin nose and short, stubby ears, like a Mini-Rex or Netherland dwarf. Then there are rabbits with long, droopy ears and a flat nose, like a German lop. Some are super furry and soft, like the Cashmere breed, while others, such as the Rex or Tan, are sleek and fuzzy.

Your bunny should be spayed, if she's a female, or neutered, if he's a male.

Home, Sweet Home

Your rabbit should live indoors. His hutch should be at least four feet wide and two feet deep and two feet tall for small and medium bunny breeds--and larger if your rabbit is a big guy! Wire-bottom cages are common, but they sometimes can really hurt a bunny's feet. If you already have a hutch with a wire bottom, cover the bottom with a piece of wood or thick cardboard. Put down plenty of straw and wood shavings so your pet can make a nest.

Your rabbit loves to eat! He may spend a lot of the day munching away on food, but be sure to only feed him twice daily--once in the morning and once at night. He'll also need to drink a lot of water, so make sure his water bottle is always full.

We're not gonna call anyone a slob, but rabbits can be very messy. They love to burrow, chew, nibble and poop and just have a blast, so you'll need to clean your pet's cage once or twice a week. First, put your rabbit in a safe room or other cage. Next, sweep out the cage and scrub the hutch floor with warm, soapy water and disinfectant. When it's dry, add new hay, straw and wood chips.

Fun and Games

Who're you calling a scaredy cat? Your new rabbit might be a bit timid at first. Talk to him so he'll get to know your voice. After a couple of days, handfeed him some pellets. Make sure he's not disturbed by loud noises.

To pick up your rabbit, place one hand on his neck and scoop up his bottom. Hold him secure near your chest. He'll probably start to love this special time with you, but if he squirms, put him down.

Every day is play day for your rabbit! Let yours out to explore and get himself used to your world. You'll have to supervise, of course, and please be sure to bunny-proof the room first--that means putting any loose electrical wires or anything else he could (but shouldn't!) chew out of sight. Your pet may even follow you around to see what you're doing. He should have about two to three hours of exercise outside his cage every day.

Run, rabbit, run! You can let your rabbit play in your backyard when the weather is nice, but ONLY if you supervise and if you have a fence. Make sure that neighborhood animals can't get near your bunny.

Fluff-n-stuff: Your bunny will enjoy a good brushing, especially if he's really hairy, like an Angora or Cashmere. Brush from the back of the head down to his tail. Use slow, even strokes. Don't be surprised if you notice him licking himself clean like a cat!

Why can't we be friends? Other companion animals might want to get to know your bunny, and you can introduce them--just do it carefully. Be ready to pick up your rabbit the moment he looks scared or uncomfortable. Other rabbits will make better friends for him, but make sure they are brothers or sisters. Don't keep male and female rabbits together--they often fight, or they could have babies.

What's a rabbit to do? Chew, chew, chew! A rabbit's front teeth never stop growing, so he'll need something to gnaw on...all the time! Don't let your bunny teethe on your parent's new sofa or on the exotic plants in the garden. Instead, give him some chew toys, such as an old phone book, a log that hasn't been painted or treated with chemicals, or a fallen branch from an apple or cherry tree.



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