The Pet Vet says... Feed bunny grass hay and greens | January 18, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - January 18, 2008

The Pet Vet says... Feed bunny grass hay and greens

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. My daughter got a rabbit for Christmas and we weren't sure if she should see a veterinarian for regular checkups? We know they're not supposed to be kept outdoors, but her cage has a very strong odor, especially if we don't clean it every day. Is there anything we can do about the smell?

A. Rabbits don't need routine vaccinations like dogs and cats. But when you first get a rabbit it is a good idea to schedule a visit with a veterinarian who sees bunnies regularly. That way you will know the rabbit's age, weight and gender, and you have established a relationship with the veterinarian in case your rabbit becomes ill. They can also show you the proper technique for handling the bunny and trimming its nails. The veterinarian will check the teeth for normal occlusion - sometimes rabbits will need their teeth trimmed. I would also recommend you have your rabbit spayed after she is 4 months of age. She will be a much better pet for your daughter without the raging hormones that can sometimes make rabbits territorial and nippy. (The same goes for male rabbits, too.) Spaying has also been shown to prevent uterine and mammary cancer in females.

As for the odor, I would litterbox train your rabbit as soon as possible. You can buy a litterbox made just for rabbits with high sides - some even go in the corner of the cage. Put soiled bedding in the litterbox and keep the rest of the cage clean. Hopefully your bunny will get the idea. It is much easier to empty a small litterbox once or twice daily than the entire cage. Again, having rabbits spayed or neutered can cut down on urine odor and spraying behavior. Rabbits often spray on vertical surfaces to mark their territory. However, at a young age they are more likely to be simply "missing the box." That's why a litterbox with high sides is essential.

Make sure you are feeding the proper diet to your bunny. A diet consisting solely of rabbit pellets can lead to decreased water intake and more concentrated urine - thus a more concentrated smell. The best diet for rabbits is grass hay and greens with a small amount of fresh vegetables and fruit. Many people are surprised to learn that pellets aren't the best food for pet rabbits. They were developed for industry (i.e., meat and laboratory rabbits) to promote rapid growth and are extremely concentrated - not to mention boring to eat! If you haven't already, pick up a good book on keeping rabbits, preferably one that your daughter can read. With proper diet and care, your rabbit can be a part of your family for many years.

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to Her column runs every other week.