You found a pet rabbit that looks to have been abandoned by its previous owner. You want to help, so you take him home. What next? Rabbits are cute, look very cuddly and should be fed lots of carrots, right? Well…no. But the cute part is right! To better help you navigate your situation, let’s start over and just discuss some basics.

What You Should Know

Domesticated rabbits have very fragile digestive systems, so what they eat matters – a lot. If fed improperly, a rapid health decline can occur. From there, a series of cascading events begin and you will either wind up with a high emergency veterinary bill, or the rabbit could succumb to a condition known as GI Stasis (commonly called “the silent killer“). Treats are a no-no in a rescue situation since the prior diet is not known and the animal is already stressed. Rabbits are herbivores and should not be fed meant-for-humans food, dog or cat food, et cetera.

Proper handling is also critical. Rabbits are prey animals and remain very quiet when injured, sick or fearful. Most do not like held or picked up. A rabbit’s spine is very fragile. In fact, they can break their own spines when they twist, wiggle and try to get free when someone is not trained in proper handling. These animals should never be chased.

Here are some additional must-know things. The links at the bottom of this article will provide more information on these important topics if you wish to investigate further.

  • Avoid picking him up, holding or carrying him. Handle only if it is necessary. Don’t interpret his body language to mean he wants to be picked up. Rabbits are ground animals. They feel safest with all paws on the floor.
  • Keep him away from other animals and protect him from loud and sudden noises. Regardless information that may suggest otherwise, rabbits can literally be startled or scared to death.
  • Put him in a large enclosure, cage or animal crate. If possible, use one that is at least five or six times the size of the animal when it is all stretched out. It should be able to accommodate a litter box, water dish/bottle and course fiber hay. If you only have a smaller cage which is not large enough for a litter box, it can be used short term. Be sure to line the bottom of the cage with newspaper and add hay on top. Because a rabbit’s urine can cause scalding to its feet and skin, this small-cage setup is not safe for more than a few hours or half a day/night.

    Dish tub can be used as litter box. This box has rabbit-safe hard wood shavings with hay added in corner.

  • Rabbits should have constant access to Timothy or natural grass hay (should be 75-85% of rabbit’s daily diet); Also provide rabbit pellets (1/4 cup per 5 pounds of body weight); forego vegetables unless you are sure his system is okay and only if you understand rabbit-safe greens (the link for introducing greens at end of this article will help). Finally, make sure he has unlimited access to a bowl or bottle of fresh water.
  • If you have a large enough cage or enclosure, provide a litter box. An inexpensive plastic dish tub (costs $3 or $4 at Walmart and other stores) can be used for this purpose. Line bottom with a newspaper and place hay on top (a few inches) or use rabbit-safe litter with hay in the corner of the litter box.
  • Unless your home is completely rabbit-proofed and you are rabbit-savvy, do not let him roam free. Rabbits are natural chewers and will destroy many things. They can also seriously burn their mouths from chewing electrical cords which could cause them to stop eating and drinking. After that, a rapid health decline occurs. If they chew the wrong cord, electrocution will be fatal. Also, rabbits tend to chew holes in furniture lining (which likely contains fiberglass), crawl up inside and hide. Sitting down while the rabbit is inside the couch or chair means he could get a broken spine, fractured bones or be crushed.
  • Once the animal is in his enclosure, check Facebook for “Lost Pet Listing” pages for your hometown and neighboring towns. Posting a picture with details of where you found him will ensure that if someone did innocently “lose” the pet, the rightful owner can be found.
  • Call a local rescue shelter facility, rabbit haven, domestic rabbit breeder or rabbit-savvy veterinarian to help locate someone who has experience with this situation.
  • If you plan on keeping him, educate yourself quickly on best care practices for pet rabbit owners. Also, know the local lost pet laws. Most domesticated rabbits that are found have been intentionally abandoned, but you want to be sure. Many areas require an animal owner be given 30 days to reclaim a wanted pet.
  • If you see evidence that the rabbit has been neglected and abused but someone is claiming ownership, report the suspected abuse to your local human society prior to relinquishing the pet back to the alleged abuser. Many humane pet organizations will take action to protect the animal from further harm. You don’t want to return an abused or neglected animal to its perpetrator only to be victimized again.
  • Sadly, some people will use these domesticated animals for meat and/or harsh experiments which are, to say the least, incredibly abusive and cruel. If you try to rehome the animal yourself, be cautious of these individuals because they search the internet looking to get rabbits on the cheap. If you are not experienced in rabbit rehabilitation and rehoming, it is best to immediately relinquish the animal to an organization or shelter that has domesticated rabbit care, rehabilitation and rehoming experience.

More Information

Pet Rabbits: Things You Should Know: CLICK HERE

Feeding Pet Rabbits (Quick Reference Guide): CLICK HERE

Introducing Greens (vegetables) to Rabbits: CLICK HERE

The Importance of Hay: CLICK HERE

Litter Box Training: CLICK HERE

Choosing Litter Boxes and Litter: CLICK HERE

Litter box Maintenance The Easy Way: CLICK HERE

Thank you for caring!

Copyright 2016, Love Your Rabbit, janabrock.com, Author Jana Brock, Bunny Conversations, Happy Rabbit Tips and Rabbit Tails. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. This is not a veterinary site, nor should any information here be construed as veterinarian advice. Photo credits for this website: Jana Brock. Additional photo credits for some website content: volunteers who contribute to Pixabay.com. All readers, without exception, agree to the terms and conditions of this website. Information is shared under the Fair Use Act. “The “Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing United States Entrepreneurship Act of 2007” (FAIR USE Act) was a proposed United States copyright law that would have amended Title 17 of the U.S. Code, including portions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to “promote innovation, to encourage the introduction of new technology, to enhance library preservation efforts, and to protect the fair use rights of consumers, and for other purposes.” CITED: en.wikopedia,org/wiki online 2016.

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