JUVENILE (one to 12 months of age)
The First Year: a timeline
You may not have met your new rabbit in its first four weeks, but here are some interesting and adorable facts:
- Baby rabbits are called kittens
- Kittens are born with their ears and eyes closed, and are scantily furred. They are totally dependent on their mother in their first three weeks of life
- Around day seven, fur begins to grow. Eyes begin to open at day ten and ears begin to open at day 12
- Does (mother rabbits) only nurse their young once or twice a day for approximately five minutes
- At around three weeks old, kittens start to produce and eat their caecotrophs (special night poos)
- Between three and five weeks of age rabbits start nibbling at solid food and are ready to leave the nest.
Between six and eight weeks of age the kittens become totally independent of their mother.
Most baby rabbits come home with their owners between eight and 12 weeks, and it’s an exciting time as you form a special human-rabbit bond and learn about each other’s species-specific habits.
Now is the time for protection against Calicivirus. Vaccination is essential to protect pet rabbits against the highly fatal Calicivirus which causes a haemorrhagic viral disease. Calicivirus is prevalent in the Australian wild rabbit population and is an approved population control strategy.
Puberty is around the 12 weeks mark and it is recommended to separate boys and girls at the age of ten weeks.
Four to Six Months
The Calicivirus 1 month booster is now due.
Between four and six month of age you may notice behavioural changes as your rabbit matures sexually. Neutering is highly recommended for both boys and girls.
Boy bunnies can have their castration procedure around the age of four months, and girl bunnies can have their spey procedure around the age of six months.
Microchipping allows permanent identification of your pet rabbit with your contact details. This is a good idea as rabbits are great at digging and escaping. It is important to keep your contact and address details updated with the registry.
Six to Twelve Months Old
The miniature and standard breeds reach their mature weight by 10 months of age while giant breeds normally reach their mature weight by 12-14 months of age.
Diet for juveniles
Rabbits are herbivores and hindgut fermenters. A good diet for these herbivores consists of 80% hay and 20% fresh green vegies. Juveniles may be fed a lucerne or alfalfa hay which is higher in protein and calcium acceptable for growth. They may also be offered ‘growth’ pellets.
Rabbits and guinea pigs teeth are open-rooted which means that they are constantly growing at an astonishing rate of 3-4mm per week. Inadequate wear of the teeth can lead to malocclusion, spurs, mouth ulcers and anorexia. A diet high in fibre is essential to help prevent dental disease. Three to six monthly dental check-ups are a minimum depending on the state of your pet’s teeth.
Getting a companion for your pet rabbit
It is best to wait month post neutering to allow hormones to settle.
Consider adopting a stray from a shelter.
YOUNG ADULT (one to two years old)
These are the terribly fun years of having a lapine teenager in the household.
It’s time to transition your rabbits onto an adult maintenance diet of oaten or grass hay and fresh green vegies and adult rabbit pellets. Adult rabbits should have pellets limited to ¼ cup or less per 2kg of body weight per day. Feeding excessive pellets can lead to overeating, obesity and chronic diarrhoea. Pellets also cause a rabbit to chew in a vertical motion rather than the grinding lateral motion that is more natural and maintains good wear of the teeth. Rabbits can live well without pellets and tend to be lean with few dental and gastrointestinal problems, and for these reasons we promote a good diet consisting of 80% hay and 20% fresh green veggies.
Each rabbit has a distinct personality and as you spend more time with them you will discover their individual traits. Play with them and give them a variety of toys, play equipment and branches to amuse themselves. Rabbits are quite smart and can be trained to do tricks using treats. Keep training sessions brief and always use positive re-enforcement and repetition for success. Remember, rabbits require at least four hours of free exercise in the house or in the garden for mental stimulation and good health.
Annual boosters for Calicivirus are required to maintain protection against the viral haemorrhagic disease.
Six monthly veterinary checkups are important to pick up early signs of illness in your pet rabbits. These little critters are experts at hiding signs of pain or sickness and catching disease early will make all the difference. Your veterinarian will do a full clinical examination from nose to tail.
Continue annual boosters for Calicivirus to maintain protection against this deadly virus.
As rabbits age and slow down it becomes more important to ensure you are not overfeeding them, as obesity can put strain on their hearts and joints. Encouraging your bunny to forage for their treat foods will help them exercise their treats away.
Six monthly veterinary checkups become even more important to pick up signs of illness in your beloved pet rabbits. A full clinical examination from nose to mouth to tail should be performed.
GERIATRIC (Older than six years old)
Well maintained pet rabbits can live to a grand age of eight to 12 years. As we increase our understanding of how to better cater for our rabbits needs we find they are living longer and thus susceptible to developing geriatric conditions like arthritis, urinary and faecal incontinence, nasty lumps and cancers.
Making adjustments to your pet’s environment allow for great comfort. As they slow down, warm housing, padded surfaces and easy access with ramps instead of steps facilitate mobility. Make sure they are maintaining weight and commence treatment for arthritis as advised by your vet.
Annual boosters for Calicivirus are still required to maintain protection against the viral haemorrhagic disease.
Three monthly veterinary checkups are important to pick up early signs of illness in your pet rabbits and guinea pigs. As one human year is equal to eight rabbit years this is equivalent to humans visiting the doctor every two years.
Annual geriatric blood screens allow changes to kidney and liver function, red blood cell percentage, and hydration status to be picked up and addressed appropriately.
When the time comes to say farewell
We will endeavour to provide supportive care and palliative care for your elderly rabbit. Our priority is our patient’s quality of life and we will work with you to keep your rabbit as comfortable as possible to enjoy their twilight years. In the veterinary world, we are lucky to be able to administer euthanasia; a last parting gift of peace to our beloved pets and patients. We understand the difficulties making this decision, and will try to assist as you make an informed decision.