Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Netherland Dwarf Rabbit 411

The following is the basic rabbit care information that I send home with all of my customers. Keep in mind that this is one breeder's opinion and is subject to change as my own knowledge evolves and as I learn better what information is helpful to others. It is not intended to be everything you would need to know and is geared toward pet owners rather than breeders.
If you would like to print it out, please send me an email request and I will send it to you in document format.

Netherland Dwarf Rabbit 411
Your rabbit needs a home that will keep him secure and clean. A cage or hutch works best, and should be made of sturdy wire, wood or hard plastic. The best option would be an all wire cage because it is easiest to keep clean, cannot be chewed, and will last the longest. The sides and top should be of 14 or 16 gauge wire that has openings no bigger than 1” x 2”. The floor should be 14 or 16 gauge, but with holes that are 1” x ½”. This will allow waste to fall through, but support the weight of the rabbit without causing sores or injury.
A secure latch on the door will keep unwanted visitors out, and clever rabbits in where they should be.
The litter tray or drop pan should be below the floor wire, so that the rabbit is not sitting in its own toilet. Untreated Pine shavings and newspaper are acceptable materials to use in the trays, but do not use Cedar shavings or cat litter, as they can cause health problems for your rabbit. Keep in mind that rabbit pellets make excellent fertilizer, but they are better for your garden without added material like shavings.
Many rabbits can be trained to use a litter pan. Some will even train themselves. Other are just not as good at housekeeping.
Unless a rabbit has bonded with another from birth, and been neutered or spayed, they cannot be housed in the same cage. Everybody needs their own hole.
Rabbits need lots and lots of fiber. Unlimited access to Timothy and Grass Hay will provide them with what they need. You can supplement with a good quality pellet food (I recommend Manna Pro, Pen Pals, Oxbow, or Nutrena), but don’t feed them too much. A rounded ¼ c for a 2 pound Dwarf is plenty. You want a pellet that is 16% protein and at least 20% fiber. If the rabbits are housed outside during the winter, you can bump them up to an 18% protein, but only during the winter.
Of course, you can also feed them fresh veggies as well. They are particularly fond of Kale, Collard Greens, Parsley, Cilantro and other herbs. Avoid lettuce (in spite of what you’ve always seen on TV) and celery. Feed spinach and very dark greens sparingly, as they can cause diarrhea. Introduce one veg at a time for a minimum of 48 hours before adding a new one. This will allow you time to see if your rabbit will tolerate each one. I also recommend finding a list online for all of the acceptable vs. toxic plants.
Rabbits also need plenty of fresh water, preferably from an un-softened or chlorinated source.
Bringing home a new rabbit is just like bringing home any other pet. There is going to be a period of adjustment for you and for the animal. You are going to have to train it to what acceptable behavior is and what is not acceptable. This is not a complete primer on training rabbits, but here are a few thoughts:
·     Offer freedom slowly. Immediate run of the whole house is not a good idea. Start in your arms and on your lap. If the rabbit behaves, allow then the surface of the bed or couch, then move to a small open area of floor. Each of these steps should take several days, and progressing to the next level should only happen with good behavior. Misbehaving means moving back to a more restricted level.
·     Offer treats when the rabbit is doing what you want. Don’t just give them randomly in the cage.
·     Undesirable behavior should be disciplined with a sharp, loud noise (like you would make to get a child’s attention), or blowing in their face (putting them at eye level). The discipline must be immediate for them to connect it with the undesirable behavior. Putting them back in their cage is not a punishment to them.
·     Never allow the rabbit to get away with the undesirable behavior. If they are refusing to come out of their cage, don’t just give up and walk away. Make them come out, even if it is only for a moment. You must be the boss, not them.
·     Keep in mind that rabbits are a prey species. If there is some behavior happening that you are concerned about, first consider the environment to see if you can find a logical cause and alter it. Noise, too much traffic in their area, and being held insecurely are the top reasons that I see for nipping. Nipping and biting that breaks the skin or draws blood are two different things. Aggression should never be tolerated.
·     If you have any questions about behavior, please don’t hesitate to call or email.
Rabbits are curious creatures. They love to get out of their cage and explore. Just be sure to bunny proof their environment first! Move all electrical cords and cables, and other things that would hurt them (or make you mad) if they chew on them.
Rabbits, unless they have bonded from birth with another rabbit, do not usually play well with other bunnies. Unnaltered bucks and females will fight, sometimes viciously, and injure each other. So, just like with the cages, remember “everyone needs their own space”.
If you take your rabbit outside, keep them in an enclosure that will protect them from predators, on the ground and in the sky. Remember, they like to dig—especially the does!
Rabbits like toys. Ping pong balls, cardboard tubes and egg cartons, baby key rings, and blocks of untreated wood all make great toys to keep them busy in and out of their cages. Chew toys also help to keep their teeth worn to the proper length.
A clean, dry rabbit is a healthy rabbit. Some staining of the fur on the bottoms of the paws is normal, but other than that, no discharge of any kind should be overlooked. Wet eyes and noses are not normal, and should be treated.
Diarrhea in a rabbit should be addressed immediately. GI Stasis and death can occur very rapidly if stomach troubles are ignored.
A rabbit not eating or not going to the bathroom normally are also warning signs.
A word about vets-Most vets do not receive adequate training in caring for rabbits in school. That is not to say that there can’t be good vets that have trained themselves afterward, but they are rare. Be wary and educate yourself. Your rabbit does not need any vaccinations. It would not likely survive an attack by anything that would transmit the diseases for which the vaccinations are designed; and the vaccinations would also likely kill it. Antibiotics can also be deadly to a rabbit. Do not ever let anyone give your rabbit Amoxicillin. Bactrim and Baytril and several others are safe.
The Merck Veterinary Manual online is an excellent source for other health information you might need.
This is one of the top questions that people ask when they are purchasing a rabbit.
Unless you plan to buy male and female rabbits and house them together, it is not necessary to have them “fixed”. The procedure is expensive and anesthesia is risky. However, it does help mellow the temperament and can reduce the risk of reproductive organ cancers. You need to find a very experienced vet. You will also need to be vigilant about not overfeeding. Neutering makes them prone to obesity.
Locally, the Fox Valley Animal Welfare League in Aurora does 2 rabbit spay days a month, are relatively inexpensive, and have more experience than most. I have not personally used them, but have several clients with good experiences there.
One of the concerns is that an unaltered buck will spray, or mark it’s territory. Even with more than 40 intact rabbits here, I have not found that to be true. I have read that approximately 2% will spray.
The other question that I get is regarding a female rabbit’s “heat” cycle. Does do not have a heat, or menstrual cycle like cats or dogs. They are “forced ovulators”, which means that within 8 hours of breeding, they will ovulate and become pregnant. There is no bleeding to deal with.
Save the money on a vet bill and just make sure to follow the “everybody gets their own hole” rule and you should not have a problem.
Dwarf rabbits tolerate a range of temperatures, but can handle cold better than heat. They really don’t like wind. If you must keep your rabbit outdoors, here are a few things to consider:
·     In the summer, keep them and their cage out of direct sun. A rabbit can get sunburned! Help them through the hot weather by placing frozen water and 2 liter bottles in their cages to keep them cool. Drape their cages with beach towels that you can wet down periodically.
·     Rabbits normally breathe through their noses. They do not sweat and do not pant to cool off like a dog might.
·     In the winter, board up their houses with plywood or surround it with bales of straw and cover it with tarps to keep the wind out and insulate it. Give them wood boxes only slightly larger than their bodies to hide in. The boxes should have an opening just big enough for them to get through and it should be faced away from the windiest side. You can also give them lots of extra straw and hay inside the cage to help keep them warm.
Weird, but normal
There are a couple of things about rabbits that are strange, but perfectly normal:
·     Red Urine-urine that is dark red (or even pink), like the color of rust, is nothing to be concerned about. It is just a rabbit’s natural way of metabolizing some of the minerals in plant material. It will come and go on its own. Blood in the urine, however, is rare, but would look like normal urine with small red streaks in it. That’s a vet visit.
·     Cecotropes, or Cecals-Normal rabbit pellets are regularly shaped, nearly dry balls. Cecotropes are small, wet clusters with a strong odor that you may occasionally see in the litter tray. These are partially digested food that the rabbit normally eats directly from their cecum. Gross, but a necessary part of their digestive process. A few may fall into the tray before they are eaten, and that isn’t a problem. If you start seeing lots of them, stop feeding pellets and fresh veggies for a few days to see if the problem clears up. Pregnant does, or those with litters will have more than other rabbits.
·     Blowing coat-a rabbit will shed its coat once or twice a year. Lots of fur everywhere, and a very raggedy looking bunny is normal. Bald patches, anything that looks flaky or like dandruff, is another story. The most likely cause would be mites.
Your rabbit does not need a bath! They groom themselves regularly, like a cat. So, unless they fall into something yucky, don’t bathe them. Their fur is so dense that it takes them a long time to dry, which can be dangerous for them.
You can brush them with a soft grooming brush, or simply wet your hand and pet them to remove loose hair and smooth their fur.
Your rabbit will need its nails clipped occasionally. You can use normal fingernail clippers, or you can purchase dog/cat clippers. There is a vein in each toenail, just like in other animals, so just take a small bit off each time and don’t clip past the hairline. I recommend keeping a small bowl of cornstarch handy when you clip them, just in case you nick the vein. You can hold the paw in the cornstarch to help the blood clot quickly. It works the same way that Styptic powder does, but is much cheaper.
Here are a couple of tips for handling your rabbit to minimize scratches:
·     When you take your rabbit out of its cage, bring it forward face first. When you put it back, lower it hind feet first. If the rabbit cannot see the floor of the cage, it will not scramble to get there.
·     You can pick you rabbit up quickly and safely by grasping it toward the back of the body just inside the hips. Even if your fingers touch, there aren’t any vital organs in that part of their body that you can damage. This is a useful way to pick your rabbit up in an emergency or if they are being naughty.
·     When you need to groom or examine your rabbit by laying it on its back, the best way to do this is to grasp the base of the ears firmly in the curve of your thumb and index finger and hold their head still. If you control their ears, you control the rest of them. This is also helpful when carrying them up or down stairs (which they don’t seem to like).
·     Covering their head with your hand or a towel is a quick way to subdue them, if necessary.
·     You can also tuck your rabbit, feet up, in the crook of your arm and hold their head and ears still with your elbow. This works well for clipping nails.
This is not everything that you need to know about your rabbit, but it’s a start. Here are some other helpful resources:

My contact information:
Leaning Tree Acres
Stacy Christian
Newark, IL 60541

Please do not ever hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Silver Marten

On April 17th, Bluet, a blue otter, gave us a litter of four babies. Since Bucky, a black otter, was the sire, I expected all black otters. To look at his pedigree, you would not think he carried anything but otter in his genes.

I should know better by now.

Here they are at three weeks old--one black otter and three black silver martens. I am excited to be adding the silver marten color variety to our stock, and even more excited to learn that Bucky carries both the self gene (a--we learned this in the last litter from him) and the dark chin gene (cchd).

For those that are thoroughly confused by now, the black silver marten looks very much like the black otter. However, where the otter has tan markings around the eyes, nose, ears, jaw, chest, belly and back of the neck, the silver marten has silvery white.

Here is a comparison:
The rabbit sniffing noses with Caper* is otter. See the tan on his neck? The one below has no tan.
There are two does and a buck in this litter, so we will likely be keeping all of them. It was not my intention to start the Silver Marten variety yet, but since it has fallen into my lap, there is no reason to avoid it.

The Silver Marten is judged in the same group as the Otter and comes in the same colors: black, chocolate, blue, lilac. Unless the other colors miraculously appear, I only plan to raise Black.

I will try to remember to post an updated photo as they grow.

*How funny it was to see Caper intimidated by that little piece of fluff! He's such a chicken.