Assessing a Pet Rabbit Prospect

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen assessing the qualities of rabbits as pets always look to the individual but consider the breed. Research and if size is a factor go with a purebred breeder for a predictable size based on breed.

Generally speaking there are some breeds that can be active (English Spots) while others are somewhat quieter (Giant Chinchillas). There are sizes from 2-3 pounds to upwards of 16 pounds. Have an appropriate sized cage, feeding and watering equipment, carrier and other equipment needed to care for your pet.

Generally speaking when looking for a pet rabbit you aren’t interested necessarily in showing or breeding. If you are then you will need a little better quality rabbit than one that is “just” a pet, which can be imperfect.

Examples of the “imperfect” rabbits that can be great pets include solid colored English Spots, mismarked Dutch or Tans, Rex that aren’t quite the minimum weight, any breed with a toenail that broke that is discolored, stray white hairs or a spot on the body or a missing nose spot on a broken. In rabbit terms broken doesn’t refer to something wrong with the rabbit but rather to the “pinto spotted” color. A broken rabbit that is “heavy” (more colored than white) or “lightly” (more white, not enough color) can also be a great pet.

This leaves the selection factor wide open. When looking for a pet rabbit, however, look deeper. Check the teeth to make sure they meet evenly without overlapping either way. This saves you from many less than pleasant dental issues later on. Check ears to make sure they are clean and eyes and nose should be clear of drainage. Start out with a healthy pet! Ask to have your pet tattooed. Many breeders will do this for nothing. You might put “PET” in the right ear (preventing registration which isn’t possible for rabbits that don’t meet the standard anyway) and letters or numbers in the left one. This is quick, relatively painless and is a permanent way to identify your rabbit. If you put 5 rabbits on a table it’s easy to lose track of which one is which but if one has tattoo markings you know beyond a doubt which is yours.

Look for a friendly temperament and one that is suited to your temperament. If you want a lap bunny get one that is naturally quiet rather than trying to make a squirmy one fit. That squirmy one might be ideal for the person who wants a more active rabbit! Many “almost show quality” rabbits have already been handled in preparation for showing and can be a reasonable cost to purchase.

Once you have selected a healthy rabbit, it’s tattooed and ready to come home you should have the home ready. Give the rabbit a few days just hanging out in the cage to relax and get used to all the changes.

Assessing the qualities of rabbits as pets isn’t difficult if you know what you want and stick to that description. You will be much happier and so will your new rabbit!


How to Make an Outdoor Run for Your Rabbit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn outdoor run for rabbits can be a chance to give them superior ventilation and time outside as well as a chance to graze on fresh roughage. Some precautions need to be taken for the safety as well as security of your rabbit.

The materials needed for your run as well as the size of it depend on the size of your rabbit. For large breeds such as the Giant Chinichilla, Checkered Giant or even the New Zealand or Rex chain link, 2X4 inch “dog wire” as well as smaller mesh are all acceptable. A wire floor is needed as rabbits often will dig and can dig out to dangerous freedom. For smaller breeds such as dwarf rabbits, Mini Rex, Dutch and other smaller breeds they can and eventually will get out of many types of fencing with the larger squares.

Poultry netting works well for these if secured with a solid frame. Make it strong not so much for the rabbit but to protect the rabbit should a dog come by when your back is turned. A top is also needed on the run to make sure nothing goes over as well as provide shade rabbits are prone to overheat and being in the sun can be fatal for them.

Housing full time on the ground is often not the best thing for rabbits especially on wet ground. Illness and disease increases and can take away the benefits of being able to be outside when weather permits and in a comfortable cage or hutch when it is less hospitable.

The run can vary from a five foot triangular shaped run to a rectangular wire run and on up to a walk in 6’X6′ outdoor cage suitable for larger rabbits. Remember that any wooden edges not protected with wire become fair game for rabbits. Regularly giving your rabbit fruit tree or berry bush trimmings provide something better than his run to do it on!

If you opt for an all wire outdoor pen at least have a small dog house or even crate where your rabbit can get out of the weather if he needs to. Also insure there is a water source in warmer weather especially. While nibbling the grass give some water the affects of heat or sun can’t be stressed enough. Above 85 degrees is difficult on rabbits and as it approaches 90 degrees bucks can temporarily go sterile. Heat stress can follow at just a few degrees warmer. If you catch it early enough sometimes cool (not icy!) water can help, wetting the ears helps as does having a frozen bottle of water to lay against. Many rabbits are lost every year from heat stroke don’t take a chance leaving your rabbit in the sun.

Insure that it’s tight enough to keep your rabbit in…if you think he can’t get out, don’t be surprised when he does!

Also make sure that the grass it is on has not been sprayed with anything toxic or dusted with pesticides – either can kill your rabbit in short order. An outdoor run is bunny heaven but make sure it’s safe.

Choosing a Rabbit

NZRed2Choosing a rabbit depends largely on the answers to a few questions that vary with each owner. How much room do you have? What do you want the rabbit for? Do you like long floppy ears? How much time do you have to devote to grooming?

Rabbits vary from 2 pounds to 20. There’s short haired and wooled breeds and Rex and Satins. The less room you have the smaller the breed you have to choose from. If you don’t have time to spend on grooming don’t even look at the wooled breeds, which take daily attention to grooming to maintain their coat.

What do you want a rabbit for? If you want to raise meat rabbits it eliminates most under 7 pounds or so as smaller breeds are too inefficient to be practical for raising fryers. If you are looking for a 4-H or youth project how big is the child? Asking a small child to properly handle a checkered giant or even a satin can result in injury to both child and rabbit. On the other hand a larger child may be more comfortable with the larger breeds than a tiny one. Temperament matters too. Are you opposed to selling rabbits for meat or prekilled snake or dog food? If so avoid any of the marked breeds, which typically have a high cull rate to get the proper markings for show. Do you prefer an active rabbit or a quieter more mellow one?

Research your choices and talk to breeders about the different breeds. With purebreds you have a predictable size. To some degree the ear size can indicate rabbit size. The further the ears go back on the topline generally indicates a large rabbit, while small rabbits will have tiny ears.

Generally those interested in large breeds might like Flemish Giants, Giant Chinchilla, American Chinchilla, Beveren or Checkered Giants. The latter tend to be a challenge to handle and can be somewhat temperamental.

himiNDremoteOn the other end of the range the smaller rabbits such as the Netherland Dwarf, Polish, Britannia Petite or dwarf Hotot can be good for those with limited room.

Small to medium active breeds include tans and English Spots, both being marked breeds can be found normally inexpensively due to the number of mismarked animals that are born. Dutch are also a marked breed and from a pet standpoint can be very gentle to handle.

The larger meat breeds include Californians, New Zealands, American Sables and Rex. Rex have a distinctive coat that can be used for pelts as well as the meat, while Satins are also a dual purpose breed but with a distinct sheen to the coat.

Whatever breed you choose look that the teeth meet evenly. Check for overall health including clear, bright eyes and clean ears. Whether for pet, show or breeding health is important. If looking for a pet rabbit look for temperament closely behind health as a qualifying factor. The show animals should be looked over to make sure there are no disqualifying points.

Joining the American Rabbit Breeders Association is a good idea for all owners. There is a great deal of information available when you join including a care and selection guide and a magazine that even pet owners can benefit from.

Fiber in a Rabbit’s Diet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe presence of fiber is needed in a rabbit’s diet but how that fiber is delivered is a means of disagreement among rabbit owners. Many sources both online and off indicate that rabbits must have hay and many others push an all vegetable diet while others feed just pellets.

One breeder reports feeding hay just once or twice per week, with pellets the mainstay of the diet and had several rabbits 7-10 years old. All had been healthy their entire lives with no history of medical problems in the rabbitry.

The pellets offer balance the diet with minerals and vitamins much better than what we can do. Humans in most cases do not have a balanced diet in this manner either. For rabbits the commercially prepared pellet offers a good way to provide fiber within the pellet.

Many pet sites stress no alfalfa and timothy pellets are better, but many on such a diet find increased health problems. The fact is alfalfa and fiber increases intestinal health and there is less issues from enteritis, which is caused from an overload of carbohydrates.

Small amounts of hay are advantageous to those that provide it but feeding a good quality pellet is a means of offering sufficient fiber. According to some research sites rabbits are poor digesters of fiber and it passes through the digestive system fairly quickly.

Fiber sources can be digestible or indigestible. The structure of fiber consists of cellulose, hemi cellulose, pectin and sugars but the rabbit cannot digest these without the proper enzymes. There are also starches and sugars that must be balanced with the fiber for maximum health of the rabbit.

Rabbits with insufficient fiber can chew on the fur, resulting in stripped patches of hair. However, hay alone does not supply everything the modern rabbit needs.

The amount of fiber needed sometimes cannot be consumed without using a good pellet. The rabbit can eat eagerly but never get enough to maintain condition. They are bony and can appear potbellied. As fiber increases in many cases the digestibility decreases, meaning the rabbits have to eat more. Low quality feeds make it impossible for the rabbit to eat enough to maintain body functions. For this reason alfalfa is better not only from a nutrition standpoint but also in helping to keep calcium-phosphorus ratios in line.

High fiber, corn free pellets can be purchased in a new feed from Purina, with several decades of research into feeds for the health of domestic rabbits. This is a regional product which has an increase in fiber over other pellets.

An ounce of good, complete pellet per pound of body weight provides the nutrition that the rabbit needs. A small amount of hay a couple times a week gives the rabbit something to do as well as some lower quality fiber, depending on the hay.

Fiber is needed in the rabbit’s diet, but make sure it’s the right kind of fiber.

Fly Strike in Rabbits

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce you have dealt with fly strike you will never forget it. Hot, damp conditions can lead to fly strike and contrary to what is sometimes stated it by itself is not a condition of neglect.

A purebred Rex doe in the rabbitry came down with fly strike – she was in a clean all wire cage, had a clean board to rest on when she wanted. I noticed a “death odor” around her and in checking under her tail, in the folds of the skin of the leg were live maggots. She apparently would rest against her water bottle, allowing the water to drip on her rump and down her hindquarters. This combined with warmer weather proved an ideal breeding ground for flies. The nature of the Rex fur traps the moisture next to the skin and in a very short time fly strike raised its head. I called two veterinarians, neither of which wanted to deal with it. The first didn’t have rabbit experience and the other recommended treating at home as they’d do the same things I could do.

Treatment involved gently holding the affected area under running water and flushing all the live maggots out. Unpleasant – absolutely! I’ve dealt with many conditions over the years but this was one I don’t care to ever repeat. They literally feed on the live animal’s flesh, and you need to get every one off the animal as deep into the wound as you can get without “digging.” Removing the maggots is essential…a bad enough it can kill the animal. Once you get all of them flushed out that you can see, take some petroleum jelly and liberally apply to the area. This smothers any that you didn’t get down in there.

Once the animal is relieved of live ones it is critical to keep her inside, dry and let her heal. If caught early it *will* heal up. It’s ugly, nasty and will scar but it will heal. It happens. Taking the animal to the vet results in a bill for doing what I just said…and as mentioned I called the vet and was refused treatment – many do not know rabbits and in many rural areas they’re considered disposable. Instead it meant treating her at home because “that’s all we’d do if you brought her in.”

Some animals seem more prone to flystrike than others. Prevention once the animal is healed involves stepping up fly control. Keep areas under cages DRY. If you have stack cages to to a feed and tack store and get Stall Dry, PDZ or other products used in horse stalls – simply sprinkle a little in there when you clean the cage. A bag will last you quite a long time and is a cheap investment. Never use lime where animals can come in contact. If you have hanging cages and clean the bedding underneath lime is fine – but if in the cage it can cause burns as it can be very caustic.

With a larger rabbitry at the time dry was critical. The manure for composting was good, as long as the bedding and all was dry. This meant turning it as often as possible – in the summer time that was light bedding and twice per day turning. This dried out leaving no moisture for flies to lay eggs in. Along with that use vanilla in the drinking water – which does help cut the flies. Some use fly sprays but I elected not to for the respiratory systems of the rabbits. Heavy use of fly bait, sticky traps, chickens under the cages to scratch the material around and eat bugs (as long as the chickens stay on the ground and don’t roost on top the cages, creating a mess!). Adopt the policy of zero tolerance for flies – if it flies it dies.

While this might be harsh, it’s a whole lot better than trying to hold a nine pound rex doe upside down and backwards (avoiding claws and kicks and keeping her calm so I could see what I was doing) in the kitchen sink. Perhaps the only creature that dislikes a bath more is a cat. Prevention is MUCH better than curing flystrike.

Keeping the area dry and fly free is effective against allowing flies to take hold. If there’s flies, animals and damp conditions then it can be a ticking time bomb until one of the animals is hit. IF it’s caught early they can recover, but if the injuries are too severe the animal can die or should be put down to prevent suffering.

Check animals twice a day – if there is *any* funny odor, if it looks like dandruff on the rabbit’s coat it might be fly eggs. Watching for this it is possible, once you know what they look like, to get that “dandruff” off before the fly eggs hatch. This is not just flakes of skin – it’s a tiny almost dust.

Much better is prevention. Dry, keep fans on rabbits when it gets much over 80 not only for flystrike but heat. A no fly zone is – in this case – a good thing!

How to Get a Grand Champion Certificate

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Grand Champion certificate represents a great deal of hard work. It also represents in many cases many sleepless nights, driving to shows, dealing with cold and hot weather and much heartbreak along the way to get a rabbit that has GC and as such, it is an accomplishment no matter what breed it is.

Some breeds are difficult to get finished due to the lack of required numbers in many shows. The winning of a “leg” at the national level therefore is all the more precious.

As with any show rabbit it takes carefully breeding top quality animals and conditioning those animals to be the best that they can be. These animals must be not only physically correct, including markings on some breeds, but they must be healthy. Do not take a sick animal to the shows. Not only will it be disqualified but you will not make any friends with other exhibitors who now have had their rabbits possibly exposed to your sick one. As you get good rabbits produced at home this will be important to you too, to have produced good animals and see someone recklessly bring a sick one in the midst.

You do not need to be an ARBA member to go to a show, but in order to qualify for awards you do need to be a member. The exception is the national level you must be an ARBA member in order to show at the ARBA Convention.

Your rabbit must meet the standard of perfection for the breed. At each show there must be at least 5 rabbits in each breed or variety with three different breeders. This is where the rare breeds and varieties can face some difficulty, because there often are not three breeders. However, for an outstanding rabbit there is still a way.

For example, if there are 3 blue Rex and all from one exhibitor (you) then your Best of Variety is just that there is no leg. However, if there’s 10 exhibitors of *Rex* and 30 head, and your blue Rex wins Best of Breed, then you get a leg for that because the rabbit was named over the required number of rabbits, even though the variety didn’t have enough.

Additionally, at least one of the legs must be earned as a senior this insures that your rabbit competes as a senior and makes the senior weight. You cannot win two legs from the same judge on the same day.

Normally you get a slip of paper in the mail that is your leg and hang onto this in a safe place! You need three qualified legs in order to get your Grand Champion certificate, which involves mailing the legs along with the current fee to ARBA. Always make a photocopy of the legs before you mail it! They will not be returned and if they are lost in the mail it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get them back.

If you have a rare breed it is not impossible to get legs, but can be more challenging. Remember that each rabbit and each breed is judged not against each other but on how close that rabbit is to the standard of perfection. If in the judge’s opinion the rare breed is the closest to perfect for the breed then they get Best in Show and, with it, a leg.

Also you must be sure that you own the rabbit. This can be sticky if you purchased a registered rabbit as you must transfer that first or the GC certificate will be mailed to and given to the owner on record.

A grand champion certificate is not easy to get but it is an achievement when you get one! Treasure your rabbits whether champions or not, but those champion ones make the down times much more bearable.

Breed Profile – Blanc de Hotot

The Blanc de Hotot is also called the standard Hotot and sometimes just “Hotot.” A French breed dating back 100 years the Hotot has a long history, although not necessarily in the USA.

This is one of the few historical rabbits developed by a woman, with breeding rabbits in the early 1900s France a man’s interest. She used Flemish Giants and Checkered Giants initially with some white Vienna. This didn’t provide the look of a white rabbit with dark eye circles that would excel at meat and fur production as well as be an outstanding show rabbit so she returned to using just Checkered Giants.

This was a breed that did not have a name until World War I when Madam Eugenie Bernhardt brought her rabbits to the Exposition Internationale d’Aviculture in 1920. Two years later her standard for the breed was recognized, which had black eye lashes.

During World War II the breed nearly disappeared but Berne Switzerland took up the breeding of the Hotot. The Swiss breeders liked the eye band that Ms. Bernhard tried to eliminate and it is through the preservation of these animals that the Hotot appears as he does today.

This is a breed that is very difficult to find and was not introduced to the USA until 1978. The Hotot is a meaty bodied, well muscled breed with few, but particular, markings required to show. By the standard of perfection the Hotot is 8-10 pounds for bucks and 9-11 pounds for does, with the ideal being 9 and 10 pounds respectively.

From a show standpoint this is a six class breed with age division classes of junior, intermediate and senior bucks and does. The distinctive eye bands of the Hotot are a qualification with a deep black color required around each eye. This is the only marking on the rabbit allowed and it should be between 1/16 and 1/8 inch all the way around the eye.

Because of this specific marking requirement the ideal Hotot is hard to achieve because along with that marking they must also have body conformation, flesh conditioning and fur. As a larger breed they can provide an acceptably sized fryer rabbit that finishes rather quickly if the right markings are not present or they also can be pets for those with larger area available to accommodate the larger breeds.

For a multi purpose rabbit that presents a challenge the Hotot is a good possibility if you can find them. Today there are scattered pockets of breeders but it is definitely a case of demand is more than the supply. The Hotot Rabbit Breeders International and American Rabbit Breeders Association are both good sources of information about this distinctive and beautiful breed.

  • The hotot is listed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as endangered.