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January 15, 2011

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Rear rabbits the right way

Since we're about to enter the Year of the Rabbit, it comes as little surprise that the bonny bunnie has become a popular pet. Zhang Qian provides some hare-raising advice.

The Year of the Rabbit is approaching, it could prove very prosperous for those lucky enough to have been born under the sign of the rabbit, which is considered the luckiest of all in the Chinese zodiac.

With its soft hair, long ears and short tail, the tiny ball-like mammal always attracts adoration from girls. And with the rabbit year around the corner, it is now becoming the latest star of the pet market.

Though dogs and cats are still the most popular animals in pet shops, rabbits have been increasing in popularity since Christmas. Apart from the traditional species (white rabbit), overseas breeds such as Holland Lop, Standard Chinchilla, Polish, Angora, Lionhead and Dutch are also available in many pet shops in Shanghai.

However, keeping a rabbit isn't an easy job. Many people have had unsuccessful raising experiences.

Jessie Wang received a white rabbit as a birthday present last month, yet the pet died after only three days. She wasn't sure about the exact cause, but she believes it could be that she fed it too much. "It was so cute when nibbling on vegetables, I couldn't resist giving it more," says Wang.

Being overfed is not a rare cause of death in rabbit-raising cases, according to Water Chen, chief of Petzoo Mega Pet Store. As rabbits do not store food, they will always eat as much as is given to them and possibly stuff themselves to death.

Apart from being overfed, diarrhea is the most common cause of death among pet rabbits, as they have such vulnerable digestive systems.

"Almost everybody believes that rabbits eat carrots and vegetables, and prefer to feed them with fresh ones," says Chen. "But that may possibly kill them."

Though rabbits do eat carrots and vegetables, their food should be completely dry and free of water. Otherwise, the rabbit will suffer diarrhea immediately and possibly die as a result.

Considering the possible pesticide residue on vegetables, Chen suggests not feeding rabbits with fresh vegetables. Specially processed rabbit foods may be a much safer choice. It usually contains dried vegetable elements and vitamin additives that rabbits need.

Chen also warns rabbit owners not to feed them more than 50g of rabbit food a day. Adding a small handful of dried grass every day can help provide enough fiber to stimulate the rabbit's bowel movements.

However, forbidding rabbits from eating vegetables with water on doesn't mean that rabbits don't need water at all. Like any other creature, water is essential for a rabbit's metabolism, though it may need less than other animals.

But remember to provide it with clean water - mineral water or at least boiled water. Adding some liquid vitamin C and anti-diarrheal medicine is often helpful. Chen also recommends a rabbit water feeder with a funnel that allows rabbits to sip from without damping their fur because diarrhea can be caused when rabbits catch a chill due to damp fur.

Most pet rabbits are vulnerable to a chilly environment. It is advised to keep the room temperature at 21-26 degrees Celsius. A pen or cage that is four times the size of the rabbit and three times its height is ideal. Placing a layer of sawdust on the bottom can help absorb urine and stools as well as prevent rabbit hair spreading.

Usually, there is no need to bathe rabbits as they will clean themselves like cats. If necessary, dry washing powder is recommended rather than washing with water. Water bathing a rabbit less than seven months old will kill it. As for older rabbits, it is strongly advised to dry their hair immediately after bathing and do not wash them more than once every two months.

"Make sure that the hair is 100 percent dry, which means that when you blow a hair dryer on it, every hair should fly and you can see the skin through it," says Chen.

Never lift a rabbit by the ears, even though they may seem easy to grab. Ears are important for rabbits to eliminate heat. There are a lot of nerves in the ears and grabbing them may cause severe damage to the nerves.

When holding a rabbit, it is better to support it from underneath, so that it will feel as comfortable as it is on the ground. Otherwise, the unsafe feeling may cause the rabbit to bite.


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