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Rabbits: A Guide for Pet Retailers

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Rabbits: A Guide for Pet Retailers

Bunnies should have fresh hay available to them at all times.

Photo by Alissa Wolf
Rabbits: A Guide for Pet Retailers

These sisal rope toys from Doctors Foster and Smith are a good choice for bunnies, because they love to chew, and play.

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Rabbits are popular pets, for a number of reasons: They’re intelligent, affectionate, playful, and beyond cute.

I should know. I had a brown and white Dutch rabbit named Duke, for 10 years. (Duke was a lady bunny, by the way.) So I can attest that these make lovely pets.

They also require very specific care.

Here are some guidelines for those in the pet industry who wish to explore the possibility of dealing with rabbits, and/or bunny products and supplies.

Rabbits for Sale: Yes or No?

Those considering the actual selling of bunnies should think long and hard about this, as this is a very controversial practice.

In fact, the town council of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, went as far as to ban sales of pet rabbits in pet stores outright in February 2010.

Meanwhile, PetSmart and Petco have stopped selling bunnies in recent years. Petco has opted instead to partner with animal shelters and other pet rescue groups to host in-store bunny adoptions.

As there are already too many abandoned and unwanted pets in the world, I strongly encourage pet shops who wish to deal in bunnies to partner with rescue organizations. 

The House Rabbit Society, a highly respected animal welfare organization based in California, provides excellent resource materials on the benefits of this and how to go about it.

Rabbit Care General Tips:

The first question your customers will ask is: “What do bunnies eat?” These pets are strict vegetarians who require diets high in fiber.
Here are some foods rabbits need:

  • High-quality hay, such as timothy
  • Vegetables
  • Premium rabbit pellets
  • Treats, such as fresh fruits (in moderation; too much can cause diarrhea)
  • Fresh water at all times


The House Rabbit Society provides a list of the best veggies for bunnies.

Why Hay?

For rabbits, hay is the equivalent to whole-grain cereals for people. It’s an excellent source of fiber. The chewing factor is also good for a bunny’s teeth, and may keep them from gnawing down the house. (More about this in a moment.) Hay should be available to rabbits at all times.

A Note About Pellets

These must be fresh (pellets have a relatively short shelf life), of the highest quality and high in fiber, in the 18 percent range or so. Moreover, these should not comprise the main part of a rabbit’s diet. Pellets tend to be high in calories, so they can make bunnies fat.

What Food to Avoid for Bunnies

Rabbits should not be fed beans or rhubarb, because these can cause gas and are too high in sugar. Meanwhile, here is a comprehensive list of plants to avoid feeding rabbits. Iceberg lettuce is another food that’s not advisable, because this has no nutritional value and can cause diarrhea.

Bunnies should also never be fed such people foods as chocolate, cereals and cookies. Rabbits have a high susceptibility to certain types of cancer, and these foods may increase the likelihood of this.

My family learned this the hard way with Duke; my mom regularly fed her sugary kids’s cereal and vanilla butter cookies as treats. Duke ultimately succumbed to stomach cancer. She was 10 when she died.

Considering that rabbits have an average life span of up to 12 years, she lived to a respectable old age. But she may have lived longer with a healthier diet. So it’s important to impart the importance of a proper diet to your rabbit parent clients.

Products and Supplies to Carry

Although bunnies are pretty fastidious self-groomers, they do require periodic brushing, nail trimming and professional grooming services.

As for housing, I do not recommend that rabbits be kept in hutches outdoors. There are too many potential dangers posed by the elements, predators and other hazards. Experts do recommend that bunnies can be kept in pens or appropriate cages, as long as the bottoms aren’t made of wire, as wire can harm a bunny’s bottom and paws.

A well-behaved, litter trained rabbit can have the run of the house. Duke did. But advise your customers to bunny-proof their homes if they decide to allow their pets to roam free in this manner.

About Bunny Litter

Rabbits can be litter trained, another reason why they make great pets. (We used shredded newspaper with Duke.) Avoid clumping or clay litters, because these can pose health risks to rabbits. Also avoid wheat-based litters.

Bunnies may be tempted to eat this, and it will make them fat. Furthermore, avoid softwood-based litters that contain pine or cedar, which may be linked to liver damage. Yesterday’s News and Critter Country are good choices.

The importance of Chew Toys 

Rabbits are gnawers by nature. They instinctively chew on anything that strikes their fancy to pare down their incisors (front teeth), which constantly grow.

If they have nothing appropriate to chew on, all bets are off. Duke chewed a hole in the garage wall of our house the size of a bowling ball!

Rabbits also love to chew on wires and cables, which can be extremely dangerous. That’s another reason why chew toys are very important. One example of the kinds of toys you might offer are made of sisal (pictured under 'More Images' above) from Doctors Foster and Smith, which also contain rattles for a bunny’s amusement.

Some Parting Bunny Advice

Rabbits love to play, and should be provided with plenty of toys and stimulating activities.
Rabbits should be neutered or spayed at the appropriate age, between four to six months, depending on the breed and size.

 

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