Buying any pet is an important process and you really need to take care when choosing a pet. It should never be an impulse buy and you should always have all the necessary housing and equipment set up at home. It is important to choose a healthy animal as you do not want to be faced with vet bills within the first week. It is also important not to choose an animal because you feel sorry for it for reasons such as the animal being ill or being the runt of the pack. This may lead to heartbreak, possible behavioural problems and increased vet bills.
Never be afraid to ask questions and always make sure you understand the answers. Research is really important, backyard breeders and some pet shops will not know a lot about the animal they are selling you. So make it a point to know your animal before you buy it. Some of the steps below will help you in the process of choosing the right rabbit.
1. Check your surroundings, is the place clean? The cage where the rabbit is kept should not be excessively dirty. Droppings are understandable but it needs to look like it has been cleaned regularly. Droppings should also be hard dry circular balls (rather like the cereal coco pops), if the droppings are soft then the health of the rabbits in the cage may not be very good.
2. How old are the animals? Rabbits are reliant on their mother for the first few weeks of their lives so they should not be separated from their mother until they are weaned. A rabbit should stay with the mother till it is at least 10 weeks old. If the place you are considering buying from has rabbits younger than this then you really should not buy them and inform them that their pets are too young.
3. Is the rabbit active? Whilst you do not expect older rabbits to jumping around, if its young rabbits you should expect some movement and curiosity. A rabbit lying down and looking disinterested in its surroundings could have an underlying problem. It is normal for rabbits to be a bit shy or nervous as they are prey animals but if they have been handled properly they should not be afraid or scared. Bear in mind that rabbits are more active at certain times of the day. It is a good idea to check if the rabbit you are interested in has any problems with movement.
4. Are the rabbits sneezing a lot or scratching a lot? Rabbits do not often get infected by fleas but it can still happen and sneezing may be a sign of nose problems or an illness like snuffles. You should always handle the animal you are interested in; this enables you to check its health and to see its personality. A well socialised rabbit should not bite aggressively. If the breeder or pet shop does not let you do that then you should find somewhere more reputable. When handling the rabbit you should always check the following:
- Are the eyes, nose, ears and mouth clean? Eyes should be bright and alert, they should not be watering or have gunk in the corners. Nose should be mostly dry and pink. It should not be dirty. Ears should also be clean with no signs of parasites or injuries. You should check the teeth. Some breeds are more susceptible to teeth conditions where teeth may not meet perfectly (malocclusion) and this can vary in severity but in worst cases it can cause problems for the rabbit to eat. A reputable breeder will inform you of any teeth issues but best to have a look yourself.
- Is the fur clean and shiny? Rabbits groom a lot, in fact they groom as much as cats do and in a healthy rabbit the coat should look good and feel soft. There should be no bald spots or injuries. Check that the feet are not sore (this can happen if they are left to stand on wired flooring for too long). The tail should have fur and the area around the anus and genitals should be clean. There should be no faeces stuck to the bottom as this means the rabbit has diarrhea. There should also be no signs of flystrike, a condition where flies lay eggs onto the bottom of a rabbit and the larvae eat the rabbit’s flesh.
- The rabbit should not smell bad. The area it uses as a toilet may smell slightly but overall it should not be over powering and the fur of the rabbit should not smell strongly of anything.
5. Ask about the parentage of the rabbit and whether there is a history of illnesses in the parents and grandparents. If you are buying from a breeder they should be able to offer you answers to these questions, at least for parents of the rabbit. Where possible ask to see the parents to get a good idea of size of your rabbit.
Here is a short checklist you can copy and keep in your pocket when you go to look for your ideal rabbit:
□ Make sure the living quarters are clean
□ If buying babies, make sure they are older than 10 weeks
□ Rabbit is alert and active with no problems with movement
□ Rabbit is not sneezing or scratching excessively
□ Able to handle rabbit and rabbit not responding aggressively
□ Eyes, ears, mouth, nose and teeth all healthy
□ Fur and feet is in good condition
□ Rabbit bottom is clean with no sign of diarrhea
□ No bad odours
□ Ask about health history
□ Always ask if you have any questions