Bunny Behavior & Health
Bunny behavior and health issues are addressed in the Hot Cross Buns Blog. Check back frequently, as we plan to post information on diet, treats, exercise, spaying/neutering, and much more.
Hot Cross Buns follows the belief that treats (other than old-fashioned rolled oats) have no place in a rabbit’s diet until after he/she turns six months old. We prefer for their new families to have the joy (and responsibility) of determining which foods are the right treats for their Buns.
We recommend starting with the treats on the Green Light List. Work your way through it slowly to learn what your bunny likes, and what sits well in your bunny’s tummy. Give a small amount. Holland lops are small and shouldn’t weigh more than 3.5-5 lbs, so a little goes a long way. If you see any signs of abnormal or mushy poo balls in your bunny’s cage, stop feeding whatever treat was introduced most recently and cross it off the list, so you don’t give it to him/her again. Just give your bunny hay and water for a day or two until his/her tummy settles down and the poo balls are back to normal again.
There are some important things to remember about a bunny’s diet. Conventional wisdom says that 80% of the diet should be made up of hay and pellets, leaving 20% for foods that fall into the “treat” category. I tend to lean towards 90% hay and pellets, and only 10% treats. Another thing to remember: Too much sugar, calcium, and phosphorus are very bad for rabbits. The vast majority of foods on the Yellow Light List are high in at least one of these. Pick your Yellow Light List treats very carefully. Choose one fruit per week and one veggie/seed/herb per week to keep your bunny happy and healthy. Again, introduce only one treat at a time so you can see any negative reactions and adjust the list accordingly.
Occasionally you may find a treat that leaves your bunny with painful gas. Bunnies can’t burp or vomit, so whatever is hurting its tummy has to work its way through the entire digestive system. We strongly recommend that all bunny families keep a bottle or two of infant gas relief drops (a brand like Mylicon drops) to help settle bunny’s tummy. Give the bunny the dose recommended for smaller babies and gently massage your bunny’s tummy. Try to keep your bunny moving to help the gas work its way out. A bit of fresh parsley may help settle the tummy, too. If you ever have questions or concerns about your bunny’s health, please feel free to email us and we will do our best to help.
If your bunny reacts badly to a food on the Yellow Light List, cross it off and add it to your Red Light List so you remember to not feed it to your Bun again.
Green Light Treats
The treats listed in this section are safe for bunny’s daily consumption. As always, when introducing a new treat, give a very small amount and observe the bunny for any gins of digestive distress (diarrhea, teeth grinding, acting “off”) for 24 hours before giving that treat to the bunny again.
Yellow Light Treats
The treats in this section are for very occasional giving only. Many fruits are bunny-safe, but they are high in sugars, so need to be limited carefully. Choose only one of these treats to give on one special day each week. Watch for signs of tummy upset.
Understanding the way your bunny's digestive system works will go a long way in safeguarding his health. Being aware of your bunny's diet and nutritional needs are the key to helping your pet live a long, healthy life.
First, be sure your bunny has full-time access to clean, safe drinking water. This applies to all animals but, as bunnies can't whine or whimper to tell you they're out of water, be sure to check their water bottles and crocks at least twice per day. Water bottles can leak and water crocks can get knocked over or contaminated with hay or fecal matter, so be diligent. Your bunny will thank you!
Second, it is important to remember that your bunnies are furry and they groom themselves regularly. You might think that I am pointing out the obvious but, unlike cats and dogs, rabbits cannot vomit. That means they are unable to cough up (or vomit) hairballs or anything else that needs to come out of their bodies ASAP. Everything they ingest has to go through their bodies and come out the other end. When bunnies groom themselves, they inevitably ingest fur. That fur, if not eliminated regularly, will begin to build up inside their tummies. Eventually the build up will grow so large that bunnies can no longer eat or drink. They are in pain, sitting hunched up in the corner, grinding their teeth. At this point it is often too late to help them.
In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pond of cure. Do not let fur (or wool, as it is called on a rabbit) build up to the point of causing wool block in your beloved bunny. How do you prevent it? Well, it's actually pretty easy. Give your bunny high-quality hay, and lots of it. The hay, combined with high-quality food pellets, contains lots of fiber to keep your bunny's tummy humming along. Those nice, round poo balls he keeps leaving all over the place are actually a sign that all is well in his digestive tract.
Another handy tool in your toolbox can be papaya tablets. Papaya produces an enzyme that can help break down ingested wool and help your bunny to pass it. There is some debate as to the effectiveness of papaya tablets (or even dried papaya) in the bunny community, but I have always given it to the bunnies we have raised over the years (including 3 English Angoras) and have never experienced a case of wool-block. That decision is up to you. Some rabbit supply companies, like Oxbow and Sherwood Pet Heath, are producing their own Digestive Health tablets, which are also beneficial.
Often overlooked but always important is exercise. A rabbit needs plenty of space to kick up his heels and get the blood flowing which will help his digestion, too. Regular exercise will increase his desire for water and hay, too.
Plenty of love, hay, fresh water, high-quality pellets, exercise, and regular grooming sessions should keep your rabbit's digestive system working beautifully, making a happy, healthy bunny.
Wait! Put down that carrot! Before you feed your young bunny any treats, it is important to know how much damage they can do to his digestive tract if he's not ready for them yet.
So why can't I feed my baby bunny a treat?
A rabbit's digestive tract is a very delicate system that must be kept in balance. Too many treats, too little hay, poor quality food, lack of water, too much ingested fur, parasites, all of these things can lead to an upset bunny tummy and lead to expensive vet bills or even death.
A very young rabbit is still developing the good bacteria in its gut. The good bacteria helps digest the food properly, absorb nutrients, and make the most of the bunny's diet. When this system is not properly established before introducing treats, it often means disaster and diarrhea for them. Fruits, vegetables, and other produce can introduce parasites including coccidiosis to the bunny's digestive system. Parasites are awful little creatures that absorb all of the nutrients from the food, leaving very little for the bunny. The bunny grows thin, listless, and can die if it isn't treated early. Even if he is treated, the damage is often already done, The bunny's coat can be permanently left dry, brittle, and dull. She may not thrive and her growth may be stunted, leaving her small and frail. It's better to wait until they are stronger, healthier, and better able to tolerate the treatment for parasites, before risking your bunny's health and well-being.
But wild rabbits live on the very things that you are saying my pet bunny shouldn't eat. What's up with that?
Wild bunnies are generally parasite-laden and don't live very long. Trust me, you want a better life for your pet bunny.
OK, how about some packaged treats from the pet supply store?
These treats may not carry parasites, but they often contain sugars, seeds, additives, and preservatives which can be harmful to rabbits of all ages. Giving a young rabbit sugary treats is another surefire way of upsetting the balance in the bunny's intestinal tract.
You keep talking about "young bunnies." Are the rules different for older bunnies?
Yep. Bunnies under six months of age are called juniors. Bunnies six months and over are called seniors. Once he hits six months of age, you can start to give your pet tiny amounts of bunny-safe fruits and veggies. By tiny, I mean tiny. Like a tablespoon or less, no more. Give treats no more than twice a week. Introduce only one new treat at a time and stick with it for about three weeks before trying something else. Watch your bunny carefully for signs of tummy upset, like diarrhea, lack of appetite, or change in energy levels. If you see any signs of something amiss with your bunny, stop giving that particular treat, wait a couple of weeks, and then try something new.
Ok, that seems reasonable, but is there any treat I can give my baby bunny now?
Yes, there is! You can feed him raw, old-fashioned rolled oats. Not the quick cooking kind. We prefer to give our bunnies organic rolled oats. We like to hand feed a few little flakes to each bunny when they are really little and then sprinkle a bit over the top of their food pellets when they are able to nibble from a bowl. Just a pinch, mind you. There's no reason to go overboard because too many oats can put too much weight on a bunny. Fat bunnies are not healthy bunnies. A little goes a long way.
Plain old raw oats may not seem very exciting, but all of our bunnies love them. When our doe Plum Bun was pregnant, our youngest daughter left the container of oats sitting on the floor of her room while she was tidying up Plummy's cage. Plummy jumped out of her cage and absolutely LUNGED for those oats, inhaling as many as she possibly could before her oats eating ecstasy came to a screeching halt. Literally. That child could screech the paint off the walls if she tried. Poor Plummy. She was carrying quite a litter, and deserved an extra serving of oats for all those babies she was growing. :)
Amy, the Big Bunny at Hot Cross Buns, enjoys raising the Buns (of course!), writing, crafting, woodworking, Bible studies, reading, gardening, being a wife and mom of five. Does she really have time to do it all? No, but she tries her best and drives her husband crazy in the process. She wishes to point out that she never said she enjoyed interior decorating (hopeless!) and organizing (that's her younger daughter's gift). Please don't expect a home worthy of a spread in House Beautiful when you arrive to pick up your Hot Cross Bun.