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How to breed dwarf rabbits - by Elisa Meloni

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Physiology

The rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) belongs to the Leporidae family, of the Order of the Lagomorphs, like the hare. In nature, rabbits are gregarious animals, that is, they live in groups, in underground tunnel systems dug by them, which are enlarged from generation to generation.
The structure and size of this animal vary considerably depending on the breed: it starts, in fact, from the Dutch dwarf rabbit which weighs less than a kilogram and reaches the giant breeds, (such as the Flemish giant), which weigh up to to eight.
Dwarf rabbits are medium-small animals, about 25 cm long with a weight of 1.5 kg, their average life is around five years.
The movement takes place through a series of jumps allowed by the particular shape of the very long hind legs.
They have an excellent view, the visual field allows you to see in all directions without having to move your head, this is because being in nature a prey his eyes are placed sideways.
The ears are intensely vascularized and play a very important role in thermoregulation, they are extremely delicate and sensitive, which is why, contrary to what is usually believed, it is essential not to use them to take the rabbit. The best way is to lift it with a scruff by supporting it at the bottom with one hand. This is especially important in the case of a pregnant female.
Very important, especially for feeding purposes, is a particular physiological characteristic of rabbit digestion which takes the name of blindness. This phenomenon consists of a process of formation and re-ingestion of a particular type of stool, called soft stool, which come from the blind and have not undergone any modification in substance. The digestive system has, among others, two important structures: the stomach and the blind man. In the stomach, food is stored for a short time and the first digestion of the gastric juices takes place, from here the food passes into the small intestine, where the digestive process continues, which ends in the blind. The blind, so called because it is a bag with a closed bottom, constitutes a considerable portion of the volume of the digestive system, and, thanks to the presence of a bacterial microflora, it is capable of operating important fermentative phenomena. Finally, the colon follows the blind (where the reabsorption of water and mineral elements takes place, and which contributes to the formation of the blind man), and the rectum. Blindness occurs in two stages; in a first phase there is the partial digestion of the food which is excreted in the form of damp (soft stool) and spherical stools, containing high quantities of protein substances, bacterial flora and a complement of Vit. B (blind man). In the second phase, these feces are ingested again, and the substances contained in them are completely used.
If the rabbit did not carry out the cecotrophy it would lose the advantage of the transformation by the microorganisms of the undigested residues into compounds with high nutritional value such as amino acids, organic acids and vitamins, together with the fermentation of the cellulose, from which the volatile fatty acids come.
Usually the rabbit ingests the loose stools directly from the anus, (mainly in the early hours of the morning), which are not chewed but arrive intact in the stomach.
It has been shown by various studies that the benefits that can be obtained from cecotrophy are greater if the foods ingested are rich in fiber, because the level of digestibility of proteins reaches much higher values ​​than those of other mono- and poly-gastric animal species .
The rabbit therefore produces two types of feces, the hard, spherical, fibrous and dry feces, made up of undigested material, which are eliminated throughout the day, and the soft feces, which are again ingested, and are issued especially during the early hours of the day.

Ethology - To understand more about our dwarf rabbit ...

Like any other animal, the rabbit has its own particular language and way of communicating, which we can try to understand by observing it.
It is easy to see the rabbit that stands on two legs, an attitude that highlights its peculiar characteristic: curiosity (especially if you think you can get food from it), or that rubs the chin on various objects and things found in the environment that surrounds it. This behavior is typical of males, and represents, together with urine one of the methods for marking the territory, in fact, the rabbit has glands, located in the lower part of the jaw, which produce a substance that is not perceptible by man, but easily perceptible by a rabbit with an extremely sensitive sense of smell.
Usually if the bunny is very frightened, he crouches as much as possible on the floor and if you hear him beating with his hind legs on the floor, he sends an alarm signal that anticipates the escape. If the rabbit blows instead announces the attack and it is necessary to pay some attention.
On the contrary, when the rabbit feels comfortable, safe and calm you can see him playing alone, jumping and rolling, or in an absolute rest position lying down with his legs outstretched.
Contrary to what is often thought, the rabbit can have great demonstrations of affection for people, both by giving attention, for example with licks, and by requesting them, often with small strokes with the muzzle.
If you intend to keep several rabbits together it would be better if they were not all males or otherwise there was a balanced relationship between males and females (optimal ratio 1: 8). Among the males, fights for supremacy can be ignited both on the territory and on the females. These fights are fought with bites, often directed to the testicles, in order to prevent the opponent from reproducing and therefore to compete with him for the females of the pack. A marking with a particular urine is also carried out on females and young people, so that they have a smell equal to each other and are identified as "belonging" to the dominant subject.
However, in the event that it is not possible to do anything else and therefore it is necessary to keep the two males together, it is important to make them known gradually by keeping them under control. The problem is less if there is ample space available for the two rabbits.
Remember that rabbits really like to gnaw, this also derives from a physiological need to wear out their teeth; pay close attention especially to the electrical wires, because there is a possibility that they will take a shock. To overcome this drawback, substances with a strong smell can be used, such as vinegar, which are not appreciated by rabbits, who will take care to turn off.

Supply

The rabbit, like all its kind, is a herbivore, so the most suitable and most appreciated foods are fresh grass, vegetables and quality hay. These foods are able to meet all the needs of the rabbit, contain mineral salts and calcium, are rich in fiber and allow proper functioning of the intestine, prevent obesity (because they are low in fat) and any fermentations (low in carbohydrates) and allow adequate consumption of the teeth.
You can use herbs and other field plants, collected or burned directly from the rabbit, (provided they are not treated with substances that could be toxic), or any type of vegetable also used for our food. Some examples are:
heather, centaury, chicory, lettuce, spinach, clover, radish, celery, zucchini, basil, cabbage.
It is good to avoid, especially for rabbits who are not used to it, the administration of these cold and wet foods, which can cause internal fermentations.
Essential is the constant presence of hay, which must be administered at will, must be fresh and clean, of good quality, not moldy and dusty. This is essential for the rabbit's intestinal physiology and limits the tendency to tear and chew the hair, which can cause serious problems for the digestive system. You can buy hay in pet stores where it is found in convenient packs.
Sometimes, in small quantities, seeds such as barley and oats can also be used. Fruit must be given in moderate quantities because being rich in sugars it can promote obesity. Another food that can be used is pellets, which must be bought in small quantities and stored in a cool and dry place. It should only be done with grass, hay and vegetables, and should not be used in excessive quantities (about one cup per day).
The foods that must not be given to the rabbit are those rich in carbohydrates, such as bread, biscuits, breadsticks, rusks, potatoes, desserts of any kind and especially chocolate.
The change of nutrition is a very delicate moment, which must be done gradually in order to allow the intestinal flora to adapt to new habits. A too sudden change can lead to severe diarrhea, even to death. For hay there are no particular problems, but particular attention is needed especially with regard to the introduction of fresh vegetables. Help in controlling diet adaptation can come from checking the appearance and consistency of the stool.

Health

The signs indicating the rabbit's health are: clean eyes and back and shiny coat. The diseases to which the rabbit is most subject are:

coccidiosis; caused by coccidia, protozoan parasites, the symptoms are, swelling of the abdomen, poor growth, diarrhea (this is the terminal phase in the puppy, therefore it is necessary to intervene promptly, it is to be specified however that diarrhea can also be caused simply by temperature changes or from incorrect power supply). it is often due to bad sanitation.
myxomatosis; very dangerous viral disease brought on by mosquito bites, the symptoms are: redness of the mucous membranes, formation of nodules on the ears, head and genitals, loss of appetite, conjunctivitis and tearing. Vaccination should be done after 2-3 months of life.
VIRAL HEMORRHAGIC DISEASE: very dangerous disease, mainly affects rabbits that are more than 35-40 days old, the rabbit shows, about 12 hours before death, loss of appetite and killing, and often presents nervous symptoms such as screams and strong contractions. Sometimes nosebleeds may leak. Vaccination should be provided after 50 days of life and calls should be made.
These are just some of the diseases that can affect the rabbit, in addition to medical treatment it is however very important to work on prevention, first of all ensuring adequate hygiene and health conditions.

A few tips: how to keep them indoors and how to mate

How to keep them
Various arrangements for the rabbit are feasible, it is possible to keep it at home, in special cages that can be purchased in pet shops, where you can prepare the positioning of the drinking trough, manger and hay rack. In this case some rules should be observed, for example:
- Do not place the cage in places where the rabbit can be easily hit by drafts or where temperature changes are frequent.
- Do not place the cage in the bathroom and kitchen, where there is usually high humidity.
- Never place the cage in full sun in the summer months (the sunstroke can also lead to death of the rabbit).
- Do not place the cage in places where there are loud noises such as near the television, stereo, telephone, which can frighten the rabbit by virtue of its sensitivity.
- Do not cover the cage, this will prevent ammonia vapors from being released.
The minimum recommended dimensions are 50 x 30 x 30 cm. In the cage, straw or shavings or other specific material for rabbits and rodents can also be used as litter, also sold in pet shops. It is important not to use cat litter which can be toxic if ingested.
If rabbits are used to, they also live well outdoors, just provide them with appropriate shelter.

How they mate
The females mature sexually towards the 5 months, slightly before the males who are only from the age of 6. As far as the females are concerned, it is however important not to let them mate before having reached about 70-80% of the body weight as an adult, because not yet fully developed, pregnancy could weaken them.
Mating occurs only if the female is in heat, a state that can be verified thanks to the redness of the vulva, and is also testified by a certain restlessness (if you have more females together it can happen to see that they fit together during the heat ).
The diagnosis of pregnancy can take place after 14 days, the fetuses are now the size of a cherry and can be identified by palpation. Pregnancy has an average duration of 31 days, and the weaning of babies takes about 30 days.
About 2-3 days before the end of the pregnancy, it is necessary to place the nest (usually with straw) on the bunny that will have to prepare. Shortly before giving birth, the rabbit will build its nest by also removing the fur of the ventral part in order to make it warmer and more welcoming.
The nest must be designed so as not to be hit by drafts, it is possible to prepare a double bottom in which it is possible to spread 2-3 cm of straw or shavings, the material used must be in appropriate quantities, dry and dust-free or mold. It is also important to arrange it so that it is not exposed to direct light, in this case there may be manifestations of cannibalism on the part of the female.
It is good to remove the male from the female in the delicate moment of birth, also because the rabbit, in order to mate, can even kill the bunnies (cannibalism).
If, before mating, the male and female are kept separate, it is good practice to bring the female to the male and not vice versa.
To control broods, care must be taken not to leave foreign smells on bunnies, which is very easy by touching them with your hands. In the event that it is necessary to manipulate the nest, and therefore there is a risk of touching the bunnies, it is useful to first rub the hands on the mother's breasts. The rabbit, in fact, sensing a different smell on the puppies, may not recognize them and therefore abandon them.
Bunnies can be safely touched from the moment they leave the nest and take on the other smells from the cage.
The nest must be periodically renewed in order to remove the dirty and damp material that could ferment, while leaving the mother's fur.
Around 20-22 days, when the bunnies have already left the nest, this can be eliminated from the cage and then washed and disinfected.
If you intend to mate the rabbit again, it is best not to do it before weaning, in the case of a first-mate, or ten days after giving birth, in other cases.

Black and tan colored dwarf rabbit

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All aspects related to his presence at home, from hospitalization to feeding, from coexistence with other animals to daily care, from reproduction to his health, are treated clearly and sympathetically.
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