What is the proper way to take care of rabbits?

The American Humane Association states that for proper rabbit care, you need to start by deciding which variety of domesticated rabbit will be your pet. After deciding on the breed, you next step is to provide adequate shelter.The most commonly made mistake in keeping rabbits is that the hutch (home) is too small. The minimum size should be two feet deep by two feet wide by four feet long (preferably six feet long). The bottom of the hutch should have a removable tray (to catch droppings) covered deeply with sawdust, wood shavings, hay or straw. This material should always be dry. Please do not use a wire or mesh screen in the bottom of your pet's cage, as it is uncomfortable for your rabbit's tender feet. If your rabbit is going to live outdoors, the hutch should be well insulated, sheltered from excessive sun and should protect its resident from dogs.

Your rabbit should also be provided with a sleeping box that is totally enclosed, except for the top half of one side. The material used to cover the bottom of the hutch should also be in the sleeping box.

Grooming your rabbit is essential. Keep a close check on eyes, ears, fur and nails. Ears need to be kept clean and dry. If you have a longhaired rabbit, brush its coat and trim its nails weekly. If you suspect parasites in the ears or have trouble clipping the nails, contact your veterinarian.

Cleanliness is extremely important for the health of your rabbit.

Fresh rabbit pellets, plus supplements of carrots, lettuce, dandelion leaves, turnips, grass, clover and hay will keep your rabbit happy. Please be sure to wash vegetables thoroughly to remove any chemicals. The rabbit will need fresh water every day. Earthenware bowls can serve as food and water containers.

Patient training of your rabbit will reward you with a docile pet, Never, never, never lift your rabbit by the ears. The most comfortable method for your rabbit to be lifted is for you to put one hand under its front two legs and the other hand under its bottom two legs.

Rabbits are susceptible to "snuffles," which is an ailment characterized by sneezing and which may or may not be accompanied by nasal discharge. Be sure to consult your veterinarian if your rabbit becomes ill.

The breeding of rabbits kept as pets is not recommended. You can have your rabbit spayed or neutered. Check with your vet.

- If you have a question about health, behavior problems, laws, etc., regarding wild or domestic animals, please write Leslie Kelson-Probert, Salt Lake County Animal Services, 511 W. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84123 or call her at 264-2247.