Beginner’s guide to angoras

Housing:

All-wire cages are best suited for angoras. Wooden hutches or an indoor pen-style setup with litter boxes can also be used, but are harder to keep clean. Wire floors or wire coverings for litter boxes are a requirement for angoras to protect the rabbits from feces and shavings. Angora wool easily catches particulate substrates (like pine shavings), which can quickly ruin a coat and cause health problems. Litter boxes will need to be cleaned daily. Pans under cages usually need to be cleaned weekly at a minimum. If cages are hung outside over dirt, the amount of cleaning that needs to occur is greatly reduced (rabbit droppings make excellent compost and can be put directly on plants without causing damage).

The cage should be as large as you can afford to make it (I prefer a minimum of 30″x36″ for German angoras, larger is always better).

The cage should be protected from moisture, drafts, and heat in the summer. Angoras are very heat sensitive and need to be provided with fans when temperatures climb above 90°F, or brought inside an air-conditioned area. If the rabbits live outside in the summer, their coats will need to be clipped short as long as the weather remains hot. Cold weather is usually not an issue as long as the cage is protected from drafts and precipitation. Rabbits that are clipped in the winter may be given a jacket to wear (see the IAGARB website for a pattern), although a box filled with hay or straw is often sufficient.

Bucks should always be housed separately from other bucks and does to prevent fights and/or uncontrolled breeding. It is often possible to house does together, especially if they are related or have grown up together. However, does that have lived alone for a long time may not tolerate the company of others. Neutered bucks can often be housed with does and sometimes other bucks. The individual personality of the rabbit often defines whether or not he or she will get along well in a group. Rabbits are not herd animals, so while they do not require the company of other rabbits, they do live in warrens (colonies) in the wild and socialization can be beneficial if they are appropriately introduced.

Food and Water:

Angoras do best with water bottles instead of bowls. The water stays cleaner and it protects their wool from moisture. Clean water should be available at all times.

Angoras should be fed a high quality rabbit pellet daily based on their age and weight. The pellets should be free from corn and other visible grains. Rabbits are leaf eaters in the wild and their digestive systems are highly sensitive to sugars (excessive carbs). Avoid rapid changes to the diet—always mix old pellets with new pellets when transitioning rabbits to a new food. Young rabbits and freshly clipped rabbits can be offered pellets “free choice.” Adult bucks and non-breeding does should have their pellets rationed based on their size to avoid them getting too fat. ½ – ¾ cup per day is usually sufficient.

Hay should be offered regularly, especially when the coat starts to grow longer, to help prevent wool block. A good hay feeder or toilet-paper rolls stuffed with hay can help prevent hay from getting stuck in the coats. Timothy hay is best for adult rabbits, but a blend of timothy or other grasses are also acceptable, as long as it is considered “horse quality” hay. Alfalfa/legume hay should not be used except for lactating does due to higher calcium content.

Leafy greens are the best treats for rabbits. Avoid processed treats from the pet store! Dandelions, kale, parsley, cilantro, carrot tops, herbs, and SMALL amount of apple or carrots, are most loved by my rabbits. If you are gathering weeds from your own garden, ensure that the area has not been treated with herbicides or fertilizers. Some weeds contain toxins, so when in doubt, do your research first to ensure that it is safe to give your rabbit. I sometimes also offer rolled oats (Quaker oats) and black oil sunflower seeds as treats. Oats are a helpful source of fiber in the case of soft droppings, and black oil sunflower seeds are a good source of Vitamin E (easily lost in pellets) and extra fat for bunnies that need to gain weight. Keep in mind that rabbits are sensitive to changes in their diet, so don’t overfeed with fresh treats. If you want to transition your rabbit to a diet of mostly fodder or greens, do so over the course of several days or weeks.

Offer branches from fruit trees (apple or pear is best) regularly as chew toys/treats and to help keep their teeth worn down. Well-bred rabbits that are fed a proper diet generally do not have tooth problems. Overgrown and misshapen teeth are an indicator of a genetic flaw and any rabbit that has poor teeth should not be used for breeding.

Grooming and Clipping:

German and well-bred hybrid angoras usually require little grooming if they are clipped regularly. They are typically clipped (or plucked) every 3-4 months, or whenever the coat reaches an appropriate length to spin. Although some German hybrids will release their coats, I highly recommend clipping over plucking because it yields more wool, the wool is better synchronized (all the same length) and helps prevent wool block. The rabbit gets a break from wearing a “coat” all the time which is beneficial to their digestive health and mobility in general. I also believe that it is easier on the rabbit than plucking. I have found that bandage scissors work very well for clipping my rabbits. I do not find it necessary to have electric shears. The rabbit relaxes on my lap as I work.

Nails should be checked and trimmed regularly to keep them from getting too long. I typically do this when I clip the rabbit.

The best grooming tool is a blower, which can be adapted from a Shop-Vac or purchased (dog drying blowers work well; 2hp or more is recommended). The blower removes dust and particulates from the wool without removing density. A slicker brush and comb are useful for pulling out tangles. Excessive brushing pulls out the wool and also encourages the rabbit to groom itself, which can contribute to wool block.

The vent area of the rabbit should always be kept clean and clipped whenever necessary.

Health care

Deworming and wool mites:

All rabbits carry parasites. In the case of angoras, excessive presence of mites can cause matting and dandruff, essentially ruining the wool and making for a very uncomfortable rabbit. The easiest and most effective treatment for wool mites is topical application of Ivomec pour-on for cattle (5 mg ivermectin/mL). The dose is 1 mL per 22lbs (0.045 mL per lb). Because most of my rabbits average around 9lbs as adults, I typically use the easy dosage of 0.5mL per rabbit. A small syringe without a needle is required to measure the correct dosage, which is then applied to the back of the neck of the rabbit. The pour-on is colored blue and the color may linger for a few weeks at the spot where it was applied. Ivomec and syringes can be purchased at many livestock supply stores (such as Southern States and Tractor Supply Co.), or online at Jeffers or Valley Vet Supply. All rabbits should be treated at the same time to prevent one rabbit from carrying parasites and re-introducing them to the rest of the group (some rabbits do appear to be more resistant to parasites than others, and may not require treatment as often). In the case of severe infestation, a second treatment 10 days after the first treatment may be needed. I find that I rarely need to treat my herd more than once or twice a year.

Wool block

Wool block is the main killer of angora rabbits, but with proper management, the risk can be greatly reduced. Wool block occurs when a rabbit ingests a large amount of wool during grooming and cannot pass it through the digestive system. The digestive tract stops working, and the rabbit can die quickly. It is very important to keep the rabbit eating, which keeps the digestive system moving and prevents GI stasis that contributes to wool block. A rabbit that is eating and pooping is moving out wool that it ingests. Heat and other forms of stress (including grooming) contribute to wool block. Clipping helps to prevent wool block not only by reducing the amount of wool available for the rabbit to eat, but also by stimulating the rabbit to eat by keeping him cool and comfortable. When a rabbit stops eating, the first action step should be to clip him/her. In most cases, the rabbit will start eating and pooping normally within 24 hours of being clipped. Increasing the amount of hay and fresh foods offered to rabbits as their coat grows longer can also help move things along in their systems and prevent wool block. If a rabbit refuses food for more than three or four days, and has been clipped, a trip to the vet should be in order.

Book resources:

Completely Angora (2nd Edition), by Sharon Kilfoyle and Leslie B. Samson

Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, by Bob Bennett
Rabbit Housing, also by Bob Bennett
The New Rabbit Handbook, from Barron’s. 1989 edition

Advertisements