Rabbit care

Brown Rabbit in cage

In the wild, rabbits are a prey species. They are very aware of their surroundings — always on the alert for predators or any change to their environment. Because of this, the transition to a new home may be scary for your rabbit at first. For the first three or four days, give the rabbit a chance to get used to their new surroundings. Set up its cage in a quiet, low-traffic area. Talk quietly to the rabbit and pet him or her gently, but refrain from picking it up. When your rabbit comes to you for attention, you will know it is becoming comfortable and you can begin picking it up and allowing it playtime outside the cage. Forcing your attentions on the rabbit will only cause it stress and make it more difficult for it to get used to its new home.

Medical needs

Rabbits do not require vaccinations, and if kept in clean surroundings and fed a good diet, they rarely fall ill. However, you should seek prompt medical attention for a rabbit showing signs of illness such as lethargy, lack of appetite, diarrhea, sneezing, nasal discharge or any marked change in behavior. Rabbits may also get fleas or ear mites. Be sure to find a veterinarian with rabbit experience.

Diet

Rabbit digestive systems are fairly complex, and they need a specific diet to be healthy and happy. For adult rabbits, a daily diet should consist of ¼ to ½ cup of good quality rabbit pellets, hay, and three to four small servings of fresh vegetables. Rabbits under a year of age can have an unlimited supply of pellets and hay. Fresh vegetables should be introduced slowly into a rabbit’s diet. One or two small servings a day to begin with is best to avoid digestive problems.

Vegetables that rabbits can have include: parsley, green peppers, carrot tops, cucumbers, radish greens, parsnip, and a variety of lettuces. Carrots, turnips, potatoes, and fruits such as bananas, strawberries, watermelon, apples, and pears are okay, too, but should only be offered as an occasional special treat because of their sugar content. Timothy grass or oat grass hays are best, as alfalfa and clover hays are too rich in protein and calcium.

Housing

Rabbits should be kept as indoor pets. They are social animals and require daily interaction and playtime with their owners, which is more likely to occur if the rabbit is inside your home. Outdoor living makes them vulnerable to predators, disease, extreme temperatures, and loneliness. For a single rabbit, select a cage that is at least 30” long x 18” high x 24” deep. Bigger is better. If the cage has a wire mesh bottom, place a small mat on the cage floor to protect feet from wire damage.

Other supplies the rabbit will need include a ceramic crock or hanging bottle for water, food dish, small litter pan, and a hay rack. If you place the cage in an active area of your home, a small “cave” should be added so the rabbit has a safe place to lounge when stressed or tired. This can be a small cardboard box or a commercially produced rabbit house available at your local pet store.

Learn how to set up your rabbit’s litter box.

Grooming

Long-haired rabbit breeds will require a daily brushing. Short-coated breeds can be brushed once a week. Hairballs can be a serious medical problem for rabbits and regular brushing will help reduce the amount of fur the rabbit ingests while grooming itself.

All rabbits should have their nails trimmed once or twice per month. During a petting session or playtime, get your rabbit accustomed to being on its back and to handling its paws. This will make nail trims less stressful. A cat nail trimmer works well for rabbits. Trim only the sharpest part of the nail, being careful not to cut into the quick.

Bunny-proofing your home

Part of living with a house rabbit is bunny-proofing your home. Wild rabbits chew through tree roots and brambles to make their burrows, and pet rabbits will instinctively chew items in their environment too. Prevent damage to your property, protect your rabbit from harm, and give her safe and fun chewing alternatives with these helpful tips.

Handling

Pick up your rabbit by scooping one hand beneath the chest and the other supporting the hind legs and hips. Bring the rabbit against your body and hold the rear end firmly. A rabbit will struggle less if it feels secure. Never pick up by the ears or scruff. Most rabbits prefer “four on the floor” and will be more comfortable being petted on your lap or the floor. Do not allow small children to pick up your rabbit.

Playtime and exercise

Rabbits are most active in the morning and evening, and sleep during the day and night. Rabbits need two to three hours of exercise daily outside the cage. They are naturally curious and enjoy opportunities to explore. Start off with a small area of your house, allowing only as much freedom as they can handle. To prevent destruction to your house and protect the rabbit from harm, do not allow access to electrical cords, houseplants, and other items irresistible to chewing. 

Toys can provide stimulation for a caged rabbit. Suggested toys include: toilet paper tubes, large cardboard tubes they can run through, plastic whiffle balls, and hard plastic cat toys (especially if they rattle).

Meeting new friends (human and otherwise)

Children should be taught to speak softly and move slowly around the rabbit. Loud, high-pitched voices and quick movements will scare it. Show older children the proper way to pick up a bunny so as not to accidentally harm or startle it. An adult or parent should always supervise any child/pet interactions.

If you plan to add a second rabbit, learn how here. Guinea pigs often make good playtime companions for rabbits, and can even learn to share a cage. Cats can sometimes be playtime companions as well, but dogs are usually not a good choice because of their hunting instincts. Introductions to other pets should be calm and gradual. Initially, you can allow other pets to investigate the rabbit while it’s safely caged. Out-of-cage interactions should be closely monitored.

 

Bunny bonding basics

House rabbits are social by nature, and are often deeply emotional creatures that crave the companionship of their own kind. They form bonds that are so powerful that loss of a companion can cause depression and illness. Like any relationship, though, the bonding process itself can be slow and may take patience, time, and a commitment from you to foster the relationship. Learn how to begin the process.

Activities for you and your rabbit

Did you know that Animal Humane Society offers several activities to promote education and recreation for you and your rabbit? Join us for the following programs!

  • Bunny Basics Class
    Are you interested in learning more about your rabbit's unique behavior and care? Join the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society at Animal Humane Society for this class discussing diet, housing, basic health, and insight into common behaviors. Class is free; donations are appreciated. Get more information and view upcoming dates.
  • Hoppy Hour
    Hoppy Hour is a social hour for rabbits and their owners hosted by AHS in the Golden Valley Auditorium every other Sunday at 1 p.m. Admission is $3 per rabbit. Give your rabbit a fun social activity and meet fellow rabbit lovers! There are also small agility obstacles for your bunny to become familiar with. All rabbits must be spayed or neutered in order to attend. Reservations are not required. Get more information and view upcoming dates.
  • Rabbit Agility Program
    Rabbits love to jump and explore. Agility programs provide exercise and mental stimulation for both caged and house rabbits. Rabbit agility classes are also an ideal way to interact and have fun with your rabbit, providing a perfect bonding experience. Get more information and view upcoming dates.

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