Rabbit Care and FAQs
Bunnies make very affectionate and rewarding pets, but you need to make sure that you know how to take care of them! This page should help answer all of your questions.
Food and WaterGrowing rabbits need to be free-fed pellets and hay. "Free-fed" simply means to offer pellets and hay all of the time so that the bunny can eat whenever it's hungry. The hay should be made from a low-calorie grass, such as timothy or orchard grass. It should be noted that you should never, ever feed a "gourmet-style" bunny food that has nuts, fruits, or seeds mixed in with the pellets. That's like giving a child cake and broccoli on their plate at the same time! Feed a plain-looking, boring kind of food and give all treats separately so that you can carefully monitor and limit how much "junk food" the rabbit is eating. Rabbits under 4 months of age shouldn't have ANY "junk food" treats.
If you have a young bunny or are moving a rabbit to a new home, make sure that you do not change the brand of pellets suddenly. Obtain some of the food that the rabbit is used to eating, let the bunny eat that until he or she is settled into the new home, and then slowly start mixing in a new brand of pellets. Watch carefully to make sure that the rabbit is eating the new brand of food with no problems.
Do not allow young rabbits (under four months of age) to eat any fresh fruits or vegetables. Don't let them hop in the grass, either, because they would start to eat it, and make sure that all of your house plants are out of bunny's reach. Once your rabbit reaches four months of age, you can start slowly adding fresh foods into its diet. A good-sized treat to start out with would be a cube of apple as big as a game die (like you use to play board games.) Use caution when adding new foods to your bunny's diet, and do not add too many at a time. You may gradually work your rabbit up to 1/4 cup of fresh foods per day, but fresh vegetables are never to be used as a replacement for timothy hay and pelleted food. Once your rabbit is four months of age, you can use this list as a guide for acceptable treats:
|GOOD RABBIT TREATS |
Bananas (especially the brown ones)
Beans, if cooked (not castor beans)
Beets (both top and root of plant)
Blackberry bush leaves
Bread (especially dried-out bread)
Carrots (roots and tops)
Cereal (if low fat and low sugar)
Clovers (any but sweet clover)
Corn (grain, stalks, husks, and silk)
Fruit tree limbs (not the leaves)
Grass (pesticide free)
Jerusalem artichoke (all parts of plant)
Kohlrabi (all parts of plant)
Maple tree limbs (not leaves)
Millet (Foxtail and Japanese)
Rye, rye grass, and Italian rye grass
Sweet gum branches (not leaves)
Timothy grass, fresh or hay
Turnips (tops and roots)
Willow tree limbs
|BAD FOR RABBITS |
Chokecherry (leaves or pits)
Potatoes (leaves, sprouts, or peel)
Soybeans or soybean vines
Tomato leaves and sprouted seeds
If you have a well for water, then you can fill your rabbit's water bottle straight out of the tap. If you have county or city water, you will need to dechlorinate your bunny's drinking water by using a filter in your refrigerator, or a stand-alone filter such as a Brita pitcher. If neither of these options are available to you, you can fill an empty pitcher with water and leave it uncovered on the counter for at least 24 hours to let the chlorine dissipate out, or you can buy distilled water at the grocery store.
If you change styles of waterer, keep an eye on the rabbit to make sure that it has figured out the new system. For example, if your rabbit had been drinking out of a bowl and you make the switch to a water bottle, watch to make sure that the rabbit is using the new bottle correctly. You may need to take the rabbit over to the bottle and gently put its mouth on the mouthpiece for it to get the idea. If your bunny is over 4 months of age, you can smear a little bit of banana (or other soft fruit) on the tip of the bottle to encourage the rabbit to investigate.
Rabbits need a piece of wood to chew on, to keep their teeth worn down. This can be a limb cut from an apple, maple, or pear tree. Make sure that you remove the leaves. If you cannot find a suitable tree, we sell fruit tree limbs for this purpose. Some pet stores will sell dyed blocks of wood for chewing, but most rabbits do not like the taste of the dye. The bark is their favorite part, and they would prefer something like what they would find in the wild.
Grooming You will need to clip your rabbit's nails about every 3 months. The time between clippings will vary a bit depending on the type of flooring that you have in your house. If the rabbit mostly hops on carpets, you might need to clip the nails more often, whereas if the bunny is in a basement on a rough cement floor, you will probably have more time in between clippings. You can use a pair of human toenail clippers, or specialized pet clippers if you find that you can't easily see what you're doing when using the toenail clippers. It helps to have two people, so that one can hold the bunny snugly while the second person takes one paw at a time and trims the nails. Make sure that you do not cut into the "quick" of the nail... this looks like a pink area inside the nail, and will bleed if nicked. If you are having trouble seeing where the quick ends, you can take a small flashlight and hold it behind the rabbit's paw. This will light up the nail and make the quick easier to spot.
Most rabbits do not need to be brushed on a regular basis, unless the rabbit is shedding and you want to cut down on the amount of loose fur. However, if you have a rabbit with long, angora fur, you will need to either clip or brush the hair to prevent it from becoming matted. Brushing for angoras is recommended about 3 times a week, or you can clip the fur short about every 2 to 3 months. Don't forget the rabbit's underbelly!
You will not need to bathe your rabbit, because they will clean themselves like cats. If your bunny does happen to get into something yucky and you need to clean them up, you can get a very shallow amount of warm water in the bathtub and let them hop around in it for a few minutes. Wipe them off with a damp washcloth, and dry them off well. But rabbits in general are not good swimmers, and they know this, so they tend to get stressed out when they are wet.
Most bunny owners never need to do any tooth care besides providing a piece of wood for their rabbit to chew on. The wood can be a limb from an apple, pear, or maple tree. You will never need to trim your rabbit's teeth, unless the bunny has a malocclusion. "Malocclusion" is a fancy way of saying that their bottom teeth come in front of their top teeth, causing what looks like an underbite. Malocclusions can either be genetic and present at birth, or they can be caused later in life by an injury. If you do happen to notice anything odd, such as strange mouth movements, protruding teeth, a change in their eating or chewing habits, or lips/cheeks that appear swollen... get your rabbit's teeth checked out!
EnvironmentKeep all rabbits, regardless of age, out of direct sunlight at all times. In the wild, rabbits are underground during the sunniest part of the day, and they tend to overheat very quickly when exposed to direct sunlight. If you travel with your bunny, don't forget to bring along some kind of shade in case the sun starts shining through your car window and onto the rabbit's crate.
Do not expose your rabbit to drastic temperature changes. If you are moving your rabbit in or out of the house, make sure that the temperature outdoors is as close to the indoor temperature as possible.
For general cleaning of your rabbit's cage or accessories, plain white vinegar works very well. You can also use a natural, enzyme-based cleaner that is designed for pets. Do not use chlorine bleach to disinfect your rabbit's cage or accessories. If you need to disinfect, use rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. Thoroughly spray the item, and let it air dry. The bunny should (obviously) not be in its cage while this is done!
Bunnies generally do not mind being the center of attention, so a high-traffic area of your home is a fine place for the rabbit to live. They will get used to noises (such as a vacuum cleaner), but may be nervous the first time they hear it. They are not sensitive to drafts, and do not need their cages covered at night the way some birds do. However, a lot of rabbits are bothered by strong artificial scents or air fresheners close to their cages.
Bunny-proofing your house is an important part of owning a rabbit. This will involve keeping an electrical cords out of reach (or trapped behind furniture). If you have a floor lamp or other cord that you just can't hide, you can purchase cord protector to prevent the rabbit from chewing on it. Some rabbits will decide to chew on a piece of wicker or wooden furniture, or a baseboard. You can try to discourage this by placing an appropriate chew toy in front of the area the bunny has been gnawing, and/or spraying the furniture or baseboards with a bitter taste deterrent. If your rabbit is extremely determined, you may just need to let the rabbit play in a basement, bedroom or playroom that doesn't have fancy furniture or woodwork in it.
Litter Training Rabbits in general are very easy to litter train when they are at least 6 to 12 weeks of age. When you first adopt your bunny, depending on its age, you may go
through a "diaper stage", where the bunny goes to the bathroom all over
the floor of the cage and shows no discretion whatsoever. This is
perfectly normal, and you should simply wait for the rabbit to become
more responsible in a few weeks.
Sometime between 6 to 12 weeks of age, rabbits will choose a corner of their cage that they want to use as their bathroom area. At that point, put a litter pan in the corner that they chose, and put some of their waste and dirty litter in the pan. They should then start to use the litter pan as their bathroom.
Try not to keep the litter pan too clean at first, because that will help the bunny remember where it is supposed to go to the bathroom. There may be a few accidents at first, while the rabbit is learning, but just clean up the spot to remove the scent of the waste or urine. This will discourage the bunny from going back to the same spot to do its business.
Prior to litter training, we recommend not letting the rabbit out to play on the floor of your house much, as this makes it harder for the bunny to learn where it is supposed to go potty. When your rabbit is using the litter pan reliably while inside the cage, you can start to let it play outside the cage while you are home. Set the cage on the floor, and leave the cage door open so that the bunny can hop in and out. If the cage is in a small room, the rabbit should hop right back in the cage to use its litter box. If the rabbit does not return to the cage to do its business, place the cage in a smaller room (such as a bathroom, laundry room, or even a closet) until the rabbit is regularly returning to the cage to use the litter box. At that point, you can give the rabbit more freedom in the house, perhaps two rooms at first, and then three, and so on until it has run of the whole house if you'd like.
Health and WellnessKeep an eye out for signs of diarrhea any time you give a rabbit a food it is not used to, especially the first time you give a 4-month-old rabbit its first taste of fresh foods. Diarrhea will make the rabbit's tail wet with light brown liquid, and it needs to be treated as quickly as possible with probiotics. Use probiotics in the rabbit's mouth, as well as its water, and immediately remove all access to fresh grass, fruits, or vegetables.
Normal rabbit droppings will look like small, dry marbles. However, there is another kind of rabbit droppings that you will see from time to time. It looks kind of like a blackberry, and it's referred to as "night feces" or "cecotropes". Your rabbit may ingest these droppings, which is perfectly normal.
Rabbit urine will vary in color, from almost white, through all different shades of yellow, up to an orangeish-red color. So-called "red urine" is not cause for alarm, even though it looks abnormal.
Rabbits are not prone to fleas or ticks. They can get them, if they are in contact with an animal that has them, but it's not something that rabbit owners have to worry about on a regular basis. If you do happen to notice red skin, flaky patches, or excessive scratching (remember that some scratching is perfectly normal... rabbits get itches just like humans do!), then it's a good idea to get your bunny checked out.
General Bunny QuestionsHow long do rabbits live?
The average is about 6 to 7 years, although they can live to be 13+.
Should I have my rabbit spayed or neutered?
You should definitely be open to it. You'll have to wait until the bunny is about 5 months old (most vets will do a pre-operation checkup to make sure that the rabbit is mature enough for surgery).
Can I keep more than one rabbit in the same cage?
You can add a female bunny to a neutered male, and they will almost always get along. Note the "almost" part. It's always a good idea to have plan B ready (a separate cage, for example) in case they don't end up being friends. And if two or more female rabbits grow up together, there's a good chance that they will remain friends, but again, have plan B ready in case they need to be separated. Giving a rabbit a friend is a little bit like a college roommate - sometimes you get along great, and sometimes it's just not a good match.
Will a rabbit get along with my dog or cat?
Most cats will just ignore or avoid a rabbit. Dogs that are calm and laid-back are usually no problem at all, and herding breeds of dog typically try to take care of the bunny... grooming it or watching to make sure it doesn't wander off. However, if your dog is hyper or the jealous type, be extra-careful, and consider keeping them apart at all times.
To introduce a dog to a bunny, have the dog on a leash and let it watch from a distance while you play with and hold the rabbit. This will let the dog know that the rabbit is not an intruder, and it will also get your scent on the rabbit so that the dog knows the bunny is yours. You will usually be able to tell if the dog is upset by the rabbit, or if it gets agitated or starts to bark. In that case, do not let the dog any closer to the rabbit. If the dog seems happy and calm, you can cautiously introduce the two of them, keeping the dog on the leash in case you need to separate them. You should be able to tell how things are going from the dog and bunny's body language.
What do I need to know before I meet a bunny for the first time?
If it's a chilly day, you should wear a soft, fuzzy hoodie or sweatshirt instead of a slick nylon jacket. The rabbits much prefer the softer fabric instead of the slick ones that make noise when you move your arms. If you have been petting a dog, it's a good idea to wash your hands and change your clothes so that the bunny is only experiencing your scent, and not that of the unfamiliar dog. For the same reason, it's a good idea to not wear any perfume. It's important to note that it is perfectly normal for a bunny to be a little bit nervous the first time they meet someone new. Just remember to speak softly and calmly to put them at ease, and stroke them on the top of their head while you are holding them. This calms them down and lets them realize that you don't mean them any harm.