Basic Pet Rabbit Care Guide for New Owners

Three pet rabbits

Rabbits are a popular small pet that can be easy to care for. They're an excellent choice even if you live in a small space but still want a friendly pet that you can cuddle with.

How to Take Care of a Rabbit

Rabbits are relatively easy to care for compared to some other types of pets. They're a good choice of pet for first-time owners and children, though choose your breed of rabbit carefully as some are shyer and more likely to nip small children.

Rabbit Housing

pet rabbit in cage straw floor

Rabbits are commonly kept either inside or outside, or in some cases, both. You can keep rabbits outside if you have the room and you live in a climate that doesn't get too hot or too cold. You can also keep them inside while providing them with a safe outdoor play area or a hutch during pleasant weather. Ideally it's best to keep them inside where they are free from being harassed by predators. There are a few items to observe when choosing your rabbit housing:

  • A cage with a solid floor will be easier on your bunny's feet, though you'll need to clean it more often. A wire cage floor is easier to clean but can be more uncomfortable for the rabbit and lead to health problems.
  • The rabbit cage should be a minimum of four times the size of your rabbit and ideally, a cage with at least two floors for the rabbit to move about and explore. Common cage sizes are:
    • 24" x 36" for an average size rabbit
    • 18" x 24" for a dwarf rabbit
    • 30" x 36" for larger breeds
  • Note these are minimums and larger is always better.
  • You will need to have bedding in the cage to protect your rabbit's feet and provide them a comfortable area to rest. Common bedding includes straw, hay, cardboard or paper such as CareFresh.
  • Make sure you place the cage in an area that is free from drafts as well as direct sunlight that can make it too hot in the summer.
  • The cage should also be in a quiet area of the house and if you have other pets, some place where they will not be intimidated by barking dogs or cats.

Rabbit Supplies

pet rabbit care drinking from water bottle in cage

Once you have a cage picked out, there are a few essential supplies you'll need for your rabbit.

  • Litter box - Training a rabbit to use a litter box makes clean up easier for you and the cage environment healthier for your rabbit. You'll need a rabbit-sized litter box, a scoop for cleaning and rabbit-safe litter.
  • Grooming tools - At the very least, you'll need a brush to groom your rabbit and small animal nail clippers. If you have a longer hair rabbit, you may also want to have a grooming comb and a dematting brush.
  • Water bottle - A water bottle that attaches to the cage is best because rabbits tend to knock over bowls of water.
  • Food dish - The dish for their food which should be made of heavier materials such as stoneware to keep them from knocking it over and chewing it.
  • Hay feeder - Rabbits need a constant supply of hay and having a hay feeder can keep hay readily available for chewing. A feeder also helps keep the hay dry and free of urine or feces.
  • Hiding area - Your rabbit should have at least one area that they can go into and rest without prying eyes. You can buy commercially made hides or make your own with cardboard boxes.
  • Rabbit chews - Rabbits chew a lot and it's necessary for them to keep their teeth healthy as well as stave off boredom. Providing them with a variety of rabbit-appropriate chews can keep them healthy and happy.
  • Toys - Rabbit toys that can keep him occupied, and many of these involve chewing as well.
  • Rabbit pen - If you want to give your rabbit time out of his cage, whether indoors or outdoors, having a pen to keep him safe is a good idea. You can use pens made for toddlers or puppies for this purpose.
  • Rabbit proofing supplies - Some rabbit owners allow their rabbits to have free roam of the house rather than using a pen. If that's the case, you should rabbit-proof any areas that your rabbit might chew on that can be dangerous. You can use rubber tubing or cable protectors for electrical cords and baby-safe inserts for outlets. Baby gates can keep your bunny out of areas you want him to avoid, as well as keep out other pets from his roaming area.

What to Feed Your Rabbit

Rabbits eat a diet primarily made up of hay and require hay in their cage 24/7. Adult rabbits can have timothy, oat or grass hay. In addition, the other 20% of their diet should consist of:

  • Rabbit pellets should be fed at a rate of about ? of a cup a day for dwarf bunnies, ¼ to ? of a cup a day for average rabbits and ? to ½ cup a day for larger rabbits.
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit should be a regular supplement in moderation. Always feed these in small quantities as rabbits have a delicate stomach and can become ill if they get too many changes in their diet too quickly.
  • Vegetables can be fed at a rate of about one cup per four pounds of body weight per day and it's best to provide them a mix of chopped vegetables.
  • Fruit should be fed at the most twice a week due to its high sugar content and in a quantity of no more than one or two tablespoons.
  • Fresh water should be available at all times.

Grooming a Pet Rabbit

grooming brush comb pet rabbit care

Rabbits are very much like cats in that they groom themselves often and are generally very clean pets. They still need your help by brushing them to keep their skin healthy and get rid of excessive fur. They can get sick by cleaning themselves and swallowing too much fur, just like cats with hairballs. However, unlike cats, rabbits cannot vomit up fur and it can lead to gastrointestinal blockages. Rabbits with longer hair will require more grooming than a shorter-hair variety. It's also important to keep their nails trimmed to keep their paws healthy. Rabbit do not need baths however and if they do get very dirty, you can use pet or baby wipes to clean them. Avoid putting them into water because rabbits will find this very traumatic.

Rabbit Health and Lifespan

Pet rabbits tend to live about eight to 12 years total, though lifespan length will vary depending on the breed. Smaller rabbits tend to live longer than larger ones. Rabbits that live inside will also tend to live longer than ones kept outside all the time. Rabbits are sensitive animals and can suffer from a few very common health conditions:

  • Gastrointestinal stasis is a condition where the rabbit's digestive system basically stops working. It can be fatal if not caught quickly. Signs include lack of appetite, smaller than normal feces or none at all, lethargic behavior and a "hunched" body posture that indicates the rabbit is uncomfortable.
  • Heatstroke is a common problem with rabbits that are either always kept outside or just brought outside to play.
  • Heart attacks are also very common with rabbits, and any undue stress can trigger a heart attack. It's important to not do anything to make your bunny anxious because it can be fatal.
  • Uterine and mammary cancer are common with female rabbits and sterilizing bunnies can help prevent health conditions as well as any undesirable behaviors related to mating.
  • Rabbits are also susceptible to eye conditions, particularly conjunctivitis, which can cause serious problems for a rabbit's vision if not treated.

Handling a Rabbit

proper technique to hold a pet rabbit

While rabbits can be affectionate pets who enjoy handling, it's important to always keep in mind that they are prey animals who can startle and become stressed easily. Since stress can lead to a heart attack, you always want to move gently and at the animal's comfort level. When handling a rabbit, always pick them up by supporting their front legs with one hand/arm and their back legs with your other hand or arm. Never let them hang limply because this can hurt them and also make them very distressed. You should also never hold them by the ears since their ears are not meant to sustain their body weight in that way.

Training a Rabbit

In addition to litter box training your rabbit, you can train them to do a lot of fun behaviors and tricks. Rabbits are very intelligent and respond well to clicker training. You can teach them to recognize their name and come when called, roll over, give you a "high five," and sit up. Some bunny owners even train their rabbits to do elaborate rabbit-sized agility courses based on the dog sport.

Keeping a Pet Rabbit

Rabbits are wonderful pets that can be affectionate, loving and lots of fun. They are intelligent creatures that can learn many fun tricks as well as just hang out with you on your lap. Just make sure if you bring a rabbit home that you have all the essential supplies and a cage setup that provides your bunny with enough roam to relax in and a proper diet to keep him healthy for years to come.

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Basic Pet Rabbit Care Guide for New Owners