How to Take Care of Rabbits: Guide for New Owners

Updated May 19, 2022
Woman holding a rabbit

Rabbits are entertaining and lovable pets. However, they have very different needs than other pets like dogs or cats. As a first-time bunny owner, it can feel overwhelming to learn everything involved in caring for your new pet. This basic guide to rabbit care breaks down what you need to know to raise a healthy, happy bunny.

How to Take Care of a Rabbit

Rabbits are relatively easy to care for once you understand their unique anatomy, personalities, and needs. They're a good choice for first-time owners and those who live in small spaces.

Rabbit Housing

Rabbits can be kept indoors, outdoors, or both. When deciding where to house your new rabbit, consider where you have enough space for an enclosure and exercise area, whether your climate will reach extreme temperatures, whether there will be adequate ventilation, and if there are any predators present. Choose the safest option for your rabbit.

Keeping a Rabbit Indoors

Indoor rabbits, also known as house rabbits, should have a safe, comfortable enclosure with adequate bedding. Many owners keep their rabbits in a large cage; it should have a minimum of 12 square feet of space. You could also use a secure pet playpen to confine your rabbit to a specific area. Either way, it's important to give your rabbit at least an hour of supervised time outside the cage each day for exercise.

Pet rabbit in cage straw floor

Alternatively, you could give your rabbit completely free rein of the house. If this is the path you choose, it's important to bunny-proof your home. Rabbits are big chewers, so you must protect all wires, electrical cords, furniture legs, baseboards, plants, or any other items your bunny could gnaw on. This isn't just to protect your things, but to keep your rabbit from eating something that could harm them.

Keeping a Rabbit Outdoors

Outdoor rabbits have similar needs to those kept inside. You must provide them with a safe, weatherproof hutch that is well ventilated. They'll also need time outside their cage to roam and stretch their legs. If you're worried about your outdoor rabbit getting cold in the winter, know that this species can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, conditions colder than this are too extreme for rabbits, so you'll want to using warming aids or house your bunnies inside during those cold months.

Rabbit Elimination Habits

If you're new to rabbits, you may wonder where your new pet will relieve themselves. Most rabbits will choose a corner in their cage or hutch to urinate. Because they like to do this, it's fairly easy to litter box train your rabbit. Keep in mind that Rabbit urine can range in color from yellow to dark orange, so don't be alarmed if you notice urine this shade.

Rabbits also tend to pick a few places to defecate, but it's possible to train them to poop in their litter box, too. However, rabbits can leave droppings as a way of marking their territory.

Another important thing new rabbit owners should know is that rabbits eat their own feces. They produce two types of stool; the small, round pellets most people are familiar with, and cecotropes, which are known as "night poops." These special stools contain beneficial bacteria and vitamins that your rabbit needs, so they re-ingest them immediately after passing them.

You probably won't see any of these night poops, but if you do notice what looks like a bundle of small, shiny grapes in your rabbit's cage, you've found a cecotrope, and it's not a cause for concern. However, if you find numerous cecotropes, it's important to contact your veterinarian, as this may be a sign of illness or inappropriate diet.

What to Feed Your Rabbit

If you have a baby bunny, they have specialized diet needs due to their growing bodies. However, adult rabbits over the age of 8 months old should eat a balanced diet of hay, rabbit pellets, and fresh vegetables, and they should always have access to fresh water.

Pet rabbit care drinking from water bottle in cage
  • Hay: Rabbits need constant access to an unlimited supply of high-quality hay, like Timothy, oat, or grass hay, at all times. This makes up about 80 to 90 percent of their diet.
  • Fresh vegetables: Offer a variety of safe vegetables. Feed about 1 cup of veggies for every 5 pounds of body weight each day.
  • Pellets: Purchase high-quality pellets that are formulated specifically for rabbits. When looking at the nutritional contents, select a product that contains 22 percent fiber and 14 to 16 percent protein. You'll feed about 1/8 cup for every 5 pounds of body weight daily.
  • Water: Have fresh water available at all times. A rabbit water bottle is ideal, because rabbits tend to knock over bowls of water.

Handling a 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. Stress can lead to a heart attack, so always be mindful of loud noises around your rabbit and move gently. Unfortunately, rabbits can die of fright in extreme cases.

It's also important for new rabbit owners to understand that these pets can injure their spines if not handled correctly. If a rabbit becomes spooked or is held poorly, they can kick out with their strong back legs and dislocate or break their spine. When handling a rabbit, always support their back legs and rear in one hand/arm and their front legs and chest with the other. Hold the rabbit close to you to they feel safe and secure to prevent them from kicking out. Never let your rabbit hang limply or hold them by their ears or limbs.

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, come when called, give you a "high five," and sit on their hind legs. Some bunny owners even train their rabbits to do elaborate rabbit-sized agility courses based on the dog sport.

Rabbit Veterinary Care

Every pet should have regular checkups, including your rabbit. Not all veterinary hospitals have the knowledge or equipment to see rabbits, so you'll need to locate a veterinarian in your area who will see exotic small mammals. Schedule a routine physical exam with them annually to make sure your rabbit stays in good health and seek care anytime you notice signs of illness.

Proper technique to hold a pet rabbit

If your rabbit is intact, meaning they have not been spayed or neutered, you can consider having them altered. Doing so will eliminate their risk of reproductive diseases like uterine cancer and can reduce mounting or spraying behaviors.

Optimal Rabbit Care for a Long, Happy Life

Rabbits are wonderful pets that can be affectionate, loving, and a lot of fun. When bringing home your new rabbit, make sure you have all essential supplies, a high-quality diet, and a safe cage setup that provides your bunny with enough room. With the right rabbit care, your new pet can live a full and long life.

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How to Take Care of Rabbits: Guide for New Owners