Rabbits are highly intelligent and social animals, who are full of personality. They make wonderful pets and are increasingly popular in households around the world. However, they are not like dogs or cats and need special considerations. They are prey animals, grazers and have delicate body structure. Since the concept of a house rabbit is a relatively new idea, there is much misinformation about the proper care of these beautiful animals. We at BunnyLuv have lived with rabbits for over 25 years and are quite the expert on bunnies as pets.
Below is some basic information about rabbit care. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us, or visit us and talk to us in person!
Rabbits have delicate body structure. Their bones are light and can break from a swift kick from a bunny's back legs. That is why it is important to support the rear legs and back, and to prevent the bunny from leaping from any great height (such as your arms while you're standing up or even from your bed or couch). Always support the bunny's back legs and hold him securely against your body. When you need to set him down, make sure you're close to the ground before releasing him. Never hold a rabbit by the scruff of his neck or pick him up by his ears. Rabbits do not react to scruffing the same way as cats. Rabbits do not go limp and relax. Scruffing rabbits increases the chance the bunny will panic and seriously injure himself, while lifting him by the ears is incredibly painful for the bunny.
Housing and Exercise
Indoor vs. Outdoor:
Traditionally rabbits have been kept in gardens or barns. However you can only discover their cleverness and wonderful personalities if they live indoors as a fully integrated member of your family. Inside, they are protected from the elements, intense heat, parasites such as fleas and predators. A determined predator can easily get around wiring and other barriers to attack the rabbits. If the indoor bunny becomes ill, you are more likely to notice than if the bunny lives in a hutch outside.
So you decided to keep the bunny indoors, now what? If you look at various pet stores, they'll sell different types of cages. How do you chose? Unfortunately most cages and hutches sold are inappropriate for rabbits. They are usually much too small for a rabbit (even the dwarf ones) to live in. Even worse, there are those cages with wire floors, which can severely damage a bunny's feet. A rabbit needs to be able to stretch out, stand up and be able to move around comfortably.
That is why we recommend at minimum a 4x4 exercise pen for 1-2 bunnies, (see picture above). It fits a litter box, a place to hide, water and food dishes and some toys. It also allows a bunny to stretch out and move around.
Although this is a suitable enclosure for a bunny, he still needs time outside of his pen. Rabbits should get at least 4 hours of exercise time daily. This allows a bunny to run, jump, make binkies and explore his surroundings. Letting your rabbit explore the house is an enriching activity for him. Of course, there are many people who allow their rabbits partial or even full access to the house. If this is something you can do, that is fantastic. Just make sure your home is adequately bunny-proofed.
Litter Box Training:
Bunnies take to litter boxes quite naturally. However they do not use litter boxes the same way as cats. Rabbits will frequently lounge in their box and may nibble on their litter. This makes it essential that the box is kept clean and that the proper litter be used. Make sure you have a box size appropriate for your rabbit(s). The minimum should be a jumbo-size litter pan (22.25"L x 16.75"W x 6.75"H). This fits one bunny comfortably, (two if they are both approximately 5lbs). Line the box with an appropriate litter. Never use clay or clumping cat litter! These products can potentially kill your bunny! Instead, use a recycled paper product such as CareFresh or Back-2-Nature. These are safe for the bunny to consume in small quantities. Litter made from pine or cedar shavings are to be avoided as well. This type of litter can cause respiratory and liver damage. However you can use wood shavings or pellets from trees other than pine or cedar. You can also use newspaper (as long as the ink is soy-based). The disadvantage to regular newspaper is that it doesn't absorb urine odor well.
Rabbits tend to relieve themselves in corners. Litter box training involves little more than observing which corner your bunny prefers and placing a box in that corner. To encourage your bunny into the box, place hay inside the box. Bunnies are grazers, which means that they eat continually throughout the day. It also means that bunnies eat and defecate at the same time. Rabbits do not eat the soiled hay, as long as they have access to fresh hay.
Since bunnies like to sleep in their litter boxes, nibble on hay and sometimes litter, it is important to keep the box clean. Top off the litter box twice a day with a shoebox-size amount of hay. Once the box becomes full, you can remove the top layer of hay and add fresh hay. Once a week the whole box should be emptied, cleaned with white vinegar (let the bottom soak in vinegar for at least 10 minutes), wipe dry and fill back up with 1-2" of CareFresh (or other appropriate litter) and fresh hay.
A rabbit's digestive system is always moving. A single rabbit can produce approximately 200 pills (the hard feces) a day. Most of those pills will be deposited in the litter box, however, there are usually a few that are deposited around the litter box and pen. Your rabbit doesn't necessarily have terrible bathroom habits. Your rabbit is marking his territory. This frequently happens if you introduce a new bunny friend for your rabbit, or if you move into a new home.
If your rabbit is frequently urinating and pooping outside of the box, there may other factors involved. Unaltered rabbits (those not spayed or neutered) are particularly messy. If you have an adult, your bunny may have bladder issues. Seniors may have arthritis. If your neat bunny is suddenly missing his box, it may be time to visit your vet.
Bunny-Proofing Your Home:
Bunnies are incredibly destructive. Their favorite things to do in the whole world is digging and chewing. In a home that means they love to chew furniture, baseboards, doors, books, plants and power cords. Digging means they enjoy pulling up carpet fibers. Unfortunately such destruction is not only exasperating and expensive for the owners, but it can be dangerous for bunnies. Rabbits can be fatally shocked if they bite through a power cord. Ingesting certain plants can also be deadly. If they swallow the carpet fibers, the fibers may cause a blockage, which can lead to a painful death.
The key to bunny-proofing is to either move valuables or power cords out of reach, or blocking access (such as placing a bookshelf in front of the baseboards). Access can be blocked by the use of baby gates or removing temptations such as shag rugs. It is also important to give your bunnies a suitable distraction. If you catch your bunny chewing on something forbidden, say 'no' and immediately move the bunny away and give him something you approve, such a a cardboard box. After a few times your bunny will catch on that the box is OK. The key is being consistent in training. If your bunny is a digger, you can take a box and fill it with something safe (such as shredded paper) and let the bunny toss it all out. Check out the House Rabbit Society for ideas on making your own homemade bunny toys.
Many people think a rabbit should be able to live on a constant supply of carrots. Unfortunately Bugs Bunny is not a credible source for information on what a proper rabbit diet entails.
Since rabbits are grazing animals, it is important to realize how different they are from dogs, cats and even us humans. If a dog gets into the garbage and has an upset stomach, he may be off his food for a day or two. When we're sick with a cold or flu, we don't eat very much. Rabbits eat throughout the day. If they stop eating for more than 12 hours, it becomes a serious medical problem which can quickly lead to death.
Unlike dogs or cats, rabbits are physically unable to vomit. This means rabbits need a high-fiber diet to keep their digestive system always moving. At least 75% of a bunny's diet should consist of hay. For babies, pregnant or lactating bunnies, alfalfa hay should be fed in unlimited amounts as it is rich in calories, protein and calcium. After young babies are spayed or neutered (anywhere from 4-6 months of age), they can be introduced to a more appropriate hay such as an oat blend, timothy or orchard grass. Once the young rabbits reach 8 months, they stop eating alfalfa hay. It's important NOT to keep adults on alfalfa hay because it is too rich in protein and calcium. Too much calcium can damage a rabbit's kidneys and liver.
Don't know which hay to use? Oat blends are high in fiber and tasty (due to the oats) to rabbits. Timothy hay is similar in nutrition to the oat blend, and usually more easily found in pet stores. Orchard grass is also suitable, and recommended for bunnies who have had teeth removed or for those owners with sever hay allergies, as orchard grass is much less dusty than either the oat blend or timothy hay. It's fine to feed them more than one type. Just avoid the alfalfa hay.
It's important to realize that bunnies will not eat every single piece of hay in their box. They will typically waste a large portion of the hay given to them - up to 25%. To make sure they are consuming enough fiber, it's essential to feed a shoe-box size of fresh hay twice a day. You will know when your bunny is getting enough hay, when their feces is consistent in shape, size and crumbles easily.
20% of a rabbit's diet should consist of green vegetables. Lettuces (Romaine, Red or Green leaf, but never iceberg), parsley (Italian -flat type), cilantro, basil, dill, mint, endive and escarole are all suitable. Others, such as chard, dandelion greens, and carrot tops, are rich and can cause soft stool if fed on a daily basis. It can be fed once a week, or just as a treat. Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, kale or celery should never be fed out.
How do you know how much to feed? The rule is 1 cup to every 6lbs twice daily. The picture above is suitable for two bunnies under 6lbs. If the bunnies are being fed greens just once a day, the portions should be doubled.
The last 5% of a bunny's diet should be pellets and treats. Treats are classified as fruits (banana, apple, strawberry, blueberry, watermelon, a grape cut in 1/2, carrots and oat groats. This is because fruits and carrots are high in sugars, and oat groats have a high fat content. Just a pinch of oat groats, a baby carrot or a half-inch of fruit (such as banana) once or twice a week is a suitable portion for a bunny. A diet high in treats creates an overweight bunny with soft, smelly stools.
There are many commercial pellets available. Unfortunately many brands are not appropriate for rabbits. Any brand that contains nuts, seeds, corn or dairy should be avoided. Rabbits cannot digest these ingredients. Young rabbits and those pregnant or lactating should have an alfalfa-based pellet (unlimited access), while adults should have a timothy-based pellet. No more than 1/4 cup of timothy-based pellets daily for a 5lb adult bunny, and it is advisable to feed less if the bunny is overweight.
Never feed chocolate - which is poisonous (as is avocado) cookies, crackers, bread, chips, popcorn, yogurt, honey, pasta or anything else that has been processed. It does not matter whether it is organic or not. Rabbits will eat these things - and may attack that bag of corn chips with relish - but they cannot digest these items and these foods can cause serious health issues.
Baby bunnies should stay with their mothers until they are at least 8-weeks-old. Babies nurse twice a day, usually late at night and around dawn. They will start to nibble on alfalfa hay around 4-weeks, and may start to take an interest in pellets around this age too. Greens can be introduced slowly around 8-weeks of age. Frequently pet stores and other places will sell unweaned babies who may be only 4-weeks-old or younger. If you find yourself with an unweaned baby, you can bottle-feed them with KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) formula, found in major pet stores. Check out the House Rabbit Society for further details, or contact us directly for advice.
Rabbits are social animals. In nature, wild rabbits will live in large groups, so it is logical that a single bunny living in a pen by himself would be incredibly lonely. Pairs and groups of bunnies will frequently sit together, groom each other, and offer comfort to each other in times of great stress (such as going to the vet). They will play together (particularly if they are still young), and offer each other support when they're older. They become attached to their bond-mate, and often fall into a depression after their bond-mate passes away.
That being said, you cannot bring home a second rabbit and just place her in the same pen as your current bunny. Rabbits are extremely territorial and can quickly injure another rabbit they are not familiar with. Rabbits must be spayed and/or neutered, and introductions must be made slowly under supervision in a neutral territory. This process of introducing rabbits to one another is called bonding.
Despite the hard work of bonding, it is highly rewarding to own a group of rabbits. It is through multiple bunnies, you can truly appreciate different aspects of each bunny's personality. Is one bossy? Who is the peace-maker? Who is easy-going? Who loves to play? Who loves to groom? You'll never want to have just one bunny again.
Worried that your single bunny won't love you anymore if he gets a new friend? Just as you yourself can have different relationships with a variety of people, so can your bunny. Your bunny will always love you, but will definitely appreciate another creature who can understand his language. Also if your current bunny is a little shy towards you, introducing a bunny who is confident around people can encourage your bunny to be a little bit more outgoing.
Dogs and Cats:
Dogs and cats are by far the most common pet found in households, and many people own several different kind of animals. So can bunnies be friends with other animals? It can depend on the individual animal. Dogs and cats are predators, and sometimes rabbits are nervous around them. There are instances where the rabbit dominates the whole household and will chase the dog or cat, but this is not a normal dynamic. Generally speaking, cats and rabbits can get along very well, although individual personalities of both species determines the relationship. Caution should be used if the rabbit is a baby, as the cat may use them as a toy.
Dogs tend to be another matter. Many breeds of dogs have been specifically developed to hunt rabbits. Think of the Greyhound or Saluki - sighthounds - who have been chasing rabbits for centuries. Other breeds like Terriers have a high prey drive and will automatically chase down anything smaller than them. Although toy breeds seem safe because they've been bred to be companions, they may not be a suitable housemates as many can be high-strung and stress the rabbit with constant barking. The key to a successful dog-bunny introduction depends on the breed, age (a puppy will be more likely to injure the bunny through rough play than a senior who wants to sleep all day), and personality of both the individual dog and bunny (some rabbits will not tolerate the presence of a dog at all). Do not depend on your dog's obedience training to leave a rabbit alone. Dogs and rabbits should not be left together unsupervised, as this may result in tragic results for your bunny.
Bunnies definitely benefit from having toys. It relieves boredom, it gives them something to chew on (which protects your furniture, shoes and other valuables), and it helps keep their constantly growing teeth in check. Favorites include untreated willow, cardboard boxes and tunnels, untreated apple wood, wire cat balls, baby keys (make sure they're made out of the hard plastic), wooden rattles and toss toys.
Check out our store to see a full selection of bunny-safe toys!