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. Below is some basic information about rabbit care. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by email or give us a call!
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 Excercise
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 on the right). 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.
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. 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 one to two times 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. Every other day 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 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.
Although a pen 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.
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.
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 severe 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 (any kind except for iceberg), parsley (both curly and Italian), 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 fed once a week, or just as a treat. Check out House Rabbit Society's list of suggested vegetables for more information on what and what not to feed your rabbit.
How do you know how much to feed? The rule is 1 cup to every 6lbs twice daily. 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 treats and pellets. Treats are classified as fruits, 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 - cookies, crackers, bread, chips, popcorn, yogurt, 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.
Part of bunny-ownership entails making sure your rabbits are healthy. The first part is finding a rabbit-savy veterinarian, since most vets will not see rabbits. Check out our Recommended Vets.
Problems can arise quickly, so it is important to interact with your bunnies daily. If your normally-sociable rabbit hides and doesn't want to come out to eat, you will know you have an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
Currently, there is no FDA-approved vaccinations for rabbits in the United States, and so there are no yearly vaccinations to be administered. You should, however, take your rabbit to see the vet annually just as you would a dog or cat.
Spay and Neuter
Common Health Concerns
Spay And Neuter
Spaying and neutering your rabbits is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a long life for your bunnies. Approximately 85% of unspayed females will die before the age of 5 from uterine cancer.
Common Health Concerns
The following is a list of the most common rabbit ailments. Some may be easily handled with a quick trip to the vet, while others need surgery and several months of post-op treatment.
Gastrointestinal hypomotility ("stasis"): This is the most common of bunny digestive issues. The bunny stops eating and pooping, and looks uncomfortable. There might be a variety of reasons why a rabbit stops eating. It can be as simple as bad diet, or it may be a result of something else - infection, teeth issues, etc. If your rabbit hasn't eaten or passed feces in 12 hours, this requires veterinarian care. If you feel the bunny's stomach, and it is hard (like a rock or a water balloon), there is a blockage somewhere in the digestive track. This is bloat, and it can kill your rabbit in 6-12 hours. Bloat requires immediate veterinarian action!!
Malocclusion: Rabbits have 28 continually growing teeth. Normally the teeth wear themselves down through food or chewing other objects. However, if the jaw is misaligned, the teeth do not line up and cannot wear each other down. The teeth continue to grow, and can grow into the lip, nose, cheek or tongue of the bunny. This situation requires veterinarian care, so the vet can safely trim the teeth or remove them entirely, if necessary.
Abscesses: Abscesses are pockets of pus, and they can occur anywhere in the body. The cause may be obvious - the result of bad teeth, a bite wound, etc., and other times not so much. A bunny with an abscess needs to undergo surgery to have the abscess removed. Afterwards, the bunny needs to undergo extensive antibiotic treatment to ensure the abscess does not return.
Fleas and mites: Fleas are not common in house rabbits, unless the home also has other pets which go outside (dogs and/or cats). Mites are found in the ear and/or fur, and they will usually present themselves when a bunny's immune system is compromised. Ear mites can start in the inside base of the ear and work itself up, forming crusts which bleed when scraped. Fur mites are usually found at the back of the neck or around the rear. It can look like dandruff, and if left untreated, can leave bald patches on the bunny. Both form of mites can be treated with a prescription of Revolution, found at your vet.
Urine scald: Bunnies urinate by pushing back their hips, lifting their tail and urinating away from their body. Sometimes this does not happen, and the urine ends up being soaked up by the fur surrounding the groin area and burning the skin underneath. This may be the result of an infection, obesity, or - if the bunny happens to be older - arthritis. A vet can determine the cause and decide on the appropriate treatment.
Coccidiosis: This is a protozoan infection which can cause severe diarrhea. This is a particular concern for very young rabbits, as they can become quickly dehydrated and die. A simple fecal float can determine whether a bunny is infected and needs to be treated.
Pasteurellosis: This is a bacterial infection, which normally affects the upper respiratory area. Symptoms can include thick, white or yellow discharge from the nose and/or eyes, sneezing, difficulty breathing and coughing. The bacteria can travel to other parts of the body and cause pneumonia and abscesses. Infections in the ear can cause head tilt - a situation where the head is bent as much as 90 degrees. Severe infections require veterinarian treatment, however, it is difficult to eliminate the bacteria completely and the infections frequently return. There are numerous strains of Pasteurella and they can be easily spread. In fact most rabbits in the United States already have the bacteria, although many may never show symptoms.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi): This is a protozoal parasite extremely common in domestic rabbits. Many rabbits are born with it - infected by their mothers - and may live out their lives never showing any symptoms. Others may not be so lucky. This parasite affects the nervous system, and may cause the following: head tilt (this may be caused by BOTH Pasteurella and E. cuniculi - you need to treat for both), rear-end paralysis, incontinence, and rupture of the lens of the eye (creating cataracts). Lesions are deposited in the brain, kidneys and sometimes the liver. A bunny experiencing symptoms needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Despite such situations as head-tilt or rear-end paralysis, a bunny can learn to adapt to his new situation and still live a happy life.
Rabbits undergo a heavy shed approximately 3-4 times a year with a light shed in between. However, some owners might think that their bunny goes through a heavy shed all year around. Bunnies should have their coats combed out frequently (daily if they're going through their heavy shed). Bunnies should NEVER be bathed, as this can be very stressful for a rabbit. They are self-groomers, just like cats. They should have their nails trimmed about every 6-8 weeks. This is important because bunnies can tear their nails on carpet, their pen, or on other objects, which can be painful. Males can also develop testicular cancers, although they do not tend to have as high a rate of occurrence of cancer as unspayed females. Along with preventing unwanted pregnancies and eliminating territorial-behavior, spaying and neutering is an essential part of owning bunnies. If your rabbit has "poopy butt," it indicates improper diet or your rabbit may be obese; please change to a high fiber diet that includes Timothy pellets and Timothy hay. If the condition persists, see your vet.
AM I READY FOR A RABBIT?
Is a Rabbit the Right Pet for Me?
Bunnies are adorable, but are you ready for one?
Most people do not spend a great deal of time thinking about rabbits and would be surprised to know that these are intelligent animals, who show a wide range of emotions and personalities. Let's point out some facts about bunnies to help you decide if they would suit your lifestyle. Remember, a rabbit depends on you for food, shelter and companionship. Can you provide for him?
Rabbits live on average 10-years.
Most people think bunnies just live 2 or 3 years, and are surprised when they learn rabbits can live a long time. This makes rabbits a long-term commitment. What if you move, get married, have children, go to college? Will your bunny stay with you during all this time? Of course, a bunny's longevity is not a bad thing. It means you can enjoy the company of your rabbits for many years to come.
Rabbits cannot live outdoors, nor should they live in a cage.
As previously mentioned in Rabbit Care, domestic rabbits cannot live outdoors because of environmental conditions and the presence of predators. Nor should they ever be released into the wild. Domestic rabbits do not have the survival instincts to survive and quickly die. Cages and hutches are also inappropriate houses, since they are not big enough or designed well. Wire bottom floors can severely damage rabbit feet.
Indoor rabbits make entertaining and wonderful companions. They can sit with you while watching television, or snuggle with your feet while you sit at your desk. They quickly learn that the opening of the fridge door means there will soon be good things to eat. They can learn tricks, and be good company to have around.
Rabbits are messy, especially unaltered babies.
Many rabbit advocates will tell you that bunnies are clean animals. While this may be true in the sense that they will not run outside and roll in mud, or bring home dead mice and birds, you should not expect your home to remain clean. Since the majority of a bunny's diet is hay, this means hay will be everywhere, (even if your bunny is confined to a section of your house). Hay is messy. Bunnies also shed an incredible amount of hair. They typically go into a heavy shed 3-4 times a year, but other bunnies seem to shed a great deal daily. Be prepared for the presence of real dust bunnies. This means there is considerable work involved in keeping your home reasonably clean.
Unaltered babies can be particularly messy. As you wait for them to become old enough to undergo surgery, they will toss hay around and have deplorable litter box skills. They will also mark their territory, which involves spraying urine. This unpleasant habit diminishes when rabbits are spayed or neutered, but they will still do this when introduced into a new territory or new bunny companion.
Rabbits are exotics.
Although rabbits are increasingly popular as pets, not every vet will see them and even if you do find one, they may not be very experienced in treating them. They are still classified as exotics, which means that vet visits are typically more expensive than for a dog or cat. See our Recommended Vets for the one nearest you.
Rabbits hate being picked up & cuddled. They are fragile and are not suitable for children.
Bunnies, especially babies, are irresistibly cute. They look like they're just begging to be picked up and cuddled. In actuality, the bunny is terrified. Rabbits are prey animals, and the act of being picked up and held is a frightening experience for them. If you insist on picking them up, they may bite and scratch - both which can be extremely painful. Children can be unintentionally rough with rabbits. With mishandling, they may break a rabbit's back or legs. They prefer to sit next to you (or if you happen to be lying on the floor, they enjoy climbing on your back and checking out the view from there.)
Since rabbits are prey animals, it is important to establish a level of trust between you and your bunny. This involves an investment of time in getting to know the bunny (and vice versa). Once a bunny trusts you, you will have a rewarding relationship between you and your pet.
So why should I consider a rabbit as a pet?
There's more to rabbits than meets the eye. They are intelligent, sociable and passionate animals. They can learn their names, be trained to learn what's acceptable and what's not, and they can even learn tricks. There are even clubs around the world that do rabbit agility (although rabbits are trained differently than dogs).
They enjoy company, but can be choosy who they spend their time with. Just as you have your preferences who you have as friends, so do rabbits.
Some bunnies are easy-going and readily accept anyone, other bunnies prefer the company of a particular rabbit or human. Still there are other rabbits who will make their preferences very obvious and will do anything in their power to let you know what their opinion is.
They are curious and love to explore and play, and some bunnies will readily engage in a game of toss with you. Others will figure out what will soften your heart enough to hand out treats. They can be mischievous. They can be determined and may take on the task of establishing themselves as the head of your household - much to the dismay of your other pets. They display emotions such as contentment, happiness, love, anger, jealousy, fear, and will often grieve deeply at the loss of dear friend.
They are anything but boring and dumb.
Here is a list of veterinarians All About Rabbits Rescue has used in the past and would recommend. If you do not live in the area, you may be able to find a veterinarian through the House Rabbit Society. However, be sure you do the appropriate research, as not every vet is experienced treating rabbits. Click here for tips on how to screen for a proper vet.
The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine
568 Columbus Avenue, NYC 10024
(212) 501-8750Shachar Malka, DVM
Humane Society of New York
306 East 59th St. NYC 10024
Symphony Veterinary Center
170 West 96th Street, NYC 10025
Animal Medical Center NYC
510 E. 62nd Street, NYC 10021
Call or Email: (914) 421-0020 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Dakota Veterinary Center
381 Dobbs Ferry Road, White Plains, NY 10607
Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics
709 Bedford Road
Bedford Hills, NY 10507
Long Island Bird & Exotics Veterinary Clinic
333 Great neck Rd.
Great nack, NY 11201
Fax: (516) 482 - 1144
Catnip and Carrots Veterinary Hospital
2050 Hillside Avenue
New Hyde Park, NY 11040
Island Exotic Vet Care
591 East Jericho Turnpike
Huntington, NY 11746
Jefferson Animal Hospital606 Patchogue Rd.
Pt Jefferson Station, NY 11776
(631) 473-0415 For rabbit vets in NJ, CT and other areas, please visit The House Rabbit Society