Animal Care

Rabbit Care

Rabbits make great pets but, like any living creature, they require certain conditions to be happy and healthy. This care guide introduces you to everything you need to get the most enjoyment out of your pet rabbit!

Is a Rabbit Right for You?

The first thing to consider before you get a pet rabbit is that they have a long lifespan so be prepared to care for them long term. Rabbits are also unique creatures who form tight bonds with their families, but they also have some quirks you should know about. They require some routine vet care from a good rabbit vet and are not low-maintenance pets if you are doing things right. If you are prepared for all the unique qualities and needs of rabbits, you will be able to fully enjoy the wonderful companionship they can offer.

Choosing a Healthy Rabbit

A fairly quick look over at your potential pet rabbit will help you sort out if there are any obvious signs of illness or other issues. While there are no guarantees, avoiding rabbits that have common signs of health problems can save you a lot of heartache in the future. By having a close look at a rabbit you are considering, you also get a chance to see the personality of the rabbit.

Also, if you have decided to add a rabbit to the family, it is highly recommended you start out by looking at your local shelter or rabbit rescues. There are lots of rabbits who need a second chance at a forever home.

Feeding Pet Rabbits

Even the best quality rabbit pellet is not adequate on its own as a diet for pet rabbits. Plenty of fresh grass hay is very important in a rabbit’s diet, as are fresh greens and vegetables. The right diet is critical to keeping pet rabbits healthy. Get the scoop on feeding your rabbit a well-balanced and high-fiber diet.

What to Feed Rabbits

Fiber is vital to the normal function of the digestive system in rabbits. Fresh grass hay and vegetables should make up the bulk of the diet for house rabbits. Feeding a diet consisting mainly of pellets may result in obesity and increase the likelihood of digestive problems for your pet rabbit. While there is some fiber in pellets, it is finely ground and does not appear to stimulate intestinal function as well as the fiber found in grass hays. Roughage, such as hay, also aids in the prevention of hairballs and keeps teeth trimmed. The addition of some pellets does add some balance to the diet, however, if your rabbit is a picky eater.

Anything other than hay, vegetables, and pellets is considered a treat and should be feed in strict moderation. The digestive system of a rabbit is very susceptible to serious upsets (ileus) if the diet is inappropriate.

The number of pellets should be restricted, especially in overweight rabbits, but any reduction in pellets should be made up with a variety of fresh vegetables and unlimited access to hay.​

Feeding Rabbits Hay

Hay (specifically grass hays, such as timothy or oat hay) should be available at all times to your rabbit. Some rabbits may not eat much hay at first but by adding fresh hay a couple of times a day and reducing the number of pellets you offer, your rabbit will likely become hungry enough to eat the hay. The House Rabbit Society recommends starting baby bunnies on alfalfa hay and introducing grass hays by 6 to 7 months, gradually decreasing the alfalfa until the rabbit is solely on grass hays by 1 year of age. Alfalfa hay is higher in calcium and protein and lower in fiber than the grass hays, and can cause issues in adult rabbits, although many owners find their rabbits prefer alfalfa hays. If your adult rabbit is used to alfalfa hay, try mixing alfalfa with grass hay to start and gradually reduce the amount of alfalfa you have to offer. 

Vegetables for Rabbits

Vegetables should make up a large portion of your rabbit’s diet. Depending on the size of the rabbit, 2 to 4 cups of fresh veggies should be given per day. A variety must be fed daily to ensure a balanced diet. If a rabbit is used to eating mainly pellets, the change must be made gradually to allow the rabbit’s digestive system time to adjust. Only add one new vegetable to the diet at a time so if the rabbit has diarrhea or other problems it will be possible to tell which vegetable is the culprit.

Suggested vegetables to feed include carrots, carrot tops, parsley, broccoli, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, turnip greens, endive, romaine lettuce, kale, and spinach. However, kale, spinach, and mustard greens are high in oxalates so their feeding should be limited. Beans, cauliflower, cabbage, and potatoes may cause problems and should be avoided. Iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value and can cause diarrhea so it should be avoided.

WARNING

Rhubarb should also be avoided since it is toxic to rabbits. Wash vegetables well and only feed dandelions and other plants that are known to be pesticide-free if you are taking them from a yard.

Vegetables should be introduced to bunnies around 12 weeks of age, in small quantities, and one at a time. As more vegetables are added, watch for diarrhea and discontinue the most recently added vegetable if this occurs. 

Feeding Rabbit Pellets

Pellets are basically designed for commercial rabbit production and are quite high in calories. As a result, house rabbits fed unlimited pellets may end up with obesity and related health problems, as well as an excess of other nutrients. Pellets do have a place in rabbit nutrition, as they are rich and balanced in nutrients. However, experts recommend restricting the number of pellets fed and instead feed more fresh vegetables and grass hays.

Choose a fresh, good-quality pellet. The House Rabbit Society recommends a minimum of 20-25% fiber, around 14% protein (no animal protein), and less than 1% calcium for most house rabbits (spayed/neutered). For adults, the amount should be carefully regulated depending on the size, by weight, of the rabbit. As a rule, give about 1/4 cup of pellets to rabbits 5 to 7 lbs., 1/2 cup for 8 to 10 lb. rabbits, and 3/4 cup for 11 to 15 lb. rabbits. Baby rabbits can be fed pellets free choice (available at all times) and then the amount can be decreased to 1/2 cup per 6 lb. of body weight by around 6 months of age.

Treats for Rabbits

The House Rabbit Society recommends that 6-pound mature adult rabbits (1 to 5 years) be feed 2 tablespoons of fresh fruit daily as a treat.2 Treats sold in pet stores marketed for rabbits are generally unnecessary and in some cases could cause digestive problems due to their high carbohydrate or sugar content. Also, as an alternative to food treats, consider offering twigs from apple or willow trees (pesticide-free only) or other rabbit-safe woods.

Toys for Rabbits

Rabbits are playful, active, and curious, and they need a good variety of toys to keep them occupied (and out of trouble). Toys are also important to a rabbit’s mental health and provide an opportunity for you to bond with your bunny.

Rabbit Training and Behavior

Rabbits are quite trainable, but it may take some patience, especially when it comes to litter training and redirecting very natural behaviors like chewing and digging. Spend some time learning how to understand what your rabbit is trying to tell you through its body language and sounds, and rabbit-proofing your home, and you’ll both be happier!

Grooming Rabbits

Grooming rabbits is important for all bunny owners to be familiar with. Find out why regular brushing is a must, bathing is out, and the low down on nail trims.

Rabbit Health

The health of your rabbit is very important, and your rabbit’s veterinarian will play a large role in keeping your bunny healthy. Spaying or neutering, proper diet, exercise and enrichment, and regular check-ups are all vital to helping your rabbit live a long and healthy life.

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