Rabbits are considered exotic pets within the veterinary and animal rescue communities because of their unique biology and specialized care needs. Before adopting a furry friend, we strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with the five different aspects of their care:
Diet & Nutrition
Vet & Medical Care
Rabbits have some different options for housing, but space is key. Rabbits should have a minimum of 12 sq. feet at all times and must be able to stand on their back feet without touching the top. We highly suggest housing your rabbit indoors using a pet exercise pen or "x-pen." These are ideal for rabbits giving them the space and height they need. Combine with a cover and/or plastic-bottom cage and your bun will be secure. If choosing a hutch consider making your own and connecting it to an x-pen/rabbit run. Hutches are almost never large enough for a rabbit, but can be combined with an x-pen to add a "safe space" to your rabbit's primary enclosure. Make sure to avoid wire bottoms when choosing a traditional cage or hutch because these can cause painful sores on the bottom of your rabbit's feet (called sore hocks). Before you bring home your bunny make sure to have the following items ready to go: > Rabbit enclosure > Water bottle/water bowl > Food dish > Hay and healthy pellets > Hay dispenser > Litter pan and rabbit-safe litter > Pet carrier The size of your litter pan will depend on the size of your rabbit. They should be able to walk in and turn around easily to potty. Cat litter pans are great choices. Litter options include recycled paper, paper bedding and kiln dried pine pellets. Never use fresh pine, cat litter or cedar which are toxic. Many rabbits enjoy having some hay in their litterbox to munch on as they do their business. Make sure to change this hay frequently. As mentioned previously, domestic rabbits should live inside for health and safety reasons. In the outdoor environment, rabbits are easy prey for predators. Even if secured, they can be terrorized by foxes, coyotes, racoons, local dogs, and other animals--including parasites-- and typically live much shorter lives. Rabbits do best in room temperatures of 65-70 degrees. Above 70 degrees your bunnies can become lethargic and inactive. Heat stroke is a concern on hot summer days. Even in the indoor environment, there are housing hazards to avoid: > Topple-able items should be secured to walls. For example, full length mirrors and book shelves. > Toxic plants should be removed. Rabbits will definitely eat your houseplants, so make sure it’s safe. > Heat vents need to be away from housing so rabbits don’t overheat. Floor vents should have directional covers so the heat comes out but they can’t get their foot stuck. > Pick up your cords! Rabbits love the texture of cords to chew. Simply remove, or use cord protectors. > Fabrics should not be consumed. Anything with thread is unsafe because it can bind the intestine if consumed. Fleece is your best bet when offering blankets.
Diet and Nutrition
Rabbits are herbivores which means that they eat a plant-based/vegan diet. Before bringing your rabbit home, it's important to know what is safe for them to eat. Hay: Rabbits must be fed a diet primarily made-up of hay and should be able to graze on hay all day long. Realistically they will only eat the amount of hay daily equal to their size but it should always be offered. Hay is important in a rabbits diet for the protein, and fiber. Protein helps in muscle growth and fiber keeps the intestines motile. Hay also helps rabbits to keep their teeth filed down since they are open rooted and grow continuously. We recommend Timothy hay for adult rabbits and Alfalfa hay for rabbits younger than 6 months. Vegetables: Dark leafy greens are a staple in a rabbits diet: they provide nutrients naturally. Romaine, spinach and young kale are great vitamin sources. Rabbits should get 1 cup of veggies per day up to 8 lbs and more as directed by your veterinarian for rabbits weighing more. Rabbits enjoy a variety of flavor from radishes and peppers to herbs such as dill and basil. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, should be avoided. Pellets: A high-quality timothy based pellet is a staple in the diet of most rabbits. Feed between a 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup for every 5 pounds of body weight. Though you may see colorful "mixes" in the pet store, do not buy pellets with seeds or dried fruits, which are very unhealthy. Fruits and Other Treats: We equate fruits to being a dessert or treat. Something you have in limited quantities and not daily. If you are feeding treats the best treats are natural treats like fruits. Treats with minimal sugar are best. Sugar in a diet causes weight gain and diarrhea. Read packages for ingredients before you buy. Always avoid sugar and corn. Toxic or Unsafe Foods: There are many foods that are unsafe for rabbits including, any animal products, such as meat, eggs and dairy (milk, yogurt); vegetables in the onion family; avocado; corn or processed flours; apple cores/seeds are poisonous. If you aren't sure about a food, always do a Google search or ask your vet prior to feeding.
Vet and Medical Care
Rabbits have a very different physiology from dogs or cats. This is why they are considered exotic animals in the veterinary community and not all vets will see rabbits. Establishing a relationship with trusted rabbit-savvy vet is key to ensure that you have the proper support, whether your rabbit is experiencing a medical crisis or chronic ailment. However, you should still familiarize yourself with common rabbit medical issues so that you're able to catch the signs and symptoms early if or when they arise. Rabbits are prey animals and tend to hide issues until they've progressed into something very serious. Health conditions that you should know about include the following. GI stasis: Symptoms can include lack of appetite or refusing food/water/treats; little to no pooping; lethargy, hiding; stomach pressing; hunched posture, grinding teeth. This is a life threatening medical condion. Seek emergency veterinary care immediately if you notice that your rabbit hasn't eaten or pooped for 8-12 hours. Dental disease: Rabbits' teeth grow continuously and have to be ground down through their diet of hay. Sometimes rabbits have malocclusion (improper bite) or other dental issues that lead to serious teeth and jaw issues, including abcesses and infection. Teeth issues can also be very painful and can cause rabbits to refuse food, leading to GI stasis (see above). Other signs and symptoms include drooling and eye issues (tears). Your vet should be checking your rabbits' teeth every visit. Sore hocks: Sores that develop on the bottom of rabbits' back feet due to improper flooring (wire grates), obesity, or genetic predisposition. Rex rabbits are especially prone to sore hocks. Other prevalent rabbit ailments include: -Ear infections (can cause head tilt) -E. cuniculi (can cause head tilt) -Bladder stones / calcium build-up -Parasites (coccidia, worms, etc.)
Rabbits should be brushed frequently, especially when they are shedding to avoid the ingestion of large quantities of fur when they are grooming themselves. Too much fur in the gut can cause gut slowdown or even blockage (see GI Stasis under Vet and Medical Care). For long haired breeds, helping your rabbit by brushing is even more important. Grooming is an important part of rabbit socialization - rabbits bond by grooming each other. By gently petting and brushing your rabbit often, you are strengthening your bond together. Your rabbit does not need to bathed - healthy rabbits are able to keep themselves in tip-shop shape. Exceptions to this rule include if your rabbit has stepped or laid in something toxic or has excessive fecal matter around its rump due to illness or gut issues. In this case, doing a spot-clean with water or a "bum bath" (in a couple of inches of warm water) may be necessary. Make sure to thoroughly and gently dry your rabbit afterwards with a towel and/or low to medium-temperature blow dry. Rabbits have a hard time maintaining their body temperature and their plush fur dries very slowly on its own-- this means that wet fur can quickly lead to hypothermia, even on a warm day.
Socialization & Other Care
Rabbits are social creatures, with their ancestors living among dozens or hundreds of their own kind in tunnel networks under the ground. Rabbits kept alone must be socialized every day in order to avoid issues like depression and anxiety. In addition to safety reasons, this is why we strongly recommend housing your rabbits indoors. That way, they can be part of the family. If you are unable to spend much time with your rabbit because of your schedule, we encourage exploring the option of bonding your rabbit to another. Bonded rabbits typically form an extremely strong link, becoming a source of entertainment, comfort, and love to one another while you're away from home or busy. Because two rabbits don't need much more space or resources than one rabbit, you might be surprised that owning two rabbits is not double the work! Rabbit bonding can be a complex process, as rabbits are territorial; they have their own social etiquette and rigid hierarchies. If you're interested in bonding your rabbit, both need to be neutered/spayed ahead of time. Please contact HoH with any questions you may have around this process, or if you're interested in getting a friend for your solo bun.
Rabbit Housing Video
Rabbit Diet Video
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