Caring for your pet rabbit – What you need to know for a happy bunny
You’re thinking of getting a rabbit, and what’s not to like? It’s not just down to that cute, twitchy nose. Intelligent and sociable, they are beautiful animals and make wonderful additions to your family. However, there are a few important things to consider before bringing your pet rabbit home. Check out this ultimate guide for how to care for a rabbit!
Although a popular pet, it’s not like keeping a cat or dog in terms of care. Here are a few facts to get you started.
- The science bit – a member of family Leporidae and order Lagomorpha.
- They can live 10+ years.
- 31+ cm in length on average.
- They can be affectionate.
- Spaying/neutering can improve longevity/health.
- They can live with other rabbits, with some caveats.
- They need space to display natural behaviours.
- Chewing is essential to dental health.
Do you want to keep your rabbit in your home or outdoors? Views vary on what’s best, but many people keep their pets inside.
- Your rabbit is safe from predators.
- They avoid weather extremes.
- Mental stimulation and well-being.
Of course, it will depend on your particular circumstances as to which you opt for. If your rabbit is living outside, any cages/hutches need to be weatherproof and predator resistant. Even if predators can’t access the enclosure, the shock of seeing/sensing a predator can cause stress to your rabbit – they can die of shock on occasion.
Home sweet home
There are various types of hutches/cages for your rabbit. The primary requirement is space. They need enclosures that are at least four times their size so they can hop, dig and stretch. Their heads shouldn’t be touching the roof when they are sitting on their haunches.
You know the design of your home, so adapt these ideas if you need to – whatever it takes to keep your rabbit safe and healthy.
- Puppy playpen.
- Spacious hutch/cage.
- Rabbit house.
If you prefer your rabbit to have free access to a room or rooms, you’ll need to make them rabbit-proof. Wires and skirting need to be protected with tubing/barriers. Make sure your bunny can’t happily destroy bed frames, books etc – any reachable item might look nice and chewy! You’ll need to set up a dedicated area for your rabbit; a litter box/hay box, ceramic water and food bowls plus toys and a place to nest/hide. If living indoors and you don’t fancy bunny proofing everywhere, you could use a playpen so your pet is contained in one area. Make sure this offers sufficient space and is safe and escape-proof.
A hutch/cage is fine to use indoors but it will need to be spacious. Choose a design with front-facing doors – when open, your pet has easy access and exit. Rabbit houses – or condos – come in varying styles but aesthetics aside, they need to offer ample space and preferably front-facing doors.
Condos and hutches are usually made from weatherproofed wood, but make sure they are also durable to withstand hard-core nibbling. Surfaces should be firm to maintain foot/hock health – always cover wire surfaces with thick cardboard or wood. Playpens are usually made up of wire panels, so check that any gaps aren’t big enough for your pet to poke its head through.
Hutches/cages should be spacious, weather and predator resistant – some have exercise areas attached but you can also add runs to some designs. Situate away from busy areas, and watch out for temperature extremes. If your pet is living outside, consider keeping a couple of rabbits for mental wellbeing and company.
, weather and predator resistant – some have exercise areas attached but you can also add runs to some designs. Situate away from busy areas, and watch out for temperature extremes. If your pet is living outside, consider keeping a couple of rabbits for mental well-being and company.
They respond to handling better if they are used to it. If your pet lives with you, this will be easier than trying to handle an outdoor rabbit. There are several important things to know before handling.
- Never pick a rabbit up by the ears. Ouch.
- Handle with great care. They have delicate musculoskeletal structures, with strength focused on the hind legs.
- As a prey animal, handling might not be comfortable. Gradual handling is best.
- Never try and restrain – They can suffer spinal injuries.
- Focus on stroking their heads – This reflects natural grooming behaviour.
How to pick up a pet rabbit is best done by putting one hand at the front and the other beneath the rabbit’s bottom – lift with care and bring next to your body.
How to potty train a rabbit
They prefer to pee/poo and eat in the same area. They may also ingest nutrient-rich poo but don’t worry, this is normal! Use a cat litter tray or similar, and fill with several inches of paper-based litter – this is non-toxic and absorbs well. Clumping cat litter/gravel litter isn’t suitable. To the litter add plenty of grass hay so your pet can eat, nest and potty in harmony!
They can be kept in pairs – same-sex pairings may work well if they’ve been reared together but any introductions should be supervised. Always spay/neuter opposite-sex pairings!
Grass hay is an important part of the diet because of the essential nutrients/vitamins it provides. Alfalfa’s high calcium/protein content doesn’t suit adult rabbits. Timothy grass is an ideal option. Provide fibre-rich pellets in small quantities, as well as leafy vegetables and fruits. Treats such as small pieces of banana are fine. Avoid some foods including tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, cabbage, seeds, grains and onions – they can cause digestive problems. Always replenish food and water daily.
- Rabbit grooming – Once a week, or twice if long-haired.
- Keep external ears clean and nails trimmed.
- Always provide chewing materials – Cardboard, suitable toys etc.
- Regular health check-ups.
- Provide plenty of toys/cardboard castles etc for enrichment.
- Clean enclosures regularly, using a mild disinfectant.
Select a rabbit from reputable breeders or rescue shelters, and have fun inviting these great little mammals into your home and heart.