Global Rabbit Network’s
Rabbit Care Guide
Before adding a rabbit to your family, consider the following information:
- Litter box – we suggest large corner litter boxes, pans and cat litter boxes.
- Litter – we suggest equine pine pellets as they are safe for both your rabbit and the environment. Clay based litters such as cat litter are known to cause upper respiratory infections and GI blockages.
- Ceramic food bowl
- Water bottle and bowl – make sure to offer both while your rabbit is still learning to drink water independently.
- Bedding – if you are using a plastic bottom cage or hutch, your rabbit will require bedding; we suggest pine shavings.
- Resting Mat – this offers your rabbit ease from the metal that may create sore hocks in time.
- A place to sleep – this can be anywhere from a cat bed to the enclosed part of the hutch.
- Hay rack, ball, wheel or box.
- Chew Toys – a rabbit’s teeth never stop growing.
- Toys – cat balls, bell toys, hay balls, willow wreaths, etc.
- Cage or hutch – it is recommended to have a “home base” for your rabbit, even if you free roam. It is also important to start your rabbit out in this enclosure and gradually allow them more access to your home in time.
- Pellets & Hay – we suggest Timothy hay.
- Nail Clippers – clipped at least once a month.
- HEAT KILLS. Rabbits are VERY sensitive to high temperatures (over 75 degrees) and must be kept cool with a fan or frozen water bottles. Heat strokes can occur quickly so offer a safe, cool spot when temperatures exceed 75. Avoid direct sunlight outside.
- Rabbits need fresh food (pellets and hay) and water daily. Old food, treats, and water should be removed every day.
- Rabbits require access to hay 24/7 as it is the foundation to a healthy diet. Check to make sure the hay you are purchasing is green and not brown or yellow, as this may be indicative of old or moldy hay.
- Rabbits should receive ⅓ a cup of timothy based pellets a day; this can be fed all at once or split for two meals.
- The pellets should be green in color and contain no other colors, as this may be indicative of additives that are not healthy for your rabbit.
- Rabbits may receive treats such as fresh fruits and veggies once they are 6 months or older but be sure to introduce them slowly and in small amounts. DO NOT feed corn or iceberg lettuce as they can cause health issues.
- Oxbow is a great brand but local and fresh is always best so check with your local feed store.
- Rabbits do not need salt licks; you may refrain from purchasing these.
- Rabbits should be offered both a bowl and bottle of fresh water at all times.
Foods to NEVER feed your rabbits: Safe Treats:
- Rabbits need toys and access to play time! They love to run, jump and get their energy out! Toys made out of rabbit safe woods such as apple, willow and spruce are great.
- Avoid wood such as cedar as it can be harmful to rabbits.
- Wood chews are especially important as rabbit teeth never stop growing and they need the wood to help file them down. Their hay also helps keep their teeth in check and is great enrichment for them.
- Rabbits love tunnels, and places to hide in such as boxes.
- Bathing– rabbits are meticulous groomers and will keep themselves very clean and fresh. So long as their litter boxes are upkept, they will not smell. Bathing a rabbit is very dangerous and stressful, with or without shampoo. If you want to wipe off a stain, you can wipe down your bunny with a damp cloth or pet safe wipe. Otherwise, they will take care of grooming.
- Brushing– rabbits should have their fur brushed about once a week. This helps prevent them from ingesting too much fur when they groom themselves and offers a great time to bond with you, their owner.
- Nails- rabbits need their nails trimmed at least once a month. Once you find a routine/position that works for your bunny, you’ll start to feel more confident about trimming their nails.
- First, gather your tools – nail clippers, a small container with some water, cotton swabs, and a flashlight. You may also want a bit of flour, cornstarch or Kwikstop in case you cut too far and have to stop the bleeding.
- Next, bring your rabbit to a solid, stable platform
(grooming table, regular table, desk, etc.). Make sure the surface is non-slip; add a mat or blanket to prevent your rabbit from sliding as you trim. You can wet your bunnies’ nails with a bit of water and pull the fur on their toes back, to see much easier.
- Locate their quick. The quick is the dark pink area under your rabbit’s nails. You want to avoid cutting too far down and snipping it as it does cause pain and will bleed. Bunnies with white nails will be much easier to see; for rabbits with dark nails, may need to use a flashlight to see. Alternatively, if you can’t see the quick or you’re nervous about cutting too far, you can always play it safe and trim your rabbit’s nails more frequently (maybe twice a month) and stick to the very tips.
Rabbits have four fingers and a “thumb” on their front paws, and four toes on their back feet. Repeat the process, and give lots of treats during or after to make the experience a little more tolerable.
While your rabbit is on the table for grooming, it would be a good time to do a physical exam. Check their paws, ears, eyes, teeth, vent, and scent glands (on either side of their vent). Sometimes scent glands do get a bit waxy and you can use a damp cotton swab to wipe away the brown, smelly, build up.
The minimum cage a small rabbit breed should inhabit is 18×24 inches. It’s essential that your rabbit has room to stretch in all directions. Too small of a living space can negatively affect your new rabbit’s health and can cause spine issues or obesity.
- Rabbits should get at least 1 hour of exercise outside of their cage daily if possible; it is vital for their physical and mental health.
- When choosing bedding for your rabbit, avoid cedar shavings, as rabbit tend to be allergic. We recommend using pine bedding or CareFresh.
Rabbits can be litter trained. It’s a bit different than with cats, but the idea is fairly similar.
Start by restricting your new rabbit to his/her cage; generally, a smaller area is better. We recommend having two litter boxes with an absorbent litter on the base, and their hay in/above their litter boxes. This is because rabbits usually eat/poop in the same place. Once they are regularly using their litter boxes, you can start to expand your rabbit’s space. Pick up any urine/poop accidents with a tissue and place it in their litter boxes. This helps to redirect them to the appropriate space. You can also add a litter box to any area they prefer to use, or move their boxes until you find what works for them.
A common misconception is that rabbits need bedding on the floor of their entire pen. This is messy and confusing for your rabbit. Try and keep the litter/bedding to only a few spots.
Start by allowing your rabbit to explore you, the owner; lay outside of their hutch or sit with some dry oatmeal in your hand. Allow your rabbit to set the pace of your initial interactions. Once your rabbit becomes more comfortable with you, transition him/her to your lap. Handling your rabbit daily, in your lap while seated or lounging, is ideal; we do not suggest carrying your rabbit, as it can be very stressful and lead to unforeseen jumping, escaping, scratching, or injury to the rabbit. If you do want to hold your rabbit or need to carry the rabbit during transitions, make sure to use one hand to support the shoulder/belly area and the other hand to support its hind area.
*Children should not handle the rabbit without adult supervision
Rabbits are classified as “exotic pets” and not all veterinarians are specialized in exotic pets. So, finding a rabbit savvy vet may be slightly more complicated than finding a vet for your dog. Call your local vets and simply ask if they have a vet on staff that specializes in
When to Contact The Vet Signs of Pain
Spaying or Neutering:
Rabbits are sensitive and small. Their bodies do not do well with anesthesia. If you decide to spay or neuter your rabbit, be sure to do your research and choose a veterinarian you trust. Spaying and neutering can be beneficial in terms of overall behavior, bonding, and general health but is not a magical cure for all behavior issues.
- Blind Spot- Because a rabbit’s eyes are positioned on the sides of their head, they have a small blind spot directly in front. If you see your rabbit sniffing around for a morsel that is right in front of their nose, it’s perfectly normal and doesn’t mean the rabbit is going blind. For the same reason, you may startle them if you reach straight in for a pet, as you would a dog or a cat; it’s better to reach in from the side or over the head.
- Thumping- Rabbits usually thump to convey anxiety or displeasure. They may thump to get your attention—or to protest the kind of attention they’ve been getting (as in, “Go away: I don’t want to be picked up!”or “Shame on you for trimming my nails!”).
- “Dead-Bunny Flop”– Your rabbit may suddenly flop down on his/her side, perhaps rolling over a little onto their back. This is a sign of sheer relaxation.
- Binky- When a rabbit can’t contain their happiness, they may do a binky, kicking up their heels and shaking their body in mid-air.
- Tooth-Purring- Rabbits often show contentment by gently grinding their teeth. Loud grinding indicates pain.
- Nipping- Rabbits may nip, especially when they’re just getting to know you, without meaning any harm. An effective discouragement is to let out a short, high-pitched yelp every time you’re nipped. Your rabbit should take that to mean, “Hey, knock it off—that hurts!” Rabbits also commonly nip to say, “I want down!” or “Get out of my way!”
- Chinning- Rabbits often lay claim to objects and people by rubbing their chins against them, thus marking them with a scent undetectable to people.
- Territory marking- Rabbits often claim space as their own by leaving “territorial poops.” Such marking is very common in rabbits that have not been spayed or neutered.
- Pulling hair- Pregnant rabbits pull hair from their chests and legs to make nests for their kits. Unspayed females (or even spayed females living in the vicinity of unneutered males) sometimes undergo pseudo-pregnancies in which they display this behavior.
- Eating Poop- If you see your rabbit reach down to its anal area and come up munching, it’s just retrieved a cecotrope. Cecotropes are nutritious pellets created from indigestible fiber in the part of the rabbit’s intestine known as the cecum. Unlike the hard, round fecal pellets you find in your bunny’s litter box, cecal pellets look like tiny, gooey, clusters of grapes. Because rabbits normally eat them as soon as they are processed, you’ll rarely see them.
*Finding more than an occasional cecotrope may indicate a health problem—obesity, a diet too high in protein or starch and/or too low in fiber, or the onset of a serious illness. *
While their behaviors and personalities may be complex, knowing how to understand your rabbit is a strong start to a long lasting relationship. By understanding these basic facts about rabbits, you are on your way to a long and loving bond with your new furry friend. Congratulations and best wishes with your new fur buddy!
Rabbit Care Checklist:
Your rabbit should get a yearly vet check to ensure it is in good health.
A health check performed by you, will consist of you checking your rabbit’s eyes, ears, mouth, toes and bottom area for signs that it may be injured or unhealthy.
- Make sure all areas are clean and dry.
- Make sure there are no bumps, rashes or cuts anywhere on your rabbit.
- Check if nails need trimming.
- Are the rabbits droppings firm and in balls or runny/loose/clumpy? A healthy rabbit will have small peas sized droppings that are firmly compact. Change in color or consistency is a sign that something is not right.