Your First 24 hours With a New Pet Rabbit


Your first 24 hours with a new rabbit

When you get a new rabbit, you want to make them feel at home with you and your family. You want to have the perfect rabbit enclosure set up, so your rabbit will be happy and comfortable. And you, of course, want to be prepared with the supplies for a proper diet. It’s also important to pay attention to your rabbit’s behavior when you first bring them home. It can be stressful for a rabbit since they are suddenly in a completely new place.

As a general rule, you should leave your rabbit alone during the first 24 hours after bringing them home. Set up your rabbit’s enclosure and keep them in a quiet spot in your home. This will give your rabbit time to adjust to their new environment, preventing them from feeling overwhelmed by the sudden change.

As tempting as it will be to play with your rabbit right away, it’s best to give your new bunny some space. Since rabbits are naturally skittish animals, they are likely to be shy and afraid. By providing your rabbit time to become acclimated to their new home, you give them a chance to feel safe and build confidence.


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Bringing your rabbit home

First, you need to prepare for traveling home with your rabbit. While many places where you can adopt a rabbit will offer a cardboard carrier when you leave, it’s safer if you can purchase your own in advance. The safest type of carrier you can get for your rabbit is a SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed. These have been crash tested and certified by the Center for Pet Safety. 

However, these carriers are a little on the expensive side. If you want a more typical carrier for your rabbit, read about the pet safety guidelines for car travel with a pet carrier.

When bringing your rabbit home, it’s also ideal if you can take some of your rabbit’s current food with you. Since rabbits have a sensitive digestive system, you want to avoid switching them to a new food brand right away. Ask what brand of pellets your rabbit currently eats, or if possible, see if you can bring home a week’s worth of their current food. You can mix this with the brand you choose to get for your rabbit to transition them to their new food source more easily.

What behaviors to expect from your new rabbit

When you first bring your rabbit home, you want to remember that your rabbit has a prey mindset. They are likely to be scared and wary of their new surroundings and may take some time to come out of their shell. Even if your rabbit was confident and playful before you adopted them, they could still be pretty shy now that the rabbit is in an unfamiliar place.

During the first day, you should keep your rabbit in their enclosure. This will give them time to become acclimated to their new home and begin to feel safe. You’ll want to set up their home base in an out-of-the-way location that is quiet and calm. This will give your rabbit a chance to adjust to their environment more quickly.

Occasionally, you’ll find a rabbit who is confident and curious right off the bat. Young rabbits, for example, are more often fearless and able to adapt to new scenarios quickly. However, it’s common to see nervous behaviors from your new rabbit. These can include:

  • Hiding away. Your rabbit may choose to hide in a box or behind some kind of furniture because it makes them feel safe. As your rabbit begins to feel safer, they will start to venture out of their hiding spot.
  • Staying on the farthest corner of the enclosure. A rabbit who is afraid of interacting with people will try to keep out of your reach. Don’t force them to interact, and let them choose to come up to you when they feel more comfortable.
  • Thumping. Rabbits will thump when they are scared. If you have other household pets, or there are many loud sounds around, this can cause your rabbit to start a thumping fit.
  • Growling. Your rabbit may growl when you come near (a low-pitched squeak sound) to tell you to back off. They are not ready for human interaction yet, and you should wait until your rabbit is able to relax a little.
  • Alert posture. Rabbits on the alert will have a rigid body posture and look like they could run away at any moment. Their ears will be straight up and usually pointing forward.
  • Wary curiosity. As your rabbit starts to feel more comfortable, they might tiptoe around the enclosure. You may see them keep their back feet in place while they stretch out with their front body to investigate something new.
sitting with a rabbit through a fence
You can sit in the same room as your rabbit, but give them space so they can start to come out and explore at their own pace.

How to behave around your rabbit

During the first 24 hours, you want to more or less ignore your rabbit. They will need time to get used to their new environment, and a strange person hovering around them will scare them even more. Put your rabbit into their new home base enclosure and then leave them be for the day to explore their new home. Set up your rabbit’s home in a separate room from any other household animals or young children so that your rabbit can have peace and quiet while they get acclimated to the new environment.

It is still okay to hang out in the same room as your rabbit as long as you remain quiet and understand that they are probably a little anxious in their new space. This will also allow you to check up on your rabbit during this time to make sure they are not too stressed. 

Observe your rabbit’s behavior to make sure they are starting to feel at home. If you notice they are on the alert because of the TV’s sound in the other room, turn the volume down. Ensure your rabbit has started eating and pooping (hopefully in the litter box). It’s a great sign if you see your rabbit laying down or flopped over on their side. This means they are starting to truly feel at home.

Setting up your rabbit’s home

Your rabbit’s enclosure is their home base; it’s where they will be living for most of the day. You want to make sure this is a place that will be safe and comfortable for your rabbit. It should be a home for your rabbit to stay in when you need to leave for work in the morning or go to sleep at night. Eventually, you might choose to free roam your rabbit, but it’s best to have an enclosure set up for the time being.

Type of enclosure

Instead of a traditional rabbit cage, I recommend getting a pet playpen and using that as your rabbit’s enclosure. A pet playpen is a freestanding and collapsible fence that you can use as an enclosure. It gives you a lot of flexibility in shaping the enclosure, fitting into unusual spaces. A pen is also cheaper, makes cleanup a lot easier, and it’s pretty easy to get a second playpen to expand your rabbit’s living area in the future. You can get a cheap area rug to place underneath the pen to protect the floors you have in your home.

You can find these pens in the dog section of pet stores rather than the small animal section. The cages marketed toward rabbits are not ideal. They are typically too small for rabbits and much more expensive too. Any cage or hutch with wire flooring can also cause sores on a rabbit’s feet because rabbits don’t have padded feet as dogs and cats do.

Size of the enclosure

The most important consideration when choosing the right rabbit cage is the size of the enclosure. It shouldn’t be so cramped that your rabbit just can’t wait to get out. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all hutch. Full-size rabbits can vary from dwarfs that weigh in at around 2lbs to some flemish giant rabbits that can weigh more than 25lbs! 

A correctly sized enclosure will give your rabbit room for three to four hops along the length. The width should be at least one hop length, and the rabbit should be able to stand all the way up on their hind legs without bumping their head against the top.

This will be somewhere around one and a half feet for an average-sized, five-pound rabbit. You would want to have an enclosure at least 4ft long by 2ft wide by 2 ft tall. Remember, this is a minimum size. You can always go bigger! I’m sure you’ll find that the more space you give your rabbit, the happier they are.

how to set up a rabbit enclosure diagram
A rabbit enclosure should include a soft flooring along with a litter box, hiding house, food and water bowls, hay and a variety of fun toys. Learn more about how to set up a rabbit enclosure.

Supplies

You don’t need a whole lot of fancy supplies when it’s time to set up an enclosure for your new bunny. You only need to get a pen big enough for your rabbit and supplies for your rabbit to play, hide, eat, and poop. Many of the items to achieve this can be easily bought or made cheaply from home.

There are, of course, a lot of other fun toys and accessories you can get for your rabbit, but not all of those expensive accessories are strictly necessary. It can be a lot of fun to give your rabbit new toys or watch them investigate their latest piece of furniture, but as long as you have these basic supplies ready, then your rabbit will be set up for success in their new home.

  • Hiding house: You want to give your rabbit a place where they can hide to feel safe. This can be anything from a small animal hiding den to a cat cube to a plain cardboard box.
  • Food and water bowls: While the food bowl can be small, you want to get a large, heavy ceramic water bowl for your rabbit (not a bottle). Rabbits can drink as much as a small dog, and they often have the habit of flipping their bowl over if they get bored. A large, heavy bowl will help prevent this behavior and make sure your rabbit has enough water all day long.
  • Litter box and litter: Make sure you have a large cat litter box and a paper-based litter (I like to use Yesterday’s News). Many rabbits will take to it right away and won’t require any actual litter training.
  • Chew toys: Chew toys are great for keeping rabbits happy and preventing their teeth from overgrowing. Unfortunately, rabbits can be picky about what toys they like. I recommend getting a variety of toys from Small Pet Select. This way, you can try out different toys to find out what your rabbit likes best and continue to get those in the future. (and you can get 15% off your first purchase if you use the code ‘BUNNYLADY’)
  • Hay trough: Hay is the most significant part of a rabbit’s diet, so you’ll probably want a place to put the hay. You can also put it directly into the litter box if you prefer since many rabbits like to munch while doing their business.
Graph: What to feed your rabbit? 80% hay, 15% leafy greens, 4% pellets, 1% treats
A healthy rabbit diet is made up of mainly grass based hay with some leafy greens and a small amount of pellets. Treats should only be given in very small amount.

Feeding your rabbit

A healthy and balanced rabbit diet consists of mainly grass-based hay, fresh leafy greens, and a healthy pellet brand. Since rabbits can differ dramatically in size, the amount you feed your rabbit will also vary. Find out more about a healthy rabbit diet.

Hay: You want your rabbit to have unlimited grass-based hay available. Never let them run out because this is very important to how a rabbit’s digestion works. You’ll find the most common type is timothy hay since this has the highest amount of fiber. Other types, such as orchard hay and oat hay, are also great for rabbits. I get my hay from an online store called Small Pet Select. They always send me fresh hay that is enticing even to the pickiest rabbits. (Don’t forget to take 15% off your first order using the code ‘BUNNYLADY’ at checkout.)

Leafy Greens: Your rabbit should receive some fresh leafy greens every day. These provide a variety of nutrients that help your rabbit maintain their health. A common green that you want to avoid is iceberg lettuce since this has chemicals that may be harmful to rabbits and has very little nutritional value.

Pellets: Rabbits only need a small amount of pellets daily. You don’t want to give them a whole bowlful, and it’s perfectly okay if your rabbit runs out very quickly. Healthy brands will have just plain brown pellets and no additional colorful or fruity pieces. They should also be timothy-based pellets, with the first ingredient on the list reading ‘timothy hay’ or ‘timothy grass.’ I always recommend the Oxbow brand, which you can find in most pet stores. They are a high-quality and widely trusted brand for rabbits.

Treats: Rabbits love treats, but too much can cause problems with their digestion. Keep rabbit treats to a minimum to avoid any serious illnesses. Fresh or dried fruits and vegetables are usually the best treats to get. If you want to get them from a pet store, avoid any yogurt treats and instead go for the flavored baked hay treats since these will be much healthier for rabbits.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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