I love that it’s becoming more and more common for rabbits to live in the home with us as companion pets. Many rabbits are even able to live with free roam of the home, just like a cat or dog. While overall indoor living tends to be safer for pet rabbits, that doesn’t mean there are no dangers that we need to plan for.
Rabbits are chewers, so the most dangerous household hazards are things that they can chew on and hurt themselves, such as electrical cords and toxic plants, and soft plastics that can be a choking hazard. Other dangers are not immediate, but they can cause health problems to your rabbit over time.
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The biggest danger to pet rabbits in most homes is wires and electrical cords. Rabbits like to chew on everything, especially something that looks like a root or twig. Because of this, rabbits are notorious for snipping through all kinds of wires lying around the house (they’ll always get your cell phone charger when you need it most).
As long as the wire is not plugged in or there is not a charge moving through it (such as a lamp that’s plugged in but turned off), this becomes a nuisance to you but is not dangerous. However, if your rabbit bites into a live electrical cord, there is a serious risk that they’ll electrocute themselves. At best this will cause burns around the rabbit’s mouth, but at worst it can be immediately fatal.
To protect your rabbit and your cords, it’s a good idea to both get the cords up and out of your rabbit’s reach, and also use wire covers. You can use split loom wire tubing around all of your cords to prevent your rabbit from chewing into the actual wire.
Houseplants are only dangerous to rabbits if they happen to be toxic. In an outdoor garden, most rabbits would just ignore these poisonous plants, but they may choose to eat a poisonous house plant anyway simply because it’s the only thing available.
Many house rabbits also don’t have the greatest instincts for which foods to avoid, since they’re used to only being given food that’s healthy. It’s best to take precautions by either keeping your houseplants in a room separate from your rabbits or putting them up on high surfaces, like a countertop or mantle.
3. Human foods
Unless we’re talking about fresh fruits and vegetables, human foods should be kept away from rabbits. This includes things like cereals, crackers, bread, and other processed grains that people try to give pet rabbits. It also includes chocolate, sweets, or any kind of cooked food (even if it’s vegetables). This is because rabbits have a very sensitive digestive system and they can quickly become sick when eating the wrong kinds of foods.
When feeding rabbits, it’s best to stick to a normal diet with healthy rabbit foods. This means plenty of timothy hay, some fresh leafy greens daily, and a small amount of rabbit food pellets.
Some vegetables are also not great for rabbits to eat. It’s best to avoid avocado and anything related to potatoes, onions, or garlic.
4. Cleaning chemicals
Be careful when cleaning in areas where your rabbit explores, especially if your rabbit likes to lick everything. For the most part, it won’t be a problem unless your rabbit licks something directly after you clean it, but it’s still best to use pet-safe cleaners and products in areas that your rabbit has access to.
You can use store-bought all-purpose cleaners that are safe to use around pets, such as Puracy. You could also make your own using white vinegar mixed with water. Simply add equal amounts of both to a spray bottle and use it as your regular cleaning spray.
5. Standing fans and space heaters
Rabbits are curious creatures and many of them don’t have enough instinct to stay away from appliances like fans and heaters. If they poke their nose around these appliances or knock them over, the rabbit could end up seriously hurting themself.
It’s best to keep fans and heaters on high surfaces so rabbits can’t reach them, keep them behind a fenced area, or purchase appliances that are specifically made to keep curious pet noses from getting hurt.
6. Slippery floors
Rabbits do not have pads on the bottom of their feet the way cats and dogs do. This means that they have a lot more trouble gaining traction on slippery floors. Unfortunately, rabbits also have a fragile bone structure. If they get scared and try dashing away on a slippery floor, there is the possibility for the rabbit to throw out their back and become paralyzed in their back legs.
This doesn’t mean rabbits can never be on slippery floors, but you do want to minimize the chance of an accident by using carpets and area rugs wherever possible.
7. Cedar furniture
Cedar wood produces phenols (that strong cedar scent) that can cause liver damage over time. The clearest link is between softwood and cedar shavings used as litter and liver disease, which is why I recommend using a paper-based litter instead of wood litter.
Cedar furniture doesn’t appear to be as bad as the shavings used for litter, but over time being around the furniture and breathing in the fumes can alter the development of enzymes in the litter and eventually cause liver disease.
While cedar is the most studied wood, other types of aromatic wood can also cause damage. In general, I avoid any type of furniture that has that distinct wood smell since that’s what contains the phenols that can cause damage to rabbits when inhaled.
8. Plastic bags or packing material
Thin plastic bags or soft rubber plastics are another potential danger to rabbits. The first is the danger that your rabbit will try to eat it. I don’t know why, but probably at least half the rabbits that I’ve cared for over the years have tried to chew on thin plastic, especially the kind that’s used as packing material. This is, of course, not great for a rabbit’s digestion and can cause serious issues if the rabbit eats enough of it.
The other danger is suffocation. Just like with young children, if a rabbit curiously checks out the inside of a plastic bag and can’t figure out how to get out again, there is a slight risk of suffocation. While this is not at all common, it’s still an added reason to keep plastic away from your rabbit’s living area.
9. Scented sprays and oil diffusers
It may be tempting to use scented sprays and oils around your rabbit’s litter box to cover up any urine odor, but this can cause respiratory irritation in the short term and some scents can cause liver damage (similar to cedar, as mentioned above).
This doesn’t mean that you can never use essential oils and scented sprays in your home, but you do want to use them in areas that are farthest away from your rabbit’s living area, make sure to use them only in large rooms, and only use them for short periods of time.
If you want to use oil diffusers in your home regularly, I recommend talking to your veterinarian. They can give you advice on what scents are safe to use and how to use them in a way that will not cause harm or illness to your rabbit.
There are also some scents that you want to avoid since these are more likely to cause damage over time:
- Eucalyptus oil
- Tea tree oil
- Sweet birch
- Harriman, Marinell. “Literboxes and Liver Disease.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/1/liver-disease.html.
- “Essential Oil Diffusers and Your Pet.” Coralville Animal Hospital. February 2018. https://coralvilleanimalhospital.com/news/essential-oil-diffusers-and-your-pet