Taking care of a rabbit involves much more than providing a hutch and some food; it requires a dedicated understanding of their complex needs and behaviors. Essential aspects of good rabbit care include proper diet, housing, exercise, and routine health checks. It is my sincere belief that most people really do want to do what’s best for their pets; it’s just a matter of making sure people have the right information so that they can take care of their rabbit.
Before you bring a rabbit home, it’s crucial to learn about their dietary needs, which are primarily hay-based, to maintain digestive health, along with a balanced mix of vegetables, pellets, and water. Your rabbit’s living space should be safe, spacious, and mentally stimulating. A secure, clean environment not only prevents health issues but also promotes mental well-being. Interaction with you, their caregiver, is a significant part of their day; rabbits are social creatures and require your attention and gentle handling.
- For more detailed information, check out the rabbit care guide
1. Give your rabbit enough space
In the past decade or so, I’ve actually seen this trend changing. A lot of you know that rabbits need large spaces to call their home, and those small “rabbit” cages in sold at the pet store are way too small. But I still feel that this point needs reiterating because it’s one of the most important changes you can make to create a much happier life for your rabbit.
Rabbits need ample space to express their natural rabbit behaviors, such as running and hopping. Rabbits were literally made to run. A cramped cage is just not sufficient.. Instead, providing a spacious living area where they can roam freely will contribute to their well-being.
Ideally, a whole room or even access to your entire home can become a bunny-friendly environment with proper rabbit-proofing (treating your rabbit similar to the way you would a pet cat or dog). But you can also set up a large pen enclosure to give your rabbit space while also keeping them out of trouble. (Learn more about why pet playpens are the best choice for rabbit habitats)
Incorporate daily exercise opportunities too. Set up a dedicated play area (it could just be your living room) with toys and tunnels that encourage active behaviors. Remember that rabbits are social creatures. Allowing them to free roam in your home not only gives them the physical space they need but also helps them develop a stronger bond with you.
Do you have to free roam your rabbit?
Free roaming is when a rabbit is treated exactly like a pet cat or dog, and is allowed to roam around your home without the need for a cage or enclosure. It’s a great living situation for a lot of rabbits, and I’m so happy that this is becoming more and more common. However, some rabbits are little trouble makers and need a little more supervision. (learn more about free roaming rabbits)
In my humble opinion, a pet playpen is the best solution for rabbits who are having trouble with litter training or are constantly finding new ways of getting into trouble. It’s also good if you have other pets or young children that you need to keep separate from your rabbit when they are not supervised.
That being said, A large pen provides a safe space for your rabbit but isn’t a substitute for the freedom of movement that free roaming offers. Rabbits thrive on social interaction and space to play. It’s not enough to house your pet rabbit in a pen for the bulk of the day. Regular exercise is very important for their physical and mental well-being.
Keep in mind, regularity is key. Just like humans, rabbits benefit from a routine. Establishing specific times of day for exercise can help your rabbit stay active and engaged. Whether you free roam your rabbit or provide a spacious playpen, remember the importance of daily exercise and environmental enrichment for your pet’s health and contentment.
Indoor or outdoor housing?
Traditionally, rabbits have been housed outdoors in hutches, which might stem from misconceptions about their odor—rabbits are not smelly creatures when cared for properly. However, I advocate for keeping rabbits as indoor pets. Housing them outdoors, you might miss noticing the nuances of their behavior and wellbeing.
Indoors, rabbits can be part of the family. Especially for single rabbits, the companionship and interaction they get indoors are invaluable for their emotional health. In addition, Your home provides a safer environment, shielding your rabbit from predators, extreme weather, and diseases.
This is a somewhat controversial subject, more so than I used to realize when I started this blog. So, I’m not saying that housing rabbits outdoors is always akin to animal cruelty. I know there are some very responsible and loving bunny parents that provide their rabbits with everything they need and more in an outdoor living environment. However, I sincerely believe that most people who have rabbits as pets (especially single rabbits) should house them inside and treat rabbits as companion pets.
If you feel that you must house your rabbit in an outdoor enclosure, ensure that their living space is secure, spacious, and comfortable and remember that outdoor rabbits need daily socialization and human interaction too.
2. Pay attention to your rabbit’s diet and nutrition
Ensuring there is enough fiber in your rabbit’s diet is crucial for their health. Gut-based illnesses (such as GI stasis) are one of the most common health issues domestic rabbits encounter, so ensuring a healthy diet can add years to your rabbit’s life.
Your rabbit’s diet should be mainly hay-based, as hay provides the essential fiber needed for a healthy digestive system. Timothy hay is an excellent choice, and it should be available for your rabbit at all times so that your rabbit can munch on it whenever they want throughout the day. A high-fiber diet not only helps in maintaining a healthy weight but also supports dental health, as the continuous chewing of hay helps in wearing down their continuously growing teeth.
Include a variety of daily fresh greens in your rabbit’s diet as well. Vegetables like romaine lettuce, kale, and cilantro contribute to hydration and provide additional fiber and nutrients. However, it’s important to introduce new greens slowly to avoid upsetting their stomach. Try giving them only one new type of leafy green every 3-5 days
Rabbits don’t actually need a large amount of dry food pellets. While they are nutritious, pellets are very dense in calories and should only be a minor part of their overall dietary intake. ¼ cup of pellets per day is adequate for most adult rabbits. Remember, it’s okay if they eat all their pellets right away and run out, they still have the hay to munch on whenever they’re hungry.
You also want to limit treats to maintain your rabbit’s optimal health; treats should make up a very small portion of their diet to avoid an imbalanced digestion. Fruits or carrots are fine in moderation, but too many treats can lead to weight gain and other health issues.
- For further guidance on what to feed your rabbit, consider reading my article Rabbit Diet 101.
3. Make sure your rabbit gets enough socialization
Domestic rabbits are a highly social species. Just like humans, rabbits can get depressed without enough socialization. It’s important for them to form bonds, whether with you or with fellow rabbits. At the same time, rabbits are prey animals and it can take a long time for them to learn how to trust people—be patient and consistent with your efforts.
Spending quiet time with your rabbit is key. Aim for at least an hour each day to simply sit with your rabbit until they begin to trust you more. As your friendship builds, you can spend time petting your rabbit and playing games with them to deepen your bond and provide more mental stimulation.
Some rabbits will do better with another rabbit as a companion rather than a human. This is another controversial topic in the rabbit community, and people have some strong opinions about whether pet rabbits should always be kept in pairs or not. In my opinion, it depends on the personality of your rabbit.
Some rabbits thrive with human relationships, and others really prefer the company of their own kind. So, keep in mind that if your rabbit continues to act sad and lonely (behaviors to look for) despite your attempts at socializing with them, you may need to bring another rabbit into the picture. Rabbit introductions should be slow and supervised to ensure compatibility (learn more about bonding rabbits)
Tips to help you gain the trust and friendship of your rabbit
Building a bond with your rabbit is essential for a harmonious relationship. Here’s how you can gain their trust and become best buddies:
- Start with patience: Your rabbit won’t instantly trust you, so take it slow and give your rabbit time to get used to you.
- Consistency is key: Regular interaction will help your rabbit get used to your presence.
- Sit on the floor: staying on your rabbit’s level will make you appear less intimidating.
- Be gentle: Use a soft voice and avoid quick, jerky movements.
- Use treats as a bonding tool: Offer their favorite snacks to create a positive association with you.
- Create a safe haven: Your rabbit’s cage should be a secure space, so try not to invade it. Let them come to you.
- Be observant: Learn your rabbit’s body language to understand and respect when they need space.
Remember, trust takes time to build, and each rabbit has a unique personality. Your patience and understanding will go a long way in forming a lasting friendship. Here are some more tips to help you create a stronger bond with your rabbit.
4. Keep your rabbit’s health and safety in mind
Regular health examinations, both at home and professionally by a vet, are crucial. Check for signs of illness, such as changes in appetite, lethargy, or unusual behavior. Keep up with vaccinations and ensure your rabbit maintains healthy teeth and digestion.
Keep in mind that rabbits have an instinct to hide any signs of illness. This is because in the wild, showing any signs of weakness would immediately make them a target for predators. So, small changes in your rabbit’s behavior can mean that they are actually quite sick.
Some subtle symptoms include:
- A sudden lack of appetite
- Small poops or not pooping at all
- Sitting in a hunched position
- Lack of energy
- Sudden aggression when the rabbit was previously gentle
- Anything that is different from their normal behavior
- (read more)
If your rabbit has ever stopped eating and pooping for more than 10 hours, consider it an emergency situation and immediately bring your rabbit to a small animal veterinarian.
Taking your rabbit to the vet when they need it
Ensuring your rabbit’s health also involves a regular annual wellness exams. Just like any pet, rabbits require periodic check-ups to monitor their well-being. During these exams, veterinarians can catch early signs of illness and address minor health issues before they become serious.
Since rabbits are adept at hiding illness, it’s crucial to stay alert for any signs of sickness. If your rabbit’s behavior changes, if they’re eating less, or showing any signs of distress, it’s time for a vet visit. Remember, prompt attention to health issues can save your rabbit from unnecessary suffering and potentially even save their lives.
You want to find a veterinarian who specializes in small animals or exotics. Rabbit anatomy is different from cats and dogs, so most veterinarians are not equipped to take care of rabbits. To find a small animal vet near you, Rabbit.org has a compiled a list clinics across the US. RWAF has a similar list for veterinarians in the UK.
It’s important to acknowledge that vet care can be expensive. However, budgeting for your rabbit’s health needs is a fundamental part of being a responsible pet owner. Include a vet care line item in your annual pet budget to help manage these expenses without financial strain.
Another aspect of rabbit health and safety is rabbit proofing. Any space that your rabbit has regular access to should be free of hazards such as electrical cords, toxic plants, and small objects that could be ingested. You’ll also want to prevent your rabbit from damaging the home or furniture with their digging and chewing instincts.
Common areas to bunny proof include:
- Electrical Hazards: Start by tidying up wires and cords, since they’re like chew toys to rabbits. Use cord protectors, or tuck them away where your bunny can’t reach.
- Furniture & Carpets: Bunnies dig and chew—it’s their nature! Protect your carpets and furniture by covering exposed areas with mats or rugs that you don’t mind getting a bit frayed.
- Plants: Not all greenery is bunny-friendly. Some plants can be toxic, so elevate them or choose rabbit-safe flora for your home.
- Small objects: Keep things like rubber bands, plastic bags, and anything small enough to be swallowed, out of reach.
For specifics, consult my rabbit proofing 101 article for detailed guidance.
Tips and Tricks Newsletter
If you are new to caring for rabbits, check out the Bunny Lady bimonthly newsletter. Right after you sign up, you’ll receive a FREE pdf rabbit care guidebook. I put together a guide that goes over all the basics of rabbit care so you have it all in one place. Then you will receive tips and tricks about rabbit care straight to your inbox so that you know you’ll be taking excellent care of your new rabbit.
Recommended Products and Brands
Important: These are Affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com, I may receive a small commission from qualifying purchases.
The two brands that I use when buying food for my rabbit are Oxbow and Small Pet Select. These both have high quality rabbit products and are companies that care about the health of our small animals. If you are purchasing anything from Small Pet Select use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout to get 15% off your first order.
- Hay: Second Cutting Timothy Hay from Small Pet Select
- Pellets: Oxbow Garden Select Food for Rabbits
- Treats: Oxbow Simple Rewards
- Toys: Small Pet Select Natural Toys
- Enclosure/cage: A rabbit exercise pen
- Rabbit carrier: SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed