Traveling in the car is always stressful for rabbits. The car vibrations combined with the unusual sights and smells make it very frightening. This means traveling with a rabbit, especially over long distances, can be a difficult and stressful affair. If you don’t plan and take precautions, your rabbit can easily end up sick because of the stress.
But fear not! That’s why you’re here. If you take the time to prepare you can bring your rabbit for a car ride while limiting the amount of stress they feel. By using these tips, you can keep your rabbit calm and comfortable during your trip.
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1. Make a plan ahead of time
If you are going for a long car trip with your rabbit, the worst thing you can do is go in without a plan. Rabbits can get seriously ill from the stress of a car ride. It can cause them to go into GI Stasis, a condition that affects the rabbit’s digestive system and subsequently causes their body to begin to shut down.
By planning ahead, you can be prepared with a safe carrier for your rabbit. You’ll know where to stop along the way to help your rabbit de-stress and remain comfortable. You can also make plans for possible emergency situations. You’ll have supplies ready if your car shuts down and you’re stuck on the side of the road, and you’ll have emergency supplies ready just in case your rabbit starts to get sick.
2. Get an appropriate carrier for your rabbit
When choosing a carrier for your rabbit, you want to find one that is the correct size. A carrier that is too large is not good because it’s easier for the rabbit to get injured in the event of a car crash or sudden stop if they are thrown against the side of the carrier. On the other hand, you don’t want the carrier to be so small that your rabbit is uncomfortable.
A correctly sized carrier will give your rabbit enough room to turn around inside and lay down along the length of the carrier. Typically, small cat carriers (about 19” long) are a good size for rabbits, but if you have a large rabbit or multiple rabbits together, you may want to get a size up.
When prepping the carrier for travel, you want to make sure your rabbit has a soft footing available. Slippery plastic floors of carriers are not good for rabbit feet and can cause added stress during travel. Place a towel along the bottom of the carrier to give your rabbit some traction.
If possible, you also want to allow your rabbit to go into the carrier on their own on the day of travel. Being held and forced into a small space can be frightening for rabbits, and would end up starting the day off on the wrong foot. To encourage your rabbit to go in on their own, try luring them with a treat. You can also leave the carrier with the rabbit for a few days before travel, so they will already be used to it and may already be using it as a hiding house.
The safest carriers
Most pet carriers have not been crash-tested. If you get into a serious car accident, they will typically offer very little protection to your rabbit. While there are ways of securing a carrier in a car to make it safer (that we’ll get into later), there are only a couple of brands of carriers that have put the effort in to make them safe for car travel.
The Center for Pet Safety tested several carriers and found that the only two carriers that passed the safety test were:
Unfortunately, because of the durable build and the safety testing involved, both of these carriers are on the expensive side. However, if you do get into a serious car crash, these are the models that are most likely to protect your rabbit.
3. Put together an emergency travel kit
Before going for that long car ride, you want to make sure you have emergency supplies available. These are the items that will be useful if your rabbit gets sick, or if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having the car break down. This means you want to include medical supplies but also think about having extra days worth of food, hay, and water for your rabbit.
Emergency packing list
- A box of hay
- A few days worth of pellets
- Extra bottled water
- Fresh leafy greens
- Critical care (for if your rabbit refuses to eat) (learn more)
- Gas drops (simethicone) (learn more)
- A heating pad
- A cooler with an ice pack (in summer)
4. Pack an enclosure and supplies
In addition to emergency supplies, you also want to make sure you have the supplies for your rabbit when you reach your destination or stay in hotels along the way. These supplies will make sure your rabbit has everything they would normally need in their day-to-day life and will make sure they are not destructive in their temporary living spaces.
Rabbit supplies packing list
- An enclosure (an exercise pen is easy to transport and set up)
- A litter box and supplies (pooper scooper, litter, etc.)
- Food and water bowls
- A variety of toys
5. Offer extra water
One concern for rabbits on car trips is the potential for dehydration. Most rabbits will not want to eat or drink while on car trips, but you still want to find ways to give them the option to drink when you take breaks along the way.
One way to do this is to attach a pet water bottle to the side of their carrier. The problem I’ve found with this is that most water bottles will leak with the vibration of the car, and you don’t want your rabbit sitting on a wet towel the whole trip. You will have to do some experimenting to find a water bottle design that doesn’t leak.
The other option is to make sure that you offer your rabbit a bowl of water whenever you take a stop. Bring extra water with you along and pour it into a little water bowl. Offer it to your rabbit to decide if they’re thirsty or not.
6. Secure the carrier in the car
If you have one of the two safety-tested carriers mentioned earlier, then the safest place to put your rabbit’s carrier is in the back seat. In the front passenger seat, the airbags run the risk of denting the carrier and injuring your rabbit.
If you don’t have one of these carriers, both the ADAC and the Center for Pet Safety advise putting the carrier lengthwise on the floor in the back of the passenger or driver’s seat. They found this position safest because most pet carriers are not made to withstand the force of a car crash. When tested, the pets (not real) were thrown straight through the plastic side and the door of the carriers. The carriers also tended to be crushed by the use of seat belts, making them unsafe.
By placing the carrier on the floor tucked between the front and back seats, the initial impact is reduced and absorbed by the surrounding seats. The dummy pet in the carrier did not sustain any major injuries.
Since there are typically more vibrations on the floor compared to up on the seat of a car, it can be helpful to place a folded towel on the ground underneath the carrier. This can absorb some of the vibrations and make the ride less stressful for your rabbit.
7. Keep the car cool
Because of their fur coats, rabbits can easily become overheated. This means there is an increased risk of your rabbit developing heat stroke since cars tend to collect heat even in mild weather. To prevent this, you’ll want to make sure you keep the car cool for your rabbit at all times.
It’s better if you can use the AC and not rely on open windows, since the many foreign sounds from outside can potentially be frightening for rabbits. However, you also don’t want to point the vents directly onto your rabbit, since that may cause respiratory issues. Instead, direct the air vents upward to allow circulation of the air throughout the vehicle.
Since rabbits can overheat so easily, you also want to avoid placing them in direct sunlight. Bring another towel along to cover the top of the carrier if the sunlight is too strong.
Cold is not so much of a problem for rabbits. In the winter just be sure to keep the car a little cooler than you normally would, so your rabbit can stay comfortable.
8. Avoid loud music and radio
Rabbits can also be stressed out by a lot of loud noises in the car. While some car and outside noises are unavoidable, you can at least control the music and radio inside the car. At the very basic level, you want to avoid putting music on at loud volumes. To take it even further, however, you can avoid music altogether or only play calm classical music. An audiobook or podcast can also be good options to help you pass the time without scaring your rabbit.
9. Plan for frequent pit stops
Rabbits typically won’t eat when they are stressed in the car. However, it’s very important to their digestion for rabbits to be eating frequently throughout the day. This means if you are planning on traveling for more than a couple of hours, you will need to make plans for pit stops along the way.
These stops will give your rabbit a chance to destress without the vibrations of the car. They’ll be able to eat and drink some water to stay healthy for the next leg of the trip. While you are planning your trip, check out the route you are taking. Look for rest areas along the way where you can park for a while. Plan to make these stops for 30 minutes to 1 hour long, so that your rabbit has time to relax a little.
During these stops, you can let your rabbit out in the car to let them stretch out a little. Avoid letting them out while the car door is open, however. The last thing you want is for your rabbit to get lost at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.
If your rabbit is leash trained, you can bring them out and let them hop around, but otherwise, I don’t recommend bringing your rabbit out onto the grass.
10. Keep fresh greens available
Since it is vitally important to get your rabbit to eat as soon as possible, it’s a good idea to bring fresh leafy greens along in a cooler. These are tasty and enticing for rabbits but also don’t have too much of the sugars that sweet fruits and vegetables do, making them a healthy option.
Every time you make a stop, pull some leafy greens out and offer them to your rabbit. It may take a few minutes before your rabbit decides to eat them, but it’s a good sign that your rabbit is starting to destress when they finally take a nibble. If you are going on a long car trip, leafy greens can be vital for keeping your rabbit eating throughout the day.
11. Comfort your rabbit
Whenever you stop, you’ll also want to take the time to comfort your rabbit. Pet them and talk softly to let your rabbit know that everything will be okay. Being around someone that they trust can keep your rabbit calm and help them recover more quickly.
If you are not the one driving, you can also do this while the car is on the road. Be careful, however, about opening a carrier while a car is in motion because you don’t want the rabbit getting out of the carrier and being a distraction in the car, potentially causing an accident. You may want to consider getting a carrier that has a little window for your hand to pet your rabbit or a top opening that your rabbit can’t easily escape from.
12. Watch for health concerns
Both during and after your car ride, you’ll want to watch for any signs of illness in your rabbit. These symptoms are not always easy to notice since rabbits often show very subtle signs. The two illnesses that you want to look out for most on car trips are heat stroke and GI stasis.
Heatstroke occurs when your rabbit’s body overheats and they are no longer able to regulate their body temperature. They are at increased risk during car rides because of the way cars trap heat inside, and the rabbit will likely be drinking very little during the journey.
Symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Hot, red ears
- Head thrown back (as if they’re struggling to breathe)
- Trembling or shaking
If you believe your rabbit is starting to overheat, use the ice pack you brought, wrap it in a towel, and place it next to your rabbit. You can also wrap them in a damp towel (not soaking wet) or spray some cool water behind their ears to help them cool down. Turn down the temperature in the car and try to get your rabbit to drink some water.
GI stasis occurs when your rabbit gets too stressed out. It will cause them to stop eating altogether, which will cause their digestive system to stop and begin to shut down. During this time, their body temperature will start to fall and the rabbit’s condition will start to deteriorate.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Not eating
- Not pooping
- Lack of energy
- Loud stomach gurgles
- Small poops
You’ll want to look out for these symptoms even after reaching your destination. Monitor your rabbit closely until their energy levels and eating habits return to normal.
If your rabbit starts to go into stasis, you’ll want to warm them up and try to get them to eat. Use the heating pad or your own body heat to get your rabbit’s body temperature up. Then entice them with leafy greens to try to get them eating. You can also try giving your rabbit some simethicone (gas drops), since the car ride may have unsettled their stomach causing painful gas.
13. Pack cleaning supplies
Don’t forget the cleaning supplies while packing for your trip. Rabbits will have to pee while inside their carrier, and the urine can leak out and get on the car. To start with, you can have a towel underneath the carrier to prevent leakage, but having basic cleaning supplies will also come in handy.
If you are staying in any hotels or as a guest at someone’s house, these supplies can also come in handy for cleaning up after your rabbit. Even just having extra towels, an all-purpose cleaner, and a dustbin can do a lot to prevent destructive messes that your rabbit can leave behind.
14. Plan for any overnight accommodations
If you need to stay in any hotels along the way to your destination, you always want to book your stay in advance. Since many hotels don’t allow pets, this will prevent you from having to call every place last minute to find a place that allows pets.
It will also give you a chance to plan out your trip better. You’ll know approximately how long it will take between rest stops and then the hotel at the end of the day, so you can give your rabbit adequate relaxation time along the way.
When you get to your hotel or your final destination, you’ll also want to give your rabbit time to adjust to a new place. Encourage them to eat and drink, but for the most part, you’ll want to leave them alone to let them de-stress until their behavior returns to normal.
15. Look up rabbit veterinarians
Before heading out, you also want to look up contact information for veterinarians or emergency clinics at your destination and along your route. This way, if you find yourself in an emergency where your rabbit is developing heat stroke or GI Stasis, you’ll be able to get them to a doctor as soon as possible. Visit the House Rabbit Society for a list of veterinarians across the US.
You’ll also want to have your regular veterinarian’s information available. If you’re worried or unsure what to do about symptoms, you can give them a call to get their professional advice. For example, if your rabbit hasn’t been eating, they may advise you to feed them critical care to help your rabbit recover.
- Boyd, Emma. “Traveling With Rabbits.” RWAF. 2017. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/ownership/travelling-with-rabbits.
- Praag, Esther Ph.D. “Best Type of Carrier for Rabbit Transport.” MediRabbit. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Transport/Carrier/Carrier.htm.
- “Pet Travel Tips.” Center for Pet Safety. https://www.centerforpetsafety.org/pet-parents/pet-travel-tips.
- Sandner, Volker. “Test Report: Securing Pets in Cars.” ADAC. February 2008. Accessed: https://wachusett.pssweb.net/Test%20report%20pets%20in%20cars-1.pdf