It’s always an exciting time when you are bringing a new rabbit into your home. You have a new friend and fuzzy family member to brighten your days! But if you’re not ready for your new pet, it can quickly lead to some stressful situations with an unhappy bunny. There’s always a lot to think about when you’re bringing a new pet home, and rabbits are no exception.
You need to be prepared with the right kind of food and an appropriate habitat. You’ll also need to rabbit proof your home so you can keep your new bunny out of trouble. There are also other considerations, such as making sure you have the information for a rabbit veterinarian in your area, to be prepared for emergencies.
If you’re wondering where to start to make sure you bring a happy and healthy bunny into your home, then you came to the right place. As a lifelong bunny owner and a rabbit rescue volunteer, I spend a lot of time working with these cuties and making sure they are prepared to go home with their new families. You can use the list at the end of this article to make sure you have everything you need to when you adopt your new pet rabbit.
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One of the most important parts of rabbit care is making sure you provide a healthy diet. Rabbits have a sensitive and unique digestive system that you’ll need to prepare for. Many products have colorful marketing, making them more enticing to purchase. However, most of these are sugary food mixes that aren’t very good for rabbits.
A healthy rabbit diet consists of approximately 80% hay with fresh leafy greens taking up the second highest proportion of their diet. Pellets should only be provided in small amounts and fruits and vegetables (including carrots!) should be given as occasional treats.
For adult rabbits (6 months and older) timothy hay is the best type of hay to give your rabbit. It has the highest fiber content, which is great for a rabbit’s digestion. If your rabbit is being picky about Timothy hay, you can give them other grass-based hays, such as oat hay or orchard hay. The only type of hay that you’ll want to avoid is alfalfa hay, since this type is much higher in protein and calcium and will often cause weight gain.
Young rabbits can have alfalfa hay since they are still growing, so if you are adopting a baby rabbit check out the young rabbit diet guide. It is slightly different from the adult diet that your rabbit will have for most of their life.
You also want to avoid giving rabbits any pellet mixes that have a lot of colorful and fruity pieces in them. These are not healthy for rabbits. Instead, opt for dry rabbit food with just the plain brown pellets. And give any additional fruit pieces as the occasional rabbit treat. (my recommended brands can be found at the end of the article)
For more information on the exact amount of food your rabbit should be given on daily basis based on their weight, head over to Rabbit Diet 101.
The home base
Most cages sold and marketed for rabbits are actually much too small. Rabbits need enough space to hop around and sprawl out all day long. They need a large enclosure area even when you can’t supervise them.
A rabbit’s enclosure should be at least 3 to 4 times the full length of a rabbit when they are sprawled out. But bigger is always better. Some people will even take steps to free roam their rabbit and allow them free reign of a room in their home.
Even if you are planning to free roam your rabbit, I recommend getting an enclosure to act as their home base. This will ensure that your rabbit always has a safe and comfortable place to return to when they want some rest and relaxation. I like to use a pet exercise pen as my rabbit’s enclosure. These give rabbits a lot more space and they are much easier to keep clean than a traditional rabbit cage or hutch.
You also want to make sure your rabbit has all the habitat accessories they need inside their enclosure. Items like food and water bowls are of course necessary. You can also choose to have a hay rack, or just include your rabbit’s hay pile in their large litter box. Rabbit’s also need to have a place to hide so that they can feel safe in their home base.
Rabbit proofing your home
Pet rabbits can be little troublemakers. They like to chew and dig on just about anything, so to prepare your home for your rabbit, you’ll have to take time to rabbit proof any room your rabbit will have access to.
The most important thing to get out of your rabbit’s reach is any wires. Rabbits like to bite through wires and can end up getting electrocuted if they bite a live wire. They are also known to bite through charger cords, leaving you unable to charge up your devices.
Luckily, this is one of the easiest problems to solve. If you can’t get a wire completely out of your rabbit’s reach, you can simply cover the wires with split loom cable coverings. This protects the wire with a plastic covering, but it also makes it less likely that your rabbit will try to go after the wires. The thicker tubing is not as enticing to rabbits, so they usually don’t try to use it as a chew toy.
Rabbits will also commonly try to chew on baseboards and dig into carpets. It can be a little more difficult to keep your rabbit away from these areas. For baseboards, you can try lining up fencing along the wall. I use storage cube fencing, zip tie them together, and line these up against the wall to keep my rabbit away.
Usually when rabbits go after carpets, it will be in the corners of rooms or around doorways. The best way to prevent your rabbit’s digging in these areas is by covering them with those plastic mats you would normally find underneath desk chairs. You can also use other mats, area rugs, or even flattened cardboard boxes to keep your rabbit away.
Litter training your rabbit
When you adopt a rabbit from an animal shelter they will often already be litter trained, so you won’t have to go through the process of litter training your rabbit. However, most of the time this is not the case. You’ll need to be prepared with the supplies you need to teach your rabbit how to use their litter box.
The good news is that rabbits are usually quick to start using a litter box. Most of the time they’ll pick a corner in their enclosure to use as a bathroom. If you place the litter box in that corner and scoop some of their urine and poop into the litter box, they will understand what its there for. But of course, some rabbits are very stubborn. They’ll need a lot more work to get them to use the litter box.
If this is something that you are struggling with, check out my step-by-step article going over how to litter train your rabbit.
There is also a troubleshooting section at the end of the article to help you with common litter training problems that you may encounter with your rabbit.
When you are first bringing your rabbit home, it’s important to be prepared with medical and emergency information. Rabbits need to go to specialized veterinarians who know how to work with small animals, since their anatomy is actually very different from cats and dogs.
To find a rabbit veterinarian in your area, a great place to start is at the House Rabbit Society vet list. They have listing for rabbit veterinarians across the US and even include some international locations. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund has their own listing for vets in the UK too.
I know talking about money is a little taboo, but I also really recommend building an emergency fund for your pet. Vet prices differ depending on your location, but if you have an extra $500-$1000 set aside, you’ll be able to cover most emergencies. If you are able to, you may want to save even more though. A friend of mine had a rabbit who needed a rare surgery that required in-patient care. The end cost came to over $2000, so the bills can get pretty hefty in emergency situations.
If there is absolutely no way you can save up this much money, you may want to look into pet insurance for your rabbit. In most cases I actually don’t recommend rabbit pet insurance unless your rabbit has known health problems. You’ll usually end up spending more than you save. But it can be a lifesaver if you cannot afford an expensive emergency procedure.
The only two insurance companies that I know of (in the US) that offer rabbit health insurance are Nationwide, and Pet Assure. I do not have any direct experience with either of these two companies, but they may be worth looking into.
Other important considerations
There are a couple other important items you’ll need for your rabbit. To start with, you’ll need a sturdy carrier. Usually small cat carriers are ideal for rabbits, but you’ll need to take your new rabbit’s size into consideration. Many rabbits weigh over 10 pounds and there are even a couple breeds that reach more than 20 pounds!
Toys are another important part of your rabbit’s life. They should have a variety of toys available to them for chewing, digging, and foraging. The problem always comes when trying to find toys your rabbit will actually like to play with.
I recommend an online store called Small Pet Select. They sell a toy sampler pack and send you a number of fun toys for your rabbit to choose from. I found them about a year ago and have been really impressed with the quality of their products. (and you can get 15% off your purchase by using the code BUNNYLADY at checkout).
The other items that you’ll need are grooming items. Unless you want to go to your vet or a rabbit grooming service every few months, you’ll want to get a set of nail clippers. You’ll also need a comb or grooming glove to help your rabbit lose all that fur during shedding season (rabbits shed a lot!).
Checklist of everything you need for your new rabbit
* Small Pet Select is my go-to brand for almost any natural or hay-based products. They’ve really impressed me on the freshness and quality of their hay, treats, and the natural toys they make for rabbits. For that reason, I’ve partnered with this excellent online store so you can get 15% off your first order if you use the code BUNNY LADY at checkout.
|Hay*||I give my rabbits Small Pet Select’s 2nd Cutting Timothy Hay. I trust this brand to have a high quality product that my rabbits will like to eat.|
|Pellets||This year I switched to Oxbow’s Garden Select Rabbit Food because it had a list of ingredients that were better than other brands. My rabbits also really enjoy this brand!|
|Treats*||I like to give my rabbits pieces of dried fruit as treats. I’ve gotten the fruit sampler from Small Pet Select a couple times and my rabbits go crazy over these yummy treats.|
|Enclosure||I always recommend getting a pet exercise playpen and using it as your rabbit’s enclosure or home base. These are much bigger than a typical cage and they’re usually cheaper too!|
|Hiding House||Rabbits are prey animals so they won’t feel comfortable without someplace to hide when they sense danger. I use the WARE rabbit den for my rabbits, but you may want to get a larger cat den if you have a larger rabbit.|
|Food and water bowls||Rabbits have the tendency to flip over their food and water bowls, so I recommend getting heavy ceramic bowls to prevent this behavior.|
|Wire covers||If there are any exposed wires in your rabbit room, then you’ll definitely want to use these covers to keep your rabbit from chewing on them.|
|Extra fencing||I use storage cube fencing for any number of rabbit-proofing strategies. You can zip tie the panels together and line them against the wall to prevent baseboard chewing. You can also use them to block off areas, such as underneath a bed or sofa.|
|Pet gate||Pet gates are useful if you want to keep your rabbit securely out of certain rooms in the house. I recommend the Carlson Pet Gate because I’ve gotten other brands that had bars too far apart, so my rabbit could get through.|
|Plastic mat||The plastic mats that you would use under rolling desk chairs are really useful for keeping rabbits from tearing apart carpeted floors.|
|Cat scratcher mats||Flexible cat scratcher mats are useful to use in corners of rooms or small areas that are otherwise difficult to rabbit-proof. You can also wrap them around the legs of wooden furniture to keep your rabbit from chewing.|
|Paper-based litter||You want to use a paper-based litter for your rabbit because it will be safe if they eat some of it (as rabbits do). I recommend Yesterday’s News Litter because it also does a good job at controlling the smell.|
|Litter boxes||You want to use cat litter boxes for rabbits. These are large enough that your rabbit can completely fit inside. If your rabbit is not yet litter trained, then you may want to get multiple boxes to use while they are still learning.|
|Pooper scooper||Any standard pooper scooper will be fine for your rabbit’s litter box.|
|Pet safe cleaning spray||When cleaning up around your pet, you’ll want to make sure you avoid dangerous chemicals whenever possible. You can use a pet-safe all purpose cleaning product, like Puracy.|
|Critical care||Critical Care is a product used for rabbits in emergency situations. My vet recommended that I always have a bag on hand just in case. Find out more about critical care.|
|Sturdy carrier||Some places will give you a cardboard carrier when you first adopt your new rabbit. This won’t work long term though, since rabbits are known to chew through cardboard pretty quickly. I like to use carriers that have a top opening door because it can make it easier to use.|
|Nail clippers||Standard pet nail clippers are best for rabbits. This type of clippers gives you the most control when clipping nails. Don’t forget to replace the clippers every few years because the blades eventually get dull.|
|Brush*||A Hair Buster usually does the best job at grabbing all that extra fur that your rabbit is shedding. Unfortunately some rabbits hate the sensation. If your rabbit won’t sit still, try a grooming glove instead.|
|Toys*||Since discovering Small Pet Select about a year ago, I’ve been getting all of my rabbit toys from them. They have a wide selection of natural and healthy rabbit toys. I recommend checking out their toy sampler to see which toys your rabbit likes best.|
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