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OWNING A RABBIT
First, some basic information
RABBITS ARE LAGOMORPHS
SEXING YOUR RABBIT
It is important to know the gender of your rabbit for various reasons. Bonding, breeding, and preference are valid reasons for sexing rabbits.
A litter of kits should be sexed and separated by gender no later than 12 weeks of age to avoid accidental pregnancies. Please note that a mother can get pregnant immediately after giving birth.
Gender in most cases can be accurately determined between 8 and 10 weeks of age, depending on the breed.
The easiest way to sex your rabbit is to place them bottom side up in your lap or on a flat surface. Pull the tail downward and apply pressure to the vent area with your thumb. You will need to apply enough pressure that the genitals protrude, but too much will make it difficult to tell. Note the diagrams below between male and female rabbits.
All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and cannot substitute for the advice of a licensed professional or veterinarian. A competent authority with specialized knowledge is the only one who can address the specific circumstances of your predicament. The owner of this website makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner of rabbitsavior.com will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.
Owning a Rabbit is a Responsibility
With getting ANY animal this should always be thought through completely and never a spur of the moment decision. You are dealing with another life that requires consistency and not to be passed around. Rabbits need to have ONE owner. All aspects of having this pet should be thought through, researched, and budgeted out.
Your rabbit’s enclosure should be at least 16 square feet, or 5x the size of your rabbit. Small animal cages are NOT suitable for rabbits despite the fact that pet supply manufacturers advertise them as such. We encourage free roam in a bunny-proof environment however, we understand this is not always possible. See our bunny proofing tips in the section Is a Rabbit Right for Me?
Your rabbit’s enclosure should be a place for play, safety, relaxation, eating and using the toilet. Here is a compiled list of items that will help create a comfortable setting for your rabbit:
- Xpen (dog pen), or modular grid pen (minimum 36in height 48in for large breeds, or with closed top)
- Litter box
- Bed with cover/roof (a place to hide)
- Hay rack
- Rabbit safe toys (chewing and stimulation)
- Rabbit friendly flooring (non-slip blankets, towels, carpet squares)
- Dishes (treats, water, pellets) NOTE: Water bottles can get jammed at the end, and rabbits drink more easily from a heavy, ceramic water bowl (heavy so they can’t flip it…which they will)
Hay is an excellent source of fiber, and the most important part of any rabbit’s diet. The rabbit’s digestive system is dependent on large amounts of indigestible hay-fiber to obtain and maintain optimal digestion. Hay must therefore be available at all times.
Proper Diet Per Day:
Hay – Should always be 80%-90% of your rabbit’s daily diet; timothy hay, orchard grass, oat hay, alfalfa hay (for young growing rabbits, or underweight rabbits)
10% Veggies and Greens – 1 packed cup of greens per 2lbs body weight
5% pellets – 1tbsp of pellets per 2lbs body weight (high fiber, low calorie – no corn, seeds, wheat fillers)
2% Fruit, Sweet Veggies – 1tsp per 2lbs body weight – 2 to 3 times per week
Fiber has several important functions:
- Protects against gastro-intestinal stasis.
- Prevents constipation caused by accumulation of fur in the intestines.
- Adds moisture and volume to the feces.
- Prevents enterotoxemia; (severe diarrheal disease, primarily of rabbits4–8 weeks old when naturally infected; it also can affect rabbits at all life stages)
- Provides a healthy bacterial balance in the cecum.
The rabbit’s digestive tract is able to process large amounts of high fiber/low-calorie food. Too little fiber in the diet can cause serious problems including dysbiosis of the bacterial flora of the digestive system, or diarrhea. These problems can be avoided by offering the rabbit unlimited amounts of grass hay every day.
The quality of the hay is very important. It’s important that the hay does not contain too much dust. Small particles of dust may cause respiratory problems. Hay can be purchased from most pet supply stores or bought from local farmers or stables. Hay that is moist or has a moldy smell can make your rabbit sick and must be removed immediately.
Hay should be stored in a dark, dry place. Direct sunlight may ruin important vitamins and minerals in the hay.
Stuffing the hay into wicker baskets, empty paper rolls, and other fun containers, might encourage some rabbits to eat more hay.
Another method to increase hay consumption is to put the hay directly on the floor or in a hay rack in the rabbit’s living area, away from the litter box. This way hay is always available, and the rabbit can graze peacefully from the ground like wild rabbits do.
Greens and veggies are loaded with incredible nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, not to mention water that provides essential hydration to your little ones. Thinking of a rabbit’s overall diet, the variety of greens and veggies available far outweighs different types of available hays and pellets. Thus, these greens and veggies are a perfect way to diversify the diet and provide mental and nutritional enrichment to keep your bun interested at mealtime. Like guinea pigs and chinchillas, about 80% of a rabbit’s diet should be high-quality grass hay paired with species and age specific pelleted food, plus greens and veggies. Dark leafy greens should make up most of the latter category and fruits should be offered infrequently in exceedingly small amounts.
Every animal is an individual and unique in their nutritional needs, so it is always best to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your individual pet. General feeding recommendations are around 1 cup of dark, leafy greens per 2 pounds of a rabbit’s body weight daily. You can also provide other vegetables besides leafy greens, such as squash and cucumbers, but these tend to be higher in simple carbohydrates like sugar and starch and should be provided in smaller quantities. A good rule of thumb is one cup of non-leafy green veggies per 2 pounds of body weight per day.
For example, a rabbit that weighs 3 pounds should get roughly 1/8 cup (2 Tbsp) pellets, 1.5 cups leafy greens, and 1.5 tablespoons of chopped veggies (non-leafy greens). Providing 3 to 5 different types of greens and veggies daily is encouraged, rotating types and varieties each day or week. These greens and veggies can be offered all at once, but it is best divided into multiple daily feedings to provide more enrichment, interaction, and avoid rapid intake in a short period of time. If available, organic produce is preferred to avoid pesticides and produce should be washed before offering.
Greens and veggies are excellent sources of vitamins A, B, C, and K, not to mention soluble fiber and trace minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and zinc. As we discussed above, all animals are unique and therefore it is always imperative that you factor your fur baby’s medical history into their dietary decisions. Some veggies and greens have specific nutritional factors that might determine if they are appropriate for your specific pet. For example, parsley, spinach, mustard greens, and Swiss chard should be fed sparingly or avoided for animals with a history of bladder issues as they are higher in calcium and oxalates than other greens and veggies.
Here is a comprehensive list rabbit approved foods
Wild Plants (feed sparingly):
- Willow, apple or pear branches, pinecones (bake to sterilize)
- Wild carrot
- Cow Parsley
- Goose grass
Safe Veggies (feed sparingly):
- Chopped asparagus
- Chopped celery
- Celery root
- Squash – zucchini, yellow, butternut
- Borage leaves
- Cucumber leaves
- Dill leaves
- Pumpkin leaves
- Raspberry leaves
- Red or green lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Spring greens
Fruits and Sweet Veggies (Occasional)
- Apple – no seeds, core, stem
- Apricot – no pit
- Berries – blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry
- Carrots/ Carrot tops
- Cherries – no pit
- Flowers – roses, pansies, hibiscus, lavender, marigold
- Mango – no pit
- Melons including peel – no seeds
- Nectarine – no pit
- Papaya – no seeds
- Peach – no pit
- Pear – no seeds, core, stem
- Plum – no pit
- Pumpkin – no seeds, string
- Star fruit
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Radish tops
- Sweet Potato Leaves
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
Here is a list of foods that should not be given to rabbits
- Iceberg Lettuce (can cause diarrhea)
- Green Beans
- Seedless Grapes, raisins (fine as a treat)
- Tomatoes (just fine – don’t feed them the plant though)
- Baking Soda
- Been Sprouts
- Beans (all legumes)
- Bell Peppers
- Bread – grains, carbs
- Brussel Sprouts
- Grapes, raisins (fine as a treat)
- Iceberg lettuce (safe, but nutritionally void)
- Nuts (only give nuts in small amounts)
- Peas and pods
- Tomato Plants (Tomatoes are okay)
- Yogurt drops
Provide a box with deep sides and low front either covered or uncovered. Totes with an entrance way cut into the front as shown above make excellent and cost-efficient litter boxes. This method also doubles as a platform on top for your rabbit to scope their surroundings or lay down. Corner litter boxes advertised for bunnies are generally too small and therefore, we recommend the larger corner boxes for cats if this is the type of box you want to go with.
Safe litter products to use:
- Aspen wood shavings
- Kiln dried pine shavings
- Yesterday’s News; any paper based pelleted litter
- Wood pellets; compressed sawdust pelleted litter
Do not use:
- Baking Soda
- Non-kiln dried pine shavings
- Cedar shavings
- Granule cat litter of any kind
- Clay litter or litter that clumps
- Any scented type of litter
- These materials are considered unsafe and can cause a URI (Upper Respiratory Infection) in your rabbit.
Put a thin layer of litter at the bottom of the litter box- just enough to absorb wetness. There is no need to fill it too high since rabbits don’t bury their droppings. Additionally, when you clean the litter box, you dump the entire contents out each time and therefore, you will unnecessarily go through a lot of litter if you deeply fill the box each time.
Rabbits like to eat hay, and poop at the same time. In order to promote good litter box habits, place hay either directly in the box over the litter or place a hay rack next to the litter box. If you use a hay rack, position it so the rabbit must hop into the litter box to reach the hay.
It is easiest to develop good litter box habits in rabbits by limiting their space at first. Use one of the above approved enclosures to confine your rabbit to one area, even if you intend to give him/her free reign of your home eventually. This allows your bunny to get acclimated to the area in the beginning. Once your bunny consistently uses the litter box, you can gradually expand the area. If your rabbit starts “forgetting” to use the litter box, then limit the space again until good habits resume.
Here are a few other tips for those stubborn, “outside-the-box” bunnies:
- Having a spayed/neuter rabbit makes litter box training MUCH easier
- If accidents occur, mop up urine with a paper towel and pick up stray poop and place both in the litter box. This helps get the message across that the litter box is the place that they should do their business. Keep in mind that rabbits are generally not 100% perfect with their litter box. Sometimes they leave a few droppings next to the box, or they urinate over the edge of their box. This is normal, so placing a plastic mat under their litter box or putting the litter box on a tile floor makes it easier to clean up these little mistakes.
- Be patient and persistent. Litter training takes time, especially if your rabbit has learned bad habits. It takes a while to retrain them. If you can see they are about to go outside their litter box (they may lift their tail or sometimes they sort of shimmy down in a seated position right before they go), try to pick them up and put them in the litter box or corral them in. This is oftentimes easier said than done of course.
- If your bunny is insistent on going in one corner of the room, sometimes it’s easier to give in to their stubbornness, and place a litter box in that corner. Usually when rabbits consistently choose another place to go, they are trying to tell you that this is where they want to go.
- If your rabbit is pooping/spraying pee everywhere, this is probably due to your rabbit marking his territory. It’s a good idea to get your rabbit spayed/neutered in order to ease territorial feelings.
- Sometimes rabbits deliberately pee on your couch or bed because they’re showing you who’s Top Bunny in the house. You should correct their misconception immediately. Take proper measures in prohibiting your rabbit on beds and other furniture until litter training habits improve. You can simply entice your rabbit off the furniture with a treat, toy or command. You may also want to get creative and physically block them from leaping up onto furniture.
Litter training your pet rabbit takes patience and persistence. But in the end, you will have a wonderful companion to share your home with.
Rabbits are social animals and form natural bonds with each other. You may want to consider bonding your rabbit with another if you work or go to school full time, if you have a busy household, recreational life, or social life. Anything that doesn’t include your rabbit should be taken into consideration depending how long your rabbit is left alone. Lonely rabbits become depressed rabbits, which can lead to further problems including behavioral problems (see behavior for more information) and GI Stasis. (see medical section for more information).
If possible, let your rabbit choose his/her partner. The chances of a successful bond are much higher if your current rabbit shows interest in a potential friend.
Bonding your rabbits can be time consuming and frustrating if proper steps aren’t in place. With patience and understanding of your rabbits’ behaviors, your rabbits will be rewarded with the stimulation, comfort, and companionship of each other in your absence. This is not saying that many single buns don’t live a fulfilling life with their human companions, but in some circumstances, 2 or more rabbits are better than one. Here is a brief overview of the bonding process:
Bonding Do’s and Dont’s
- Do – House the rabbits separately but close together. They will get used to seeing each other and to each other’s scent if they are close to one another. Make sure the enclosures are not close enough for them to be able to bite each other.
- Do – switch your rabbits into each other’s pens to further get used to scents and decrease territorial behaviors.
- Do – Be prepared for this to take several weeks to months.
- Do – Make the effort to think like a bunny. Is one rabbit jealous you are interacting with the new bunny/resident bunny? Is he mad you just gave his favorite toy to the other? Is the rabbit stressed and ready to stop for the day?
- Do – Interact with the bunnies but give equal attention and provide a positive and relaxed atmosphere.
- Do – spay or neuter your rabbits prior to bonding
- Don’t – Play favorites.
- Don’t – Expect love at first sight.
- Don’t – Hold a bonding session in the resident bunny’s territory until after the bunnies spend at least 30 minutes together in neutral space. Be prepared for the potential that the resident bunny may become defensive or aggressive at first.
- Don’t – Try to bond if you have had a bad day. Your emotions will transfer to the bunnies and can undo weeks of work.
- Don’t – Leave the rabbits unsupervised, even for a minute, until they’re fully bonded.
- Don’t – Assume that because yesterday went well, today will too. They are working through relationship issues similar to those humans do during a dating process.
- Don’t – End on a bad note, if at all possible.
Helpful tips and guidelines:
Rabbits who have never previously been introduced need time to “scope” out each other’s personalities, just like we do when we meet new people. They need to form an acceptance to each other prior to physical interaction. By allowing your rabbits to prematurely interact, they will most likely fight, resulting in injuries that may require an unnecessary vet visit, or a negative first impression which may hinder or completely cease the bonding process.
When setting your rabbits up for bonding, you will want separate, escape proof enclosures for each rabbit. Be sure you have enough space for this set up. (see housing for more information). The enclosures should be in the same vicinity while leaving several inches or feet in between them to avoid biting each other through the bars. It is important to mirror the enclosures by placing litter boxes, hideaways, hay racks and dishes in the same formation opposite to one another.
Once the rabbits have spent some time side by side, they will start emulating each other’s actions. You will notice that they will lay down, eat, and visit their litter box simultaneously. Once this takes place, you can gradually start moving the enclosures closer together until you observe a peaceful interaction through the bars such as attempting to groom each other, as well as an increased desire to be close to one another. While you are going through these steps, make sure to switch the rabbits in each other’s pens every couple of days. It is also a good idea to take items such as blankets, favorite toys and give them to the other rabbit. After your rabbits show a consistent desire to meet, choose a quiet, neutral area in your home to do a physical introduction. DO NOT put the rabbits in a common play area, or in each other’s pens for the first introduction. Rabbits are territorial and therefore will diligently protect what they’ve deemed as their space. Female rabbits are generally more territorial of their space than males and therefore, it is a good idea to consider adding the female to the male’s enclosure after a few successful interactions. Once you have determined a suitable, neutral area, we suggest the following:
- Ensure your rabbits have been altered several weeks prior to the introduction. Bonds are less likely to be successful with intact rabbits and accidental pregnancies may result.
- Make sure the space has not been previously occupied or used by your rabbits. If this is not possible, be sure you have thoroughly disinfected and cleaned the area with a rabbit safe solution such as cleaning grade vinegar. https://www.rabbitair.com/pages/cleaning-supplies-and-household-chemicals
- Spread out greens and favorite treats amongst the space they will be interacting
- Make sure the area is free of obstacles that may cause injury, sharp objects, places they can get out of your reach and free of unnecessary noise and other pets or children. It is best to use an open space with a hideaway such as a cardboard box for interaction.
- Keep a towel or blanket handy to separate the buns in the event of a fight. NEVER separate quarrelling rabbits with your bare hands.
- Limit first interactions to 10-minute intervals twice daily and gradually increase.
What to expect:
Some chasing, hair pulling, and humping are all common when rabbits first meet. It is necessary for them to determine the hierarchy of the partnership. The more dominant bun will be apparent upon the first introduction and remain top bun for the lifetime of the companionship. Humping in these circumstances does not necessarily reflect an instinct to reproduce, but rather is an action of dominance. If humping becomes excessive, gently separate the rabbits, and offer treats or petting as a distraction. Never allow face humping. Hair pulling can be somewhat alarming but is also a natural communication between rabbits while they’re putting each other to the test. Stay close to the rabbits and be prepared to separate them if they show too much aggression or excitement. Take all measures to avoid a bite injury. If you notice excessive hair pulling and chasing, immediately separate and return the rabbits to their enclosures. Be very attentive to your rabbits’ behavior during this process. If you notice both rabbits circling/spinning close to each other, they can potentially end up in a “ball” which is a fight you want to avoid. Once rabbits are in a ball formation, they are full on biting to cause serious damage. Throw the blanket or towel down on one or both rabbits and immediately separate them, ceasing the introduction. You may have to take several steps back in the bonding process if this occurs. This means moving the enclosures slightly apart and following the first steps as described in helpful tips and guidelines. This behavior is extreme in most cases and if you have been patient while following the proper steps, your rabbits should not be accelerating to aggression. Your rabbits are considered fully bonded once they can assume relaxed behavior such as eating, grooming, and laying down either together or near each other in a neutral area. When you are confident that your rabbits have totally accepted each other, you can then proceed to allow them access in all designated areas of the household.
Rabbits require their nails to be trimmed regularly. Maintaining your rabbit’s nails will prevent unnecessary injury such as scratching open ears and other sensitive areas, sore hocks and catching on blankets, carpets or other objects that may result in broken toes or even ripping the nail off entirely. Your rabbit savvy veterinarian generally offers this service however, if you are confident enough to maintain your rabbit’s nails on their own, this will save unnecessary vet visits and undue stress for your rabbit.
Rabbits generally aren’t overly cooperative for this procedure. There are certain measures you may want to have in place for yours and your rabbit’s safety while doing nail trims.
The burrito wrap is the most common way to comfortably secure your rabbit. Here are the steps to properly wrap your rabbit. This method also works when administering oral medications.
What you will need:
- Towel to secure your rabbit
- Nail clippers. We recommend scissor-style nail clippers. Large breed rabbits may require larger clippers designed for dogs.
- Kwik-Stop, styptic powder, corn starch or baking soda in case you cut the quick. The quick is the center core within the nail where the nerves and blood supply sit. You can see the quick in flesh or light-colored nails. (See below for more details). For dark colored nails, we recommend using a small light (such as a cell phone flashlight) behind the nail which will help expose the quick.
- Treats to offer your rabbit once the trimming is complete. It’s always important to reward your rabbit to create a more positive experience.
Burrito Wrapping Your Rabbit (Credit: https://bunnylady.com/)
- Lay a towel (not too big) down on a flat surface at waist height.
- Position the rabbit center towards the far edge of the towel. Always stand behind your rabbit while securing to avoid a fall.
- Take the far edge of the towel and secure both sides under your rabbit’s chin.
- Take the right side of the towel and fold it snug over your rabbit’s back.
- Take the left side of the towel and overlap on the existing fold.
- Take the remaining bottom flap and fold over the top.
Once you have your rabbit securely wrapped, you will need to slightly shift the towel throughout the process so you have access to each foot. Gently pull your rabbit’s feet out one at a time as needed while keeping the core wrap in place. Once you have completed each foot, resecure within the wrap. You don’t want to end up with all four feet out by the end of the process. This will enable your rabbit to escape the wrap.
Holding Your Rabbit
- Lean your rabbit’s backside firmly against your body while keeping your rabbit’s bottom on the flat surface. You are essentially using your body as a third hand.
- With one hand, secure your rabbit’s chest and do the trimming with your other hand.
- In some cases, it’s helpful to have a second person hold the rabbit as described above until you are confident doing this yourself.
- You may also wish to lean your rabbit against your arm which should be at a 90° angle. NEVER lay your rabbit flat on his back as this will trance your rabbit and can be deadly!
How to Trim
As we explained above, you want to trim off only what’s necessary while avoiding the quick. You should be prepared to stop bleeding with one or more of the products mentioned in the list of things you need. Each rear paw has 4 toes, and each front paw has four toes and a dew claw, for a total of 18 nails.
In the event of a bleed, apply powder to the tip of the nail by using a wet Q-Tip. Pack the powder on the nail tip until bleeding stops.
Also note that Rex breed rabbits have longer quicks than other breeds.
Clip the nails on a 45° angle just above the quick.
Hold each nail between your thumb and forefinger while firmly cutting the tip of the nail ABOVE the quick. It’s good practice to apply pressure with the clippers once prior to cutting the nail all the way. If the rabbit flinches from the pressure, you may need to readjust the clippers closer to the tip as you may be too close to the quick. Don’t forget the dew claw on each front paw. This is located almost on the underside of the paw and can be more difficult to get at. Slightly tilt each paw inwards to expose the nail.
SCENT GLAND CLEANING
Scent glands are small slits located on either side of the anus. They should be checked each time you trim your rabbit’s nails. The scent glands may be packed with wax which is a dark brown substance and has a very distinct smell. Some rabbits do not produce a lot of wax and will not require your assistance. However, if your rabbit produces a lot of wax and it is not properly cleaned, it may get infected.
Scent gland cleaning should only be done after you are comfortable handling your rabbit. Gently lift their tail and spread the skin on either side of the anus to expose the scent gland. Using a bit of water-based lube and a cotton–tipped swab, gently wipe out the dark, waxy substance impacting or plugging the glands. Be careful not to apply too much pressure and tear the flesh surrounding the scent glands.
Your rabbit should be brushed every 3-7 days depending on fur type and seasonal molting (shedding and regrowth of fur), taking exception to Angora breeds who require educated sheering. Rabbits shed 3-4 times per year and require daily brushing during this time to avoid ingestion of fur resulting in blockage and/or GI stasis.
There are a few different types of tools for grooming. Some examples are:
- Rubber brush glove
- Soft bristle cat brush
- Rubber tipped pet comb or brush
- De-shedding small animal comb, Hair buster (pictured)
Place your rabbit securely on a flat surface or on the floor. Run the brush along the surface of the hair in the direction that it grows.
During molting season, there are several hair buster products that can be found in pet supply stores or online. Pin the outer fur back in the opposite direction to expose the undercoat. Run the comb through the undercoat paying special attention to thicker areas. In the meantime, pluck any loose tufts that present themselves.
While brushing your rabbit, use the opportunity to check for parasites, injuries, abscesses, discharge from eyes or nose and any other abnormalities. Also check the ears for dirt, redness, and foreign matter. This could be a symptom of parasites or infection. If any of these conditions are present, contact your veterinarian immediately.
For mats and long-haired breeds – it may be necessary to find a local rabbit savvy groomer. It is not recommended to attempt to detangle or cut out mats unless you have extensive grooming experience. This may cause serious injury to your rabbit. Seek out expert care if mats are present.
NEVER bathe your rabbit. Rabbits are self-cleaning animals and bathing will cause extreme stress and hypothermia. If fur is soiled, you can spot-bathe that specific area, or simply wipe with a damp, warm cloth. You can also give your rabbit a dry bath. To do that, sprinkle a little cornstarch onto the area that needs to be cleaned and massage it into your rabbit’s fur. Then, comb the cornstarch out of the fur and use a cloth to wipe away any excess.
NEVER use baking soda to absorb odors. Inhaling or ingesting baking soda can lead to major health issues and even death.
Spaying and Neutering
Both sexes should to be fixed, not only behavioural reasons, but also for health benefits. Females are at an 80% risk of contracting uterine cancer which goes up to 90% with age. Males go through other health and behavioral issues that can all be avoided by getting them neutered as well. Only fixed rabbits should be placed together. If there is a rabbit that isn’t fixed, the original rabbit who is in the home can smell the hormones coming off this new rabbit and can start to become aggressive/territorial. For this reason it is best to only introduce a new rabbit into your home if the original(s) are fixed or if you’re able to separate the rabbits by different floors of your home. This way your rabbit(s) will experience the least amount of stress when bringing in a new family member.