Basic Rabbit Care
Proper nutrition of a rabbit is critical to the maintenance of good health in this species. Rabbits are built like tiny horses, and as such they require large quantities of fiber for their digestive tracts to function normally. A good rabbit diet should be made up of good quality pellets, fresh hay, water and fresh vegetables. Anything beyond this a "treat" and should be given in limited quantities.
- Rabbits need hay to compromise at least 50-70% of their entire diet. Hay should always be available to them. They’ll generally eat a pile of hay the size of their body twice a day. Hay (fiber) allows the digestive tract to function optimally by providing the proper environment for beneficial bacteria to grow while suppressing the growth of potential deadly bacteria. Hay also prevents the accumulation of hair in the digestive tract, which can lead to hairball formation. Hairballs can completely block the intestinal tract and kill a rabbit. The best hays to feed are mixed grass and timothy hays. We recommend Oxbow brand. While alfalfa hay is fine for infants and for intermittent use in adults, it is high in calcium and too much can lead to urinary tract stones.
- Pellets should be fresh, and should be relatively high in fiber (20-25% minimum crude fiber). Pellets should make up less of the rabbit's diet, as it grows older (see the chart below). Many clients have been misinformed that pellet rabbit food is all your bunny needs. Pellet feed as an exclusive diet, can lead to the fatal overgrowth of Clostridia bacteria. This is the same bug that causes food poisoning in people. Rabbits will often develop fatal diarrhea and die from this organism. Pellet feeds should be no more than 10% of a rabbit’s diet! Depending on the size of your rabbit, this is between ¼ cup to ½ cup once a day. The pellets should not contain nuts, seeds, and other sugary treats. These should be just pellets. We recommend Oxbow brand.
- Another important part of a rabbit’s diet is dark green leafy vegetables. They should make up about 30-50% of a rabbit’s diet. Feed a pile the size of your rabbit’s body once a day. Add one vegetable to the diet at a time. Eliminate any item that causes soft stools or diarrhea. Like hay, they are a great source of fiber and provide several important vitamins and minerals.
Alfalfa, radish & clover sprouts
Beet greens (tops)
Romaine (avoid iceburg)
Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides)
- Try to feed at least 3 different types of greens daily. Please note, unlike the cartoons, carrots are not a necessary part of your rabbit’s diet; they are a treat. If you wish to feed them, give no more than one baby carrot once a day.
- Lastly, fruits should be kept to a minimum. They are high in sugar and provide little needed nutrition. Sugar will promote the growth of harmful bacteria. You should not feed more than 1 teaspoon of fruit twice a week. This is a good time to note, never give a rabbit candy. They may love it, but it can be like giving them poison!!!
|12 weeks to 7 months||Unlimited alfalfa||Unlimited||Introduce vegetables (one at a time) in small quantities < 1/2 oz (15 g)||---|
|7 months to 1 year||Introduce grass hay, decrease alfalfa each week||Decrease amount fed to ½ cup per 6 lbs (2.7 kg) BW||Increase vegetables fed daily gradually||No more than 1-2 oz (30-60g) per 6 lbs (2.7 kg) BW per week|
|Adult (1-5 y)||Unlimited grass hay, timothy hay, oat hay||¼ to ½ cup per 6 lbs (2.7 kg) BW||1-2 cups per 6 lbs (2.7 kg) BW||No more than 2 tsp per 6 lbs (2.7 kg) BW per week|
|Seniors (>6 y) **Ask your veterinarian before making these changes!!||Increase alfalfa hay fed to frail, older rabbits but monitor calcium levels||Continue adult diet if weight is okay; frail, older rabbits may be fed unlimited pellets|
BW: body weight kg: kilograms lbs: pounds g: grams oz: ounce
Essential supplies for all indoor rabbit habitats include a water bottle or bowl, feed bowl, hay, and toys. Bowls need to be heavy enough not to be tipped over. Provide a litter box with organic litter (do not use softwood shavings such as pine or cedar). It is also helpful to attach the litter pans to the cage with clips, wire, or 1-inch (2.5 cm) C-clamps.
House pet rabbits on solid flooring:
- Wire floors on commercial cages may be removed with J-clip removers or a small awl and needle nosed jewelry pliers.
- If the wire floor is not removed, a variety of materials may be used to cover the wire floor including carpet remnants, grass mats, synthetic sheepskin, and toweling. If your bunny starts to chew on or ingest any of the non-natural floor coverings, replace them with another item.
- Absorbent bedding such as recycled paper product or aspen shavings may also be used.
- Shelves may be added to the cages for resting, lookout, or exercise if there is sufficient height between the floor of the cage and the top. A flat roofed house of wood or cardboard will provide the same in addition to a private area for the bunny. A hooded litter box or a pet carrier may be placed in a room for privacy (make sure that your bunny doesn’t eat the plastic carrier or litter box).
- Clip a small piece of plexiglass to the cage wire behind the hay container to keep the hay inside the cage. A 4 in (10 cm) piece of plexiglass may be placed along the bottom to deflect urine or debris.
BUNNY-PROOFING YOUR HOME
Rabbits do best with more space. They should be let out of their cage at least an hour a day. Even better, once they’re litterbox trained (see our litter training handout), many rabbit owners will allow them to have the run of a whole bedroom at all times, or even the whole house (the latter is not recommended if you have dogs or cats, who are natural predators and will chase a fast-moving bunny).
Bunny-proofing your home is part of living with a house rabbit. It is natural for rabbits to chew on furniture, rugs, drapes, and, most deadly of all, electrical cords. Young rabbits (< 1 year of age) are more inclined to mischief and require more confinement and/or bunny proofing than mature rabbits.
- It is imperative that electrical cords be hidden or covered with tubing or hard plastic casing, since one bite by your bunny could be fatal. Conceal cords within vinyl tubing, found at hardware stores, so that the rabbit cannot reach them. Split the tubing lengthwise with a utility knife so the cord may be pushed inside.
- Use plexiglass to cover wallpaper or part of a carpet. Tack a thin strip of untreated wood over a baseboard to protects it from bunny teeth. Arrange furniture to hide cords and electrical outlets. Place grass mats over carpet to protect your rug.
- Gates, such as those used to keep children and dogs out of certain areas, are another way to set up an area for your bunny. If your rabbit seems overly interested in chewing the gate, try decorating it with permitted chew toys as a diversion.
- Give your rabbit enough attention, safe chewable items and toys, so that it is distracted from chewing furniture and rugs. To keep bunnies happy and relieve boredom, provide them with plenty of toys:
- Untreated wicker baskets and wood
- Willow bark balls
- Grass mats, jute and hemp doormats
- Cat balls or other cat toys that roll or can be tossed
- Hard plastic baby toys. Make sure that the rabbit is not eating and ingesting these toys!
- Large tubs of hay, newspapers, or a towel may be used as an outlet for digging.
- Nudge and roll toys like large rubber balls, empty Quaker Oat boxes and small tins
- Create a climbing area with baskets, boxes, and pillows
- Tunnels can be made from open-ended cardboard boxes, cat tunnels, and cardboard propped up against the side of a wall.
- Paper bags and cardboard boxes for crawling inside, scratching, and chewing.
- A cardboard box stuffed with hay, straw, or shredded paper makes an inexpensive play box.
- Yellow Pages for shredding
- Straw whisk broom
- Untreated wood twigs and logs that have been aged for at least 3 months. Apple tree branches can be eaten fresh off the tree. Stay away from: cherry, peach, apricot, plum and redwood, which are all poisonous.
- Remove poisonous plants and other toxic substances as well as any small objects that could be ingested.
TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY
Place the cage in the coolest, least humid area of the house away from heat and drafts. A temperature range of 60-70°F (16-21°C) is best for pet rabbits. Temperatures in the upper 80s and higher can potentially cause fatal heat stroke. Leave a frozen bottle of water in the cage, and wet down the rabbit’s ears during hot weather to help cool the bunny. Cool tiles may also be used as a cool spot for rabbits to lie on in warm weather.
When outdoor temperatures are mild, allow your rabbit to bask outside in a wire enclosure, or in a secure pen where he can enjoy the natural sunlight. If your grass is untreated with chemicals, you can place the enclosure in the grass and he’ll enjoy munching on it. The enclosure should have a wire roof to protect from hawks and other predators. A plank of wood over half the roof will provide a shady spot in case your rabbit wants to cool off. Do not put the rabbit in direct sun in a glass or Plexiglass enclosure. The glass magnifies the heat causing cage temperatures to rapidly reach fatal levels. Finally, even with the wire roof, your rabbit should never be left unattended and should be supervised at all times. Raccoons may be able to break the wire, or, even in the best enclosures rabbits can be escape artists, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
For more information, visit the House Rabbit Society