Owning a rabbit can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but there are quite a few common mistakes that new owners tend to make. These blunders, no matter how innocent, can have serious consequences for your bunny’s health and happiness. From diet and housing mistakes to improper handling techniques, even minor errors can cause issues down the road. But don’t worry, rabbit ownership 101 doesn’t have to be intimidating! In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn how to avoid the 15 most common and critical mistakes rabbit owners make. We’ll cover everything from bunny-proofing and litter training to proper vet care and exercise needs. Follow this advice, and you and your rabbit will be hopping down the path to an enjoyable, lifelong bond!
1. Giving rabbits the wrong diet
Rabbits have very delicate digestive systems and require a diet that is high in fiber and low in fat and protein. The ideal diet for a rabbit consists of unlimited timothy or other grass hays, which should make up at least 75% of their diet. They also need a measured amount of fresh leafy greens and vegetables every day. Avoid feeding them fruits, seeds, nuts, corn, cereals, and other grains, which can lead to serious digestive issues. Do not give rabbits unlimited pellets, as they are calorie dense and can cause obesity. Follow your vet's recommendations for the proper daily amounts of pellets. Providing the right diet from the start will keep your bunny happy and healthy.
2. Picking up the rabbit too often
While rabbits may seem cuddly, they generally do not like being picked up and held. Rabbits are prey animals, so being picked up can cause fear, stress, and anxiety. They may kick powerfully to get away, potentially causing injuries to themselves or you. Rabbits prefer having all four feet on the ground. If you need to pick up your rabbit, do so only when necessary, such as to trim nails or examine them. Use proper technique by placing one hand behind the rear and the other under the chest, keeping the body fully supported. Avoid picking them up unnecessarily, respect when they do not want to be held, and provide a safe enclosed area where they can move freely.
3. Keeping rabbits outside
Rabbits are indoor pets and should not be kept exclusively outside. They require climate controlled housing as they are susceptible to heatstroke and hypothermia. Outdoor hutches also leave them vulnerable to predators, insects, and weather elements. Lack of human interaction and mental stimulation outside leads to boredom, stress, and potentially aggressive or destructive behaviors. Do not keep your rabbit outside full time. Instead, bring the enclosure inside and allow your rabbit to be part of the household activities. Supervise any limited outdoor time in a secure, enclosed run to prevent escape and protect from other animals. An indoor rabbit will be much happier and safer.
4. Not spending enough time with your rabbit
Rabbits are highly social animals that require lots of attention and interaction with their owners. A lack of human companionship will cause depression, anxiety, and behavior issues over time. Spend at least a few hours every day playing, cuddling, and interacting with your bunny. Provide toys for mental stimulation and activities like hide and seek to engage their minds. Bunny proof a room or area of your home so they can safely spend time with you. Give them space to run around and explore. The more time you dedicate to your rabbit daily, the deeper your bond will become. A well cared for indoor rabbit will be a loving, playful lifelong companion.
5. Not bunny proofing the house
Rabbits love to chew and dig, so it's essential to fully bunny proof any area they will have access to. Look for potential hazards at their level. Block off access behind and under appliances where they could get stuck or chew on electrical cords. Remove houseplants or block access, as many common plants are toxic. Protect furniture, baseboards, carpet, and valuables that could be chewed and destroyed. Provide acceptable chew toys instead. Use pet gates to block unsafe rooms and ensure cabinets stay closed. Fill in or cover any small holes in walls. Regularly check for any new risks and monitor your rabbit's behavior. Taking the time to properly bunny proof will allow your rabbit to safely and happily explore their surroundings.
6. Giving rabbits unhealthy pellet mixes
The commercial rabbit pellet mixes with seeds, dried fruits, nuts and colorful cereals may seem like tasty treats, but they are very unhealthy for rabbits. These food mixes are too high in carbohydrates, sugars, and fat that can lead to obesity and other serious health issues in rabbits. Stick to plain timothy or alfalfa based pellets formulated specifically for rabbits, in age-appropriate amounts. For healthy treats, give a small piece of fresh fruit like apple, blueberries or banana sparingly, not daily. Avoid unhealthy pellet mixes and instead build a balanced diet from quality hay, vegetables, and measured pellets. Your rabbit will feel much better.
7. Not getting the rabbit spayed or neutered
Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered is essential for their health and behavior. Unaltered rabbits are at very high risk for reproductive cancers later in life. Neutering eliminates hormone driven territorial marking and destructive behaviors. Spaying prevents the extreme stress of constant false pregnancies in unspayed females. Arranging this routine surgery while they are still young will add many healthy years to your rabbit's life. The procedure is safe and recovery is usually quick when performed by an experienced rabbit-savvy vet. Do not skip this critically important step of responsible rabbit ownership.
8. Giving the rabbit a bath
Rabbits are fastidious groomers and do not need baths. Bathing stresses out rabbits and threatens their health. Their skin has very little natural oil and the delicate pH balance is disrupted by shampoos. Water can get into their ears and cause painful infections. Struggling when wet may cause injuries. Even a small amount of water on their bodies can cause hypothermia. Rabbits can go into shock from the stress and trauma. Never attempt to immerse or shampoo your rabbit. For light cleaning, some vets recommend dampening a wash cloth with a gentle pet-safe wipe and spot cleaning only when absolutely necessary. Maintain their hygiene by keeping their living area clean. Skip the risky bath and let your rabbit groom themselves instead.
9. Giving rabbits too many carrots (and other treats)
While rabbits love sweets like carrots, they are actually high in natural sugars and should only be fed in very limited quantities. Overindulging in sugary vegetables like carrots can make rabbits gain weight and develop ongoing dental issues. Stick to mostly leafy greens like kale, spinach, and lettuces for the vegetable portion of their diet. Introduce carrot, apple, and fruit treats sparingly, such as a coin size piece a few times a week at most. Always research which foods are safe for rabbits before offering. Withholding treats except on very special occasions will keep your bunny at their healthiest.
10. Keeping rabbits in a cage
Keeping rabbits confined to a cage prevents them from getting the exercise they need every day to stay healthy. Different from hamsters and guinea pigs, rabbits need much more space with room to run and play. Never keep your rabbit permanently shut in a cage. Instead, provide a spacious pen or rabbit proof part of your home where they can move freely at all times. Provide toys, boxes, tunnels, and other enrichment activities to engage their active minds and bodies. Letting them stretch their legs and burn energy will result in a happier, better behaved rabbit.
11. Using a water bottle instead of a bowl
Do not rely solely on a water bottle to hydrate your rabbit. Water bottles frequently malfunction, drip, or become blocked, leaving rabbits without water. Bowls provide constant access to fresh water which is essential to rabbit health. Check bottles twice daily to ensure water is dispensing and clean bottles weekly. Use a heavy ceramic bowl that cannot be tipped over instead to ensure your rabbit stays well hydrated. Refill bowls with clean water multiple times a day. Having both a bottle and a bowl provides redundancy if one fails. Supply constant clean water in a bowl for the healthiest rabbits.
12. Getting a small litter box
Rabbits produce a lot of waste, so their litter box needs to be large enough so some mess outside won't matter. Get the biggest possible litter box – at least 4 times the size of your rabbit. Giant cat litter pans work well for smaller bunnies. For larger rabbits, consider using an under-the-bed storage container. Provide one box for each rabbit, plus an extra. Line the box with newspaper, aspen shavings, or paper-based litter – avoid clumping clay litters. Place boxes in favored toilet corners. With ample large litter boxes, your rabbit can develop good bathroom habits.
13. Not keeping an eye on their health
It's easy to miss subtle signs of illness in rabbits. Get to know your individual rabbit's normal food intake, energy levels, and behaviors. Note any differences that could indicate a health problem. Schedule annual vet checkups plus immediate visits if issues arise. Keep their living area very clean to avoid bacterial issues. Monitor their weight, eating, drinking and litter habits. Watch for nasal or eye discharge, diarrhea, abnormal urine, lethargy, or lack of grooming. Be proactive about health so minor issues do not become major. An observant rabbit owner will ensure their bunny lives a long, healthy life.
14. Not giving rabbits enough time to exercise
Rabbits need at least 3-4 hours per day of supervised playtime in rabbit proofed spaces to stay physically and mentally healthy. A lack of exercise leads to obesity, boredom, stress, and destructive behaviors over time. Bunny-proof an indoor area or outdoor enclosure where they can safely play and run around. Provide toys, tunnels, boxes, and activities to engage their curious minds and energetic bodies. Interact and play with your rabbit during this daily free time. Monitor for safety and provide supervision. Making exercise a priority prevents many behavior issues and keeps your rabbit fit and stimulated.
15. Taking the rabbit to the wrong kind of vet
It's essential to have an exotics vet or rabbit-experienced vet care for your bunny. Rabbits have unique anatomy, biology, behaviors that even seasoned cat and dog vets may not fully understand.Specialized vets will be able to diagnose and treat medical issues specific to rabbits. Establish a relationship with a trusted rabbit vet before problems occur, and inform your regular vet you have a rabbit. When illness strikes, seek qualified rabbit-focused medical care right away. Do your research to find experienced rabbit vets in your area. Your bunny's health depends on expert care.