Welcome to the ultimate handbook for thriving rabbit ownership! Rabbits make wonderfully interactive, long-lived pets when properly cared for. From diet, housing, and litter training, to bunny-proofing, enrichment and bonding, this guide has you covered for providing an ideal life for your floppy-eared friend. Get ready to learn everything you need to know to keep your rabbit healthy and happily hopping for years to come! You’ll discover tips on creating a rabbit-savvy home, decoding bunny behavior, finding a vet, and so much more. Let’s dig into the comprehensive rabbit compendium you’ve been waiting for – start your journey to becoming a supremely equipped rabbit parent today!
Setting expectations: Rabbit lifespan
Rabbits can live between 8-12 years when cared for properly. Some rabbits have even been known to live into their teens! However, their average lifespan is generally around 10 years. Knowing this going into rabbit ownership is important so you can be prepared to care for your bunny long-term.
When rabbits are acquired young, especially around popular springtime holidays like Easter, people often do not realize how long of a commitment caring for a rabbit will be. Rabbits are not short-lived pets like hamsters or mice. You will potentially be caring for your rabbit friend for over a decade. Make sure you are ready for this long journey before bringing one home.
There are many factors that influence a rabbit's lifespan. Diet, living environment, exercise, mental stimulation, and veterinary care all play key roles in determining how long a rabbit will live. Rabbits require fresh hay, water, vegetables and space to run every day. Annual vet exams and immediate care when sick are also essential. With proper care, your rabbit can enjoy many years by your side.
Understanding a rabbit's lifespan and commitment required is step one to being a responsible rabbit owner. When you welcome a rabbit into your home, you are signing on to provide for all their needs for likely 10+ years. But for many rabbit lovers, this long companionship is a blessing. Rabbits each have unique personalities and will capture your heart for their entire life. Just be sure you are fully prepared to be their caretaker for the long haul before adopting.
Part 1: What to feed your rabbit
The most important part of any rabbit's diet is unlimited access to fresh timothy or other grass hays at all times. Rabbits have digestive systems designed to digest the cellulose in grass and hay. They need a constant supply of roughage from hay to keep their system moving and healthy.
Hay should make up at least 75% of a rabbit's diet. Provide your bunny with a stocked hay rack or pile that they can munch from whenever they want. Refill it often to ensure it stays fresh. Make sure the hay is soft green, and free from dust, mold or browning.
In addition to keeping the digestive system working, hay also helps wear down rabbit teeth that grow continuously. Long strand fiber hay like timothy is best. Avoid alfalfa hay except for young, pregnant or underweight rabbits. At least 1 cup of vegetables daily is also important, but hay is the true staple and key to health.
In addition to unlimited hay, rabbits also need a daily portion of fresh vegetables. About 1 packed cup per 2 lbs body weight is a good rule of thumb. Choose leafy greens like kale, lettuce, spinach, parsley, cilantro, basil, arugula etc. Introduce new veggies slowly to avoid upset stomach.
Leafy greens provide key nutrients and hydration, as well as more fiber to keep your rabbit’s digestion on track. Provide a variety for a healthy and appealing diet. Bunnies tend to love crunching on broccoli, bok choy, cilantro and kale. Romaine lettuce is great too. Rotate through different greens to keep their meals exciting.
Wash all veggies thoroughly and feed them fresh. Leftover wilted greens should be discarded. Pellets and treats should be limited, but daily fresh hay and greens are vital for good health. Consult your vet on the ideal diet proportions for your bunny.
In addition to unlimited hay and ample greens, most rabbits also need a measured portion of quality pellets each day. Look for Oxbow or Science Selective brands with timothy hay and fiber. Avoid colorful mixes with seeds, dried fruit and sugary treats.
Pellets provide concentrated nutrition to supplement the hay and veggies. Follow package instructions for amount based on your rabbit’s age and weight. Most get 1/4 to 1/2 cup daily. Picky eaters may reject pellets, in which case they can get vitamins from alternating veggies instead. Always provide fresh water as well in a bowl, bottle or both.
Quality pellets, hay and greens will provide your bunny with fiber, carbs, protein and vitamins for good energy and health. Limit any high-fat seeds or sugary treats to occasional small portions. Consistent access to hay is the key to a proper rabbit diet.
Part 2: How to set up an indoor enclosure
Pet rabbits live happiest lives when permitted free run of a house, apartment or protected outdoor space. But when unattended they do need an enclosure for safety and litter training. Make sure to provide your bunny with a cage or dog exercise pen large enough to accommodate these needs.
The Humane Society recommends minimum dimensions of 6-10 times your bunny's length. For example, 24" x 36" for a small breed or 48" x 72" for a large breed. Bigger is always better. Your rabbit should have room to take at least 3 consecutive hops and fully stand on hind legs without hitting the top.
The floor space of their enclosure needs to be large enough to hold a litter box, hay feeder, water bottle/bowl, hide-house and toys while still leaving room to move around. An enclosure that is too small will stunt your rabbit's activity and wellbeing. Maximizing dimensions is ideal.
In addition to a spacious cage, your rabbit should also get ample supervised play time in an exercise pen or bunny-proofed room each day. Rabbits are active animals that need room to run, jump, play with toys and explore.
Set up an X-pen or block off a corner with furniture to create a safe exercise space when you are home. Let your rabbit roam and get their energy out for at least a few hours daily. More is even better to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.
Free run of a whole room is ideal once bunny-proofed. Just be sure to watch them carefully when loose and limit freedom when unattended. Between a large enclosure and daily exercise, your rabbit will have everything they need to thrive.
Indoor rabbits should be kept at a comfortable room temperature between 60-75° F. Avoid drafty areas or placing their housing near heating/AC vents where temperatures fluctuate. Rabbits can easily get heat stroke or chilled.
If temperatures exceed 80° F, place frozen water bottles in your rabbit's cage so they can lay against them to cool down. Use a fan to circulate air on very hot days too. Cold temperatures below 60° F can cause illness, so keep their space consistently comfortable.
Monitor the temperature of where your rabbit lives. They flourish in consistent, moderate ambient heat. Extremes can cause serious health issues. Ideal conditions will keep your bunny happy.
Part 3: How to litter train your rabbit
Litter training your rabbit is definitely possible, though it takes time and consistency. Rabbits naturally tend to pick one spot to do their business. You can encourage them to stick to a litter box with a few steps:
Spay or neuter your rabbit first. Fixed bunnies have much better litter habits. Choose a box with low sides they can easily hop in and out of. Fill it with paper or wood-based pelleted litter, not clay. Place it in one corner of their enclosure.
Whenever you see them use the box, praise them or give a treat. If they go elsewhere in their cage, place the droppings in the litter box so they associate it with the right place to go. Over time and with positive reinforcement, your rabbit should catch on.
Clean the litter box at least every other day to encourage continued use. Dump out soiled litter, wash with gentle soap if needed, rinse and allow to fully dry before refilling. Establish a consistent cleaning routine.
Limit their enclosure space at first to encourage using the litter box until the habit is established. Never discipline or punish potty mistakes – remain positive and reward success. With diligence, you can teach your bunny good litter box habits.
Part 4: How to bunny proof your home
Before letting your rabbit have free range of your home, take time to properly bunny proof any dangers – especially exposed wires. Rabbits love to chew on cables which can electrocute them.
Isolate any exposed electrical, internet, speaker or appliance cords out of your rabbit's reach. Encase wires in plastic tubing or flexible cable covers to make them chew-resistant. Avoid running wires along baseboards in areas they can access.
Position furniture to prevent access behind appliances and entertainment centers where wires are. Set up their exercise area away from any cords or cables. Prevention is key since rabbits will naturally nibble on any delicious-looking wires.
Cover rugs and baseboards
In addition to protecting wires, also cover attractive nibbling spots like carpet and baseboards. Rabbits tend to chip away at rugs and scratch wall corners. Protect your home décor from damage by limiting access.
Use cardboard, plastic covers or barriers to block off edges of wall-to-wall carpeting. Wrap areas of baseboards with foam tubing or other chew-deterrent surfaces. You want your bunny to focus on positive chewing outlets only.
Provide alternatives like untreated wicker baskets, untreated wood blocks, cardboard boxes and sea grass mats. You can also spray bitter apple deterrent on surfaces. Constant supervision is key to good rabbit-proofing.
Keep dangerous objects out of reach
Finally, ensure your rabbit can’t reach any high-risk choking hazards or toxic materials when loose. Keep houseplants and small loose objects out of their exercise areas.
Store any chemicals, human medications, blades, wires, string, fabrics, books or papers safely locked away. Supervise play time to ensure your curious bunny stays out of trouble. With smart preparation, your house can be made rabbit-friendly.
Part 5: Enrichment toys for your rabbit
Boredom can lead to destructive chewing and behavior issues in rabbits. Make sure to provide your bunny with ample enrichment toys to keep them engaged and entertained. Try out different options to see their preferences. Recommended rabbit toy types include:
Untreated wicker or seagrass balls and baskets to toss and chew
Cardboard boxes, tubes and tunnels to hop through and shred
Natural wood blocks, sticks, logs and loofahs to gnaw and manipulate
Baby toys like plastic keys, stacking cups and rattles that make noise
Hard plastic baby toys like balls with bells inside are fun to roll and paw
Pine cones, twigs and dried plants to enjoy natural foraging textures
Rotate novel toys in and out to keep your rabbit mentally stimulated. Create DIY toys from toilet paper rolls stuffed with hay and greens. Provide toys that challenge their natural curiosity and smarts. Interactive playtime with you is the best enrichment too!
Part 6: Grooming your rabbit
Rabbit nails grow continuously and require regular trimming to avoid injury, snagging and pain. Aim to clip every 4-6 weeks. Have styptic powder on hand in case of bleeding. Use cat nail clippers for small breeds or dog nail clippers for large breeds.
Go slowly and only trim off just the sharp tip in one swift clip. Cutting too short risks hitting the quick which is painful and causes bleeding. Give a treat after clipping each nail to associate it with a positive experience.
Check inside ears for wax buildup while grooming as well. Gently wipe excess wax away using a cotton ball moistened with mineral oil if needed. Inspect eyes and nose for any discharge indicating illness. Brush loose fur gently too.
Regular gentle handling helps rabbits become comfortable being held for grooming, exams and care. Approach slowly and let them sniff your hand first. Place one hand under the chest and support the back and hindquarters with your other arm.
Lift smoothly while cradling against your chest to prevent struggle and injury. Trim nails with the bunny cradled or placed on a safe elevated surface. Make all handling experiences calm and rewarding with favorite treats. Over time, your rabbit will learn to tolerate and accept grooming routines.
Part 7: Socializing your rabbit
How to pet your rabbit
Rabbits can be skittish but do enjoy and benefit from positive attention and petting once comfortable and trusting. Let them approach you first before attempting to pet. Then stroke along their head and down their back using gentle petting motions.
Avoid touching right around the tail area which can stimulate mating behaviors. Use soft voice and frequent treats to reassure them while stroking. Start slow and limit handling at first while your rabbit gets used to interaction. Building trust is key to socialization.
Over time, aim to handle and inspect paws, ears and teeth regularly too so grooming is easier. Make all interactions calm and consistent. Some bunnies may never enjoy cuddling but can still bonds with you. Let their comfort level guide handling approaches.
How to pick up your rabbit
To pick up a rabbit, approach slowly and place one hand beneath the chest, cradling their front legs and torso. With your other hand support the hindquarters and back legs, scooping up gently. Bring the rabbit in towards your chest so they feel secure against you.
New rabbits may struggle when picked up. Be patient and limit handling at first. Show your rabbit treats before and after so they learn to associate being held with rewards. Always support their full body and never pick up by scruff or ears.
Place rabbits down smoothly back on all four feet. Over time, regular gentle handling will help rabbits become comfortable with being lifted for short periods. This eases veterinary exams and necessary care.
Basic Rabbit body language
Understanding rabbit body language helps guide socialization. Signs of stress include rapid breathing, frozen stillness, wide eyes, lying down with legs tucked under the body, and hiding in cages or boxes. Give them space if showing stress signals.
Happy relaxed rabbits will have normal breathing, half closed eyes, elongated bodies, relaxed ears, tooth-clicking or purring, and binkying (hopping and twisting). Bond by approaching calmly, speaking softly and offering treats to reward interactions.
Rabbits also communicate through chinning behaviors by rubbing their chin glands on objects and other rabbits. This deposits scent and signals ownership. Mounting is also a dominance gesture and not just sexual. Learn to read your rabbit's unique signals over time.
Children and rabbits
With proper guidance, rabbits and children can successfully interact but adult supervision is always required. Teach kids to be calm and gentle. Do not allow chasing, rough play, picking up against a rabbit's will or grabbing from above which is scary.
Encourage the child to sit on the floor with treats while allowing the rabbit to approach voluntarily at its own pace. Demonstrate proper petting. Remind them not to crowd the rabbit but let it hop away freely when it wants space.
The more positive experiences a rabbit shares with a child, the more comfortable they will become together. But children under 6 should never be left alone unsupervised with rabbits, as accidents and injury can easily occur on both sides.
Your rabbit might need a little time to trust you
While some rabbits are quite bold and social, others may take weeks or months to warm up and trust people. Be patient and move slowly on a new rabbit's terms. Sitting quietly and letting them come investigate you is better than chasing and grabbing.
Offer high-reward treats like small pieces of banana when they voluntarily approach and allow petting. Reward brave behaviors, but don't force interactions until they are ready. Building a bond takes time but the effort is so worthwhile.
Even once trusting, rabbits will likely never enjoy cuddling long like a dog or cat might. Let their unique personality and comfort level guide your expectations for social interaction. With time, your friendship will continue growing.
Part 8: How to tell if your rabbit is sick
Rabbits are prey animals that instinctively hide illness making it hard to detect health issues early. Watch for these common signs of sickness in rabbits so problems can be addressed promptly:
- Loss of appetite or reducing eating
- Diarrhea or abnormal stool
- Low energy, lethargy or spending more time laying down
- Hunched back posture with tucked up abdomen
- Discharge or swelling around eyes, nose or genitals
- Skin redness or patches of hair loss
- Repeated sneezing or coughing
- Grinding teeth or squeaking indicating pain
Get familiar with your individual rabbit's normal eating, drinking, activity level, stool and behaviors. Notice changes and contact your vet promptly when concerned. Sick rabbits decline rapidly so early intervention is key to recovery.
Monitor their food and water intake and litter box habits daily. Weigh your rabbit at home weekly to track any weight loss right away. Act quickly at the first signs of possible illness to protect your bunny's health.
Part 9: Finding a rabbit veterinarian
It's essential to establish a relationship with a trusted rabbit-experienced exotics vet before bringing home your bunny. Emergencies happen and rabbits need routine wellness exams too. Locate a qualified vet by:
Getting a recommendation from local rabbit rescue organizations
Looking on the House Rabbit Society website for recommended vets by state
Choosing a vet clinic that specifically lists rabbits/exotics as a specialty
Asking candidate vets how many rabbits they have treated and conditions handled
Ensuring they have emergency services available for serious cases
Visit the vet when healthy to establish your rabbit as a patient. Then you will be ready if any concerning symptoms arise down the road. Finding an experienced rabbit vet is key to keeping your bunny healthy and living a long happy life!