Owning a pet rabbit can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but these lovable, long-eared companions have very specific care needs. Rabbits are not low-maintenance starter pets, so you must educate yourself fully before making the long-term commitment. This comprehensive guide reveals the 17 most important proven strategies for keeping your bunny healthy, happy, and entertained for years to come. You’ll learn everything from proper diet and housing to healthcare, handling techniques, enrichment ideas, and more. Follow these essential tips, and you and your rabbit will hop happily along together through a lifelong bonding journey. Read on to discover the keys to creating a fulfilling, thriving life for your bunny!
How to Keep a Pet Rabbit Healthy
Provide an Appropriate Diet
Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they eat only plant-based foods. It is important to feed them a diet consisting primarily of grass hay, which provides fiber needed for healthy digestion. Timothy or orchard grass hays are good choices. Adult rabbits should be fed unlimited hay. You should also provide leafy greens daily, about 1 cup per 2 lbs body weight. Examples include kale, romaine lettuce, parsley, cilantro. Limit high calcium greens like spinach and collard greens. Veggies can be given 2-3 times per week, about 1/2 cup per 2 lbs body weight. Good veggies include carrots, bell peppers, broccoli leaves, zucchini. Avoid iceberg lettuce as it has low nutrients. Fruit can be given sparingly as a treat, no more than 1-2 tablespoons per day, as they are high in natural sugars. Examples are banana slices, apple slices, strawberries. Avoid sugary fruits like grapes. Commercial rabbit pellets can supplement the diet, about 1/4 cup per day. Ensure pellets are fresh, and store out of sunlight. Always provide clean, fresh water. Avoid sudden diet changes and introduce new foods slowly. Consult an exotic vet on proper diet.
House Your Rabbit in an Appropriate Hutch
Rabbits need lots of room to hop around and exercise comfortably. The minimum recommended hutch size is 6 times the length of your bunny when laying down, but bigger is always better. The hutch should be tall enough for your rabbit to stand upright on its hind legs without hitting its head. Wire flooring can cause foot injuries, so use a solid floor or add a resting board. Include a hiding box where your rabbit can retreat for safety and privacy. Avoid wire cages meant for guinea pigs or other rodents, as rabbits can get their feet caught. The hutch should be escape-proof with small bar spacing. Locate the hutch indoors or in a shed/garage to protect from predators and temperature extremes. Make sure there is ventilation if indoor. Provide substrate like paper-based bedding, straw, or fleece blankets. Avoid cedar or pine shavings. Spot clean dirty bedding daily and fully change weekly. Disinfect with diluted bleach monthly. An exercise pen or fenced area provides additional space for play time.
Maintain a Comfortable Temperature
Rabbits are sensitive to heat and cold. Ideal temperatures range between 55-75°F. Above 80°F, they are prone to heat stroke. Use fans, frozen water bottles, and tile flooring to keep them cool in summer. In winter, move hutches indoors and use heating pads, thermal blankets, and space heaters to prevent temperatures from dropping below 45°F. Make sure heating devices are safe and won’t burn your rabbit. Shivering, panting, and changes in appetite can indicate your rabbit is too hot or cold. Fluctuating temperatures can also cause respiratory infections.
Spay or Neuter Your Rabbit
Spaying or neutering rabbits provides major health benefits. Unspayed females have a very high risk of uterine cancer, while unneutered males often spray urine and can develop testicular cancer. Spay/neuter surgery also curbs unwanted litters. This procedure should be done at 4-6 months old for best results, once the rabbit reaches sexual maturity. Make sure to use an exotic vet experienced with rabbits, as they require specialized anesthesia and care. Monitor incisions closely post-surgery to ensure they heal properly without infection. Let your bunny recover in a safe, confined space during this time and avoid strenuous activity.
Keep Your Rabbit Calm
Stress and anxiety negatively impact rabbits' emotional and physical health. Exposure to loud noises, bright lights, unfamiliar environments, and predators triggers a fear response. Make sure to introduce changes gradually so as not to overwhelm your bunny. Provide a quiet space with hiding areas when they feel scared. Gently petting and speaking softly can help soothe anxious rabbits. Monitor your rabbit for signs of stress like lack of appetite, lethargy, or abnormal grooming habits. An extremely frightened rabbit may even go into shock and require emergency veterinary care. Avoid triggering panic by keeping a calm demeanor when interacting with your pet.
Ensure Your Bunny Gets Regular Exercise
Exercise is vital for muscle strength, joint health, digestion, and preventing obesity. Rabbits need at least 3-4 hours of active time daily to expend their boundless energy. Bunny-proof a room or section of your home and allow supervised play time each day. Provide toys to spark physical and mental engagement. Let them freely hop, run, jump, and explore their area. Set up tunnels, platforms, and boxes to climb on and hide in. Rotate toys to prevent boredom. Ensure exercise areas are fully secured so your rabbit does not escape or access harmful objects. Monitor for signs of arthritis, limping, or reluctance to move as your rabbit ages. Adjust activity levels to your senior bunny's capabilities. Active play promotes healthy circulation, joint mobility, and prevents unwanted weight gain leading to illness.
How to Keep a Pet Rabbit Happy
Toys and Intellectual Stimulation
To keep your rabbit engaged and entertained, provide a variety of toys and activities. Rabbits love to chew, so items like untreated wood blocks, cardboard tubes, and grass mats make great toys. You can stuff paper or hay inside cardboard for added foraging fun. Rotate toys weekly to keep things interesting. Scatter treats or pellets around their enclosure to encourage natural foraging behavior. Digging boxes filled with shredded paper or earth allow them to burrow. Try puzzle toys or feeders that make your rabbit work for their food. Provide branches, tunnels, and cardboard boxes to climb on and hide in. Supervise play sessions with new toys until safety is ensured. Avoid plastic toys as rabbits may chew and ingest pieces. Engaging your rabbit's mind and natural behaviors with toys and creativity prevents boredom and promotes happiness.
Ensure Your Rabbit Has Companionship
Rabbits are highly social and require interaction to stay happy and healthy. If possible, adopt your bunny a spayed/neutered friend so they can keep each other company. Even with a bonded partner, your rabbit still needs daily attention from human family members for optimal wellbeing. Spend time petting, talking, and playing with your bunny each day. Let them explore while you are home to supervise. Designate a safe, bunny-proofed room as their own space. Rabbits that lack enrichment and contact from others often become depressed or destructive. Monitor bonded pairs for signs of bullying or fighting, which requires separation. With proper human and animal companionship, your pet rabbit will have an engaging social life that stimulates their mind and emotions.
Clean Your Rabbit's Hutch
Regular cleaning prevents disease and supports health in rabbits. Spot clean soiled bedding daily and do a full change weekly. Wash food bowls with soap and hot water after each use to control bacteria. Every month, wash the entire hutch with diluted bleach to kill parasites and disinfect. Rinse thoroughly after using any chemicals or cleaning agents before allowing your rabbit back into the enclosure. Maintaining clean living conditions reduces your rabbit's exposure to potentially fatal illnesses like E. coli or parasites. Monitoring your rabbit's habits allows you to identify newly soiled areas and target cleaning effectively. Proper hygiene and waste removal provides your bunny with a healthy habitat free of dangerous germs or contamination.
Groom Your Rabbit Regularly
Grooming is essential for rabbit health and hygiene. Rabbits are fastidiously clean animals but require help maintaining their coat, nails, scent glands, and more. Brush your rabbit at least weekly using a soft brush to remove loose fur and distribute skin oils. Trim nails every 4-6 weeks as overgrown nails can cause foot damage and spinal alignment issues. Check the skin under their tail for caked urine or feces around scent glands and gently clean with damp cloth if needed. Inspect ears and eyes for discharge indicative of infection, and bottom for signs of flystrike. Schedule annual dental cleanings with your vet. Maintaining diligent grooming habits prevents serious medical issues that can emerge if rabbits are unable to groom themselves adequately. Regular grooming ensures your rabbit stays clean, mat-free, and healthy.
Check Your Rabbit's Teeth
Rabbits' teeth continuously grow and must be checked regularly to avoid orthodontic problems. Look in their mouth weekly for any misalignment of top and bottom teeth, known as malocclusion. Signs include drooling, difficulty eating, or loss of appetite. Overgrown teeth also need trimming by your vet under anesthesia. Provide abrasive hay and chews to help naturally wear down teeth. Limit high-calcium foods which can encourage tooth issues. Spaying/neutering prior to 6 months old prevents hormonal changes that lead totooth problems. Annual dental cleanings remove tartar buildup. Left untreated, dental disease causes malnutrition, serious infections, and painful lesions in the mouth. Monitoring your rabbit's teeth weekly takes little time but is crucial for identifying issues promptly. Proper alignment and wear is vital to their ability to properly eat and thrive.
Vaccinate Your Bunny
Certain dangerous infectious diseases can be prevented through vaccination. Rabies and myxomatosis vaccines are recommended for all pet rabbits, based on risk factors in your area. Myxomatosis is a lethal, highly contagious viral disease posing a major risk to unvaccinated rabbits, while rabies can spread from wild animals. Ask your vet about scheduling vaccine boosters and any additional immunizations they advise based on your region. Use only specialized rabbit vaccines, not those designed for cats or dogs. Side effects like lethargy or reduced appetite often dissipate within 24 hours. While no vaccine provides 100% protection, proper immunization provides important safeguards against deadly diseases that could kill your beloved rabbit.
Undertake Annual Healthcare Checks
Just like dogs and cats, rabbits require routine wellness exams to spot potential issues early. Take your rabbit to a qualified exotic vet for a full head-to-tail exam annually. Bloodwork helps identify internal problems like organ disease or calcium deficiency. Dental and orthopedic assessments are key, as dental disease and arthritis are common but treatable in rabbits when caught early. Discuss diet, weight, housing, and behavior with your vet and make adjustments as needed to support wellbeing. Senior rabbits, 7+ years old, should see the vet twice yearly as health risks increase with age. Preventive care maximizes your rabbit’s chances of a long, healthy life. Issues found and addressed promptly through annual exams avoid costly emergency treatment down the road.
How to Keep a Pet Rabbit Entertained
Rabbit-Proof Your Home
Allowing your rabbit full run of your home provides exercise and mental stimulation. However, you must thoroughly rabbit-proof the space first to avoid damage and keep your bunny safe. Block access to electrical wires and dangerous household items. Remove houseplants or block access, as many common plants like lilies are toxic to rabbits. Keep doors closed to hazardous areas like the garage, basement, or laundry room. Cover exposed electrical outlets. Secure or block any potential chewing hazards. Check for loose floorboards or moldings they could pry up. Pick up all small objects or valuables that could be chewed or swallowed. Monitor your rabbit closely the first few times they explore a new area. Taking time to properly rabbit-proof each room enables safe, supervised freedom in your home for entertainment and discovery.
Handle Your Rabbit with Care
Rabbits have fragile bones and can easily be injured if improperly handled. Scoop up your rabbit with one hand cradling the bottom and the other supporting the back, stomach down. Never dangle your rabbit by the ears or scruff. Step down carefully from heights instead of hopping or plopping down. Check for sores under foot where the rabbit's weight rests. Signs of pain during handling warrant vet exam for injury or arthritis. Avoid restraining or forcing an unwilling rabbit as struggling can break their back. Clipping nails should be done carefully to avoid hitting the blood vessel inside, causing bleeding and pain. With time, patient handling helps rabbits become comfortable with human touch. Proper technique keeps this prey animal feeling safe and secure, enhancing trust and bonding. Gentle but confident handling benefits both pet and human.
Listen to, and Understand, Your Bunny
Like with any pet, observing your rabbit’s communication and responding appropriately is key. Spend time learning your rabbit’s body language and vocalizations to understand their needs and feelings. Flattened ears, quick breathing, biting, and thrashing often signal fear. Stomping feet may convey anger. Tooth grinding or fur pulling can indicate pain. Watch for signs of common issues like discomfort grooming their bottom or hunched posture signaling arthritis. Respond to your rabbit’s signals with empathy. Reward friendly behavior with treats and petting. Never punish or scold signs of discontent, as this erodes trust. While subtle at first, understanding your rabbit’s communication enhances the bond between pet and owner, forming a rewarding relationship based on compassion and respect.
Prepare for a Long Commitment
Rabbits often live 8-12 years, sometimes even up to 15. Make sure you are ready for a long commitment before adopting your bunny pal. Have a plan for their care during vacations or if you move. Bunny-proof your home to make it safe for them to enjoy as part of the family. Research exotic vets in your area, as specialized care is essential throughout their life. Consider adoption costs plus several hundred dollars annually for food, bedding, litter boxes, vet bills, toys and more. Give thought to who could care for your rabbit if you became unable to do so later in life. With diligent, loving care rabbits become treasured companions for years to come. Do your homework before adopting to ensure you can provide the stable, lifetime home that rabbits deserve.
In summary, rabbits make delightful but delicate pets requiring specialized care. Provide the proper diet, housing, socialization, enrichment, and veterinary attention, and your bunny will thrive for years to come. Observing their communication, respecting their needs, and understanding their biology allows rabbits and owners to form profound connections. With knowledge and commitment, the joys of rabbit companionship far outweigh the efforts. Follow these proven methods to keep your long-eared friend healthy, happy, and entertained from youth through their senior years. The love of a rabbit is a gift to be cherished.