The Complete Guide To House Rabbits
House rabbits are adorable balls of fluff. You may be very tempted to get one after seeing them in a pet shop or running around a friend’s house. Maybe you already brought your new rabbit home. Unfortunately, you might not have realized how much work rabbit care really is.
The amount of attention needed by a pet rabbit is similar to what a dog needs (without the walks of course). You also need to make sure the enclosure is rabbit safe, big enough, has lots of toys and social enrichment to ward off boredom, and has an area for litter training.
Then you also need to make sure your house is bunny proof and the most important part of rabbit care is providing the best nutrition possible for your new pet.
Bunnies are often mistaken as being ‘easy to care for pets’ just like hamsters or gerbils. In reality, rabbit care is far more complex and a lot more effort especially if you have an indoor bunny.
Don’t panic! I’m here to help you. We’ll take everything from the top and get you set up in no time. Rabbits are great companions if you know what you’re doing.
Do Rabbits Make Good Pets?
Bunnies are excellent pets if you’re prepared to care for one or even better, two. They have surprisingly vibrant personalities and are very social animals. Pet rabbits also come in all sizes which makes them perfect pets for any household.
Rabbit Behavior And Temperament
Rabbits are generally quiet, intelligent animals that like the company of other rabbits and people. If you have cats, dogs, and other animals, you need to supervise initial interactions. Bunnies are prey animals and might get very scared if chased.
They can develop a very strong bond with their owners. This requires consistent interaction with your pet rabbit. Keep in mind that they are very different from any other kind of pet with very different needs.
With good handling, your timid rabbit may become the highlight of your day. Rabbits can be super entertaining and respond well to human commands.
Unfortunately, they aren’t good pets for kids. Bunnies are very fragile which means they might get hurt during rough handling. If you have children, make sure to supervise any interactions and teach your child how to properly hold a bunny.
Rabbits come in a variety of sizes ranging from miniature dwarfs to giants. There are breeds like the Netherland dwarf that weigh as little as 0.5 – 1.13 kilograms (1.1-2.5Ib). Then there are also breeds like the Flemish giant which can weigh 9.1 kilograms (20Ib) or more.
Are Rabbits High Or Low Maintenance?
How high or low maintenance your bunny is will depend on the breed you have. Some bunnies are surprisingly low maintenance (not maintenance free) while others need a bit more attention.
Generally, bunnies with short coats are lower maintenance than those with long coats like Angora rabbits. All bunnies still need a proper diet, clean enclosure, and exercise every day so don’t expect to just forget about them.
Pros & Cons Of Keeping A Pet Rabbit
There are ups and downs when it comes to rabbit ownership. Here’s a quick summary.
- Rabbits are very quiet animals
- Some pet rabbits like to cuddle
- They are excellent support animals
- They don’t need as much space as a cat or dog
- They can be litter box trained
- If you put in the time, your pet rabbit will form a close bond with you
- You can teach your pet rabbit tricks
- There are many rabbit breeds to choose from
- Your bunny buddy can live up to 10+ years
- Keeping bunnies can be costly
- Rabbit savvy veterinary care can be hard to find
- When a rabbit gets sick it goes from mild to serious very quickly (get veterinary advice as soon as possible)
- Rabbit care is a daily chore
- You will need to bunny proof everything
- They need lots of exercise daily
- Expect to find poop everywhere
Where Can I Get A Rabbit?
Pet stores often sell bunnies for as little as $30, but they also give terrible advice. These bunnies often have health problems due to being kept in unsanitary conditions or bred poorly by backyard breeders.
It’s better to adopt a bunny from your local animal shelter or get one from a reputable breeder. Adoptable rabbits may cost as little as $50 and come already sterilized. This saves you a lot of money. Consider going to the House rabbit society website to find a good rabbit rescue.
You can also buy from a reputable breeder. These bunnies cost a bit more, but they come with good advice and you know they’ll be in good health, unlike the pet store rabbits. You can find a reputable breeder through the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) or the British Rabbit Council (BRC) depending on where you live.
How Much Does It Cost To Own A Rabbit?
Bunnies aren’t expensive, but no one tells you how much it costs to set up an enclosure, visit a vet, get rabbit safe toys or provide the best food possible.
Now you still need a playpen, litter box, food, water bowls, toys, a hay feeder and hide. This can cost you $300 and upwards. If done properly, expect to pay around $1000 or more. You can get all of this from your local pet store or buy it online.
You also need to set aside a few dollars to cover spaying and neutering. It can cost anything between $25 to over $350 to get these operations done.
Bunnies are quite costly compared to other animals like cats and dogs. Your primary expenses will be food (both dry and fresh) and litter. Depending on where you get these items, you can expect to pay anything between $50 to over $300 per month.
You will also need to replace worn chew toys regularly which will cost you another $10 to $20 per item.
Make sure to plan routine veterinary checkups and keep any vaccinations up to date. This will cost you around $150 or more depending on your vet.
Common Health Problems
Bunnies can have various medical problems like overgrown teeth, gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, and respiratory infections. Some of these problems are genetic so make sure you get a healthy bunny to keep vet costs down.
Some vets don’t take rabbit patients. Make sure you have a veterinarian in your area before getting a rabbit.
Setting Expectations: Rabbit Lifespan
Pet rabbits are long-lived companions. Many bunnies, when properly cared for, live to be 10 years or more. This estimation may vary between breeds, however. Dwarves usually live longer than giants.
What Kind Of Home Does My Rabbit Need?
Bunnies, especially indoor ones need a large pen to keep them safe and comfortable. Here are a few things you should think about before getting a rabbit.
Housing Of Outdoor Bunnies
Rabbits are prey animals. If you keep them outside, you need to make sure predators can’t get into the rabbit’s cage. Indoor bunnies have different needs, however, we’ll get to that soon.
An outdoor hutch should have a wire floor to prevent digging out of it. There should also be ample shelter in the rabbit enclosure.
Photographed 10 January 2000 by Oosoom
How To Set Up An Indoor Enclosure?
Many pet shops will offer you a cage that is suitable for a guinea pig. These cages are often too small. Unfortunately, there are lots of rabbit owners that don’t know any better and start off with these tiny rabbit enclosures.
Bunnies don’t do well when kept in small cages. They need to be able to run and exercise every day. When buying a rabbit’s enclosure, make sure you take measurements beforehand. Let’s take a look.
1. Enclosure size
The best way to measure out cage space is to watch your bunny hop. The rabbit’s enclosure should be long enough to accommodate at least three hops. When standing on the hind legs, the ears should not touch the roof of the cage. This means that rabbit enclosure sizes can vary widely depending on the size of the breed.
2. Specific substrate needs
No matter if it’s an indoor or outdoor cage, you need to make sure the floor is non-slip. Many owners of house bunnies opt to place washable carpets on the bottom of the cage. Underneath that is something waterproof like linoleum flooring.
Waterproof flooring is essential for any accidents that missed the litter box
For outdoor enclosures, you can use hay or straw on the bottom of the cage or simply place the rabbits’ enclosure on your lawn.
3. Exercise space
Bunnies can be extremely active, especially when they are young. If your indoor bunny will be in a cage while you work, you need to make sure there’s enough space to run, or you will need to set up a separate exercise pen.
Many owners use a baby gate to close off a room for the bunnies to exercise in. The best time to let them out is at dusk and dawn. Bunnies are crepuscular which means this is their most active time. Make sure you have a litter box for any toilet emergencies.
Bunnies have thick fur coats. This means they are much more tolerant of the cold than we are. It’s best to keep your bunny in the coolest part of your home. Bunnies are comfortable in temperatures ranging from 12 to 21°C (55-70°F), but they can tolerate temperatures up to 30°C (85°F).
5. Free-roaming bunnies
Most people opt to keep rabbits inside their homes rather than keeping them confined to a cage outside. This is a great option for rabbits, but not always possible for the owners. Many bunnies are very destructive which means you’ll need to do extensive bunny proofing.
How To Bunny Proof Your Home?
Owners of free-roaming buns can tell you how destructive they can be. A rabbit naturally wants to chew and dig. It’s what their instincts tell them to do. As a result, nothing in your home is safe.
Letting your little troublemakers roam free means you need to do a lot of work to protect them and everything in your home. Bunnies are known to chew through electric cables, dig up carpets and destroy baseboards (skirting boards) in no time.
Here’s what you need to do.
Keep Dangerous Objects Out Of Reach
Bunnies are just like children. If there’s a way to get in trouble, they’ll find it. You’ll find these little mammals to be extremely inquisitive and curious about everything in their surroundings.
If something changes, they’ll be the first to investigate the disturbance. For this reason, it’s very important to protect your pet rabbit against everything they really shouldn’t be messing with.
For you, this means placing house plants out of reach, covering electric cables with hard chew-proof plastic covers, and moving valuable wooden furniture out of the bunny area.
If you have a pet rabbit, you’ll find that wires aren’t safe no matter what. Bunnies just love chewing on spicy hay (aka electric cables).
Unfortunately, this can be really dangerous. A rabbit can be electrocuted by any live wires. You’ll also lose a few electric appliances.
Place any wires behind fences, wrap them in chew-proof plastic casing or lift them high enough above the ground so that the rabbit can’t get to them.
Carpets And Baseboards
Protecting your rugs and baseboards is no easy task if you have a free-roaming rabbit. One way to overcome this problem is to confine your bunny to one room when you can’t supervise. Make sure there are no carpets and the baseboards (skirting) are protected by fencing going all around the room.
If all your rooms have carpets, simply place plastic mats over them. The ones used under desk chairs work pretty well, or you can try the foam pads used for children. Beware of the foam pads, however, rabbits tend to dig into them.
Stop baseboard chewing by placing furniture in front of them. You can also limit access with fences made from storage cubes tied together with a zip tie. Some bunny owners have reported success with cardboard as well as gluing cat scratch pads to the wall. You can also try to stick masking tape on the board. some bunnies don’t like the feel of it.
Enrichment Toys For Your Rabbits
Rabbits can be very destructive if starved of entertainment. One way you can make sure to ward off boredom is with wooden chew toys. Chew toys are also essential to keep your rabbit’s teeth short.
If you don’t have the funds to buy new chew toys every month, you can make your own. Fill some toilet paper rolls with green foods or rabbit’s hay like oat hay or even alfalfa hay. A hay feeder can also offer some entertainment.
You can also use a cardboard box mansion to keep your bunny busy. As you can see, you don’t need the most expensive rabbit supplies to own a house rabbit. Having more than one rabbit also helps in the boredom department since they’ll keep each other entertained. Just make sure to bond them properly.
What Should I Feed My Rabbits?
A rabbit is a herbivorous animal. This means they eat plant matter. The largest part of a rabbit’s diet should consist of grass hay. On top of that, you also need to feed healthy rabbit pellets and fresh foods.
A rabbit’s diet is especially important if you’re planning on breeding your male and female rabbits. Male rabbits need a healthy diet for sperm production and stamina while female rabbits need a healthy diet to nurture young.
Baby rabbits will also need to be fed differently from adult rabbits. Baby rabbits need a lot of protein in their diets which makes alfalfa hay perfect for a healthy rabbit diet.
Once your babies are filly grown and reach adult body weight, You’ll need to adjust your rabbits’ diet. Adult rabbits eat a variety of fresh produce, hays, and other plant products. Keep it interesting for them, but remember to do your research. There are foods that may kill your bunny.
Bunnies don’t need a lot of pellets to stay healthy. Pellets are great for supplying the vitamins and minerals they need, however. If you’re feeding pellets, make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.
80% of rabbit food is grass hay. Timothy hay is best because of its high fiber content. Lots of fiber helps to keep rabbit teeth short and the guts moving.
Generally, pet shops will carry boxes of timothy hay. You can mix this with other grassy hay like orchard, meadow, and oat hay for variety in texture and flavor.
Fresh leafy green vegetables give your rabbit a variety of nutrients that are important for its health. Try to provide at least three kinds of fresh greens every day.
How much leafy greens to feed your rabbits?
Most leafy greens available at your local supermarket are safe to give to your rabbit. But there are some varieties they can only have in smaller amounts. If you’re not sure, avoid it and do your research first. A general rule is one cup of leafy greens per day. You should add three different kinds of greens like Brussel sprouts, wheatgrass, and cilantro.
How To Litter Train Your Rabbit?
Rabbits are remarkably clean creatures. For you as an owner, that means less cleaning! Most rabbits train themselves to use litter boxes.
It’s incredibly easy to train most rabbits to use a litter box. Bunnies are naturally clean animals which means they instinctively keep themselves and their environment clean.
To litter box train your bunny, limit the space they have to run around outside the cage. Place a cat litter box or something similar in the area you notice your bunny having accidets. Just make sure to clean the area with vinegar first to remove the smell before you put down the litter box.
If your bunny has an accident while being litter trained, simply clean up the mess and placed the soiled tissue inside the litter box. Rabbits use smell to determine where they weed last time and will return to the same spot time and time again.
If you have a free-roaming rabbit, make sure to place a litter box in every room the bunny has access to. To avoid cleaning the rabbit litter box every few hours, place recycled newspaper pellet litter in the bottom of the box to absorb the smell. You can get pelleted litter such as recycled newspaper pellet litter at most pet stores.
Bunnies are remarkably good at cleaning themselves, but sometimes they do need a bit of help. Rabbit grooming should be an essential part of your care routine. During grooming make sure to check the high legs and rabbits’ feet. These areas are prone to injuries.
Also, check your rabbit’s nails regularly and trim them when needed. A rabbit’s nails that are too long might get stuck in carpets. If you have long-haired rabbits, you will need to groom them regularly to avoid mats and skin problems. Make sure to remove loose fur regularly.
Make sure to check the hind legs for sores. Bunnies that run on hard surfaces often get sore hocks.
Similar Exotic Pets to the Rabbit
If you don’t have the space for a rabbit, you can consider getting a guinea pig instead. A guinea pig and rabbit are very similar, except a guinea pig is smaller and doesn’t hop around. Some people keep their rabbit with their guinea pig, but care should be taken since there’s a chance your rabbit could get sick.
Are rabbits high or low maintenance?
How high or low maintenance your rabbit is will depend on the breed you have. Some breeds need less care. rabbit owners should do thorough research before getting another bunny.
Are rabbits easy to take care of?
Yes, rabbits are wonderful pets as long as you did your research. They need to be cleaned every day and fed a proper diet.
Do rabbits like to be cuddled?
It depends. some rabbits like a good cuddle while others are more independent. Generally, males are more cuddly than females.
What do you need for a pet bunny?
Take a look at our rabbit supply list. To sum it up, get a pen, litter box (with litter), water and food bowls, lots of hay and rabbit pellets.
How long can a rabbit be left alone?
Two days. If you provide enough food and water, you can leave your domestic rabbits alone for two days and a night (36 hours).
Are rabbits good indoor pets?
Yes. If you rabbit-proof, you don’t have to worry about your rabbit. Rabbits are very sanitary and affectionate which makes them great companions.
What are the basic needs of a rabbit?
Like all animals, your rabbit will need food, shelter, and water. Exercise and entertainment are also essential. Rabbits are prey animals which means giving your rabbit access to the outside might be risky.
What daily care does a rabbit need?
You will need to clean your rabbit cage daily, change the water in the water bottle, clean the litter box and give your rabbit time to run. Watch your rabbit’s behavior to pick up on any problems early.