How to Care for a Pet Rabbit
Rabbits are unique pets. They have specific needs in order to live a long, happy and healthy life. Here is a basic overview on how to care for a pet rabbit:
Step 1: Set Up Safe Indoor Housing
There are several options to house rabbits inside. They can live free-reign in a bunny proofed room/rooms, or they can be contained within a puppy pen, bunny condo, or large rabbit cage. If contained, their space should always be large enough so they can hop around, and they should be let out of their pen for at least a few hours everyday for exercise.
Make sure the primary location of your rabbit is not isolated from you and your family. A family room or living room is a good place. Learn more about indoor rabbit housing at Housing Your Pet Rabbit Indoors.
Step 2: Bunny Proof Your House
Rabbits need space to run around and explore. In order to create a safe space for your bunny and to protect your belongings, you will need to thoroughly bunny proof the area. This includes covering all wires with plastic sleeves or flex tubing, or lifting them 3-4 feet out of reach of your rabbit.
If you don’t want your baseboards gnawed, you can cover them with plastic guards, 2x4s or furring strips. You’ll also have to block off certain areas since rabbits like to chew the undersides of beds, items on bookshelves, house plants, and more. Basically, your rabbit will try to chew everything in reach. Learn more at Bunny Proofing Your House.
Step 3: Provide Fresh Hay
A rabbit’s diet should mainly consist of hay. Fresh hay should be provided to rabbits at all times. Baby rabbits should be given alfalfa, and adult rabbits should be fed timothy hay, grass hay, or oat hay.
Using a large hay feeder is helpful because it keeps large amounts of hay dry, clean, and accessible. Learn more about the importance of hay and where to buy it at Hay for Rabbits: The Basis for a Healthy Diet.
Step 4: Provide Fresh Greens, Fiber-rich Pellets, and Fresh Water
Supplement your rabbit’s hay with fresh vegetables, fiber-rich pellets (in limited quantities for adult rabbits), and fresh water daily. You can learn more about what kinds of food to feed your bunny at What to Feed Your Pet Rabbit.
You can also learn about growing many of your rabbit’s favorite vegetables at Bunny Gardening for Beginners.
Step 5: Set Up a Litter Box
Rabbits have a natural inclination to poop and pee in one area. Take advantage of this by setting up a medium-sized cat litter box or shallow storage bin near their food/water bowls and hay feeder.
Put a thin layer of rabbit-safe, recycled newspaper pellet litter at the bottom of the litter box. Do not use clay/clumping cat litter or wood shavings, as they are not safe for rabbits. Then put hay on top of the litter. Rabbits like to eat hay and poop at the same time, so this will encourage good litter box habits. Learn more at Litter Training Your Pet Rabbit.
Step 6: Provide Enrichment
Rabbits can get bored easily. Not only do they need space to exercise, they also need mental stimulation. Cardboard castles are great because rabbits spend hours chewing new windows and doorways. Cardboard castles also provide a quiet refuge for the rabbit when necessary. Learn more at Building a Cardboard Castle for Your Bunny.
You can also provide a variety of toys for your rabbit to pique his or her interest. Learn more at Enrichment for Your Pet Bunny, Logic Toys for Rabbits, and Playing with Your Pet Bunny.
Step 7: Groom Your Rabbit
Rabbits are naturally clean animals and wash themselves frequently. But you still need to groom your rabbit on a regular basis. Rabbits go through shedding cycles a couple times a year. It’s important to brush your rabbit to remove all the excess fur. Otherwise, your rabbit could ingest it and have serious digestive issues. Learn more about keeping your rabbit looking and feeling sharp in our article, Grooming Your House Rabbit.
Regular nail clipping is also important because long nails can get snagged on things or they can curl into your rabbit’s paw. Learn how to clip your rabbit’s nails yourself at Clipping Your Rabbit’s Nails.
Step 8: Bring Your Rabbit to a Rabbit-Savvy Vet
Rabbits are prey animals, and so their natural instinct is to hide any symptoms of illness. You must keep a watchful eye to ensure your rabbit is eating, drinking, pooping, and peeing regularly. If you notice any change in behavior, it is important to call a rabbit-savvy vet immediately. Learn about common rabbit diseases to look out for at our Rabbit Health section.
In addition to responding to illness, it is also essential to bring your rabbit in for regular veterinary checkups. The vet can check the ears, eyes, teeth, and gut to make sure the rabbit is in good health. Finally, consider spaying or neutering your rabbit. Spaying/neutering can reduce aggressive behavior, improve litter box habits, and improve a rabbit’s overall health. Learn more at Spaying or Neutering Your Pet Bunny.
Find a rabbit-savvy vet in your area at the House Rabbit Society Veterinarian Index.
Step 9: Understand Rabbits’ Unique Language and Behavior
Pet rabbits are different from cats and dogs. It’s essential to understand how rabbits think so you and your rabbit can live a happy life together. Learn about their unique language at Binkies, Nose Bonks and Flops: Rabbit Behavior Explained and demystify unfavorable rabbit behavior by reading Help! My Rabbit Hates Me!. By catering to your rabbit’s natural inclinations, you can build a trusting, loving relationship with your bunny. See Building a Relationship with Your Rabbit for more information.
Rabbit Supply Checklist
- Indoor housing
Get a puppy pen 36 inches or higher so your rabbit can’t jump out. Buy on Amazon >
- Wire covers
Plastic sleeves can be neatly connected to your wall. Buy on Amazon >
Flex tubing is another great option for covering and/or bundling wires. Buy on Amazon >
- Furniture / baseboard protection
Large split flex tubing can fit over wooden table or chair legs. Buy on Amazon >
Furring strips, 2x4s or other wood panels can be used to cover baseboards.
- Puppy pens / baby gates
Puppy pens can help block off areas or confine your rabbit to a safe area of a room. Buy on Amazon >
Metal baby gates can be used to block off rooms. Buy on Amazon >
Storage cube panels can be attached to the bottoms of baby gates with zip ties if the slats are too far apart. Buy on Amazon >
- Litter box
A medium-sized cat litter box (no top) or a shallow storage container will do. Buy on Amazon >
- Rabbit-safe litter
Opt for a recycled newspaper pellet litter such as Yesterday’s News (unscented). Buy on Amazon >
- Food / water bowls
Ceramic dishes are heavy enough so your rabbit can’t tip them over. Buy on Amazon >
- Hay feeder
This helps keep hay fresh and available to your rabbit at all times.
- Chair mat (optional)
You may want to protect your floor in the bunny area. Make sure to get a hard plastic one to resist chewing. Buy on Amazon >
- Food (hay, pellets, vegetables, and water)
Purchase hay by the bale from a local farmer (check local Craigslist ads) or order bulk hay online. (You can even order it as a “Subscribe and Save” on Amazon.) Buy on Amazon >
- Cardboard box
Create a cardboard castle by cutting doorways and windows in a large cardboard box.
- Chew toys
Sea grass mats are acceptable to chew and can be used to cover areas. Buy on Amazon >
Woven grass play balls are also a favorite for distraction. Buy on Amazon >
Wood and rope activity centers/toys capture rabbits’ interest. Buy on Amazon >
- Nail clippers
You will need to regularly trim your bunny’s nails. If your rabbit has dark claws, a small flashlight helps you to locate the quick and avoid it. Buy on Amazon >