Caring for Thumper is easier than you think. These small mammals are often known for their fluffy little tails, whiskers, long ears, and twitching nose. The long ears help rabbits detect and avoid predators. They also have powerful hind legs to kick and jump long distances.
Pet rabbits, also called house rabbits, make excellent companions because they are such social animals. Rabbits are among one of the most popular housepets, along with cats, dogs, fish, birds, and other small mammals like hamsters.
Despite the different environments these rabbits are raised in, there are some basic rabbit care needs that many breeds have in common. There are many methods to keeping your pet rabbit happy and healthy.
What does a rabbit need? From providing fresh hay to establishing a litter box, we will cover some of the most important care tips that you should keep in mind when bringing a rabbit home for the first time.
Interested in bringing in a new member to the family? You can adopt your house rabbit at a local rabbit rescue and rehabilitation center or animal shelter. There are various types of rabbit species around the world.
Popular domestic breeds include:
- American Rabbit
- Belgian Hare Rabbit
- Lionhead Rabbit
- Blanc de Hotot
- Checkered Giant Rabbit
- Dutch Rabbit
- English Lop
- And many more!
Your rabbit’s breed can play a part in its health as well, like perky ears versus floppy ears for ear maintenance and cleaning.
Creating a Home Base for Your Bunny
Rabbits are ground dwellers meaning they prefer being on the ground. You will not find a rabbit climbing up a tree or enjoying the view from up high. In the wild, rabbits often live in burrows or prairies. Burrows are dug into the soil and are surrounded by trees, shrubs, and leaves as padding, whereas prairies are more of an open area nest created from the dips in grass or land.
Rabbits are prey animals so they are prone to hiding, running away, and avoiding danger whenever possible. Rabbits can be fidgety and easily scared. Their best defense is their speed at which they can run away. It is important to create a safe home environment for your bunny. You can replicate a den-like environment with a cardboard box, a pet carrier, or cage. Add towels or blanket to provide padding to replicate the softness of the ground coverings your rabbit would be used to in the wild.
The cage acts as a den. It is a safe area for your rabbit. You will want to choose a space in your home that is not super loud to minimize anxiety and stress. Start with a smaller sectioned off area so your rabbit can get familiar with their new house. If your rabbit is highly trained, it might not need a cage, but generally, a protected pen is an excellent tool for training your rabbit. Be careful of wires and wire caging because your pet rabbit is not designed to walk on such a material. Provide padding to any den cage to avoid injury to your bunny.
You can absolutely train your rabbit to use the litter box. However, just like any animal, some are more receptive, others are more stubborn. Rabbits tend to pick a certain area such as a corner and use that area to urinate and defecate. A rabbit litter box is similar to how you would create a cat litter box. It is important to provide your bunny with a shallow box that they can easily go in and out of. Now you have to pick the material of the litter. There are a range of organic litter materials for your bunny cage available on the market such as alfalfa, wheatgrass, or recycled paper.
Food and Nutrition
Bugs Bunny gnawed on carrots all day long but the real rabbit cannot survive on a carrot-only diet. Much like humans, rabbits need a balanced healthy diet and water. Fresh grass hay is a very big part of your rabbit’s diet. Feed your house rabbit timothy hay, grass hay, or oat hay. You can find fresh hay as well as hay-based pellets. Fresh vegetables, fresh leafy greens like dandelion greens, and collard greens are also welcome. You can even find fiber-rich hay-based pellets. You can consult with your veterinarian to determine how much food your bunny needs based on their body weight. They say hay is for horses but it is very much for rabbits too.
In the wild, rabbits mainly eat fresh grass which has a lot more water content. Give your pet rabbit access to a supply of fresh water so they can drink. The dry food and pellets can be dehydrating. If you opt for a bowl over a dispenser, change the water daily to make sure it stays clean and there is no bacteria build-up.
Health Care and Wellness
In the wild, a rabbit is lucky to live to one or two years old. Pet rabbits can live a long life, upward of 10 years old with a healthy rabbit diet, health care, and fitness. Bunnies are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. We will share care tips to keep your furry family member in tip-top shape for years to come.
Spaying and Neutering
Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered is a relatively simple process perfected by veterinarians. Female rabbits can be spayed at around 4 to 6 months old whereas males can be neutered when their testicles descend around 8 to 12 weeks old. Neutering your male rabbit can improve their social relationships due to the lowered sexual aggression and instinct to fight. Unfixed males can get aggressive and fight over dominance.
The grooming process might be harder if your bunny does not like being handled, but it is important to regularly groom your rabbit to avoid matting or other issues. Brush in the direction of the fur growth, not against it. A brush can get rid of loose fur and is particularly beneficial for your bunny during molting season. This process may vary depending on your rabbit’s breed and length of fur. Take your time to make it a pleasant experience for them.
Whether you use toys or you play with them yourself, exercise is a vital part of your bunny’s life. Let them out of their cage so they can run around a bit, stretch the legs, and get some exercise. In the wild, a rabbit would be moving around a lot, darting around to avoid predators and find food. Rabbits need a considerable amount of time out of their pen every single day to move around and get the necessary exercise.
Keeping your rabbit healthy with hay and veterinary check-ups is one thing but toys play an important part in the life of adult rabbits too. Help your bunny thrive with mental stimulation and enrichment. Pet rabbits are social animals so they might very well enjoy playing with you. You can find some rabbit stimulation such as balls, logic toys, and even chew toys to keep around the house. Bunnies love to chew and will chew on almost anything, including hard plastic. Chew toys are an aspect of rabbit health that you might not always hear about.
Common health problems and diseases of pet rabbits include hairballs, uterine cancer, overgrown teeth, myxomatosis, or calicivirus (rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus). Thankfully, it is easier than ever to keep your rabbit safe thanks to modern veterinary medicine and access to the highest quality food, materials, and housing.
Do rabbits get along with other pets like dogs and cats? Do rabbits like to be cuddled? This is going to be a case-by-case basis. Rabbits might be scared of other animals and adults, even children. If you have calm cats and dogs, there is the potential for them to get along. Monitor any encounters with a close eye and do not leave them alone together without supervision.
Rabbits make great pets. They are furry, sweet, and sociable. As you spend time with them, they start to open up to where you can see their personality shine through. Rabbits require maintenance, veterinary care, proper food, mental stimulation, and socialization to ensure quality life. Rabbits can be loyal and affectionate like a dog or fiercely independent like a cat. It is all about their personality. They are active and playful and ready to be a part of your family.