PRODUCTION

The Ultimate Rabbit Care Guide


September 29, 2022

Bunny eating food out of bowl

There’s nothing cuter than watching your bunny literally jump for joy or do their happy flop showing they feel safe and comfortable with you. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of sharing your home with a bunny.

Rabbits can make excellent pets for the whole family. They’re playful, friendly, curious, and calm creatures that can bring joy to any household, big or small.

Keeping rabbits healthy includes providing them with the proper food, water, exercise, socialization, grooming, and enclosure to keep them safe and happy.

Pet Rabbit Supplies

Giving your pet bunny a safe and comfortable home requires a range of affordable rabbit supplies. Wilco Farm Stores carry many essential elements to help you create the perfect rabbit home and other rabbit-friendly products to let your bunny thrive.

Here’s what you need to create the best bunny home:

  • Indoor home – An exercise pen at least 3 feet (36 inches) tall or higher can prevent rabbits from jumping out. If your bunny will live outdoors, a hutch is a good option.

Petmate 8-Panel Exercise Pen 36 in.

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  • Food – Supplement your rabbit’s diet with pellets, veggies, and other treats.

Oxbow Western Timothy Hay

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  • Food and water bowls – Ceramic bowls are heavy enough to prevent tipping.

Pet Lodge Pet Lodge Metal Cage Cup 1 qt.

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  • Rabbit feeder (optional) – A hay feeder gets your bunny to eat hay and helps keep their area clean and tidy.

Oxbow Enriched Life Hay Corral

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  • Toys – Rabbits need toys to be mentally stimulated and chew on to keep their teeth healthy.

Ware Koren-E-Karrot Toy

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  • Nail clippers – Rabbits need regular nail trimming. You may use a small flashlight to avoid the quick vein in darker-colored nails.
  • Rabbit brush – Brushing helps with shedding and prevents matting. Rabbits need a soft brush due to their sensitive skin.
  • Litter box – Litter boxes should be big enough to sit comfortably and move around.

Oxbow Enriched Life Corner Litter Pan

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  • Litter – The best litter for rabbits is a natural, paper-based litter. Other options include aspen shavings, wood pellets, and hay.
  • Cord protector – Flexible tubing is an affordable option to prevent rabbits from chewing electrical cords and getting hurt.
  • Chair mat (optional) – Place a chair mat over the area of the floor you want to protect from digging.
  • Baseboard and furniture protection – Plastic, wood, cardboard, or other coverings can be used to keep rabbits from chewing furniture and baseboards.

How Long Will My Pet Rabbit Live?

In the wild, rabbits have a short lifespan and tend to live between 1-2 years. As pets, rabbits aren’t as exposed to predators or other environmental threats and, thereby, have a longer lifespan. With the proper care, pet rabbits can live for 5-15 years.

What Should I Feed My Rabbit?

Two bunnies eating hay shavings

As herbivores and grazers, rabbits love to munch on plants throughout the day. Like us, they need a complete and balanced diet to thrive and live happily.

About 80% of a rabbit’s diet is hay, particularly timothy grass hay, due to its high fiber and low protein levels. They need high fiber content to keep their digestive system running smoothly and their teeth from overgrowing.

You can mix other grasses alongside timothy hay, including meadow, orchard, and oat hay for variety. Many bunny parents supplement their furry animal’s hay diet with hay pellets, vegetables, fruits, and other rabbit-safe treats. Consult with a veterinarian to determine your bunny’s dietary needs.

Shopping in bulk (hay bales) is a great way to save money on feed and ensure you never miss a day of feeding. In our experience, the second-cutting (or first) of timothy hay offers the best protein, fat, and fiber levels for your bunny’s health.

Alfalfa hay is not usually recommended for adults except for baby bunnies less than six months of age. They can get plenty of alfalfa hay to jumpstart their growth. Alfalfa’s high calcium levels can cause urinary stones in adult rabbits.

Oxbow Alfalfa Hay 15 oz.

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Although rabbits mainly eat hay, you can mix in some fresh veggies and fruits, including:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Mangoes
  • Papaya
  • Apricot
  • Nectarine
  • Kiwi
  • Peach
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Basil
  • Beet greens
  • Cilantro
  • Watercress
  • Kale
  • Celery
  • Bok choy
  • Arugula

There are many more fruits and vegetables that your rabbit can eat to supplement their hay-centric diet, but some aren’t so good for them. Some foods may need to be limited, while others can be toxic. Avoid feeding your rabbit these fruits and vegetables due to their toxicity in rabbits:

  • Potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Rhubarb
  • Kidney beans
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Avocado
  • Chard
  • Cauliflower

Now, what about hay pellets? They can be a healthy treat but should not be a significant part of their healthy diet because it can make them overweight and have other health issues. Giving them a small amount daily is part of a healthy rabbit diet.

As hind-gut fermenters, rabbits have an organ (cecum) that works like a cow’s rumen but it’s at the end of its digestive tract. At night, they can excrete soft pellets rich in nutrients known as night feces and eat them to use up these nutrients. It’s completely normal. Think of it like cows chewing cud.

Keeping your rabbit’s digestive system running without a hitch is critical. Any blockages can be harmful to them since they cannot vomit. If they don’t get enough fiber in their diet, it can cause an intestinal blockage.

Water

Your bunnies need unlimited access to fresh and clean drinking water in a water bowl preferably, although you can also use a dispenser. Change their water daily and keep the water bowl clean to prevent bacteria growth. Rabbits need plenty of water to keep their digestive system working properly and flush out excess calcium.

Home

In the wild, rabbits survive by creating underground burrows or nesting in dips in open grasslands. As pets, however, they are more comfortable and safer living indoors with you, which allows them to have more social interaction and be protected from environmental dangers and predators.

You have many indoor housing options, including rabbit-friendly “condos”, rabbit cages, puppy pens, or letting them roam freely in a bunny-proof room. Ideally, your rabbit’s home should have enough room for their litter box, water and food bowls, and toys.

A good rule of thumb is to have an enclosure at least four times the size of your rabbit. Give them enough space to stand up on their hind legs without bumping their head on the top and lay down comfortably.

Set up your pet’s home in a relaxing environment without any loud noises and out of direct sunlight. We recommend setting up in the corner of a room. The wall on one side and the enclosure will make your rabbit feel safe and calm.

Covering the bunny’s floor space with a chair mat or other protective material safeguards your flooring from digging and urine stains and provides a padded ground for your rabbit’s comfort and safety, mainly if housed in a cage with a caged bottom.

If they live outdoors, provide them with a secure hutch with a connected run to give them space to exercise. Keep the hutch out of direct sunlight and safe from harsh winds.

Pet Lodge Rabbit Hutch Complete Kit

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Litter Box

Rabbits are some of the cleanest roommates you’ll ever have. Like cats, they can be litter box trained and use a cat litter box without a top. They need a shallow litter box, big enough to sit comfortably and move around.

We recommend using an unscented, paper-based rabbit litter due to its absorbent and odor-neutralizing properties. It’s also safe for bunnies since they won’t eat it or inhale dusty particles, causing respiratory problems. Alternatives include wood pellets, aspen shavings, and hay. You only need a thin layer in the litter box since rabbits don’t bury their droppings.

When litter box training your animal, start small. Keep them enclosed in one area, with everything they need, including the litter box and litter. This helps them get used to their space and start using the litter box.

Once they’ve gotten the hang of it, you can expand their space and reign it back in if they start showing bad litter box habits. If an accident happens, it’s fine. Clean it up immediately so your rabbit doesn’t use the same area again.

Rabbit Body Language

Bunny running in field

Rabbits have a lot to say, and if you understand their language, you can care better for your furry friends. They use their body and some vocalizations to communicate with each other. Paying attention to their behavior can tell a lot about how they feel.

  • Binky – Binkying is a bunny’s happy dance. This can look like them leaping and twisting in the air and running around the room. This is a good sign! However, if they excessively shake their head, it can be a sign of an ear infection.
  • Purring – If you hear your rabbits softly grinding their teeth, this can mean they are content and happy. This can happen when sitting comfortably, being petted, and sleeping. Loud teeth grinding sounds, however, could mean they are in great pain.
  • Chinning – Rabbits have scent glands under their chin. They rub the underside of their chin on objects and mark their territory. If your rabbit rubs her chin on you, it’s one of the highest compliments.
  • Thumping – Thumping can mean a lot of things. For example, thumping their hind legs against the ground could mean they want to get your attention, sense danger, or are mad.
  • Standing on hind legs – When they stand on their hind legs, it’s usually to get a better view of something. They also do it when they beg for treats.
  • Flopping – If your rabbits flops themselves on their side on the ground, they feel safe and comfy.
  • Loafing – When they are comfortable and sleepy, rabbits tuck their feet under themselves, relax their ears, and squint their eyes, resembling a bread loaf in shape.
  • Screaming/squealing – A high-pitched scream indicates that your bunny is in severe pain. If they scream, check for injuries or what scared them and stay close to them to keep them calm.
  • Sleeping – Rabbits sleep about 8 hours per day and usually sleep with their eyes open, as a natural defense mechanism. Sleeping rabbits will be in their loaf position and have relaxed ears and slow breathing. You may hear some snoring and see some twitching meaning they are dreaming. Some rabbits will sleep with their eyes closed or half closed.

How to Pet Your Rabbit

White bunny being pet by two people

Rabbits may seem skittish at first but can get used to petting if you are gentle and careful. Many rabbits will let you pet them if you sit next to them, and they even appreciate a relaxing massage. If your bunny is anxious or stressed, petting them can be an excellent way to calm them down.

Petting rabbits is a little different than petting dogs or cats. Since they have a great field of vision, they can see nearly 360 degrees, except right in front of their nose. Because of this, you will have to approach them off to the side to not spook them.

Rabbits like to be petted on the forehead, behind their ears, on the cheeks, and down the back. Many rabbits don’t like getting ear massages. However, their ears aren’t as sensitive as you’d think. They won’t flinch back if you touch their ears.

There are some areas that rabbits don’t like being touched. Feet are especially sensitive areas for them. Avoid touching their hind feet, tail, butt, chin, or stomach whenever possible.

To take better care of your rabbit, you may want to desensitize them in certain areas, such as when you need to pick them up or clip their nails. Gradually desensitize the areas needed to safely perform these tasks.

To safely pick up a rabbit, use one hand to support their hindquarters and back and the other to support their chest. Gently raise them up and keep them in your arms against your chest. Avoid picking up rabbits by the ears.

Grooming

Bunny getting nails clipped

Regularly grooming your rabbit is important to prevent matting, especially during the molting season, and keep their nails from overgrowing. When brushing their fur, brush in the direction of the fur growth. Grooming them prevents them from swallowing a lot of fur, which can cause digestion problems and blockages.

Since rabbits have more delicate skin than cats or dogs, they need softer brushes. Combs can be useful for rabbits with long hair or when they are molting.

Rabbits have tough nails designed to dig burrows. In the wild, all that digging of hard soil and rocks keeps their nails short. As pets, you need to clip their nails regularly. Long nails can snag on things and tear away. Nails should generally be level with the fur except for Rex rabbits with short fur.

Clipping your rabbit’s nails is simpler with two people but can be done alone if you have the patience and time. If your rabbit is particularly hesitant to get its nails clipped, ask your rabbit vet to do it.

When clipping their nails, you want to avoid clipping the quick, vein that extends from the nail base. It’s easy to spot in rabbits with light-colored nails. Use a small flashlight to identify the quick in rabbits with darker-colored nails.

What should you do if you clip the quick? Keep calm and use styptic powder or flour to stop the bleeding.

Spaying and Neutering

As a responsible pet parent, spaying and neutering your pets can help them have a long and happy life and reduce the rabbit overpopulation problem. Female rabbits can be spayed when they are 4-6 months old, while male rabbits can be neutered around weeks 8-12.

Spaying females can significantly reduce their risk of reproductive cancers. Neutering males can reduce aggression and improve their sociability. Overall, it makes your rabbits much better companions to be around.

How to Develop a Bond with Your Rabbit

A big part of rabbit ownership is properly socializing your rabbits and developing a bond with them. Without enough socialization, rabbits can get lonely and have a lower quality of life and lifespan.

Being a good rabbit owner means spending time playing and being around them. Although each rabbit has their own personality, it can warm up to you and be an excellent companion for many years if you put in the work.

It can take some time to create a bond with these furry creatures but it’s all worth it. Don’t lose hope if it’s hard at first. They’re wired to want to run away at the slightest hint of danger, so don’t take it personally when they hop away as you get near.

Here are a few tips to consider to develop a closer bond with your pet:

  • Sit on the floor in a relaxing and comfortable space and let them come to you. This may take a while and may not happen at first, but it’s important for them to feel safe. Eventually, they’ll let their curiosity get the best of them and approach you.
  • Rabbits don’t really like getting picked up or getting their feet touched. Avoid picking them up unless you absolutely have to at first, such as when you need to clip their nails, especially if they’re not used to being around you or other animals. They can hop off and get hurt.
  • Bribe them with a few treats. Just don’t overdo it because it can upset their tummy.

If you’ve just adopted a bunny and they don’t seem too friendly, put yourself in their position. They’re in a new home and may be scared. Rabbits feel safer when you get down to their level (on the floor) and will eventually learn to trust you. Don’t give up.

Exercise

Rabbits are fast and agile little critters that love to zip around the room. They need regular exercise and time outside of their enclosure to explore and hop around. Being outside of the cage provides them with mental stimulation, too.

Rabbits need about 24-32 square feet of space to run around. Let your rabbits out of their enclosure for a few hours a day. Wherever you let them play around, closely supervise them to keep them safe.

Since they are crepuscular, not nocturnal, they like to move around at dawn and dusk. These are the best times to let them roam free. Rabbit-proofing your room or home before letting them run wild and free helps keep them safe.

What Is the Perfect Temperature for Rabbits?

As the seasons and environments change, rabbits can experience a range of temperatures. Keeping them in an optimal environment helps them regulate their temperature and be their happy, furry selves.

Rabbits can handle cooler temperatures than we can. When it’s sweater weather for us, they may feel perfectly fine. However, extra cool weather can increase their energy needs and affect growth, productivity, and weight maintenance. Feeding amounts may need to increase during this time.

A rabbit’s normal body temperature is 102-103º F and they process feed the most efficiently in temperatures between 60º and 65º F. Cooler temperatures cause rabbits to eat less and use more energy to warm their bodies.

Since rabbits don’t sweat, they have a harder time in high humid areas. They manage body heat with breathing, airflow, and expanding blood vessels and flow in their ears. To keep your bunnies cool, provide proper ventilation with humidity under 60%.

If it’s excessively hot, you can provide your rabbits with a sealed plastic bag full of ice in their pen. Rabbits may lie next to it or on it to battle the heat.

Your Rabbit’s First Vet Check-Up

Rabbits require a check-up with a veterinarian experienced in rabbit care when you first introduce them to their home. After that, they will need a yearly check-up. Elderly rabbits or those with health problems may need to visit the vet every 6 months.

How to Tell if Your Rabbit Is Sick

As prey animals, rabbits are programmed to hide any sign of weakness, which keeps them alive in the wild but makes it hard as a rabbit owner to know when something’s wrong. Understanding your rabbit’s personality and when it’s slightly off is critical to responding quickly.

By the time you notice any signs of weakness, the symptoms may be severe. As soon as you suspect something is off, rush them to the vet.

If your rabbit displays any of these signs, it might be time to make a vet appointment:

  • Overgrown teeth
  • Loud teeth grinding
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chronic sneezing
  • Head tilt
  • Lack of energy
  • Small, abnormal, or no poops
  • Lack of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Bloating

Lop rabbits with floppy ears are more prone to ear infections, obesity, and dental issues. Their narrow ear canals make it easy to trap wax and other debris. Clean your lop rabbit’s ears every week.

Rabbit Toys

Keep your rabbits entertained, engaged, and stimulated with fun toys and accessories in their playpens. Depending on their personality, rabbits can take a liking to various toys, including chew toys, balls, activity tables, cat scratcher toys, and much more.

Since rabbits love to chew on things, provide them with plenty of chew toys and materials or else they may set their sights on other valuable things such as ornamental plants, furniture, and electrical cords.

Can Rabbits Live with Other Pets?

As sociable creatures, rabbits like being around other rabbits. Keeping a group of rabbits can lead to a pecking order, with some rabbits dominating over others. Introduce new rabbits gradually and keep a close eye to monitor for aggressive or abnormal behavior.

Cats and dogs can frighten rabbits since they believe they’re natural predators. However, introducing your pets to your new bunny early in life can get your bunny used to hanging around with them. For your bunny’s safety, constantly supervise their interactions.

Create a Comfortable Bunny Home with Supplies from Wilco

When you’re ready to make the leap into keeping rabbits as pets, Wilco Farm Stores can help you create an optimal environment for your furry friends. Find quality indoor housing, hay bales, rabbit food, and other essentials to keep your bunny happy at Wilco.

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