Rabbit Care & FAQs

We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on rabbits. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your rabbit’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:

Before Getting a Rabbit

Should you get a Rabbit?

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

They can be trained to use the litter box, they’ll come when called, and they may even learn to open doors and cabinets. We’re not talking about cats or even ferrets, but the sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy rabbit! Bunny ownership has seen an increase in numbers over the past ten years, and these days there are more than 5 million companion rabbits in the United States, many happily co-existing in multi-bun households. Read on if you are interested in joining the ranks of rabbit caretakers.

There’s a lot of variety among rabbits. Your dream bunny may have a long, thin nose and short, stubby ears (that would be the two-pound mini Rex) or the floppy ears and flat nose of a 12-pound French lop. In between are the super-furry Cashmere rabbit and the highly popular Dutch rabbit, who generally has a white face with a black, blue or brown band on his back. A well-cared-for, much-loved rabbit can live seven to ten years, and individuals reaching their 11th or 12th birthdays are not unheard of.

Your new pet has some important needs that must be met. First, she must be treated like part of the family–and that means she’ll need to live indoors, in your home, with you. Although pet rabbits may have been traditionally kept in backyard hutches, these days responsible caretakers know better. Outdoors, a rabbit can die of fright at the mere approach of a predator, and will also be susceptible to diseases spread by fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. And all too often, rabbits who are kept outside are forgotten once the novelty wears off, their needs neglected.

What’s a rabbit’s favorite thing to do? Chew, dig and chew some more! As a potential owner, you must understand that these are perfectly natural bunny behaviors, and if you don’t provide opportunities and toys to indulge these behaviors, your rabbit will satisfy her urges in inappropriate ways! Don’t let your bunny teethe on your new sofa or exotic houseplants. Instead, give her some chew toys, such as an old phone book or a log that hasn’t been painted or treated with chemicals. If your rabbit really likes to dig, set up a special digging box for her and fill it with straw, paper or litter.

Also note that your pet will need exercise out of the cage every day in a safe area. You’ll have to do some major rabbit proofing, as bunnies can get into pretty much anything. Flexibility is an asset here, as you may have to rearrange your furniture in order to hide electrical wires. If you cannot fully engage your rabbit during playtime or will be away most of the day, please consider getting another rabbit. A bored, lonely rabbit is a definitely unhappy, possibly destructive rabbit!

In addition to the initial cost of the rabbit, cage and accessories, you must bring your pet to the veterinarian for annual check-ups. Most shelters alter the rabbits they adopt out, but if you got your bun from a breeder or pet shop, chances are he or she hasn’t been neutered or spayed. If yours has not, be sure to schedule a date for the surgery once your pet reaches sexual maturity at four to six months. Spaying your female will virtually eliminate the risk of ovarian, uterine and mammarian cancers. Unneutered male rabbits are prone to negative behaviors such as destructive chewing and digging, and will spray urine to mark their territory. Additionally, intact rabbits tend to be aggressive with members of the same sex–and will, of course, breed with the opposite sex. But once your pet is altered, you’ll be able to get another bunny buddy for him or her.

Has this little critter met your criteria so far? A rabbit may be right for you, but not for your family. In most cases, rabbits and young children are a very bad match. Your child may love a bunny, but he’ll want to show that love by hugging, picking up and carrying the animal. Rabbits naturally feel insecure when picked up off the ground, and will scratch and kick in an attempt to get down. Should a bunny be accidentally dropped, he could sustain serious injuries, such as a broken back or leg. And what about your other pets? Rabbits can get along with cats and dogs, but you will have to take the time to properly introduce them, and always be there to supervise their visits together.

If you’re all set to bring a rabbit home, we recommend getting yours from a reputable breeder or, best of all, adopting one from a shelter or rabbit rescue group. Search on sites like www.petfinder.com and www.rabbit.org for bunnies looking for a second chance at a good life–and good luck with your little bundle of joy!

Bringing Your Rabbit Home

Handling

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Your new rabbit seems so sweet, he’d probably loved to be held and cuddled, right? Wrong! Because rabbits are not natural climbers, they naturally feel insecure when picked up off the ground. If you master the correct techniques, however, your pet can learn to tolerate handling–and you’ll earn his trust and affection in the process.

Start your get-acquainted sessions by gently stroking the top of your rabbit’s head. Keep in mind that most bunnies do not seem to like having their noses or chins touched. Speak to your pet in gentle, encouraging tones as you pick him up. With one hand supporting his chest and the other hand supporting his hindquarters, scoop him to you and hold him secure near your chest. Then, set him down and immediately offer him his favorite treat. Repeat this exercise a couple of times during each practice session–and don’t be stingy with your praise, please!

Try not to be discouraged if things aren’t going as smoothly–or quickly–as you’d like. It is normal for a rabbit who is not used to being handled to nip, scratch or kick in an attempt to get away. It’s a good idea to wear protective clothing for your first few lessons, as bunny nails can do a number on bare skin. If your pet starts squirming, resist the impulse to let go; instead, hug him closer to you. Not only will this protect him–a fall can seriously injure your pet–it will teach him that the resistance method won’t work; he’ll HAVE to learn to tolerate being picked up!

In return for your bunny’s cooperation, you must ensure that he is never picked up by someone who hasn’t mastered proper handling techniques. Should someone grab him by the ears or suspend him by the scruff while failing to support his hindquarters, he could get badly hurt.

Think of regular handling “lessons” as a great way to prepare your rabbit for the times when you will need to lift him–when you’re bringing him to the veterinarian, for example, or during grooming sessions. And while most rabbits can be taught to tolerate being picked up, there are a few individuals here and there who really seem to enjoy cuddling in their caretakers’ arms. Perhaps you’ve got just such a bun–but you’ll never know unless you practice!

Housing

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Your bunny’s home is his castle–or multi-level condo, as the case may be. As a responsible caretaker, it’s up to you to make sure it is as clean and cozy, spacious and sturdy as possible. A well-made, multi-story cage can be expensive, but it’s one of the most important investments you’ll make for your rabbit.

Always buy the largest, most well-constructed cage you can afford. A typical enclosure for a rabbit of a small to medium breed should be at least four feet wide, two feet deep and two feet tall–and larger, of course, for bigger buns. If you have more than one rabbit, consider a multi-level bunny condo, in which the floors are connected by a ramp. Many caretakers have found that dog and cat cages work great, but just make sure the spacing between the bars is small enough that your pet can’t get his limbs stuck between them. Please note that although wire-bottom cages are commonly available, ASPCA experts do not recommend their use. Since rabbits don’t have pads on their feet like dogs and cats do, wire flooring can cause red, swollen skin on their hind legs. If you already have a hutch with a wire bottom, cover the bottom with a piece of wood or thick, corrugated cardboard.

Ready to set up your pet’s digs? Selecting the appropriate indoor location is crucial. Yes, we said INDOORS! Although pet rabbits may have been traditionally kept in backyard hutches, these days responsible caretakers know better. A domestic rabbit will be happiest and healthiest living in the home with you, his human family. Outdoors, a rabbit can die of fright at the mere approach of a predator, and is also susceptible to a variety of diseases spread by fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. And all too often, rabbits who are kept outside are forgotten about once the novelty wears off, their needs neglected. Instead, please make your pet part of the family and set up his cage in an area of the house that’ll allow him to be close to where the action is but not be disturbed by it, away from drafts and out of direct sunlight. Dampness and a high level of humidity can make rabbits sick, so avoid putting the cage in a bathroom or basement. A room temperature maintained at about 70 degrees is perfect for your pet.

Now it’s time to make your rabbit’s house feel like a home. Put down plenty of straw, hay or aspen shavings so he can make a nest. NEVER use cedar or pine shavings, even in a pinch, as the fumes can cause respiratory damage. You’ll also want to make sure there are always a few toys in the cage, including one to satisfy your bunny’s urge to chew, and a cozy rug or blanket.

Your pet’s food bowls should be as sturdy as possible; try weighted metal or ceramic. We recommend a water bottle that attaches to the side of the cage–just be sure to fill it daily. You’ll also need to put a small litterbox in the cage–and be sure to read our section on “Litterbox Training” if you haven’t already done so.

And now’s as good a time as any to mention that rabbits can be very messy–and to be a good bunny housekeeper, you’ll need to clean your pet’s cage at least once or twice a week. When your rabbit is in a safe room, sweep out the cage and scrub the floor with warm, soapy water and disinfectant. Empty, wash, and refill the litter box. When everything’s dry, add new bedding–and return your rabbit to his castle.

Understanding Your Rabbit

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Ever heard the phrase “dumb bunny”? Well, it certainly doesn’t apply to your animal companion. Your inquisitive, sensitive rabbit may surprise you with her intelligence. She can learn to use a litter box, come when called and may even beat you in a game of tag! Through an understanding of what motivates her, you’ll better meet her needs–and gain a loyal, loving friend in the process.

Your new bunny wants to be part of the family–and that means she’ll need to live indoors, in your home, with you. Although pet rabbits have been traditionally kept in backyard hutches, these days responsible caretakers are better informed. Did you know that the mere approach of a predator–the neighbor’s dog, for example, or a wild raccoon–can cause a rabbit to die of fright? Animals kept outdoors are also susceptible to a variety of diseases spread by fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. While living indoors is essential, you will need to make sure your rabbit’s not cooped up in her cage all day long. A minimum of several hours of daily playtime in a safe, secure area is recommended.

It’s true that your rabbit wants to be close to you, but the majority of rabbits highly dislike being picked up and handled. We know, we know, they look so cuddly–but rabbits feel extremely insecure when lifted off the ground, and if they are mishandled or have not been trained to tolerate handling, will protest with kicking and nipping. Please see our section on HANDLING for the right way to pick up your pet.

Topping the list of perfectly natural, perfectly enjoyable bunny behaviors are chewing and digging. Not only does chewing wear down a rabbit’s continuously growing teeth and exercise her jaws, it’s FUN! As a responsible rabbit owner, it’s up to you to ensure that your pet has a wide variety of appropriate toys to satisfy these urges. Should you fail to meet said requirements, do not be surprised if your pet takes matters into her own hands (paws?!) and digs up the carpet and gnaws the bars of her cage–or a table leg or two. Don’t get mad–just get her some chew toys!

It may take a while for you figure out what your rabbit’s trying to tell you. These animals generally don’t make much noise, but you may hear yours do some “tooth purring” every now and then. Caused by quick, light vibrations of the teeth, this is the sound of one contented bunny–not to be confused with the loud, slow grinding that indicates an animal in pain. And when a rabbit growls or clucks, she’s letting you know that she’s annoyed.

Your pet speaks loud and clear with her body language, too. For example, when she thumps the ground with her back leg (yes, that’s how Thumper got his name!), she may be afraid or uncertain, or is issuing some sort of warning. When she rubs her chin on your hand, she’s claiming you as her territory. And then, of course, there’s the bunny dance, a very loosely choreographed series of kicks and leaps done by the happiest of rabbits.

There are many other ways in which your bunny will let you know how she’s feeling–but half the fun of getting to know your companion rabbit is figuring them out for yourself! (P.S. We will tell you one thing, however–if your pet licks you, you’ve got a friend forever!)

Taking Care of Your Rabbit

Basic Rabbit Husbandry

Behavior

  • Rabbits are gentle and quiet creatures. If they become upset they can growl, and when scared, rabbits will scream. Thumping occurs as a warning or if they are agitated.
  • Male rabbits (occasionally females) may spray urine if upset. Neutering them young will often prevent many of these behavioral type problems.
  • Rabbits will eat their own fecal pellets. This is called cecotrophy and assists the rabbit in digestion of plant materials. Luckily this practice is often unobserved by pet owners, as rabbits will do this in the dawn hours.
  • Rabbits produce large quantities of fecal pellets daily. The good news is they can also be litter trained!

Diet

  • Rabbits are herbivores and therefore will eat continuously throughout the day.
  • Grass hay or Timothy hay should be provided in unlimited quantities to provide the necessary roughage. Alfalfa hay is not recommended for adult house rabbits due to its high calcium and calorie content. It is fine to give to a young, growing rabbit.
  • It is best to feed an adult rabbit a timothy based pellet. If it is unavailable an alfalfa-based pellet is acceptable, but the rabbit should receive no more than 1/8 cup per 5 pounds per day.
  • A minimum of 1 cup fresh vegetables per 4 pounds body weight per day should be provided. Good veggies to choose from include: alfalfa sprouts, basil, beet greens, endive, green peppers, parsley, romaine lettuce, kale, raspberry leaves, squash, radicchio, and dandelion leaves. Introduce new veggies gradually and only one at a time to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal upset.
  • Small amounts of fruit (1-2 Tbs. per 5 pounds) are fine as a snack. These can include apples, peaches, plums, pears, melon, raspberry, papaya, blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, and pineapple. Sugary fruits such as bananas and grapes should be avoided. No fruits for dieting rabbits!

Housing

  • Enclosure needs to be strong so the rabbit cannot chew its way out. Choose a wire size the rabbit cannot grasp its teeth around.
  • The flooring is important and will depend on how well the rabbit is trained. A litter trained rabbit will do fine on a completely solid floor. If the rabbit will be on a wire floor, there should be at least one area the rabbit can move to with a solid flat surface. If this is not provided, the rabbit could develop ulcers on its feet, which require treatment. It is essential that whatever type of flooring is chosen that it be kept clean and dry.
  • Outdoor rabbits housing requirements include shelter from wind, rain, snow, and sun. Rabbits are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Also, the enclosure should keep the rabbit safe from other animals outdoors, wild or domestic. Feces should not be allowed to pile under the enclosure.
  • Indoor rabbits must have rabbit-proofed homes. Rabbits will chew anything, so make sure all electrical cords and other objects are out of the rabbit’s reach. Rabbits actually should only be out of their cages when supervised for their own safety

Preventative Care

  • Sanitation is very important! Keep the fecal pellets picked up.
  • Brushing is a good idea to reduce hairball formation and can be done 1-2 times per week. More often for the Angoras. A cat laxative or pineapple juice can be given as well for hairball prevention.
  • Nail trimmings can be a challenge with rabbits but should be done as needed. Be careful not to let them kick while you are trying to hold them, as they can cause themselves serious back injuries.
  • Flea products can be used if needed but make sure they say on the label “Safe for Rabbits.”
  • Check your rabbit’s teeth regularly. They are prone to malocclusion, which is a condition where the teeth don’t line up properly and therefore don’t grind down while chewing. Since rabbits teeth grow continuously throughout life this can cause serious problems including starvation. It is also important to provide good, rabbit-safe chew toys to prevent overgrown teeth.
  • Female rabbits are prone to developing uterine cancer, so have her spayed before 6 months of age.
  • Annual Veterinary exams will help catch problems early on.
Common Health Problems

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

If you provide your rabbit with a proper diet of hay, pellets and vegetables, keep her cage clean and see that she gets enough exercise and TLC, she should remain free of disease. If these needs are not met, however, these sensitive animals can become ill. Knowing what to look out for can help you to help your pet in case a problem arises.

Did you know that rabbits shed four times a year? And just like cats, they regularly groom themselves and can get HAIRBALLS. But the big difference is that rabbits are unable to vomit up this ingested hair. Too large a mass can cause an obstruction that could lead to serious illness. To combat hairballs, regularly groom your pet and, to help her digestion, be sure she’s getting her high-fiber hay every day. You can also give your pet a feline hairball preparation. There are several brands available at pet supply stores. ASPCA experts suggest giving the remedy once weekly when your pet is not shedding, and even more frequently during shedding season,

DIARRHEA can indicate a variety of problems–from a poor diet to a serious disease. If accompanied by a swollen belly, mucus in the feces and rumbling noises in the stomach, enteritis may be the culprit. This can be dangerous and requires veterinary attention. It’s also important that you contact your vet if your pet has diarrhea for more than a day, or if her droppings are small, clumpy or misshapen. Diarrhea is often treated with antibiotics.

Runny nose and eyes, sneezing, labored breathing and elevated temperature are all signs of BACTERIAL INFECTIONS. Many types of bacteria can plague rabbits; one of the most common is Pasteurella, which causes a dangerous disease called snuffles. A veterinarian can properly diagnose and treat bacterial infections, which are usually eliminated with an appropriate antibiotic.

A healthy rabbit’s urine can range in color from clear to yellow-brown to red. If your pet’s urine is on the red side, don’t panic–yet. DARK RED URINE is not a problem unless it is accompanied by sitting and straining to urinate and appetite loss. These symptoms can be an indicator of respiratory or intestinal problems, and should be checked out by a veterinarian right away.

Another often-seen health problem in rabbits is respiratory damage caused by CEDAR AND PINE SHAVINGS used to line cages and litter boxes. These softwood beddings produce fumes that are extremely dangerous to bunnies when inhaled. Avoid these materials at all costs; aspen shavings, straw and hay are great for bedding.

If you notice any of the symptoms discussed above–or other suspect signs, such as lethargy, fur loss and red, swollen skin–don’t wait for your annual check-up. Contact your veterinarian immediately. Note that a healthy rabbit is curious, bright-eyed and energetic, boasting glossy fur and a good appetite. With proper diet, housing and regular veterinary care, your bunny should remain in tip-top condition.

Hairballs

By: ASPCA Ani-MedYou’ve heard about cats and hairballs, but did you know that rabbits can get them, too? Because both species are meticulous groomers, they tend to ingest a lot of loose fur. Unlike cats, however, rabbits are not able to vomit up ingested hair. If a tangled mass of hair is allowed to form, it could cause an obstruction in the stomach or small intestine–and potentially serious illness. With a few simple precautions and preventive measures, however, you and your pet can win the fight against the dreaded hairball.If you’ve got a bunny, be prepared for the fur to fly–and it’ll fly about four times a year. Rabbits shed every three months, alternating relatively light sheddings with majorly heavy molts. Some individuals may take a few weeks to lose their old coats, while others seem to accomplish this task in one day; either way, you can help to lessen the chance of a hairball developing. Sometimes you’ll be able to literally pull out clumps of hair with your hands, or you can try wetting your pet down with a fine mist of water and then rubbing him all over. (Yes, the fur is going to stick to your hands, but it will easily ball up and roll off.) It’s also important that you regularly brush and comb your bunny–at least once daily during periods of heavy shedding, and once a week during the off season.If you’ve read our topic on “Nutritional Needs,” you know that hay is an important component of your pet’s diet. It’s also a crucial weapon in the fight against hairballs. Fresh hay promotes gastrointestinal health, and provides fiber that’ll help move ingested hair through your rabbit’s digestive system. Unlimited fresh timothy, grass or oat hay should be available to your rabbit at all times, so be sure to fill your pet’s hay rack every morning so he can nibble throughout the day.When a rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract is not functioning properly, however, tangled hair and food can form into a huge mass, and the resulting hairball can become impacted and cause an entire stomach blockage. Rabbits who suffer from this condition will gradually stop eating; their feces will become smaller, until production stops completely. In such a case, immediate medical attention is required. A veterinarian can detect the blockage by simply feeling the animal’s abdomen, but radiographs may also be necessary. In some cases, emergency surgery is the only way to remove the mass–and save the animal.But you can stop this from happening to your pet–simply by being diligent about taking all of the precautions above. As you can see, when it comes to hairballs and rabbits, prevention is much easier than cure!

Nutritional Needs

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

That famous bunny named Bugs may have lived by carrots alone, but real rabbits are a bit more demanding. As a responsible owner, you should know that there are three basic components of your vegetarian pet’s diet–hay, pellets and fresh vegetables. Once you’ve learned the right kinds and amounts of these foods to offer, meeting your bunny’s nutritional needs is as easy as one, two, three.

Heard that hay is for horses? Well, it’s just as important for bunnies, too. This non-fattening food is essential for the proper functioning of your pet’s digestive system and reduces the danger of hairballs. Unlimited fresh timothy, grass or oat hay should be available to your rabbit at all times, so be sure to fill your pet’s hay rack every morning so he can nibble throughout the day. Whatever kind of hay you choose, watch out for any mold or spoilage. Fresh hay smells sweet and is light green in color.

Your bunny will also need a ration of good-quality pellets. Opt for a formula with 15 to 19 percent protein and 18 percent fiber. To ensure that the pellets are as fresh as possible, buy only what you’ll need for about six weeks at a time. The amount you feed depends on your rabbit’s size, age and level of activity. Bunnies under the age of 7 months can have as much as they like; after that, ASPCA experts recommend 1/4 cup of pellets daily for two- to five-pound rabbits, and up to 1/2 cup per six pounds of body weight for bigger buns. Your pet’s food bowl should be of the weighted metal or sturdy ceramic variety.

Fresh vegetables make up the third component of your pet’s diet. He’ll appreciate a variety of greens–and of course, they’re great for him, too. Good choices are any and all dark leaf lettuces, collard greens, turnip greens, carrot tops, green peppers, parsley and celery. ASPCA experts recommend a minimum of two cups of veggies per six pounds of bunny; you may need to adjust that accordingly, depending on your pet’s size. Be sure to wash all fresh foods first, and make sure everything’s chopped up nice and small.

Fresh fruit makes a delicious treat for your pet–in limited quantities only, please. We suggest one tablespoon per four pounds of adult rabbit. Try berries, apples, bananas, plums, peaches and melons. Do not offer your pet bread or other human foods that are high in carbs, as these can cause intestinal problems.

Bunnies are big on water, and some can drink almost a quart a day. Your pet should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. A bottle that attaches to the side of the cage works best–and be sure to fill it daily.

If you provide a high-quality diet as outlined here, there’s no need for vitamins or other additives. And your pet himself has a very unique way of supplementing his diet. Do not be alarmed if you see your rabbit eating his feces. This may seem strange or even unsanitary to you, but it is perfectly normal and, in fact, perfectly healthy! The small, soft pellets contain nutrients that aid in digestion.

Rabbit Feeding Schedule

Large, unlimited amounts of fresh hay should be offered daily. Young bunnies should be introduced to hay as soon as they can eat on their own. Mixed grass or Timothy Hay is preferred because it is lower in calories and calcium than alfalfa.Feed a minimum of 1 cup vegetables for each 4 lbs. of body weight. Select at least three types of vegetable daily. A variety is necessary in order to obtain the necessary nutrients, with one each day that contains Vitamin A, indicated by an *. Add one vegetable to the diet at a time, eliminate if it causes soft stool or diarrhea.Limit fruit to 1-2 tablespoons per 5 lbs. Of body weight (none if dieting) from the list below of high Vitamin A fruits. Sugary fruits such as bananas and grapes should be used only sparingly as occasional treats. Bunnies have a sweet tooth and if left to their own devices will devour sugary foods to the exclusion of healthful ones.

Vegetables:

  • Alfalfa, radish, clover sprouts, and Basil
  • Beet greens (tops)*, Bok Choy, Broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)*, and Brussels sprouts
  • Carrot and carrot tops*, Celery, Cilantro, and Clover
  • Collard greens*, Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides)*,
  • Endive, Escarole, Green Peppers,and Kale
  • Mint, Mustard greens*, Parsley*, and Pea pods (the flat edible kind)*
  • Peppermint leaves, Raddichio, Radish tops, and Raspberry leaves
  • Romaine lettuce (no iceberg or light colored leaf)*
Spaying and Neutering

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

First-time rabbit caretakers are often surprised to learn that their new pet must be spayed or neutered. “I don’t plan to breed her,” they reason, or “Why should I have him altered if he’s never going to come into contact with any unspayed females?” The fact is, rabbits who have been spayed or neutered live longer lives, make calmer pets and are less likely to exhibit negative behaviors.
Most shelters alter the rabbits they adopt out, but if you got your bun from a breeder or pet shop, chances are he or she has not been neutered or spayed. ASPCA experts recommend that the surgery be done when the rabbit has reached sexual maturity, at about the age of four months. If the rabbit is more than two years old, he or she may require a complete health check, including blood work, to rule out any conditions that could make surgery more risky. Do keep in mind that the majority of veterinarians have not had experience spaying and neutering rabbits, so it is in your pet’s best interest to locate a doctor who regularly treats the species. Ask the members of your local rabbit rescue group or shelter for a referral. There is also great information on selecting a veterinarian at the House Rabbit Society’s website, www.rabbit.org.

So, you’ve heard that all bunnies are cuddly and mild-mannered? You haven’t lived with an unneutered male! Countless intact male rabbits are surrendered to shelters because of negative behaviors such as chewing and digging, as well as aggression-biting, lunging and growling at other rabbits and even humans in the home. Unaltered males also spray urine to mark their territory. Many of these undesirable behaviors disappear once the animal is neutered. Without reproductive urges and the need to fight off competitors, male rabbits are much calmer and more easily litter-trained.

Did you know that female rabbits are very susceptible to ovarian, uterine and mammarian cancers? Spaying your pet will virtually eliminate the risk of her succumbing to these serious. There are behavioral reasons for spaying as well. Intact rabbits tend to be aggressive with members of the same sex–and will, of course, breed with the opposite sex–but once your female is altered, you’ll be able to get another bunny buddy for her. FYI, the same goes for neutered males.

If you do not want to spay or neuter your pet because you are thinking of breeding your rabbit, please think again. Many things can go wrong during pregnancy. It is not uncommon for the female to refuse to care for her young or, in the worst-case scenario, die during delivery or become sick from the stress of pregnancy. And do you know what happens to the babies when irresponsible owners allow their pets to breed? Many are released in parks, fields, and even city streets, to fend for themselves. Other rabbits end up at shelters, where there are already too many animals and not enough homes for them. If you absolutely must have another rabbit, by all means have your resident hopper spayed or neutered, and consider adopting one who has already been altered. You’ll feel good just knowing that you’ve given an animal a second chance at a good life!

Treats

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

Unlimited hay, fresh vegetables and pellets are the “meat and potatoes” of your pet’s diet–but every self-respecting rabbit will appreciate a delicious treat to eat on occasion. Feeding inappropriate foods, however, can upset your bunny’s sensitive digestive system. As a responsible caretaker, you’ll need to inform yourself about what’s good–and what’s not–for your animal companion.
Most rabbits love fresh fruits, and they make excellent treats for your pet–when given in moderation! ASPCA experts recommend no more than one tablespoon of fruit per day; good choices are papaya, banana, peach, grapes, apple (no seeds, please!), melon and strawberries. Fresh herbs such as basil, mint and cilantro are yummy treats, too. Take care to wash all fresh foods, and never offer your pet anything that’s spoiled or old.

Looking for more healthy treats for your pet? Chew on this! Untreated tree branches and twigs, when dried and aged, will satisfy a rabbit’s natural urge to gnaw AND combat bunny boredom at the same time. Willow, beech, linden, maple and some fruit trees are good choices, but please note that apricot, cherry, and peach branches are toxic to rabbits.

Rabbit chew sticks, available at pet supply stores, can also fulfill the need to chew, but should be given only once every couple of weeks. You’ll probably find several brands to choose from, but please take care to select the one that’s made with more greens than grains. Most other commercially packaged bunny treats are high in fat and sugar, and can lead to obesity. Many of these treats, for example, contain 4 to 5 percent fat–and that’s way too much, considering that companion rabbits should receive no more than 1.5 percent of their daily calories from fat.

Never give your bunny bread or other human edibles that are high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates, such as seeds, nuts, chocolate or breakfast cereals. These foods can cause a variety of problems, from obesity and diarrhea to intestinal upset. And please note–just because a food is on our list of recommended treats, it may still disagree with your individual bunny. If you notice that a particular treat causes upset stomach or diarrhea, it’s best to discontinue that food.

Veterinary Care

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Somebunny’s just brought home a new rabbit? As a responsible owner, you’ll need to provide your pet with a proper diet, lots of playtime, and regular veterinary care. As soon as the newest addition to the family is settled in, we recommend a trip the vet for a thorough examination.
Veterinarians specializing in companion rabbits aren’t always easy to find, but it’s in your bunny’s best interest to locate a doctor who regularly treats the species. Ask the members of your local rabbit rescue group or shelter for a referral. And you’ll find great information on selecting a veterinarian at the House Rabbit Society’s website, www.rabbit.org. This is also an excellent time to purchase a carrier to safely transport your bunny. Check out your pet supply store for a special wire rabbit carrier that includes a litter tray and a small travel-size water bottle.

When you bring your rabbit for his first exam, be prepared to provide information on where and when you acquired your pet, what you’re feeding him, what his living accommodations are like and anything unusual you’ve noticed about him. The veterinarian will then conduct a complete physical exam of your pet, from nose to tail. The doctor will pay special attention to your pet’s teeth, examining the entire mouth for overgrown or broken teeth and signs of infection, such as abscesses.

Most shelters alter the rabbits they adopt out, but if you got your bun from a breeder or pet shop, chances are he or she hasn’t been neutered or spayed. If yours has not, be sure to schedule a date for the surgery with your veterinarian. Spaying your female will virtually eliminate the risk of her succumbing to ovarian, uterine and mammarian cancers. Unneutered male rabbits are prone to negative behaviors such as chewing and digging, and will spray urine to mark their territory.

To keep your rabbit in good condition, ASPCA experts recommend an annual visit to the vet. Weight loss or gain, often an indicator or illness, will be checked, and any necessary tests or radiographs can help your vet monitor your pet’s health. Yearly check-ups are especially crucial for the prevention of dental disease. If your rabbit’s teeth do not grow evenly, or are overgrown, the veterinarian may need to file, clip or reshape them. Depending on which teeth are affected, your pet may require anesthesia for this procedure. This extremely important aspect of your rabbit’s health cannot be overlooked–dental problems can interfere with his ability to eat.

A healthy rabbit is curious, bright-eyed and energetic, boasting glossy fur and a good appetite. If you notice any unusual symptoms in your pet, do not wait until your annual check-up to consult your vet. Signs of illness include diarrhea, constipation, runny nose and eyes, dark red urine, lethargy, fur loss and red, swollen skin. If you think your rabbit is ill, it’s important to contact the veterinarian immediately.

Training Your Rabbit

Litter Box Training

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

What’s one of the top-ten best things about your rabbit? She can be trained use a litter box! As a responsible owner, it’s up to you to teach your pet where to go when she’s gotta go.

The first step is selecting the right equipment for the job at hand. A kitten-sized litter box will work well for the average-sized bunny. If you have a diminutive three-pound rabbit, however, you’ll need something a little smaller; some owners find that a nine-inch Pyrex baking dish will fit the bill. For a bunny who likes to dig in her box–and kick the litter out of it in the process–try a covered model. You will need one small box for your pet’s cage, and as many as necessary for the areas in which she has free run. Ideally, these boxes should be larger than the one in her cage.

Traditional clay litters may be readily available, but ASPCA experts caution against their use, as the dust from the clay can cause respiratory problems. An organic litter made from pelleted paper is a good choice, and a few sheets of folded newspaper topped with grass hay will work great, too. Stay away from pine and cedar shavings, which emit gases that can be poisonous if breathed in by your bun. Whatever you choose, it is important that you empty, wash, and refill the box regularly.

Successful litterbox training begins in your rabbit’s cage–the corner in which she most frequently urinates and defecates, to be precise. In this corner, place a small box with litter and some fecal pellets or a little bedding that’s been marked with your pet’s urine. She’ll soon figure it out, but if she prefers to do her duty in a different corner, simply move the box to that corner. Don’t be shocked if she decides to camp out and cuddle up in her box–this is perfectly normal bunny behavior.

When your rabbit has gotten the hang of it, you can start to gradually increase her territory, allowing her the run of a small area. This space should include a larger box in which you’ve added some litter and pellets from the box in her cage. Watch her closely, and place her in the box every now and then. Patience and persistence are the keys here. Never yell at your pet if she makes a mistake. Clean up the mistake with an enzyme-based odor neutralizer or solution of vinegar and water, and put a litter box right over the soiled area. You may also need to add more boxes as her territory increases; if a box is nearby, she will be more likely to go in it. And don’t forget–a little praise from you when she successfully uses her litter box will go a long way to reinforce her training–and earn her trust!

What happens if your perfectly behaved bun forgets her manners and begins to eliminate outside the box? First, you’ll need to rule out the possibility of a health problem, such as a urinary tract infection or kidney disease. Contact your veterinarian if you suspect illness. Some litterbox lapses can be brought on by stress–a break in your bunny’s routine, for example, or visitors in the home. It’s important to nip this potential problem in the bud, so if your pet has missed her target two days in a row, you may need to teach a “refresher” course. Simply confine her to her cage and gradually increase her territory as she re-learns her lessons. Remember what we said about praise–and don’t be afraid to pile it on when your pet gets it right!

Play Time/Toys

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

Playtime is serious business for companion bunnies, and they’ll need at least two to three hours of exercise outside the cage every day. Their wild cousins are most active at dawn and dusk, so it’s a good idea to let your little girl get in some funtime in the morning before you leave for work and when you return in the evening. Without the diversion of toys and out-of-cage time, she can grow bored, depressed and/or destructive, especially if she’s left alone for much of the day.
As a responsible caretaker, your first task is to ensure that your pet’s play area is safe and secure. Remove all electrical cords, household cleaning items or other dangerous chemicals, potentially poisonous plants, and anything else she could (but shouldn’t!) chew. It’s very important that you are there to supervise during these bunny play periods. We also recommend that you get your pet used to being picked up–and make sure she’s litter-box trained–before expanding her out-of-cage territory.

Did you know that many rabbits have been surrendered to shelters because of destructive behavior? In most instances, the owners of these animals failed to provide them with appropriate distractions–toys of their own, that is, to satisfy their natural urges to dig and chew. So what makes a good chew toy? Anything from a wicker basket to a cardboard box to a dried-out pine cone. More good choices are commercially made chew sticks, a straw whiskbroom, and branches, twigs or logs from untreated trees that have been aged for at least three months. (Stay away from cherry, peach, apricot, plum and redwood, please–these are toxic to rabbits.) Your pet will also appreciate any creative ideas you may have, too. An old telephone directory, for example, is the ultimate chewing and shredding toy for many a bun.

If you’ve caught your rabbit digging up the carpet, you can easily divert her attentions elsewhere. Get her set with her own personal digging box. A cardboard box or plastic litter box filled halfway with soil or shredded paper can provide endless fun. If she likes to dig AND shred, get another old phone book for her playing pleasure.

If you do not want to spay or neuter your pet because you are thinking of breeding your rabbit, please think again. Many things can go wrong during pregnancy. It is not uncommon for the female to refuse to care for her young or, in the worst-case scenario, die during delivery or become sick from the stress of pregnancy. And do you know what happens to the babies when irresponsible owners allow their pets to breed? Many are released in parks, fields, and even city streets, to fend for themselves. Other rabbits end up at shelters, where there are already too many animals and not enough homes for them. If you absolutely must have another rabbit, by all means have your resident hopper spayed or neutered, and consider adopting one who has already been altered. You’ll feel good just knowing that you’ve given an animal a second chance at a good life!

While your bunny should definitely live indoors in your home, you can let your pet play in your fenced-in backyard when the weather’s nice–but you MUST be there to supervise. We’ve heard of many rabbits who have been trained to walk on a leash, too. Take the utmost care to ensure that neighborhood animals or area wildlife cannot get near your pet. Unfortunately, a rabbit can die of fright at the mere approach of a predator.