How to care for your pet rabbit
As small mammal veterinarians we provide primary and emergency care for your pet rabbit including:
- Annual exams with nutrition and husbandry consultation
- Primary care appointments
- Nail trims
- Routine and emergency dental exams and filings
To make an appointment, please call our Main Hospital Phone: 352-392-2235. We are available for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, please call: 352-392-2235.
Below are our general recommendations for basic care of your pet rabbit.
The main components of your rabbit’s diet should be clean, fresh hay. A limited amount of pellets and vegetables can be added to the hay. Avoid giving foods high in simple sugars and starches, including fruits, nuts, yogurt drops, seed sticks, and cereals. Foods high in sugars can cause a fatal overgrowth of the wrong type of bacteria in a rabbit’s digestive tract.
Should be available at all times. There is no maximum amount of hay to be offered in a bunny’s diet, increased amounts will only help with digestion as well as maintenance of dental health; an excellent source of fiber and helps to reduce possible intestinal blockages by increasing movement of contents within the digestive system. Timothy hay is an ideal choice, but others can be offered except Alfalfa hay, which is high in calories and calcium and can lead to bladder stones in adult rabbits. Look for hay that is an overall green in color and that has a fresh sweet smell. If the hay is brown, dusty, or smells moldy, do not feed it to your rabbit. The best types of hay to offer to rabbits are timothy, orchard grass, and botanical hay.
1/4 to 1/3 cup daily; look for a good quality timothy hay based (NOT alfalfa hay based). Be sure the diet does not include seeds, corn, nuts, fruit, crunchy or colored bits. The amount of pellets offered is restricted to prevent obesity, a common problem.
2 cups daily; dark leafy greens (i.e. romaine lettuce, arugula), leafy vegetables (i.e., carrot tops, cilantro, wheatgrass), and a small amount of vegetables (i.e. bell peppers, zucchini); essential for balanced diet. Offer only small amounts of kale, collards, parsley, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and spinach, they are also high in calcium or oxalic acid. Avoid feeding beans or rhubarb.
Fruits are a treat and should be offered as only a few small pieces no more than a couple of teaspoons per day. Some suggested fruits are apples (without stems or seeds), papaya, banana, pear, nectarines. Fruit snacks are great for training your bunny or to offer when you put him back in his enclosure after some floor time.
Provide fresh water in a water bottle. Check regularly to make sure the ball at the end of the sipper is not stuck.
To transition a pet rabbit to a more appropriate diet: gradually increase new foods, watch for any adverse side effects (diarrhea); gradually decrease the old foods until an ideal diet is reached.
Rabbits have a unique digestive system that is different from humans. The digestive tract has an additional compartment between the small and large intestines called the cecum, which ferments digestible fiber into cecotropes, also known as night feces. These cecotropes are ingested by the rabbit immediately in a process called coprophagy, which is critical for maintenance of healthy intestines. The undigested fiber is passed during the day as normal feces.
Caging and Exercise
Rabbits are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active during dawn and dusk. These are the best times to allow you rabbit out of its enclosure for exercise and play, which is very important to help keep your rabbit at an ideal body condition to maintain personal hygiene and health. During times without direct supervision, it is a good idea to keep your rabbit in an enclosure that will help keep your rabbit safe and healthy.
Wire mesh enclosures allow for air flow; never keep a rabbit in a glass aquarium or other enclosure that prevents air flow. The flooring of the enclosure should be a solid dry surface, not wire (i.e. carpet, wooden board) including bedding of towels and straw so their feet do not become irritated (rabbits do not have pads on the bottoms of their feet like dogs or cats.) Your pet bunny’s enclosure should be at least four times the size of the rabbit; larger size cages are encouraged if your pet will be confined for the majority of the day. The enclosure should be tall enough for your rabbit to be able to stand on its hind legs and stretch out. Your rabbit would love to have his home near where household activities take place, but be sure to find a spot away from direct sunlight or drafts.
Cages should be kept inside; if it is an outside enclosure, it is critical to make sure it has plenty of shade and protection from predators, rain, extreme temperatures, and other adverse weather conditions.
Make ramps and different levels within their housing area available if possible; rabbits are very curious and interactive animals, and it is important to provide them with lots of toys and stimulation (including boxes, grass mats, pieces of fruit tree branches, paper towel tubes, etc); for this reason it is also very important to make sure rabbits are under direct supervision when not in their enclosure, because they can chew on dangerous items (such as electric cords, toxic house plants and other foreign materials.) A hideaway is a nice addition to your bunny’s cage, so you may want to provide some sort of hiding box or tunnel.
Rabbits are very clean animals and will often urinate and defecate in the same area continuously; use a litter box with newspaper shredding or pelleted paper litters (do not use cat litter, corn cob, or clay, cedar, and/or pine substrates.)
It is very important to handle your rabbit carefully. Rabbits have very strong back legs, and can actually break their back from this kicking force. Therefore, always have a secure hold on the back legs and support the rabbit from above and below when handling. Rabbits are often most comfortable when their back legs are being secured and their rear end is sitting in the elbow of the handler. Also, rabbits may scratch and/or bite when fearful or in pain, so please take extra care when handling these delicate animals. Rabbits usually do not like to be picked up or carried, but rather prefer that you play at its level on the floor.
Rabbits should always be transported to your veterinarian in an appropriate secure carrier. They are susceptible to overheating and should be kept out of direct sunlight and temperature extremes. As prey animals rabbits may be attacked by dogs, cats or ferrets in a clinic.
Preventive Care and Vaccinations
Take your rabbit to see a veterinarian once yearly for an annual health examination. Spaying or neutering your bunny will help it to live a longer, healthier life. Uterine cancer and infection are very likely in intact female rabbits as they age. Dental disease is also common and may require skull radiographs for complete evaluation.
Rabbits can get fleas, ear mites and fur mites from the environment and other animals (i.e. other dogs and cats in the household). Proper housing and cleanliness of your animals will help protect your rabbit from these parasites.
Indoor-only rabbits: vaccines not routinely recommended in the US
Outdoor rabbits (this includes rabbits that go outside to play in the grass, even if only a few times a day): Rabies Vaccination is recommended for your rabbit’s protection, although rabies is a very rare disease in rabbits; NOTE: this is an off-label use for this vaccine, so rabbits are not legally covered by this vaccine should any complications arise.