2 baby rabbits nose to nose outside

Rabbits

Pet Rabbits have been part of American families since the 19th century. They are fairly easy to care for, and with the right set up for them they can live indoor or outdoors anywhere in the country.

While Rabbits are super soft and cuddly, they do not make great pets for small children. They have a fragile spine that can break if dropped or held incorrectly. They do make great pets for older children, or younger ones that know not to pick them up.

Rabbits take a little warming up to enjoy human attention. After they get to know you and build trust they are more open to sitting on someone’s lap, or cuddling with them.

Rabbits are smart animals and can be taught to use the litter box if they are kept indoors. They clean themselves so they do not need baths unless they become dirty or start to smell.  As long as you provide them with enough food and water, they will generally take care of themselves. If you are a family with limited time this can be a good pet as they don’t take up much time if you don’t have any. If you do expect to be away for most of the day it is a good idea to have at least two so they can socialize.

Information about Rabbits

  • Average Size: 8 to 16 inches 
  • Average Weight: 6 to 11 pounds
  • Coat Colors: White, Grey, Brown, Fawn and Chocolate
  • Grooming Needs: Moderate
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: Cold yes but not with heat
  • Good Pet: Yes
  • Safe with Children: Older children, not younger
  • Good with Other Rabbits: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: With training yes but not with ferrets
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: Yes
  • Training: They are easy to train
  • Exercise Needs: High need
  • Weight Gain: Can become overweight
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have Overgrown Teeth, Gastrointestinal Stasis (GI), Uterine Tumours, Myxomatosis and Hairballs
  • Allergies: Rabbits are allergic to strong scents, dust and fire fumes
  • Average Life Span: 8 to 12 years

Physical Appearance of Rabbits

Rabbits have a stout body with a round back and short tail. They have a soft coat which comes in several different colors. The Rabbits have short front legs with 5 toes on each foot and long hind legs with 4 toes. Their hind legs are strong and muscular that help them to jump and run very fast. Their speed can make them difficult to catch if they get away from you.

They have large eyes that are high on their head. It allows the rabbits to see everything around them. Their only blind spot is the area at the end of their nose! 

Temperament of Rabbits

Rabbits are affectionate, intelligent and social animals. They are quiet and enjoy gentle handling. Rabbits are most active in the early morning and at sunset. They are friendly and need a lot of interaction with their owners or other rabbits. Most Rabbits will bond closely with their owners and will enjoy being cuddled and pet. 

Rabbits are calm but can become destructive if the attention they need is not given to them. Like most animals, when they do not get the mental or physical stimulation that they need they will act out.  For Rabbits this involves chewing on things. Rabbits like to chew a lot and to prevent them from chewing things you don’t want destroyed they should always have lots of chew toys. 

They like to stay active and will enjoy moving around the house. To let them move freely your house has to be made rabbit-proof. To Rabbit-proof the house, cover all the wires, cords or anything else that the Rabbits can potentially chew. If you do not want them to move around the entire house you can put up baby gates to restrict their movement. Rabbit-proofing will prevent damage to your furniture and also ensure the safety of Rabbits.

a gray rabbit outside looking left

Training Rabbits

Rabbits are intelligent and easy to train. Training the Rabbits will need you to be patient and consistent. Avoid yelling or punishing the Rabbits as it can cause them to become afraid of you. It will be more difficult to train an animal if it is feeling stressed or afraid. You can use treats and toys while training them to make it a good experience for them.

The training sessions should be of 10 minutes each and can be done 2 to 3 times a day. They can be trained to follow commands like “sit” and “jump.” To motivate them to do certain behavior you can also use clicker training.

It is also possible to litter-train your Rabbits. To litter-train restrict the Rabbits to a small area and place a litter box there. The sides of the box should be low enough to let the rabbits move in and out easily. Keep some hay or treats in the litter box to encourage the Rabbits to use it. They will gradually start using the litter box. If you keep the Rabbits indoors, there should be more litter boxes than Rabbits. The same rule as with Cats and litter boxes.

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Their Compatibility with Children

Rabbits around young children can be difficult. The bones of Rabbits are delicate and can get broken easily if they are not handled properly. Young children may not understand how to hold them and end up hurting the Rabbits while trying to play with them. Because the Rabbit’s bones are so easily broken it is highly recommended that an adult be with a child during any interactions to make sure that they play nice with the Rabbit.

For the safety of the Rabbits they should not be picked up or carried by children younger than 6 or 7. Most children this age are still fairly small, and with the Rabbit’s tendency to kick or attempt to get away while being picked up, it can easily become hurt if it is dropped.

If you have older children, first train them on how to handle the Rabbits before allowing them to play together. An adult should always be there to supervise their interactions to prevent accidents from happening.

If your children are usually calm, and not very aggressive then owning a Rabbit could be good for your family. If your children are still at the age where they like to grab, hit and pull everything, it might be best to wait on having a Rabbit as a family pet.

How to Handle a Rabbit

Rabbits have a fragile backbone that can fracture if they are not handled properly. It is important to know how to hold them because they can sometimes kick with their hind leg when you are trying to handle them. The Rabbits can squirm out of your grasp and because their bones are not as strong as other animals it could injure them badly if they fall. To prevent this, handle the Rabbits closer to the ground, or over something soft like a couch or mattress when you are first learning how to hold them. Then if they do wiggle free if your grasp at least when they fall it will be onto something soft.

To pick up the Rabbits, put one arm around the Rabbit so that it faces your elbow. This will allow you to support the entire underside of the Rabbits body with just one hand. Your other hand is able to hold the top to keep them in place just in case they do start to squirm. The hand supporting their underside should keep the feet supported as the Rabbits feel much less secure when their feet dangle beneath them.

As mentioned before Rabbits may not enjoy being held, so make sure you are careful and gentle in your approach. Slowly the Rabbit will get used to being handled. The Rabbit will let you know when they do not want to be handled and want to get back into the cage or on the floor.

They should never be held by their stomach or with their ears. It can be very painful for them. When picking them up make sure you hold them properly and not leave their body hanging in the air.  

Best Habitat for Rabbits

Rabbits can be kept in a cage or a bunny pen. The cage should be spacious, easy to clean and allow the rabbits to move in and out of the cage without hassle. The cage should also have enough area to keep a litter box, toys and hiding boxes.

Cage

The size of the cage should be at least 3 to 4 feet long. The cage should have a lot of room for the Rabbits to stretch and stand up without bumping their head on the top of the cage. Rabbits like to stay active and the larger the cage the better it will be for them. You can use a dog kennel as their cage. Avoid wire cages as the wired bottom of the cage can hurt the soft legs of Rabbits. If you want to use a wire cage, make sure you use appropriate bedding to make it safe for them.

You can also house the rabbits in a Bunny Pen or an Exercise Pen. A bunny pen is a larger enclosure that gives Rabbits enough area to jump and run around. The frames of the pen are generally constructed of wire mesh and are easy to set up.

Bedding

The cage should have ample bedding material. You can use newspapers for bedding. The best option is to use shredded paper or cardboard. Both are highly absorbent and dust-free. They are also safe for the Rabbits to chew. Avoid using cedar or wood shavings as they can cause allergic reactions to the Rabbits and chewing them can affect their digestive systems. 

a brown rabbit resting in a cage with other rabbits

Hiding Areas

Rabbits need a resting area inside their cage. They will use it when they feel scared. It will also give them a quiet place to rest during the day or night when they sleep. You can use a cardboard box, straw basket or untreated wicker basket to create a hiding area. If the box is enclosed from all sides, remove the bottom section and create a hole for the Rabbits to move in and out easily. Keep lots of hay inside the hiding area.

Toys

Give your Rabbit plenty of toys like cardboard boxes or plastic chewy toys. Chewing the toys will help them to wear down their teeth. You can also give them wooden chew toys used for birds, straw baskets or toilet paper rolls as toys. These toys will keep them entertained. You can also hide treats inside the toys to encourage them to play and exercise.

Litter Box

A litter box should be kept inside the cage to encourage good bathroom habits. Use a litter box that is big enough for the Rabbits to lie down. If you let them move freely in your home there should be multiple litter boxes in different areas. For litter bedding you can use the newspaper as it is cheap. 

Habitat Maintenance

The cage should be cleaned once every week. You can use a 3% bleach solution to clean the cage. Check and remove any broken toys or habitat materials that may injure the Rabbits while cleaning the cage. Check the hiding areas to see if they are dirty and need cleaning.

Clean their food and water dishes every day. Scoop the litter pan daily and make sure it is clean at all times. Rabbits like to have a clean toilet, so any wet spots or piles should be cleaned daily. Change the litter in their litter box once a week. 

The Attention Requirements of Rabbits

Rabbits like to spend time with their owners but as mentioned before, do not generally like being picked up. They do need a few hours of playtime every day. Rabbits have high exercise needs and should be taken out of the cage for a few hours every day. Moving around the room or house, or playing with the family will help to take care of their physical and mental health. 

To restrict their movement in your home you can use baby gates.  

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Health Issues

Most health issues in Rabbits are due to improper diet and exercise habits. Giving them a fiber-rich diet and keeping their cage clean will help your Rabbits stay healthy. 

Some health issues common in domesticated Rabbits are listed below:

Overgrown Teeth 

The Rabbit’s teeth grow continuously throughout their life. If they do not grind their teeth down, it can lead to the formation of sharp spikes which can damage their tongue and cheeks. In severe cases they will not eat and even have difficulty in closing their mouth. Giving them lots of hay and chew toys should help to prevent this condition. If your Rabbit still develops this condition then take them to a vet to get it treated.

Gastrointestinal Stasis (GI) 

GI is a severe disease that results in the slowdown of the Rabbit’s digestive system. It causes bacteria to build up in the intestine which can lead to bloating. GI can be caused by an improper diet, lack of exercise or stress. Visible signs of this disease are small fecal pellets, loss of appetite or lethargy. If you see any of these symptoms of GI in your Rabbit, take them to a vet immediately. They will diagnose the pet and give them the appropriate treatment. To prevent your Rabbit from having this condition they will need a well-balanced diet that includes lots of hay and exercise them regularly.

Uterine Tumors 

Unspayed female Rabbits tend to have cancer called uterine adenocarcinoma. It is so common that roughly 60% of unspayed female rabbits over age 3 will have this type of cancer. The sad thing is that this cancer is very aggressive and spreads very quickly. By the time it is noticed it is usually too late to save the animal. It seems to be a genetic result of their ability to breed very fast, and this cancer will show up even if the animal has never become pregnant.

Common signs of a Rabbit having this condition are blood in urine, vaginal discharge, and cysts. Treatment involves surgically removing the diseased uterus. To prevent uterine tumors and other uterine diseases in your Rabbits it is recommended to have them spayed between 4 and 6 months of age.

Myxomatosis 

Myxomatosis is caused by a virus named myxoma that affects only rabbits. It spreads by blood-sucking insects like mosquitoes. The disease is serious with a fatality rate of 100%! Symptoms of the disease include –

  • Swollen or weepy eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Runny nose
  • Breathing problems
  • Fever
  • Swollen genitals
  • Ulcers on the face and body

There is a vaccine available for this and it is highly recommended to vaccinate your Rabbit once it reaches 6 weeks of age. The vaccine is not 100%, but often a vaccinated Rabbit catching this disease will only have a mild infection.  To prevent your Rabbits from catching this disease it is important to keep them updated with their vaccines.

Hairballs (trichobezoars)

The Rabbits continuously groom themselves which can result in hairballs forming inside their stomach. It can be caused by a diet that lacks fiber or not giving them enough things to chew, causing them to eat their own or other Rabbit’s coat. Normally the Rabbit will pass the hairball along with their poop but sometimes these can get stuck in their digestive system. The hairball can obstruct the movement of food leading to severe health issues. Medication can help to cure this condition but most times surgery is the only option. 

General Grooming Tips for Rabbits

Rabbits like to keep themselves clean but they still need frequent grooming. They have a coat like cats that need to be cleaned and brushed regularly.

Bathing 

Domesticated Rabbits do not need frequent baths and should be bathed only if they are dirty. Use a rabbit or cat shampoo to bathe them. To bathe them fill a tub with warm water and gently rinse their coat with your hands. Avoid washing their face or ears with water.

After bathing them use a moist cloth to wipe their rear. The fluffy hair on the rear tends to have pieces of feces stuck to it. Wiping it will ensure the rear is clean and prevent some illnesses from occurring.

Brushing

Just like cats and dogs, a Rabbit’s coat also needs regular brushing. Use a pin brush to brush them once every week. It will help to remove the loose hair and mats from their coat. They need to be brushed more frequently when they are shedding. Depending upon the species, the times and amounts they shed can vary.

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Eye Care

The hair around the eyes can get matted which can irritate the Rabbits. To prevent the Rabbits from having irritation in their eyes use a moist cotton ball to wipe the area around their eyes. If you find something stuck or signs of infection in their eyes, take the Rabbits to a vet. Try not to directly touch their eyes as it can hurt them. 

Nail Trimming

Domesticated Rabbits do not wear down their nails and they need to be trimmed every week. It is recommended to use a pet nail clipper to trim their nails. Trim only the white part of the nails and not the pink part that contains blood vessels. Trimming the pink part can hurt them, causing immense pain and even bleeding. To help the Rabbits get used to trimming their nails you can give them treats.

a giant pile of carrots

Feeding Rabbits

Rabbits are herbivores and mostly eat plants and leaves. Their diet should ideally consist of a mixture of hay, green vegetables and fruits. Hay should be the primary source of their diet. Different varieties of hay like alfalfa, grass hay, oat hay or timothy hay can be given to them. Hay is rich in nutrients, minerals and vitamins and should be available in their cage at all times. By having lots of hay around it will help to give them something to chew on which is one of their favorite activities.

Along with hay, adult Rabbits should also be fed leafy green vegetables like lettuce, parsley, collard greens, arugula and dandelion greens. It is important to feed them with a variety of vegetables. Try to give them 3 different types of vegetables every day.

If you want you can also give them pellets but it should only be in limited quantities. Pellets have high calories and overfeeding can result in obesity. For treats it is recommended to give them fruits instead of commercially available Rabbit treats. Commercial treats have high calories and can make them obese. You can give them apples, raspberries, cranberries, carrots, blackberries, mango, pineapple and red bell peppers as treats. 

Avoid feeding them foods that contain high starch and fats like cereals, beans, chocolate, corn and nuts. 

Always keep a bowl of water in their cage. Clean the bowl and replace it with fresh water daily.

Related Questions:

Why do Rabbits have long ears?

The ears of the Rabbit helps them to hear sound from long distances. In the wild it alerts them of predators approaching from far away. Each ear can turn independently by 270 degrees. The ears also help them to stay cool in hot weather. The large surface area of the ears contains blood vessels that aid in thermoregulation.

Should Rabbits be spayed or neutered?

There are two reasons to spay or neuter your Rabbits. First, it will prevent the Rabbits from reproducing. A pair of Rabbits can give birth to many babies that can significantly increase the population of Rabbits in your home. Second, it will help to minimize many behavioral and health issues. Spaying reduces the possibility of the female Rabbits developing uterine, ovarian and mammary cancers.

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