Rabbit Care Guide
Rabbits need a safe indoor environment. Even though rabbits were traditionally kept in outdoor hutches this is not safe due to predators, parasites, and extreme weather conditions. Predators can break into and attack or kill pet rabbits who are not able to run away. (Even if the predator is not able to break in, rabbits can get so scared from the ordeal that they go into cardiac arrest.) Scary smells and sounds can cause chronic anxiety. Parasites such as ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, flies, and other insects can spread diseases. Hot temperatures can be deadly. In the wild, rabbits would have their cool underground burrows to hide in. When stuck in a hutch rabbits can develop heatstroke.
Whenever possible we strive to adopt rabbits into homes where they will be able to free-roam. Free-roam means the rabbit will spend little to no time locked in a habitat. Instead, they would be free to explore the home or a specific bunny-proofed room and return to their habitat as they see fit.
Even if your rabbit will be free-roaming they should have a minimum of 4×4 ft or 3×5 ft area (16 sq ft) habitat that will be their home base. Some examples of approved habitats include the ones below:
Suggestions (these are some options but any pens that fit the size requirements will be approved): Pet Playpen, Foldable Playpen, DIY Cubes (need at least 32), DIY Connectable Grids, Exercise Pen, Playpen, Exercise Pen.
Just like with a baby or puppy before you introduce your bunny to its new home you will need bunny proof your home. Try to get down to their level by getting on your hands and knees to look around the areas and rooms they will be roaming; but also consider that a determined rabbit can jump as high as 4 feet so check tabletops and bookshelves for hazards as well. There are 3 things you will need to consider: that there is nothing in their environment that can hurt them, that there is nothing valuable that they can hurt or damage, and lastly that they have a healthy outlet for their natural instincts.
Trying to get a rabbit to not chew or dig is like asking them to not be rabbits. Chewing is how rabbits grind their teeth; which continue to grow throughout their entire lives and can cause serious medical concerns if they overgrow. Providing lots of chew toys will keep their teeth healthy and provide an outlet that would reduce the chances they are destructive.
To a rabbit, cables and cords look a lot like tree roots. In nature roots are a hazard to their burrows; if left to overgrow they could block their tunnels. If possible remove cords from areas or rooms that the rabbit will have access to, raise cords that cannot be removed, or block areas with a lot of cords so that they cannot get to them. Another option is getting a cord concealer or loom tubing to cover cables and possibly metal charging cables.
To prevent baseboards and wood furniture from becoming a tasty treat you can create an invisible barrier using clear packing tape (most rabbits do not like how the tape feels), apply a no chew spray (this will need to be applied frequently to prevent/break the habit), or create a physical barrier using the cubes/grids we recommended for housing. Like with cables, if possible remove wooden furniture from any areas or rooms the rabbit will have access to. A plastic carpet runner placed spike side up is a safe way to deter your rabbit from getting under furniture.
Many houseplants might be toxic to rabbits if ingested and should be moved to a higher location they cannot reach.
WARNING: AIR FRESHENERS AND DIFFUSERS:
These are TOXIC to rabbits. Air fresheners can cause everything from neurological symptoms to poisoning, paralysis, and death. Please do not have any air fresheners or diffusers in the room that your rabbit is in!
WARNING: HOUSE PLANTS:
Most houseplants are TOXIC to rabbits. It’s surprisingly common for us to see rabbits that ate their owner’s house plant while free roaming and then got very sick, developed toxicity, and either needed to be hospitalized or passed away. Poinsettias are toxic to most animals but most house plants are toxic to rabbits. Please make sure there are none at floor level that your rabbit can get to!
Yes, rabbits CAN be litterbox trained, it just takes time and patience (I bet you didn’t learn to use the toilet in a day either). Rabbits that are fixed have an easier time picking it up because their urges for territorial marking are reduced. You will want to place the litter box in a corner on a hard (uncarpeted surface) as even a fully housebroken bunny can have accidents from time to time. If your rabbit consistently uses an area outside of their litter box, move the litter box to that area; they are telling you where they would like it! Inside the litter box place a thin layer of litter and spread hay on top, rabbits like to eat hay while doing their business. You can place a pee pad underneath the litter but make sure it is completely covered as ingesting the plastic can be harmful. If you notice a rabbit digs in their litter box and exposes / chews on the pee pad, you can use non-glossy newspaper instead.
Ideally you are looking for a litterbox that is large enough for your rabbit to lie down in. Corner pans usually do not work for rabbits because it’s such a small space. You also want one with a lower entry point as rabbits aren’t going to jump two feet just to get in their litterbox. A simple cat pan is generally ideal and a few of them are linked below. It’s also worth noting that litterboxes with grating or wire on the bottom are not safe for rabbits. These cause sore hocks which is a painful inflammatory condition that will result in years of vet bills and maintenance for you and a lot of pain and suffering for your rabbit. Please use a standard litterbox instead!
Suggested litterboxes: SoPhresh, Target, SoPhresh High Back, Exquisicat, Van Ness, Arm and Hammer, Nature’s Miracle High-Sided
Do not use crystal or clumping litters as these are toxic to rabbits. The litter should be unscented; we recommend Fresh News, Yesterday’s News, So Phresh, Carefresh, or an equivalent.
Recommended toys for rabbits include willow toys, hay toys, key ring, stacking cups, and many others! You can also use more stimulating toys such as snuffle mats, foraging toys, snack boards, carrot game, treat balls, snack balls. You can also try mazes, houses, tunnels, castles, and cardboard houses.
It is important to stay away from toys that contain paint as ingesting the paint can be harmful to rabbits. You should also stay away from anything that contains seeds as they are a serious choking hazard for rabbits.
80% of their diet should consist of hay. Your rabbit should have access to unlimited fresh high-quality hay. Soiled hay should be removed daily. Adult rabbits (over 6 months old) should be fed Oxbow Western Timothy Hay. This hay is the most nutritious; it is what they are fed now and the one we recommend they continue. Oxbow also offers a variety of hays (oat, botanical, orchard) if you would like to offer diverse flavors/textures in addition to western timothy hay. Juvenile rabbits (under 6 months) old should be fed Oxbow Alfalfa Hay. Hay can be purchased from Chewy, Amazon, Small Pet Select, Rabbit Hole Hay, or any pet store.
10% of their diet should consist of green leafy vegetables. Rabbits can start to have small amounts of vegetables introduced into their diet at 3 months old. Vegetables should be introduced gradually, one per week, so that you can monitor for an adverse reaction or sensitivity. If any vegetable seems to cause digestive problems do not feed it in the future. Organic vegetables (no pesticides) are recommended whenever possible. Adult rabbits can have about 1 cup (a small handful) of leafy greens and 1 tablespoon of non-leafy green vegetables per day, however, if their poops become small, dark, or smelly this amount should be reduced to every other day or 3x per week. (Read this helpful: guide to bunny poop)
Research each vegetable before feeding it to your rabbit as some should be offered sparingly and might lead to toxicity or gas / bloating if overfed but here is a short list of some greens and vegetables that are bunny-approved: alfalfa, cilantro, clover sprouts, basil, beet greens (tops), bok choy, carrot tops, celery, cilantro, collard greens, dandelion greens, endive, escarole, kale, mint, mustard greens, parsley, peppers, romaine lettuce (no iceberg or light-colored leaf lettuce), spinach, spring mix, watercress.
Do not allow your rabbit to eat: MEAT, animal products (eggs/dairy), chocolate, nuts/peanut butter, avocado, chard/silverbeet, iceberg lettuce, rhubarb, onions, garlic, chives, shallots, potato tops/leaves, tomatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, parsnips, raisins, fruit pits/seeds, muesli, cereal, oatmeal, rice (cooked and uncooked), bread, cookies, crackers, cat/dog/hamster/guinea pig food. If your rabbit has eaten one of the mentioned foods, you should speak to your vet immediately. Some of these foods can cause death in a matter of hours. (Read this for signs your rabbit’s life is in danger)
5% of their diet should consist of fortified food/pellets. Adult rabbits should be fed ¼ cup and juvenile rabbits ½ cup of pellets per 6lbs of body weight daily. Oxbow Essentials Rabbit Food, Oxbow Garden Select, and Mazuri Naturally Compete are the foods we feed and recommend as they have the best nutritional composition to meet your rabbit’s dietary needs.
Rabbits should never be fed pellets that have artificial coloring, seeds, nuts, or grains mixed in (like Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro, Kaytee Fiesta, Vitakraft Vitamin Fortified, Wild Harvest Advanced Nutrition) as they are not able to digest these and it can lead to serious health complications (GI stasis, malnutrition, dental problems) and death.
5% of their diet can consist of treats. Max ½ oz (about 1 tablespoon) per 6lbs of body weight daily. Carrots and fruits are considered treats and should be fed sparingly. Watery fruits such as melons should be fed sparingly as they will cause diarrhea. FAVOR biscuit type treats which are made of hay, such as Oxbow Baked Treats, Oxbow Dried Fruit Treats, Oxbow Organic Barley Biscuits, Oxbow Natural Science Supplements (there are many options, digestive support will help reduce gas / bloating and your rabbit will love them!), Selective Naturals Loops and Selective Naturals Sticks. AVOID treats with artificial coloring (like Kaytee Healthy Toppings, just because it has “healthy” in the name doesn’t mean it is!), nuts/seeds/grains (like Kaytee Healthy Bits, Vitakraft Rabbit Sticks), and sugar/dairy (like Vitakraft Rabbit Drops).
Fresh water should always be available. Rabbits drink as much, if not more, water than a dog, and because of their high fiber diet if they do not get enough water they can develop GI stasis. Water in the dish or water bottle should be replaced daily. The water dish/bottle should be sanitized with a mild dish detergent and rinse thoroughly weekly.
HANDLING YOUR RABBIT:
Rabbits are prey animals; in nature being picked up means a predator has caught them and their natural instinct to get away might be triggered. If you try to pick your rabbit up too soon or too often they might associate you with that fear and start to run away whenever you approach.
Instead, they will much prefer it if you get down on their level. Try laying down on the floor and let your rabbit approach you first. Be patient, this will take some time. Once your rabbit realizes that you are not a threat (and have yummy treats) they will come running to you for attention and affection (and said treats). When your rabbit is comfortable with your presence and being pet you can slowly start picking them up for short periods. *If your rabbit has a history of abuse or neglect, it may take a longer time for them to feel comfortable and safe being picked up. If that is the case, respect their autonomy and continue to interact with them on the floor unless they are in danger.*
To pick them up safely, place one hand gently but firmly on your rabbit’s upper back to secure them as you slide your other hand under their chest (you can position your thumb on one side of their chest, your index finger between their front legs, and the remaining 3 fingers on the other side). As you begin to lift them, slide the hand that was on their upper back down to their bottom. Rabbits are very fragile and have relatively weak spines. If their bottom is not supported the rabbit could kick so hard they throw out their back. Once you have picked them up, hold them close to your body; this will help them feel secure. Wrap your arms around your rabbit to prevent them from struggling and possibly jumping/falling from an unsafe height.
Children should always be supervised when playing with or around a rabbit and should only handle or hold the rabbit when sitting.
BATHS / GROOMING / NAIL TRIMS:
Rabbits should not be bathed as this can cause serious health issues. They can develop hypothermia because their fur retains moisture and it takes a long time for them to dry off, they can even go into shock or cardiac arrest due to fear. If rabbits live in a clean environment and are not overweight, they do an excellent job of bathing themselves every day and don’t need assistance. If your rabbit does get dirty you should spot clean them, use dry shampoo, or on rare occasions give them a butt bath. *If they are not properly cleaning their bottoms this might be a sign that something is wrong and you should consult with a vet.
You can use a pet brush to gently (rabbits have very thin sensitive skin) groom your rabbit’s fur every 3-7 days. Long-haired breeds may require more frequent grooming while shorter hair breeds can be done less often.
Since house rabbits are not able to dig and wear down their nails naturally, their nails will invariably grow too long. You should trim your rabbit’s nails every 4-8 weeks. You will need clippers and kwik stop in case you trim too closely and they begin to bleed (you can also use cornstarch or flour if you do not have kwik stop on hand).
First, you will need to examine the nail to locate the vein inside. This vein is called the “quick”; cutting it will cause your rabbit to bleed and experience some pain. (Some rabbits’ nails are dark and you may need to use a flashlight to see the quick.) Your rabbit might become startled by the sound of clipping and may begin to resist even if you do not hurt them. By trimming their nails regularly they will get used to it.
RECOMMENDED EXOTIC ANIMAL VETS:
**Please note that we cannot personally vouch for most of these vets, this is just a compiled list of vets within each area that state they see exotics.**
Miami Dade County:
Avian and Exotic Animal Medical Consulting – Miami
Paws and Claws Medical Center – Miami
South Kendall Animal Hospital – Kendall
Welleby Veterinary Hospital – Sunrise
Oakland Park Animal Hospital – Oakland Park
Animal Hospital of Hallandale – Hallandale Beach
Animal House Veterinary Hospital – Pembroke Pines
Dr. Ferber’s Animal Hospital – Pembroke Pines
Parkland Veterinary Hospital – Parkland
Coral Springs Animal Hospital – Coral Springs
Broward Avian and Exotic – Deerfield Beach
Palm Beach County:
The Bird and Exotic Vet – Greenacres
PGA Animal Clinic – North Palm Beach
ABCDE Animal Clinic – Palm Beach Gardens
Lantana-Atlantis Animal Hospital – Lake Worth
All Creatures Animal Hospital – Stuart
Avian & Exotic Clinic of Palm City – Palm City
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV):
RHDV is a hemorrhagic disease that is spreading among rabbits in the United States. It began on the west coast but has since spread to Florida and many of the other states. This disease is fatal when contracted as there is no cure. RHDV particles can be picked up simply by walking in the yard or driving across a street that something infected has walked across. This is a very serious and scary disease and hundreds of thousands of rabbits have died from it. Keeping your rabbits strictly indoors is a way to significantly reduce the risk of contraction but it does not completely eliminate it. RHDV is rabbit specific and cannot spread to dogs, cats, other animals, or humans. It can survive on the ground without a host for long periods of time and it can also live in freezing and very hot temperatures.
The good news is that Florida now has vaccines for RHDV and we can do our best to keep our rabbits safe and out of harm’s way by vaccinating them! Most of the vaccines are good for one year so they are an annual vaccine for rabbit owners to put on the calendar. Most of our rabbits are already vaccinated at the time of adoption and you will receive their vaccine certificate once you adopt them. Once their vaccine is no longer good, you will have to get them their next vaccine dose. If you own a rabbit that is not currently vaccinated, the following veterinary practices are currently offering the vaccine:
- Broward Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital, Deerfield Beach
- The Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital, Greenacres
- Medlin Exotic Animal Medical Services, Fort Myers
- Exotic Animal Hospital of Orlando, Orlando