Adding a Pet Rabbit to Your Home
Domestic rabbits make great companion pets much like a dog or a cat. They are intelligent pets and will show you as much affection as you give them. It is time the world looks at them like our beloved dogs and cats rather than a caged animal. Small cages do not provide enough room and lead to spine issues because of the inability to hop and stretch. Rabbits kept in small cages become depressed, and the lack of exercise leads to health problems such as obesity and muscle weakness.
Do not get upset if your new rabbit regresses when brought home. Your rabbit needs time and space to get used to the new surroundings and people and can sense your emotions. There are new smells, sounds, and everything around your rabbit has changed.
Remember, rabbits are prey animals so your rabbit is very scared and needs time to learn to trust you. Do not bombard your new rabbit and expect immediate companionship. Provide a space to hide and honor that as your rabbit’s safe space where he/she will not be bothered.
Your rabbit may not use a litter box well in the new surroundings and/or may mark spots. Give your new rabbit time to adjust. Keep picking up the poop to put into the litter box and put food and hay in/above it to encourage use. Rabbits like to pick spots to pee. Try moving the litter box to that spot. If you have another rabbit in the home, you may continue to see some difficulty with 100% litter box use while not bonded.
If you have another rabbit, absolutely do not try bonding quickly. Bonding takes time and patience. Do NOT attempt to bond rabbits that have not been sterilized. Their hormones will cause problems. They should be 8 weeks post neuter/spay for hormones to normalize after sterilization. One big fight can prevent a bond from ever forming. There will need to be neutral areas and spaces your previous rabbit has touched deep cleaned to rid of his/her scent. Please reach out to me or bonding-specific groups for assistance with bonding. When done wrong it can lead to severe injuries/death and traumatization of your rabbits. They will not forget it.
Some rabbits settle in quickly while others can take months or even years.
IT IS NEVER THE RABBIT’S FAULT!
If you see aggression or warning signs, respect your rabbit. There is a reason (medical or situational). I have seen the most fun-loving, goofball turn into a traumatized rabbit. I have also seen extremely aggressive rabbits that I have scars from become loving and snuggle.
1. Understand Rabbit Diet. Many die frequently and quickly from GI Stasis caused by improper diets.
2. Set up a Safe Area & Gather Supplies
3. Make an Appointment with a Rabbit-Savvy Vet. This is very important to be done ASAP to establish vet care with you and at least annually. *Rabbits require specialized care.
· GET RHDV-2 VACCINE! This deadly virus has made its way to WI. The only way to protect your rabbit is with the vaccine series.
· How to Tell if Your Rabbit is Sick: Click here.
Read! Read! Read! And ask Questions!
Housing & Exercise
Many house rabbit owners do use an exercise pen for safety when their rabbit is home alone. Minimally, the rabbit should be able to stretch out, stand upright without touching the top, and hop at least 5 times without touching the wall.
We recommend exercise pens (X-pens) at least 30” tall. Provide a non-slip, solid bottom. Crates cause injuries to the feet and toes.
Rabbits are most active in the morning and evening and sleep during the day and at night. Provide 3-6 hours of exercise, stretch, and playtime daily outside their cage.
*Never let your rabbit go outdoors due to many dangers (predators, parasites, RHDV-2, etc.).*
Rabbits love to chew and dig. Please provide various safe toys and a hidey house or tunnel to keep your bun from getting bored. A bored rabbit becomes destructive! Rabbits love to play with cardboard boxes. Please remove tape. You can give empty toilet paper/paper towel rolls as toys. Rabbits also like to play with baby toys, cars and trucks, Legos, and anything they can toss around.
Dig boxes, treat dispensers for pellets, and puzzles make great enrichment activities.
Please make sure to remove any toy your rabbit may take bites out of. Swallowing plastic will be a medical emergency.
This is a list of recommended supplies for a happy rabbit. See below for more ideas.
- Exercise pen
- Potty-box *no crates
- Hay bag
- Water bowl
- Supply of hay
- Supply of food pellets (no seeds/colored additives)
- Supply of potty pellets
- Assorted toys
- Hidey tunnel
Very important! Many rabbits die regularly due to GI stasis caused by improper diets.
Absolutely NO chocolate (poisonous!), cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, yogurt drops or other “human treats.”
Grass hay makes up 80% of a rabbit’s diet and must be available in unlimited quantities at all times. Hay is essential to good health. Hay stimulates the rabbit’s GI tract to work correctly and helps prevent dental issues and blockages. Grass hay is rich in Vitamin A and D, calcium, protein, and other nutrients.
IMPORTANT: Before introducing any fresh foods, it is best if your rabbit has been eating grass hay for a minimum of 2 weeks. The grass hay will help to get your rabbit’s GI tract motility and flora in good working order so that he/she will be able to accept new foods more easily.
Provide a variety of fresh, grass hay twice daily as it provides natural foraging to find the best pieces. Varying the type of grass hay or mixing hays is a great idea (e.g., timothy, orchard, oat hay, brome, etc.). Alfalfa is not grass, but rather a legume (in the pea and bean family).
Store hay in dry, temperature-controlled climates out of plastic to prevent mold.
Fresh water must be supplied daily. Please make sure water is always available in a heavy crock/bowl (NO bottles) to encourage drinking. Change water daily. Water is necessary to flush excess calcium from the kidneys and bladder, and it is essential for healthy function of the gut and its bacteria.
Pellets should be fresh and should be high in fiber (>18% fiber), and low in protein (<14%), calcium (<0.9%) and fat (<2%). Pellets should make up less of a rabbit’s diet as he or she grows older; amounts are based on weight and age. Alfalfa pellets are fine for younger rabbits, but timothy pellets are preferred for older rabbits to prevent kidney stones from too much calcium. See amounts below.
Rabbits under 6 months old are still growing and should be fed unlimited hay and pellets and some vegetables. For adult rabbits, pellets should always be rationed because overfeeding can cause serious health problems. Smaller rabbits have a faster metabolism and less efficient digestion than do large rabbits; they may need to be fed more per pound than would a large rabbit. Angoras need more pellets per pound because of their fur; mini-rex rabbits have a tendency to plumpness and may need to be fed less.
The following guidelines are suggested:
§ 2-4 lb body weight: ¼ cup daily
§ 4-7 lb body weight: ½ cup daily
§ 7-10 lb body weight: ½ – ¾ cup daily
§ 11-15 lb body weight: ¾ -1 cup daily
For some rabbits, pellets can cause digestive upset. For others, too much calcium can cause urinary stone formation for some. When you feed a lower quantity (or no) of pellets, you must replace the nutritional value without the calories, which is done by increasing the vegetables. It is important to discuss the pros and cons of reducing or eliminating pellets from a rabbit’s diet with your rabbit savvy veterinarian.
Feed 1 cup of fresh, washed leafy green vegetables for each 2-4 lbs. of body weight. Select at least three types of vegetables daily to offer variety. Fresh vegetables provide nutrients and moisture in the diet, which is good for kidney and bladder function.
IMPORTANT: When introducing new fresh foods to any rabbit’s diet, it is best to go slowly to allow the GI tract and all its important microorganisms time to adjust. Introduce one new food every three days and keep a watch on the stools. Eliminate from the diet if it causes soft stools or diarrhea.
Iceberg lettuce is mostly water and can cause diarrhea; carrots are sugar-rich and may cause intestinal problems in some rabbits. Brassicas (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, mustard greens) may cause gas and soft, smelly poops. Provide them in limited amounts.
Leafy Green Vegetables for Rabbits (75% of fresh portion of your rabbit’s diet)
Basil (any variety)
Beet greens (tops)
Dandelion greens (no pesticides)
Fennel (leafy tops & base)
Green lettuce (not Iceberg)
Mint (any variety)
*There is current dispute in the scientific community regarding the levels of oxalates and goitrogens in kale. Some feed it daily without issues while others have found that kale fed in large amounts on a daily basis may contribute to bladder sludge and other health issues.
Rotate Weekly Due to Higher Oxalic Acid Content (1 out of 3 varieties of greens a day)
Sprouts (from 1 to 6 days after sprouting, sprouts have higher levels of alkaloids)
Safe in Moderation (About 1 tablespoon per 2 lbs of body weight per day)
Broccoli (leaves & stems)
Carrots (high in sugar)
Cabbage (any type)
Celery (cut into small pieces)
Pea pods (the flat edible kind)
Edible flowers (chamomile, dandelion, hibiscus, nasturtiums, pansies, rosehips, violets without seeds)
***Grown without chemical sprays/pesticides or bought dried from a reliable vendor***
Limit fruits to 1 teaspoon per 2 lbs. of body weight per day (or 1-2 tablespoons per 5 lbs. of body weight per day) from the list below of high fiber fruits. Cut out fruit if dieting.
Sugary fruits such as bananas and grapes should be used only sparingly, as occasional treats. Bunnies love sweets and will devour them, so be careful. Too much sugar slows the GI tract and leads to GI stasis.
- Apple (without steam & seeds)
- (remove peel; no more than about 2 1/8 inch slices a day for a 5 lb rabbit…they LOVE this!)
- Berries (any type)
- Cherries (without pits)
- Orange (including peel)
- Pineapple (remove skin)
- Plum (without pit)
- Star Fruit
Many pet stores sell treats disguised as “healthy” choices; most of these are fat- and sugar-rich and are not healthy at all. Any treat that lists flour or sugar as a main ingredient or corn in it is a NO. The best treats are inexpensive, unprocessed ones: A small apple slice, a slice of banana, 2-3 raisins, a dried and unsweetened cherry or strawberry, a pinch of whole oats, a dish of cooled herbal tea, a small piece of carrot, or spoonful of fresh apple cider. Treats are a fun way to bond with your rabbit, a good way to monitor appetite, and serve as a nice reward when medicine has to be given.
Vitamins, Salt or Mineral Block, Rabbit Supplements and “Enhancers”
These are unnecessary if the rabbit is receiving a balanced diet of hay, green-leafy vegetables, and a good quality pellet food fed in limited amounts.
DIET BROKEN DOWN BY AGE:
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED BABIES AND “TEENAGERS”?
- Birth to 3 weeks–mother’s milk
- 3 to 4 weeks–mother’s milk, nibbles of alfalfa and pellets
- 4 to 7 weeks–mother’s milk, access to alfalfa and pellets
- 7 weeks to 7 months–unlimited pellets, unlimited hay (plus see 12 weeks below)
- 12 weeks–introduce vegetables (one at a time, quantities under 1/2 oz.)
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED YOUNG ADULTS? (7 MONTHS TO 1 YEAR)
- introduce timothy hay, grass hay, oat hay, and other hays; decrease alfalfa
- decrease pellets to 1/2 cup per 6 lbs. body weight
- increase daily vegetables gradually; make sure your rabbit can tolerate
- fruit daily ration no more than 1 oz. to 2 oz. per 6 lbs. body weight (because of calories)
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED MATURE ADULTS? (1 TO 5 YEARS)
- Unlimited timothy, grass hay, oat hay
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup pellets per 6 lbs. body weight (depending on metabolism and/or proportionate to veggies)
- Minimum 2 cups chopped vegetables per 6 lbs. body weight; always introduce vegetables and greens slowly to make sure your rabbit can tolerate
- fruit daily ration no more than 2 oz. (2 Tbs) per 6 lbs. body weight.
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED SENIOR RABBITS? (OVER 6 YEARS)
- If sufficient weight is maintained, continue adult diet
- Frail, older rabbits may need unrestricted pellets to keep weight up. Alfalfa can be given to underweight rabbits, only if calcium levels are normal. Annual blood workups are highly recommended for geriatric rabbits.
Detailed Supply List:
*Avoid Kaytee brand*
If your rabbit is <1 year old, diet may be different from below.
· Xpen (or similar at least 36” tall for most): https://amzn.to/3gzAbaY
Hide cords, cover outlets, and bunny proof your home for safe free roaming and exercise time (at least a few hours a day)
· Litter Box (no grates) that Your Bun Fits Well in With Space to Move & Litter:
( https://amzn.to/3W4Re57 ) Sizing and details found in the following story:
· Heavy Bowl/Crock for water (NO bottles) because rabbits drink a lot of water:
· Small bowl for limited daily pellets or enrichment activities for pellets (see above)
· Quality Pellets: Timothy based rabbit pellets (Oxbow/Purina) *avoid anything with seeds/colored pieces/additives and read ingredients* (Alfalfa Pellets ≤1 year old)
- Quality Timothy hay and a plan to store out of plastic and inside to prevent mold (Oxbow, Small Pet Select). Hay is essential for proper health and prevention of dental issues and will make up 80% of your rabbit’s diet. (https://amzn.to/3f5wdGW)
- Brushes that are safe for delicate skin. Your rabbit will molt! Regular brushing is needed to prevent a blockage from too much ingestion of hair (https://amzn.to/3Fk8GNc and https://amzn.to/3SEMqjR *plastic tips*) *Careful*
· Vegetables *careful, must understand which are safe:
· Hidey hut/Tunnels to feel safe in (boxes work great!)
· Enrichment Activities/Toys to provide Stimulation & Exercise. Rabbits naturally like to dig and forage! We love to feed daily pellet rations in toys/dig boxes.
- Pellet Dispenser: https://amzn.to/3FfJhEc
- Cardboard Scratchers/Chewers: https://amzn.to/3DBlMnY *No catnip
- Natural Apple Sticks: https://amzn.to/3gE4gGp (≤1 per week)
- Natural/Safe Balls to Chew: https://amzn.to/3svB9HV
- Puzzles: https://amzn.to/3FnfJ7B
- Timothy Hay Mats: https://amzn.to/3TFUjH1
- Play Mats/Walls: https://amzn.to/3W2q3rE
- Edible Tunnel: https://amzn.to/3W4kKrH
- Other Tunnels: https://amzn.to/3ziVtQO , https://amzn.to/3zFJnBB , https://amzn.to/3TUxuiI *Take away if Ingesting*
- Foraging Mats: https://amzn.to/3FexPst *Supervise to Avoid Ingestion*
- Stacking Cups & Treat Balls: https://amzn.to/3W3HB6E
- Toy Keys: https://amzn.to/3FhHrTe