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Caring For Your Pet Rabbit

Rabbit in a meadow

Basic Husbandry

General Information –

Vital Statistics

  • Body Weight: 2 – 20 pounds (depending on breed)

  • Life Span: 8-12 years (depending on breed)

  • Sexual Maturity (*Dwarf breeds mature at a younger age*)

    • Males : 4-7 months of age

    • Females : 4-9 months of age

Behavior and Handling

  • Rabbits should always be held gently with two hands. When picking up a rabbit, always support its hind end because the rabbits powerful rear legs can cause serious spinal injuries if it kicks while being held.

  • When handling your rabbit, try to avoid excessive noise, needless excitement, and over handling.

  • Children handling rabbits should sit on the floor and hold the rabbit in their lap. Children should only hand rabbits under adult supervision.

  • Rabbits do not adapt well to changes in their food or environment. Hair barbering (chewing of the fur) may occur in situations of stress and overcrowding. If this occurs, please contact your veterinarian.

Reproductive Information

  • Rabbits should be spayed or neutered at approximately 4-6 months of age.

  • Neutering helps curb aggressive behavior in males and can deter territorial problems like urine spraying.

  • Spaying is essential to female rabbits. Unspayed females have a higher chance of uterine and/or mammary cancer.


  • Small breed rabbits should be housed in a cage that is a minimum of 2 ft. x 3 ft. Large breed rabbits should be housed in a cage that is a minimum of 3 ft. x 4 ft.

  • The cage bottom should be solid plexiglas, hard plastic, or stainless steel. If the cage bottom has a wire mesh bottom, half should be covered with a solid surface to prevent sores from developing on the bottom of the feet.

  • Litterbox substrate or cage bedding should consist of a paper pulp product (like CareFresh or Yesterday’s News), newspaper, or computer paper. Wood base products such as pine or cedar shavings are not recommended because they may lead to the development of allergies and upper respiratory infections.

  • Your rabbit’s cage should be cleaned completely with warm water and mild soap every few days. You may also use a dilute (1:30) bleach/water solution.

  • Rabbits should be kept in cooler areas of the house with temperatures in the low to mid 70s.

  • Rabbits should be allowed out the cage for supervised play time and daily exercise. This will encourage your rabbit’s interactions with family members. We recommend 2-4 hours of exercise per day.

  • Do not allow your rabbit to chew on household items when it is out of its cage. Safe bunny chew items should be offered, such as cardboard, baskets, wood, bunny specific toys, etc.

Litterbox Training

  • A litterbox should be offered at all times and only paper-pulp products should be used as litter (CareFresh or Yesterday’s News).

  • Clay or clumping cat litter should not be used because they can cause eye, skin, and respiratory problems.

  • Encourage your rabbit to use its litterbox by putting a few fecal pellets in it and the placing the box in the rabbit’s favorite place to eliminate.


  • Timothy hay should be offered as “free choice”. (as much as they can eat). Hay should consist of 75%-80% of the diet.

  • Timothy based pellets such as Oxbow’s Bunny Basics should be offered. Daily pellet portions depends on the rabbit’s weight:

    • 2 – 4 pounds: 1/8 – 1/4 cup daily.

    • 5 – 7 pounds: 1/4 – 1/2 cup daily.

    • 8 – 10 pounds: 1/2 – 3/4 cup daily.

    • 10 – 15 pounds: 3/4 – 1 cup daily.

  • Give low calcium greens such as

    • Red and/or Green left lettuce.

    • Escarole

    • Watercress

    • Clover

    • Swiss Chard

    • Bok Choy

    • Endive

    • Turnip Tops

    • Romaine Lettuce

  • AVOID dark lefty greens such as; kale, parsley, dandelion, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, and broccoli due to their high calcium content.

  • Small pieces of apple, oranges, or carrots may be offered. It should only be given in small quantities and only as treats. They can be given a couple times a week. Avoid giving them daily.

  • Fresh water should be offered at all times in either a sipper bottle or spill proof bowl.

  • Clean food and water dishes every couple of days in the dishwater or soak them in a dilute (1:30) bleach to water solution.

Common Medical Conditions

Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention

Gastrointestinal Stasis (GI Stasis or Hairball)

  • This is a common syndrome in rabbits. Most commonly these rabbits have decrease in appetite or stop eating completely. The stools will become smaller and drier. The rabbit may even stop producing stools all together. Immediate medical attention is necessary to maximize chances for a successful recovery. Without proper treatment, GI Stasis can be fatal.

Malocclusion of Premolar and Molar Teeth

  • This is a very common problem in rabbits. These rabbits may become picky about what they eat, stop eating and may drool or slobber. They may also have drool on their front legs from wiping their mouths. Weight loss is also common. Treatment includes sedation to trim the molars. This can be a reoccurring problem.

Respiratory Infections

  • Symptoms include; sneezing, difficulty breathing, runny nose, runny eyes, and decreased appetite. Treatment usual includes oral antibiotics.

  • One of the most common causes of respiratory infections is called Pasturella. It is a bacterial infection that may also cause abscesses of the head region and chronic infections of the nasal passages, sinuses, lungs, eyes, inner ear, and teeth. Treatment may include surgery and aggressive long-term antibiotic therapy.

Bladder Stones/Sludgy Bladder

  • Older rabbits may show signs of a bladder stone or sludge in the bladder. A stone is a discrete mineralized deposit whereas sludge is a clay-like sediment that can build up in the urinary bladder. High calcium diet may predispose rabbits to these conditions.

  • Common signs include straining to urinate, frequent urination, grunting, abdominal discomfort, or blood in urine. Radiographs (x-rays) and urine analysis are necessary to diagnose these conditions.

Vestibular Disease

  • Vestibular disease refers to a disease process of the middle ear, inner ear, or brain. Some of the common signs include head-tilt, rolling, nystagmus or “type writer eyes”, or loss of balance.

  • Common causes of Vestibular disease are bacterial infections, ear infections, pasturella, protozoal infections, and trauma.

  • If you notice any of these signs in your rabbit, contact your veterinarian immediately. Vestibular disease can be treatable if caught early but can be a reoccurring problem. Treatments may include aggressive, long-term antibiotic therapy and possible deep-ear cleanings.

Common Skin Diseases

  • Cheyletiella (Walking Dandruff) is a mite that causes generalized scaling and crusting of the skin. Treatment may include injections and/or powders that safely eliminate the parasites.

  • Cuterebra is a type of fly that lay their eggs on the skin of outdoor rabbits. The eggs hatch and the larvae burrow under the skin. Cuterebra appears as a lump on the skin. These lumps may develop holes and/or scabs. Treatment consist of surgical removal of the larvae, cleaning out the abscess material associated with it, and starting the rabbit on oral antibiotics.

  • Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin that is transmissible to humans. Symptoms include raised, hairless, red patches that are often covered with a light-to-heavy crust. Treatment consists of the applications of topical antifungal medication and/or oral antifungal medications.


  • Cecotrophs or “night feces” are soft, mucous-covered feces that rabbits consume directly from the anus. Cecotrophs provide essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals. They also replenish a rabbit’s normal bacterial flora.

  • Overweight rabbits often cannot reach their rectum and may develop diarrhea or matting of the cecotrophs to their hindquarters. Cecotrophs are commonly mistaken for diarrhea.

Emergency / Critical Care

All emergencies require veterinary assistance. Use the following guidelines to assist you in caring for your rabbit until you can contact a veterinarian.

Traumatic Injuries

  • Broken Bones

    • Provide your rabbit with soft bedding such as a towel, blanket, or sheepskin.

    • Minimize handling.

    • Keep your rabbit in a warm, dark, and quiet area.

    • Keep your rabbit as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

  • Skin Injuries/Blood loss

    • For any type of injury with blood loss, use direct pressure with a towel or clean gauze to prevent further blood loss. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you are unable to stop the bleeding.

Severe Illnesses and Other Conditions

  • Head Injuries and Head-Tilt

    • Provide your rabbit with soft bedding like a towel, blanket or sheepskin.

    • Minimize handling.

    • Keep your rabbit in a cool, dark, and quiet environment.

    • Keep your rabbit as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or a local animal emergency clinic immediately.

  • Respiratory Distress

    • If your rabbit experiences open-mouth breathing or gasping for air, remove all bedding and minimize handling and stress.

    • Keep your rabbit as calm as possible and contact a veterinarian or a local animal emergency clinic immediately.

  • Heat Stress

    • Temperatures over 85°F and/or high humidity are uncomfortable to rabbits and will cause your rabbit to over-heat. It is better for your rabbit that it be kept indoors all year round.

    • Common signs of heat stress include extreme lethargy, dehydration, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing.

    • Remove your rabbit from heat immediately.

    • Offer cool water or cool pedialyte to rehydrate.

    • Keep your rabbit in a cool, dark, environment.

    • Limit handling.

    • Heat stress is a serious and potentially fatal condition for rabbits. Seek veterinary attention immediately.

Health Recommendations

Things for your veterinarian to do:

Annual Physical

  • Always have an initial physical exam performed on any newly acquired rabbits. During the exam the doctor will check the teeth, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and abdomen. The doctor will also check the hair and skin for external parasites.

  • You should also have your rabbit’s fecal sample checked for internal parasites.

  • Your rabbit should have an annual physical done by a veterinarian every year. We also recommend a geriatric exam every 6 months for rabbits over the age of 5.


  • Your rabbit should have its bloodwork check yearly to help detect early signs of disease. When caught early enough, many diseases are treatable.


  • Normal rabbit urine contains a lot of sediment (mainly calcium), varying in color from white to light brown.

  • A rabbit under certain physiological conditions, such as stress, may produce urine that is orange or red-tinged and is often mistaken for blood.

  • If blood is suspected your veterinarian can perform a urinalysis to determine whether it is blood or stress.

Things for you to do:

Hairball prevention

  • Give 1-3 cc’s of laxatone, petromalt, or other cat hairball preventative 2-3 times a week.

  • Brush, comb, or use a lint roller on your rabbit to remove any loose hair.

  • A high fiber diet that includes timothy hay is that most important part of a hairball prevention.

Overgrown Nails

  • Rabbits should have their nails trimmed on a regular basis. If the nails get too long, they can become caught on the cage or toys and break off causing pain and bleeding.

  • If any of the nails break off and begin to bleed, apply styptic powder, household flour, or corn starch to encourage clotting, and apply direct pressure to the nail. If you cannot stop the bleeding, contain a veterinarian.

  • Nail trims are also recommended to prevent the nails from overgrowing and cutting into the feet.

Over-the-Counter Medication

  • Over-the-counter topical triple antibiotic ointments or any other type of over-the-counter medications are not recommended without first consulting your veterinarian. Productions such as triple antibiotic ointment (for the use of minor skin injuries) can cause digestive problems if ingested and can potentially become toxic over time.