Responsibility involves providing proper
housing, nutrition, grooming and veterinary care
Domestic rabbits are delightful companion
animals. They are inquisitive, intelligent,
sociable and affectionate, and well-cared-for
indoor rabbits can live for seven to 10+ years.
Adopting a rabbit, therefore, is a long term
Rabbits and Children
Our culture is so filled with images of children
and rabbits together (the Easter Bunny, Peter
Rabbit, etc.) that many parents see rabbits as
low-maintenance starter pets for kids. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Rabbits are
physically delicate and fragile, and require
specialized veterinary care. Children are
naturally energetic and loving. But “loving” to a
small child means holding, cuddling, or carrying
an animal around precisely the things that
frighten most rabbits. Rabbits can’t cry out when
distressed. Instead they may start to scratch or
bite to protect themselves from well-meaning
children. Thousands are abandoned to animal
shelters for this reason. Many rabbits are also
dropped accidentally by children, resulting in
broken legs and backs. While rabbits may be
appropriate family companions, an adult should be
the primary caretaker.
Housing and Exercise
Many people think that rabbits don’t
require much room for housing or exercise. Not so!
Rabbits have powerful hind legs designed for
running and jumping. They need plenty of
out-of-cage exercise time, as well as a cage that
allows them to move freely. The minimum
recommended cage space for a single rabbit is 2’ x
2’ x 4’. Although wire-bottom cages are common,
they can ulcerate a rabbit’s feet. If you have a
wire cage, cover the bottom with a piece of wood
or corrugated cardboard. Better yet, buy a cage
with a floor. Your rabbit needs a safe exercise
area with ample room to run and jump, either
indoors or out. Any outdoor area should be fully
enclosed by a fence. Never leave a rabbit
unsupervised outdoors even for a few minutes!
Cats, dogs and even predatory birds can easily get
around fencing material. Also, rabbits can dig
under fences and get lost. You can rabbit-proof an
indoor area by covering all electrical wires and
anything else your rabbit is likely to chew.
Recommended exercise time for indoor rabbits is
several hours per day.
The most important component of your
rabbit’s diet is grass hay (such as Timothy or
Brome), which keeps the intestinal tract
healthy; feed it free-choice, daily.
In addition to hay, rabbits are also fed
commercial rabbit pellets and fresh, darkgreen
leafy vegetables. Until they are fully grown
(around 6 months), rabbits can have all the
pellets they want. After that, assuming the
animal is also getting hay and vegetables,
pellets should be limited to 1/8 to 1/4 cup per
day per 5 lbs. body weight. Pellets should be
fresh and plain, without seeds, nuts or colored
Fresh water (bottle or bowl) should always
Rabbits are very clean by nature, and will do
their best to keep their living quarters clean.
Most rabbits will choose one corner of the cage as
their bathroom. As soon as your rabbit’s choice is
clear, put a newspaper- lined litter box in that
corner; fill it with Timothy hay (or any other
grass hay not alfalfa). Pelleted-newspaper litters
are also acceptable. If the litter box is changed
daily, your rabbit’s home will stay fresh and
odor-free. Don’t use pine or cedar shavings! The
fumes may affect your rabbit’s liver enzymes,
which can cause problems if the animal needs
anesthesia for surgery. Avoid using clay cat
litters (both clumping and non-clumping); these
may result in respiratory or gastrointestinal
Indoors or Outdoors?
Many people think an outdoor hutch is the
best way to keep a domestic rabbit. Rabbits,
however, are highly social animals, and a backyard
hutch forces them to live in unnatural isolation.
Furthermore, rabbits can die of heart attacks from
the very approach of a predator or vandal.
Domestic rabbits do best indoors where they have
plenty of interaction with family members.
Handling and General Care
Pick up your rabbit by supporting his
forequarters with one hand and his hindquarters
with the other—failure to do so can result in
spinal injuries to the rabbit. Never pick up a
rabbit by his ears; this can cause very serious
Brush your rabbit regularly with a soft
brush to remove excess hair and keep his coat in
good condition. Ask your veterinarian how to
clip your rabbit’s nails.
Rabbits should be spayed or neutered by a
veterinarian experienced with rabbit surgeries.
Spaying or neutering prevents breeding, spraying
(males) and uterine cancer (females). To find a
qualified rabbit veterinarian, search the House
Rabbit Society web page at
Rabbits should not be housed with other
rabbits unless all are spayed/neutered and they
are introduced in neutral territory under
careful supervision. Introductions are often
difficult and injuries can result.
If your rabbit stops eating or moving his
bowels for 12 hours or longer or has watery
diarrhea, seek expert veterinary care
Written for the ASPCA by Mary E. Cotter,
Ed.D., Licensed Educator, House Rabbit Society
Article courtesy: The American
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Printed with permission.
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