Care of Pet Rabbits

General Facts

Rabbits can be social animals, and make good pets that interact with family members. They also can do well in small groups of 4 to 8 rabbits. Some rabbits will bond and seem inseparable from each other. Neutering rabbits that are kept together is necessary to prevent fighting and pregnancies. It is not always possible to predict which rabbits will get along well versus attacking each other; they have distinct personalities and strong likes and dislikes of other rabbits.

House rabbits can be trained to use a litter tray. Many will get along well with dogs and cats in the same household, but precautions must be taken to ensure that dogs will not chase or harm the rabbit.

Housing

Cages or enclosures should be spacious, as rabbits produce large amounts of urine and feces. Caged rabbits must be allowed at least 4 hours of free-roaming exercise daily (more is desirable) to prevent sores on the feet and ankles and feces/urine accumulation in the fur. Mental and emotional stimulation is also aided by exercise. Floors of the hutch can be solid or wire mesh, though foot and toe injuries can occur on wire. Bedding should consist of garden peat, or a layer of newspaper covered in hay. NEVER use cedar shavings as these are irritating to the respiratory tract. Outdoor rabbits have a very difficult time with the summer heat in southern Arizona. Shade, clean water, and cool areas must be provided to protect them. Many outdoor rabbits will dig burrows.

Feeding

Rabbits are strict herbivores with a digestive system that is adapted to the ingestion of a high fiber diet. The digestible fiber is fermented in a well-developed cecum (portion of the large intestine). Cecal contents (cecotrophs) are expelled periodically, then reingested and digested further. Indigestible fiber is rapidly eliminated as hard fecal pellets.
Rabbits should eat grass hay as the sole diet.

We do not recommend the use of pelleted diets. Pelleted diets were originally designed for rabbit production where convenience and achieving maximum growth and reproduction are important. Pelleted diets do not address the needs of house pets where long and healthy living is more desirable.

Similarly, we do not recommend routinely feeding vegetables and fruits. Grains should not be given. There is a much higher incidence of gastrointestinal problems in rabbits that are fed these foods.

Diseases

Respiratory problems are very common in rabbits. These usually result from poor ventilation, overcrowding or poor nutrition. Sneezing, ocular and nasal discharge are the typical signs.

Gastrointestinal problems are almost always the result of an inappropriate diet. Loss of appetite and decreased fecal output are the first signs usually noted. Bloating, inactivity, pain or diarrhea are indicative of serious problems and should be immediately brought to the attention of your veterinarian.

Malocclusion results in overgrown teeth. (Rabbit teeth grow continuously.) The front teeth are easy to see, but the molars should be examined regularly by the veterinarian.

Skin problems may be caused by parasites (fleas, mites, or lice), fungus (also called “ringworm”), bite wounds from cage mates, or inappropriate housing. Signs to watch for are hair loss, excessive scratching, scabs, scales or redness of the skin and feet.

You should consult your veterinarian immediately if you have any concerns regarding your rabbit’s health.