Adopting a Rabbit - Frequently Asked Questions

    General Rabbit Questions

  1. What's a rabbit really like?
  2. How is a rabbit different from a cat or a dog?
  3. What rabbit is right for me?
  4. Litter Training

  5. Is it true that rabbits can be litterbox trained?
  6. What factors impact successful litterbox training?
  7. What types of litter should I use?
  8. How do I litterbox train my new rabbit?
  9. What are the most common litter training mistakes?
  10. Housing

  11. What kind of cages work best?
  12. What size cage is best?
  13. What can I do to make my rabbit's cage time more enjoyable?
  14. Can my new rabbit run around my house 24 hours a day?
  15. What do I need to do to bunny-proof an area?
  16. What can I do to make my rabbit's exercise time more enjoyable?
  17. Can I let my rabbit run loose outside?
  18. Diet

  19. What are the basics of a good house rabbit diet?
  20. Is feeding hay important?
  21. What kinds of veggies should I feed my rabbit?
  22. What makes a good pellet?
  23. What quantities of food should I feed young adults? (6 months to 1 year)
  24. What quantities of food should I feed mature adults? (over 1 year)
  25. What treats are best for my rabbit?
  26. Rabbit Health

  27. Why spay and neuter rabbits?
  28. Is surgery safe on rabbits?
  29. How can I find a veterinarian experienced with rabbits?
  30. At what age should rabbits be spayed or neutered?
  31. What does the surgery cost?
  32. What post-operative care should I expect to give my rabbit?
  33. What other health issues should I be concerned about?
  34. What grooming do rabbits require?
  35. How should I handle my rabbit?
  36. Rabbits and Other Pets

  37. How should I introduce my current rabbit to my new rabbit?
  38. How do I introduce my new rabbit to the other resident pets?

What's a rabbit really like?

Many people are surprised to find that rabbits rarely conform to the cute-n-cuddly stereotype in children's stories. Baby bunnies (and many young adult rabbits) are too busy dashing madly about, squeezing behind furniture, and chewing baseboards and rugs to be held. Domestic rabbits have unique personalities that make them wonderful indoor companions. In addition, rabbits are social animals, meaning they need the companionship of humans or other animals, although the need may vary among individual rabbbits. Rabbits do play, some more than others. Many can get along with most cats and some dogs when properly introduced. Rabbits can also be trained to voice commands. They are generally not well suited for living outdoors. Rabbits require as much care as any other pet, including medical treatment. With proper care and diet, a typical house rabbit's life span is 8 - 12 years.

How is a rabbit different from a cat or dog?

Cats and dogs are both predators, while rabbits are prey animals. Because of this fundamental difference, there are a few important points to keep in mind. First, rabbits mask illness, making it difficult to detect. Consequently, their caretakers must pay close attention to their normal behavior and act on even subtle changes. Cats and dogs tend to investigate unknown noises, while rabbits tend to prefer places that are generally quieter and will freeze or run away from unknown noises. As prey animals, rabbits generally do not enjoy being held, as their instincts tell them they have been "captured". And finally, rabbits survive by knowing their environment very, very well. It is very stressful for them when their environment is changed, which can lead to illness.

What rabbit is right for me?

Many people want to start with a young rabbit, but adults (1 year or older) are often easier to start with. Rabbits under a year are still "growing up" - full of rambunctious energy, learning about their world through more frequent chewing/digging, and dealing with the hormones of rabbit adolescence. Adult rabbits are easier to litter train, learn appropriate behavior faster and are still very playful and enjoyable.

Another consideration is the size of a rabbit. While breed itself is not necessarily a factor, smaller rabbits tend to be more active and sometimes even skittish. Meanwhile, many larger rabbits tend to be more easy-going and are often easier to handle, despite their size. Larger rabbits are recommended for homes with children because of these tendencies and because it is less likely the child will attempt to pick up the rabbit, possibly hurting either the rabbit or themselves.

Is it true that rabbits can be litterbox trained?

By nature, rabbits choose one or a few places (usually corners) to deposit their urine and most of their pills. Urine training involves little more than putting a litterbox where the rabbit chooses to go. Pill training requires only that you give them a place they know will not be invaded by others.

What factors impact successful litterbox training?

The most important factor for success is having your rabbit spayed/neutered. This will reduce or eliminate his hormonal urge to mark his territory. Also, older rabbits are easier to train than younger rabbits. Young rabbits do not have the control and ability to learn that develops from age. If you have a rabbit less than 6 months old, be patient and persistent. Older rabbits will usually learn in a matter of a few weeks.

What types of litter should I use?

It depends on what's available in your area and what your rabbit's habits are. Some possibilities include:

  • Litters made from recycled paper or other natural products.
  • Since rabbits prefer at least some hay in their litterbox, some people use hay exclusively.
  • Wood pellets designed for use in pellet stoves work very well and are very economical.

Avoid

  • Clumping litter because it can accumulate in your rabbit's digestive tract and cause physical problems.
  • Litters made of soft woods, like pine or cedar, as they are believed to cause liver damage.
  • Corn, oat, and alfalfa based litters as the rabbit too commonly ingests them.

How do I litterbox train my new rabbit?

The basic approach is pretty simple. Begin by restricting your rabbit to a small space, like his cage, for the first week or so. Be sure to have at least one litterbox in a back corner of this space. During the week, your rabbit will choose a corner for his "bathroom" area. If this isn't where you originally placed the litterbox, simply relocate the box to your rabbit's selected area. In a few days, your rabbit will associate the litterbox with his bathroom. At this point, gradually provide more run space. Be sure to supervise him carefully during this time, so any accidents can be corrected immediately by putting your rabbit back in his litterbox. Start will small amounts of space and time and gradually increase both as your rabbit proves his good habits. Reinforce consistently any accidents. If your rabbit will have access to more than one room of the house, it is a good idea to add more litterboxes as his space continues to grow. Eventually, your rabbit will demonstrate how many litterboxes are needed for the size of space he has.

What are the most common litter training mistakes?

  • Letting the rabbit out of the cage and not watching her with undivided attention. If the rabbit does not get herded into the litterbox every time she urinates inappropriately, it will take much longer for her to understand what is expected.
  • Getting in a hurry. Don't rush your rabbit. Each learns at his own pace. If you supervise carefully, and reinforce his behavior, he will learn to use his litterbox.

What kind of cages work best?

Rabbits were not designed to live on wire floors - they're hard on their feet (which have no pads on them, like cats or dogs). If you must use a cage with a wire floor, you need to provide your rabbit with a resting board or rug for her to sit on; otherwise she will spend all of her time in her litterbox.

You can find cages with slatted plastic floors, which are more comfortable, or you can use a solid floor. If your rabbit has a litterbox in his chosen "bathroom" corner, there shouldn't be much of a mess to clean up.

What size cage is best?

Bigger is better! A cage should be at least 4 times the size of your rabbit - more if he is confined for a large amount of the day. Be sure the cage is large enough to allow space for a litterbox, food and water bowls, etc., and still allow your rabbit enough room to stretch out completely. It should also be tall enough that your rabbit can stretch up without their ears hitting the top. If the cage has a wire floor, be sure to provide something solid, like a towel, newspaper, or board, for your rabbit to lie on.

What can I do to make my rabbit's cage time more enjoyable?

A cage should be seen as your rabbit's nest -- a special place where he can feel safe and secure. Make the nest enjoyable and he will enjoy being there, even when the cage door is open! Keep it stocked with toys, a synthetic sheepskin rug, a piece of wood attached to the inside (like a baseboard), and when you put him to bed at night, a nice veggie or fruit snack.

Can my new rabbit run around my house 24 hours a day?

An untrained rabbit probably should be kept in a cage while you're not at home to supervise and at night when you sleep. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they generally sleep during the day and during the night but are ready to play at dawn and at twilight. Be sure to let him out during the evening when you are at home, and if possible, in the morning while you get ready for work.

When your rabbit is better trained, and when your house has been sufficiently bunny-proofed, your rabbit can be allowed free run even when you are not home. The more room your rabbit has to run around in, the more delightful you will find her as a companion.

What do I need to do to bunny-proof an area?

Because rabbits are very curious and often chew on things, their exercise area needs to be "bunny-proofed" by moving or concealing anything you don't want chewed, especially electrical cords. Common steps taken include moving house plants out of reach, covering electrical cords with tubing, applying anti-chewing substances to woodwork and furniture, and blocking access to spaces under and around furniture, etc. After you think you are done, let your rabbit help you identify areas you have missed. Supervise closely until truly bunny-proofed.

Finally, never attempt to use training alone to keep a rabbit from something that can cause harm or death. Toxic houseplants and electrical wires should be impossible for a rabbit to reach. Counting on training or "the way she's always behaved" is asking for trouble.

What can I do to make my rabbit's exercise time more enjoyable?

First, remember that your rabbit depends on you for companionship. It is important to spend time with him, ideally on the floor where he can hop up to you when he chooses.

Even when a rabbit has a lot of room to run around, he may still get bored. A bored rabbit is often a naughty rabbit. If you don't make every attempt to provide your rabbit with lots of entertainment, then he will make his own entertainment in your carpet, behind your couch, or under your recliner.

Toys not only aid in keeping your rabbit out of trouble, they also provide mental stimulation and exercise. Some good toys to start with are:

  • Hiding toys: cardboard boxes, tunnels, paper bags
  • Chew toys: untreated hardwoods, untreated wicker baskets, grass mats, cardboard paper tubes
  • Toss toys: baby keys, many parrot toys
  • Noisemakers: cat toys with bells inside, baby rattles

Can I let my rabbit run loose outside?

Because domestic rabbits have limited defenses for the many dangers found outdoors, it is best for your rabbit to be kept indoors. However, a limited amount of time outside is usually safe if you:

  • Always supervise your rabbit closely when she's outside
  • Make sure the grass has not been sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers
  • Check the yard for holes in the fence and poisonous plants
  • Only allow your rabbit outside during the daylight hours
rabbit outside

What are the basics of a good house rabbit diet?

A rabbit's diet should be made up of fresh grass hay (timothy, orchard, brome, or oat), fresh vegetables, water and good quality pellets. Anything beyond that is a "treat" and should be given in limited quantities (approx 1 tablespoon per day total).

Is feeding hay important?

Grass hay should be the foundation of your rabbit's diet as it is essential to a rabbit's good health, providing roughage, which reduces the danger of hairballs and other blockages. Hay should be available at all times. Most rabbits can eat a pile the size of themselves almost every day.

What kinds of veggies should I feed my rabbit?

Rabbits enjoy many fresh greens and vegetables and can have up to 2 cups per 5 lbs of body weight daily. Most produce is safe to feed your rabbit. They are likely to particularly enjoy: Romaine lettuce, most herbs, broccoli, carrots (and tops), spinach, kale, collard greens and many others. Try to serve at least 3 different kinds of veggies each day, introducing one new food at a time. This will help you determine if any particular food is not well tolerated by your rabbit. AVOID: Rhubarb leaves, peas, potatoes, beans, corn, onions and garlic.

What makes a good pellet?

Pellets should make up a small portion of your rabbit's diet. Unless your rabbit is under 6 months old, he should get a set amount of pellets daily and not have constant access to pellets. Pellets should be high in fiber (>18%), and low in protein (<14%), calcium (<0.9%) and fat (<2%). Avoid pellet mixes that contain seeds, grains, dried corn, or other colorful additives, as these items can be difficult for your rabbit to digest and have little nutritional value. It is advisable not to purchase more than 6 weeks of feed at a time, as nutritional value degrades over time.

What quantities of food should I feed young adults? (6 months to 1 year)

  • Introduce timothy hay, grass hay, and oat hays, decrease alfalfa
  • Decrease pellets to 1/2 cup per 6 lbs. body weight
  • Introduce daily vegetables and gradually increase quantity
  • Fruit daily ration no more than 1 tablespoon per 6 lbs. body weight (because of calories)

What quantities of food should I feed mature adults? (over 1 year)

  • Unlimited timothy, grass hay, or 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
  • Fruit daily ration no more than 1 tablespoon per 6 lbs. body weight

What treats are best for my rabbit?

Most rabbits consider anything hand-fed a treat, especially fresh veggies. It is not necessary to feed a lot of sweet treats or commercial "treats". Rabbits should have no more than 1 tablespoon per day of any of the following:

  • Fruits: banana, strawberry, blueberry, grapes, papaya, pineapple, apple
  • Other: whole oats, whole peanuts, alfalfa cube

Why spay and neuter rabbits?

  • Altered rabbits are healthier and live longer than unaltered rabbits
  • Altered rabbits make better companion animals
  • Altered rabbits display fewer obnoxious behaviors that humans find annoying or distasteful
  • Altered rabbits won't contribute to the problem of overpopulation of rabbits
  • Altered rabbits can safely have a friend to play with
  • Spaying and neutering for rabbits has become a safe procedure when performed by experienced rabbit veterinarians

Is surgery safe on rabbits?

Surgery can be as safe on rabbits as on any animal. Unfortunately, the vast majority of veterinarians aren't experienced with safe rabbit surgery techniques. Don't allow a veterinarian with little or no rabbit experience to spay or neuter your rabbit. Using isofluorene as the anesthetic and appropriate surgical and after-surgery techniques, spaying and neutering of rabbits is as safe as for any other animal.

How can I find a veterinarian experienced with rabbits?

Ask for referrals from friends or view our list of recommended vets. To evaluate a veterinarian, ask the following questions:

  • Ask how many rabbits are seen at the clinic each week
  • Ask if they know which antibiotics are dangerous for rabbits (amoxicillin, lincomycin, and clindamycin
  • Ask how to prevent hairballs. The answer should be: Provide your rabbit with hay every day, preferably 24 hours a day. Provide daily exercise and brush frequently.
  • Ask how many rabbits are spayed or neutered each week
  • Ask if food has to be removed the night before surgery. The answer should be "no". Rabbits should never be fasted.
  • What is the success rate for spays/neuters? If any were lost, what was the cause? 90% success rate is way too low. Veterinarians across the country who spay and neuter rabbits for the House Rabbit Society have lost on average less than 1/2 of 1%
  • What anesthetics are used? Isoflurane is preferred. Some veterinarians are quite successful with other anesthetics, but the rabbit is "hung over" after surgery, which increases the likelihood that s/he will be slow to start eating again, whivh can lead to serious problems.
  • You might also want to ask which conferences they've attended lately that had talks about rabbit medicine and what journals they read.

Be careful not to choose the nearest vet without inquiring about their experiences with rabbits. Paying money for an inexperienced vet can be very costly to both you and your rabbit.

At what age should rabbits be spayed or neutered?

Females can be spayed as soon as they sexually mature, usually around 4 months of age, but many veterinarians prefer to wait until they are at least 6 months old, as surgery is riskier on a younger female rabbit. Males can be neutered as soon as the testicles descend, usually around 3 1/2 months, but many veterinarians prefer to wait until they are 5 months old.

What does the surgery cost?

Most veterinarians charge between $60 and $180. Neutering a male is generally less expensive than spaying a female due to the amount of surgery required.

What post-operative care should I expect to give my rabbit?

After surgery, keep the environment quiet so the rabbit doesn't startle or panic. Don't do anything to encourage acrobatics, but let the rabbit move around at her own pace - she knows what hurts and what doesn't.

Some veterinarians keep rabbits overnight. If your veterinarian lets you bring your rabbit home the first night, note the following:

  • Most males come home after being neutered looking for "supper" - be sure he has pellets, water, and some good hay (good, fresh alfalfa is a good way to tempt him to nibble a bit)
  • Most females want to be left alone, are not interested in eating at all, and will sit quietly in a back corner of the cage (or wherever in the house she feels she will be bothered the least)

It is important for the rabbit to be nibbling something as soon as possible. It doesn't matter what or how much, as long as she is taking in something, so the digestive tract won't shut down. If she isn't eating, tempt her with everything possible and contact your veterinarian for further instructions.

What other health issues should I be concerned about?

No vaccinations are required. However, rabbits' teeth grow continuously and need to be checked at least annually by a vet.

Rabbits have sensitive digestive systems. They best way to maintain it is through a proper diet. As grazing animals, rabbits need to have hay constantly to keep their system moving.

Finally, if you notice any marked change in his behavior, including lethargy, lack of appetite, severe diarrhea, sneezing, or nasal discharge, take your rabbit to a veterinarian.

What grooming do rabbits require?

Rabbits shed 4 times per year. Because they ingest fur during their self-grooming process and build up of fur in the digestive system can cause serious problems, it is important to brush them regularly to help remove excess fur and prevent mats. In addition, rabbits' nails grow continuously and need to be trimmed about once a month.

How should I handle my rabbit?

While rabbits need to learn to be picked up and handled for necessary exams and grooming, in general they will be happier left to hop about on their own. However, it is still important that you are able to and feel comfortable handling your rabbit. Begin by approaching him slowly and calmly. Grab him firmly on his shoulders (no ears!) and lift. As soon as possible, place a supporting hand under his rump. Some people simply put one hand under the rabbit's tummy and the other on his rump. Bring the rabbit in close to your body and retain a firm grip. Rabbits will kick and struggle if they are not held securely (in their opinion). They also tend to kick more when they are nearing the ground or about to be put into their cage. If you start to lose your hold on the rabbit, drop as close to the ground as possible, so the rabbit does not fall far. To help calm a struggling rabbit, cover his eyes.

How should I introduce my current rabbit to my new rabbit?

Rabbits are very territorial and do not easily welcome a newcomer. The most important element of creating a successful pair is to start with two neutered/spayed rabbits. You need to expect a transition period where each rabbit is maintained separately, while they get to know each other. The basic process of introducing two rabbits involves a neutral territory (someplace neither rabbit has been before), small amounts of time and close supervision. Normal behaviors for introductions include:

  • Love at first sight: If this occurs, you can try them in the space they're going to live in. If it's still good, then they're fine, you have nothing else to do.
  • Tentative friendship: If this occurs, just watch them when they're together, keep them separate when you're not around, and if no fighting occurrs, they'll eventually become friends.
  • Amorous behavior: If one rabbit mounts the other and the other rabbit permits it, this is usually a sign that the relationship will go well. If the rabbit does mind and runs away, it is still not usually a problem. If the rabbit minds and becomes aggressive, then you must prepare for a lengthier introduction period.
  • One chasing, one running: If this occurs, just make sure the one running doesn't fight back and doesn't get hurt. If neither of these things occurs, then just watch and wait. If one gets hurt, then separate them and go slower and if one fights back, then you must prepare for a lengthier introduction period.
  • Fighting: When two rabbits fight, then you must prepare for a lengthy introduction period.

Work with your rabbits every day, for at least 20 minutes or so a day, and when you're not working with them, keep them in eye contact of each other. Start with extreme scenarios and gradually move to less extreme. Do one extreme and one less extreme every day. The more you work with them, the quicker the progress.

Read more on our rabbit introduction page.

How do I introduce my new rabbit to the other resident pets?

Rabbits usually get along with cats, guinea pigs and well-behaved dogs. In fact, many times the rabbits will end up bossing the resident animals around. The ideal way to introduce the rabbit would be to confine or leash the dog/cat and let the rabbit investigate at its own pace. Interactions between rabbits and other pets should always be supervised.

Dogs and Rabbits

Cats and Rabbits

Rabbit with dog Rabbit with guinea pig