Many pet owners assume that all pets are the same, but just as cats and dogs differ, small pets have special needs and care.

Rabbits are not just cats with long ears, and chicks are not little land-bound parrots. This post discusses the special requirements when you have a pet rabbit. Future posts will discuss considerations when selecting a pet, especially less common pets.

Rabbits can live quite a while, between five and 15 years and can require expensive veterinary care. The habitat in which a rabbit lives in is very similar to that of a guinea pig habitat as both these lovely tiny pets need constant care and the best cages which allows them to roam freely. Rabbits generally weigh between two and 16 pounds, depending on the breed. Rabbits are sensitive to heat and need to be kept indoors in a well-ventilated area. Ambient temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit can cause heat stress and death. Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit are also harmful to domesticated rabbits.

Consider the food, toys, exercise, grooming and interaction rabbits need. These small mammals are fragile and must be handled carefully. So if you have young children, a rabbit might not be a good pet.

Rabbits form strong bonds with their families and need social interaction and activity outside of their cages daily. Because of their tendency to chew, they need supervision when outside of the cage. And rabbit-proofing is critical. Bunnies like chewing, and they will find cords, wires, plants and synthetic cloth fibers. Pay attention to what they chew on and remove items that are indigestible.

Pet rabbits need a special veterinarian trained in their care. Two vets serve the Charlotte area: Atrium Animal Hospital and Dilworth Animal Hospital. Read below to see questions to ask when you are interviewing potential vets.

Before selecting your bunny, select a cage that is large enough for the rabbit to exercise or designate a rabbit-proof area for the bunny and let it roam free. Cages for single bunnies 7 – 12 pounds should be 24 x 30 inches and 16 – 18 inches tall. For more than one bunny, increase the cage size. If you choose to use a cage, you will appreciate the time spent finding a cage that is easy to clean and easy for the rabbit to enter and exit. If a pet rabbit must be kept outside, provide a large shelter that is both warmed and cooled. Disinfect the cage thoroughly before introducing the rabbit. Then brush or hose out the cage every two weeks.

Habitat cleaning keeps pets safer. 

Clean waste from the habitat frequently to avoid respiratory disease derived from too much ammonia. Rabbits can be litter box trained if the cage or area is big enough. Natural alfalfa, oat, citrus litter or paper is good, especially atop a few pages of newspaper that absorbs urine. If you choose to use hay as a litter, change it daily. The following are UNSAFE litter options: cedar, pine shaving, clumping and clay litters.  Change litter at least once weekly.

NOTE: Rabbits have soft droppings and hard feces pellets. They eat the soft droppings after excreting them and benefit from the microbial protein, vitamins and other nutritional essentials provided.

Habitat should provide comfort safely.

Rabbit bedding should be soft cotton, such as towels, pillows or natural fiber carpets or rugs. Keep strings trimmed. Rabbits enjoy gnawing the tip of watering bottles, so provide a bowl that can’t be overturned with fresh water at all times. Filtered water is best, of course.

Daily Feeding, measured per five pounds of bunny, helps a bunny’s health:

Always have sweet, green hay, such as Timothy Hay, oat, rye or orchard grass available to your pet. This aids in rabbits’ digestion. Freshly hand-cut grass is a good option as long as it has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides.

Supplement with 1 cup of fresh greens and vegetables by bunny weight. You can feed the rabbit an assortment of in-season vegetables. Choose from lettuce, herbs, dandelion greens, clover, broccoli, bell peppers, celery, and cucumber. Carrot tops are great and healthier than the carrot roots.

A small portion of high fiber timothy-based pellets are also necessary to assist in digestion. Too much fiber can cause health issues, as well. Feed bunny ¼ cup per 5 pounds.

Also add 1-2 tsp. of fresh fruit per 5 pounds of bunny. Options include bananas, apples, berries and pears.

Daily Exercise keeps rabbits happy and free from boredom.

Supervise activity at all times and take your bunny outdoors on a halter and leash or in a grazing ark. Rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk. So this is a good time to let them exercise. Leashes can be loose in a fenced back yard. Avoid areas where wild rabbits have defecated.

Rabbits enjoy digging, chewing, climbing and tunneling. So fill a box for digging with hay, paper (without ink), sea grass mats or natural fiber rugs.

Offer chewing opportunities for rabbits’ ever-growing teeth. Untreated apple twigs or branches, untreated willow or wicker baskets, cardboard boxes, old phone books, untreated straw brooms or toys from Busy Bunny are good options.

Climbing and tunneling through man-made tunnels between the sofa and wall, cat tunnels, cardboard forms, cat trees, cat ramps and boxes are great sources of exercise. In the wild, rabbits are born blind and grow fur and gain sight in a burrow, or rabbit hole, so that might be why they enjoy the tunneling.

Spending time with a rabbit keeps it content.

Spend time brushing, massaging, petting and talking to your little bundle of fur. Brush rabbits with long fur daily and shorter-fur varieties a few times each week to avoid fur balls. When the bunnies shed every three months, brush more frequently and clear the habitat of loose fur to reduce fur balls. When picking-up a rabbit, be sure you support the hind legs to keep the back safe. Grasp the loose skin over the shoulders with one hand and secure the rump with the other. Secure the back legs to avoid injury to yourself and the rabbit and beware the hind claws, which can deeply scratch bare arms. Nails should be trimmed monthly as needed. You never want to lift a rabbit by its ears.

Selecting a vet requires some effort:

Finding a veterinarian for a rabbit is sometimes difficult.  This link provides questions to help you determine a potential vet’s skills and experience with rabbits:

By Beth Crosby

Resources for this article:

“Atrium’s ideal Rabbit Care.” Atrium Animal Hospital. Atrium Animal Hospital, n.d. Web. 16 April. 2015.

Kruzer, Adrienne. “Rabbit Care Guide.”, n.p. Web. n.d.

The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health. Home Edition. Kahn, Cynthia M. Ed. Line, Scott, Assoc. Ed. Courier Westford, Inc: Westford, MA, 2007. Print.