How to care for your rabbit
White Cross Vets is a rabbit-friendly vets. We are always happy to talk you through rabbit care advice or see your rabbits for a check-up.
Rabbits are very playful, entertaining, rewarding pets. But they require specific care and conditions.
The following advice will help you to keep your pet rabbit happy and healthy.
While rabbits are often considered the perfect children’s pet, they must be supervised when handling and an adult must take responsibility for your bunnies’ care. Rabbits have sharp teeth and can bite quite hard. When lifting rabbits care must be taken to support their back and hind legs.
Rabbits can live happily indoors or in large hutches outside.
Rabbits make wonderful indoor pets and can be toilet trained. However, rabbits do love to chew things. So if you let your rabbit roam indoors, you will need to rabbit-proof your home. Unfortunately, electrical cords look pretty good to chew on. This is not recommended!
Space and exercise
Inside, rabbits need a cage they can feel safe in and where they can be enclosed happily when you are not home to supervise them. Outside, housing needs to be big enough for your rabbits and should have a weatherproof area and be secure from predators such as foxes, dogs and cats.
Your rabbit’s cage should allow them to leap along it three times and stand up at full stretch. All rabbits need four hours minimum free ranging exercise a day.
A happy rabbit will often do ‘binkies’, where they will run along and kick their legs out to one side, just for the joy of it!
There are lots of different rabbit home designs, but one that allows your rabbit to graze the lawn is fantastic.
Rabbit toilet training
Indoor bunnies are easy to train to use a litter tray as they prefer to urinate and defecate in one place. Click here for advice on rabbit toilet training.
Cages need to be cleaned regularly. Rabbits should never be left in a situation where their feet and underneath are getting wet because of a dirty cage.
Can I keep rabbits and guinea pigs together?
Rabbits and guinea pigs are not good housemates. They have quite different food requirements and can pass diseases between them.
There are two main viruses that affect pet rabbits: myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (calicivirus). Vaccinations are essential to prevent these viruses, as there is generally no cure for them.
There are a number of vaccination combinations for rabbits. For advice on the best combination for your rabbit and details on the cost of rabbit vaccinations, contact your local White Cross Vets practice.
Rabbit neutering and rabbit spaying
All rabbits should be neutered. As well as preventing unwanted baby bunnies, neutering a rabbit also helps minimise behavioural problems and stops some extremely common cancers in female rabbits.
Bunnies are much happier with friends, and a bonded pair of neutered rabbits is a delight to see spending time playing and grooming each other. But rabbits do “breed like rabbits”, and from a very young age. So make sure you know what sex they are!
Please contact the clinic if you have questions about when to neuter your rabbit.
The majority of rabbit vet visits are related to improper diet, so the importance of a good diet cannot be over-emphasised.
Rabbits are herbivores (vegans). Their digestive tracts are not equipped to handle anything but a plant-based diet. Rabbits have a special digestive system designed to eat low energy food. Somehow they can turn dry grass and weeds into enough energy to be the vibrant active little beasts they are!
Rabbit staple diet
The main food source for your rabbits should be good quality grass or hay. Your rabbit should be allowed to eat as much of this hay as they like.
Grass and leafy green vegetables are also important and should be given daily: approximately one cup of veggies per kilo of rabbit a day.
Remember to start new foods slowly, and for leafy green veggies start from around 12 weeks of age. Hay can be provided as bedding and many owners find that using hay in the litter box helps with toilet training as bunnies often poo where they are eating. Clean fresh hay needs to be provided daily.
Some suggested veggies include:
- Beet tops
- Bok choy
- Broccoli (mostly the leaves)
- Brussel sprouts
- Carrot tops
- Endive radicchio
- Radish tops
- Strawberry and raspberry leaves. (i.e. a small handful of the strawberry hulls)
- Peppermint and other herb leaves such as parsley, mint and basil
- Dandelion flowers and leaves
- Many grasses and weeds. (i.e. Dandelions, most lawn grasses, dock leaves)
- Swiss chard
- Wheat grass
Never give iceberg lettuce, beans, corn, rhubarb, cauliflower or potato peels to your rabbit.
Rabbit sweet treats
The majority of your rabbit’s diet should be made up of hay and the vegetables listed above. However, some healthy things are great for training or just for a treat.
Some examples are apple, banana, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, carrots, mango, peach or pear. All of these should be fed in SMALL amounts.
A rabbit’s low energy food diet makes them very easy and cheap to feed, but also makes them very easy to spoil. Rabbits have a sweet tooth and will actively seek out sweet foods, including chocolate and sweet drinks. Do not feed them these!
There are lots of rabbit pellets and rabbit mixes on the market but many of these are very unhealthy, especially when fed in large amounts. We recommend using Excel or Oxbow pellets, which are much higher in fibre and do not contain grains like mixes do. Pellets help to prevent selective feeding. Even these need to be fed in limited amounts.
All diet changes MUST be done SLOWLY and we strongly recommend discussing this with one of our vets or nurses first.
Flystrike and your rabbit
Some rabbits get faeces stuck to their bottom, which in summer can attract flies. Fly strike (where the flies lay eggs in the fur and
maggots develop) can be life-threatening for rabbits.
Twice daily inspection of the underside and bottom area of your rabbit, especially between April and October, appropriate diet and good basic hygiene will reduce the risk of this.
Please contact your vet or nurse if you are concerned. We can provide advice on products to apply to reduce the risk, though these should never be seen as a substitute for visual inspection.
Keeping rabbits entertained
Like dogs and cats, rabbits need to be kept active and entertained. Rabbits love to throw things around, run madly around the room and really love to chew on things.
Some ideas for rabbit toys include:
- Old cardboard boxes
- Cardboard toilet roll inners
- Large paper bags
- Cat toys especially with bells
- Dried out pinecones
- Tunnels (ones made for cats, or something you have made yourself at home)
- Treats hidden in hay
When to bring your rabbit to the vet
It is very important for your rabbit to see a vet if your rabbit:
- Stops or slows down its eating
- Has any obvious injury
- Has difficulty breathing
- Has any lumps on its face or jaw
- Has swollen or runny eyes
- If you are worried it is unwell
- If you are unable to keep it clean around the rear end
- For further information please contact the practice.
Learn more about caring for your rabbit
Pet insurance for rabbits
Just knowing that your rabbit is insured can be a great comfort to owners and ensure you don’t find yourself facing a hefty bill if your rabbit is injured or needs treatment.
The White Cross Vets Complete Wellness Plan
Our Complete Wellness Plan takes care of everything your rabbit needs to stay fit and to highlight any warning signs of illness so that problems can be detected and treated early. It covers the cost of vaccinations, unlimited nail trims and two consultations a year, as well as significant discounts off the cost of neutering a rabbit, dental procedures, toys and treats, and high-quality Excel and Oxbox rabbit food.
Contact your local practice to book a health check or an appointment, for more information on caring for rabbits and to find out our vet prices for rabbits.