Welcome to the world of rabbits! Rabbits are very sensitive animals, but they can be wonderful pets if properly cared for. This beginner’s guide is a great place to start your research before you bring your new pets home!
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Rabbits can make amazing pets as long as you take into consideration their natural behaviors and instincts!
Rabbits are prey animals, so it’s important to remember they have some instincts that have developed to protect them over time. Most bunnies don’t like to be picked up since their instincts tell them it’s a predator. They will run and hide when spooked and often notice any changes to their environment.
Rabbits are very social animals that always do much better with a friend. They will bond very strongly with their chosen friend. Although a single bunny may do fine on its own, your bunny will always be happier with a friend. Bonding can be tricky, but it is well worth the effort.
Rabbits as Pets
You may know that some pets are diurnal (awake during the day and sleep at night) and some pets are nocturnal (awake at night and sleep during the day). Bunnies are neither of these! Rabbits are crepuscular – they are most active at dawn and dusk. They will take naps throughout the day and night.
Bunnies also do best at temperatures ranging from 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, the cooler temperatures are more comfortable for your pets. I always notice my bunnies are much more active and playful in the cooler months!
Rabbits are very smart little animals that will quickly settle into their new home. One of the best places to find your new pet rabbits is at an animal shelter. Bunnies are one of the most surrendered animals in the united states – they’re third behind dogs and cats! You can often find an already bonded pair up for adoption, and this is a great way to give some bunnies a forever home!
One of the most attractive things about rabbits as pets is that they can be litterbox trained. This makes it very easy to let your pets wander around a room or larger area in your house. Litterbox training is relatively easy and makes for less cleanup. Many rabbit owners don’t even have cages for their rabbits – just a nice “home base” area that can be the rabbit’s territory with their litterbox, water, hay, and food. Then the rabbits get to free roam in a designated space.
Most rabbits do well with handling as well. Most rabbits don’t like to be picked up, but they’ll love being petted and groomed once they get to know you. Spending time with your bunnies every day is important. They will get to know their humans and can even form strong bonds with both humans and other bunnies.
Responsible Pet Ownership
Taking on a pet is a big responsibility. You are now fully in charge of the life of another living creature. Your new pets depend on you to make sure they are healthy, happy, and live a full life.
Part of being a responsible pet owner is understanding that vet visits can and will happen. I have taken my pets to the vet on multiple occasions for checkups and for health problems. You need to plan ahead and have a plan in place for when your pet will need medical care — where will the money come from, and what vet will you take them to? Finding an exotic vet that sees guinea pigs can be tricky. Make sure you have this lined up before a medical emergency happens.
Before getting rabbits, evaluate whether you are going to be happy to see to their care multiple times a day, every single day. Rabbits live an average of 5-7 years. Are you prepared to provide top-notch care to your pet for that long? Pets should only be rehomed as a last resort, not because you got tired of them.
Bunnies have a variety of different behaviors they use to communicate with humans and other bunnies. They are not very vocal animals but they have quite a range of body language.
Flopping – bunnies will stretch out on their sides or backs to sleep when they are feeling very comfortable. This will probably scare you when you find your bunny sleeping like this because they often look like they’re dead!
Binking – bunnies will run back and forth and do fun jumps in the air when they’re excited!
Thumping – remember Thumper from Bambi? Bunnies will thump over many different things. Usually, it is to show their displeasure about something or to warn other bunnies. They may thump over changes in their space. I’ve had bunnies thump at me when he knew it was time for his daily medicine, and also when I stopped petting him before he was ready!
Stretching – bunnies will sometimes stretch out long with their feet out behind them. We call this being a “superbun.”
Chinning – you will probably notice your rabbit rubbing their chin on things while exploring. This is how bunnies claim things. They have scent glands on the bottom of their chin, so they “chin” things to mark them.
Honking – bunnies don’t make many noises, but honking is a sign of contentment.
Purring – rabbits pur by rubbing their teeth together. It is a little bit of a chewing noise than purring like a cat. This usually results when your rabbit is enjoying a nice petting session from their human.
Nudging – bunnies will often nudge you during interactions. Nudging your ankles usually means your bunny wants your attention.
Kicking – rabbits will usually only kick out when they are being picked up. Sometimes they may also kick their feet out behind them when playing or after a thump when they’re annoyed.
There are many different options for housing your rabbits, but the most important thing is to make sure you provide your pets with enough space. Putting your pet in a pet store cage all the time and not providing any time outside of the cage is not a humane way to keep rabbits as pets. If you keep your bunnies in a cage, the rule of thumb is to have a cage that is 3 to 4 times the length of a stretched-out adult rabbit to provide enough space and provide plenty of time outside the cage.
One option is to have a C & C cage or exercise pen for your rabbits. C & C cages allow for a lot of customization and can be built to be the appropriate size for your bunnies. These cages are made using wire shelving panels that connect together in squares. Using an exercise pen made for dogs can be another good choice. This provides your rabbits with plenty of space to hop around and can be easily moved or rearranged if needed.
One of the most popular ways to keep house rabbits is to give them free run of a part of your house (that has been bunny proofed!) with a “home base” area for the rabbit to go to feel safe and relaxed. This base can be a cage with the door left open, or a pen or room set aside just for the rabbits. Our rabbits have their own room with a baby gate that we can shut to keep them in their room if access to the rest of the house needs to be restricted.
Also, keep in mind that you will have to bunny-proof your rabbit’s area if they are allowed to free roam in your house. Cords need to have protective covers, small spaces (like behind couches) need to be blocked off, and anything chewable needs to be protected or moved. Some rabbits are more destructive than others, so you will have to adjust your protective measures to your individual rabbit’s habits.
What type of flooring or bedding you use in your rabbit’s area can depend on what type of living space your rabbit has. You should really only need traditional “bedding” in your rabbit’s litter box area. You can use paper-based bedding, aspen shavings, kiln-dried pine pellets or shavings, or certain types of small animal litter. Many people will get kiln-dried pine wood bases made for the bottom of their rabbit pens, or put vinyl flooring over a piece of plywood and provide rugs for their rabbits to have soft areas to stand and lay.
Our rabbits live on the carpet in their bedroom and that is throughout the rest of our house. We have rugs on hard floor so they can have a crossing space. One of our bunnies is confident crossing hard floors and the other is not, this will depend on your individual rabbits. In my bunny’s “home base” area, I use a fleece liner to catch any bedding or poops that get spread out of the litter box. Be careful using fleece with rabbits, as many of them will chew it. You don’t want your rabbits to be constantly chewing and ingesting bits of fleece.
You will also want to provide your bunnies with some places to hide. Cardboard boxes with doors cut out work well for this. You can also get cardboard tunnels and hiding mazes with multiple levels for your rabbits to play and hide in. Just keep in mind you will likely have to replace these when your bunny chews it up! C & C grids with a piece of fleece or towel draped over the top can also make a good hiding place. My bunnies like to lay under chairs and behind a box placed under a table as well.
Basic Rabbit Nutrition
Proper nutrition is very important to help provide a happy and healthy life to your bunnies. The regular diet of a rabbit includes hay, fresh veggies, and pellets.
Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. They need to have unlimited access to hay at all times. It should make up the majority of your pet’s diet. The most common types of hay for pets are timothy, orchard grass, and bluegrass. Providing a hay rack about the litter box, that is always full is the easiest way to provide hay with the least amount of mess.
It’s also important to feed veggies to your bunnies every day. Some of the most common veggies are green or red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, kale, bok choy, and cilantro. Here’s a fantastic article about rabbit veggies, including a list of safe and recommended options!
Healthy pellets are the final part of a rabbit’s diet. Most pet store mixes are not the best quality for your pet. Our favorite option is the Oxbow Garden Select Adult Rabbit Pellets. The general rule of thumb for an adult rabbit (1 to 5 years old) is 1/4-1/2 cup of pellets per 6 pounds of body weight for each rabbit.
Grooming a Rabbit
Grooming for rabbits is relatively minimal since they do a lot of their grooming themselves. Rabbits are similar to cats and will lick their coats to groom themselves.
Bunnies will shed three or four times a year. It is important to get used to regularly brushing your rabbits so you can keep the hair under control during shedding seasons. If you have a long-haired rabbit, it is important to brush them often to keep them from getting matted and ingesting too much hair. Unlike cats, rabbits cannot throw up hairballs. This means it’s important to remove as much hair from your rabbit as possible during shedding to help avoid health issues.
You will also have to trim your rabbit’s nails to keep them from getting overgrown. This can be done by you or you can have it done by your vet. Most vets don’t charge much for this service.
Rabbits should not ever be given a full bath or put in water. This can be very hazardous to their health. If you need to clean an area on your rabbit, try using a damp cloth or wetting just the part of the bunny that needs to be cleaned.
Daily Rabbit Routine
Any pet requires daily care and attention, but rabbits do require a bit more than a dog or cat. Here’s an example of my daily schedule with my pets.
Breakfast around 6:30 am –
- give pellets
- refill hay rack
- check water
Lunchtime – they get a veggie snack
Dinnertime around 5:00 pm –
- veggies for dinner
- check hay rack
- check water
After dinner around 6:00 pm –
- clean litter box
- spend some time playing with the bunnies
- do some grooming every few days
Bedtime around 10:00 pm –
- check hay rack
- check water
- say goodnight and give bedtime pets
My cages, pet room, and bunny “home base” area also get cleaned and vacuumed once a week to keep the room in good condition. If you don’t keep your rabbits’ area clean it can get out of control very quickly.
Once a week, all cage and bedding should be replaced. How often you need to clean the litterbox will depend on your individual rabbit’s habits and how many bunnies you have. Even with being litter trained, bedding and poops can end up scattered around your rabbit’s area and must be cleaned up. Bunny pee can smell pretty strongly if not cleaned on a regular basis.
Your pet also needs to have weekly health checks done to ensure they are not hiding any illnesses from you! These are quick easy checks but are an important part of having rabbits as pets. During a health check, you want to look at your pet’s eyes, ears, nose, teeth, skin, fur, feet, bum area, and weigh your pet. Keeping a log of your health checks and weights is important to catch any changes over time that could signal that there’s an issue with your pet. (Video coming soon on how to do a thorough health check!)