Background Information on Rabbits

Our pet rabbits are direct descendants of the wild European rabbits, which originally inhabited the area around Spain and Portugal. The scientific name Oryctolagus cuniculus means “hare-like digger” (an appropriate name if you ever had a rabbit take a liking to your carpet!). They were originally bred in captivity at least 3000 years ago as a source of food and fur. Not until the 19th century did “fancy” rabbit breeding become fashionable and thus the proliferation of the many shapes and sizes of rabbits we have today. While not usually long lived in the wild, the average life span of a house rabbit is 8-12 years. They come in all sizes, shapes and colors. From the 2lb netherland dwarf, to the greater than 25lb Flemish Giant, no two are alike!

If looking to add a house rabbit to your home, consider adoption, as there are many homeless rabbits looking for forever homes. The Columbus House Rabbit Society, Ohio House Rabbit Rescue and Capital Area Humane Society all rescue and adopt out rabbits.

Diet Recommendations for Rabbits

A good rabbit diet should be made up of fresh hay, fresh vegetables, good quality pellets and water.

  • Hay
    • **We recommend feeding Oxbow brand hay. Young rabbits up to 6-8 months of age can have alfalfa hay.
    • Adults rabbits should be fed Timothy hay or other grass/oat hays. Feeding alfalfa hay to an adult rabbit can lead to health problems.
    • Hay is essential for a rabbit’s GI health as well as to keep their molars trim.
  • Pellets
    • **We recommend feeding Oxbow brand pellets (Timothy).
    • Guidelines for feeding are no more than ¼ cup per 5lbs of rabbit.
    • Avoid the “deluxe” pellet mixes with seeds and dried fruits. These types of foods can lead to GI problems.
  • Vegetables
    • Kale, mustard greens, dandelion greens, carrot tops, red leaf lettuce, parsley, cilantro, Bok choy Radicchio Celery Radish tops, Spinach, Watercress, Escarole, Wheat grass
    • Add one vegetable to the diet at a time and eliminate any item that causes soft stools or diarrhea.
    • Guidelines for feeding are one handful per 5lbs of rabbit.

Cage Recommendations for Rabbits 

Essential supplies for all indoor rabbit habitats include a water bottle or bowl, feed bowl, hay, and toys. Bowls need to be heavy enough not to be tipped over. Provide a litter box with organic litter (do not use softwood shavings such as pine or cedar).  Most commercially available rabbit cages are too small for housing 24 hours a day.  Bigger is better and out of cage play-time is a must!  Make sure to supervise your bunny at all times when out of the cage.

Substrate 

  • Rabbits should be housed on solid flooring.
    • While wire floors can be kept clean easier, they predispose rabbits to getting sores on their hocks, commonly called “sore hocks”.
    • Different options for flooring are: carpet remnants, grass mats, and toweling. If your bunny starts to chew on or ingest any of the non-natural floor coverings, replace them with another item.
    • Absorbent bedding such as recycled paper product (CareFresh) or aspen shavings may also be used.

Cage Furniture 

  • Litter boxes
    • Rabbits can be litter box trained! Training is relatively easy if you place hay in the litter box.  Rabbits will eat from the clean half and defecate in the other half.  Slowly you can begin to switch to recycled paper product litter (CareFresh), or aspen shavings.
  • Hiding Place
    • A flat roofed house of wood or cardboard will provide a private area for the bunny. A hooded litter box or a pet carrier may also be used for this purpose.
    • Rabbits are easily stressed, so a safe hiding place is a very important part of the cage set-up.
  • Toys
    • There are a variety of toys commercially available for rabbits.
    • Tunnels can be made from open-ended cardboard boxes, cat tunnels, and cardboard propped up against the side of a wall.
    • Paper bags and cardboard boxes for crawling inside, scratching, and chewing.
    • A cardboard box stuffed with hay, straw, or shredded paper makes an inexpensive play box.
    • Rabbits also enjoying chewing and you can offer non-toxic branches. Untreated wood twigs and logs that have been aged for at least 3 months.  Apple tree branches can be eaten fresh off the tree. Stay away from: cherry, peach, apricot, plum and redwood, which are all poisonous.
    • We recommend visiting the Ohio House Rabbit Rescue Adoption Center Store for a variety of rabbit-safe toys and treats!

Body Language and Handling of Rabbits 

  • It is important to pick up and set down a rabbit correctly. If they are scared or nervous, their back legs are so strong that if done incorrectly, they can break their own back.  When picking up a rabbit, it is important to support their whole body, and if the rabbit is nervous, you can let them hide their eyes in your elbow.
  • Always place a rabbit back into the cage or onto the floor, rear end first. This decreases the likelihood of them jumping from your arms and hurting themselves.
  • A relaxed bunny may lay on their stomach or side, with their hind legs stretched out behind them!
  • When your bunny is extremely happy and in a large area, they may run around quickly and jump straight up in the air, shaking their whole body! If you have never seen this behavior before, some owners become concerned.  Don’t worry, this is called a binky, and normal behavior for a very happy bunny!

Veterinary Care for Rabbits

  • Common diseases in pet rabbits include; dental disease (molar elongation and tooth root abscesses), bladder stones, GI stasis and bloat, external parasites and cancer in older patients.
  • At MedVet Hilliard, we recommend spaying and neutering pet rabbits. Female rabbits have a very high incidence of uterine disease/cancer and spaying will prevent these problems.  Intact male rabbits can exhibit unwelcome reproductive behaviors, such as mounting and spraying.
  • We recommend yearly physical exams for all rabbits. Although rabbits do not require any vaccinations, many diseases can be caught early with routine veterinary visits and thorough physical exams.
  • It your bunny ever stops eating suddenly, stops producing feces suddenly or is having trouble breathing, these can be signs of life threatening diseases and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Resources for Additional Information on Rabbits 

We hope this information helps you care for your rabbit.