Rabbit CareRabbits make wonderful companions in the home. But contrary to common belief, they are not “low maintenance” pets. Learn the basics before you decide to adopt a rabbit.
Neuter Your Bunny
Why Neuter? Rabbits must be neutered for reasons of overpopulation, health, behavior, happiness, and companionship. Please see the article: Five Reasons to Spay or Neuter Your Rabbit.
When is it safe to neuter? Most female rabbits should be spayed at four months of age. Male rabbits can be neutered as soon as their testicles descend, at about 10-14 weeks of age. Some veterinarians feel more comfortable waiting until males are a minimum of three months of age. Older rabbits can also be neutered if they are in good health. Since females are prone to developing reproductive organ cancers, there is even more reason to spay an older intact female, to remove any cancer that may have already developed. You will want to have your older rabbit examined and a blood test done prior to neuter, and we do recommend that neutering of older rabbits be done by a specialist with a high success rate.
Pre Operation: Your rabbit should NOT be fasted prior to the operation. Instead, try to get your rabbit to eat something as close to the time of operation as possible, and bring along some of your bunny’s food in case there’s a wait. To minimize stress, do not leave your rabbit at the neuter clinic or veterinary hospital any more in advance of the operation than is absolutely necessary. Rabbits should be transported in a hard plastic carrier with liner such as artificial lambswool to keep them from sliding around and soiling themselves as they wait for surgery or are transported back home. When transporting, be aware that rabbits overheat easily–never leave a rabbit in a closed vehicle.
How much should you expect to pay? Costs vary between $100 for a low-cost neuter to $500 for a spay done by an exotic specialist. There is minimal financial aid available at this time.
Neutering not only helps curb overpopulation of domestic rabbits, it dramatically decreases the chance of reproductive cancers, makes litter box training easier, and reduces chewing and territorial behavior, such as spraying. Veterinarian information is provided to give you the information you need to further investigate who offers spay/neuter services for rabbits and is not an endorsement.
Clinics for low-cost neuters:
Mercy Crusade Spay and Neuter
2252 Craig Dr.
Oxnard, CA 93036
Family Veterinary Mobile Clinic
Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley areas
or make an appointment through www.familyveterinaryinc.com
Animal Medical Center
6540 Harbor Blvd.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Brookhaven Pet Hospital
10092 Chapman Ave. #5
Garden Grove, CA 92840
At this time, there is limited financial aid available for rabbit neuters.
- Actors & Others: (818) 755-6045
This section is intended to provide general information about rabbit health risks. It does not substitute for a trip to your veterinarian or more in-depth study of rabbit health concerns. Furthermore, we are focusing on the most common life-threatening concerns. We recommend that everyone who has a rabbit read Rabbit Health in the 21st Century and the 4th edition of The House Rabbit Handbook.
It’s up to you to make sure that you’ve done your homework to help your rabbit, should she develop a health problem. Choose your veterinarian wisely, and treat her or him with respect, but don’t be afraid to get a second opinion and do your own research. We also recommend that you have alternative veterinarians in case your primary vet is unavailable, and that you consider in advance what you will do if your rabbit has an after-hours emergency.
Here are some of the most common problems we see in domestic rabbits:
GI hypomotility (also known as GI stasis, or ileus, or “a hairball”)
This occurs when a rabbit’s digestive system slows down. There may be a buildup of gas, causing pain and inappetance. There is already a ton of information on this subject at www.rabbit.org and other internet sites. Search for “GI stasis in rabbits” and read; the best known article is “GI Stasis: the Silent Killer” by Dana Krempels, PhD. GI hypomotility is a very common problem and often unnecessarily fatal.
Any temperature over 80 degrees Fahrenheit can be dangerous for a rabbit. See our heat warning section for more detailed information and tips on how to keep your rabbit cool during the summer months or whenever there are unexpected spikes in temperature.
Rabbits have a delicate spine and powerful back legs. As a result, when they are dropped or struggle to get free from being held, they can break their own backs. Before you adopt a rabbit, learn how to properly handle one. There are many demonstration videos on YouTube showing how you hold one hand under the rabbit’s front legs and another over the tail, holding the rabbit securely and firmly against your body. Never lift the rabbit with her front legs or with your hands around her belly; always support her spine and sternum (under the bones). Always have one hand supporting her back. We use the phrase “always support the back of the bunny” to reinforce this message.
If your rabbit is injured, you must take her to the veterinarian to assess the damage. X-rays are often necessary to determine the extent of injury, and a course of antibiotics may be necessary. It’s important to know that predator attacks can be fatal even if you see no injury to the rabbit. A cat’s mouth is teeming with bacteria that can be fatal to a rabbit, especially a baby, if the rabbit’s skin is broken. Raccoon attacks are often fatal even when the rabbit is not killed outright. You must keep your rabbit safe from predators! Rabbits can have heart attacks and die with absolutely no physical contact. This happens most often when rabbits are in backyard hutches, when a raccoon tries repeatedly to get at the rabbit. Another common problem with backyard rabbits or indoor rabbits that are not kept clean is fly strike, which can be fatal.
Poisoning/Change in diet
See our toxic plants list here. If you suspect your rabbit has eaten something toxic, call the poison control center or your veterinarian immediately. You can administer liquid charcoal and fluids if you have those on hand. Do not feed your rabbit human food or change your rabbit’s diet suddenly.
You can look at your rabbit’s front teeth to see if she has incisor malocclusion, but your veterinarian will have to look at the back teeth with a scope. Signs that a rabbit might have molar problems include drooling or a slowdown in consumption of hay (or pellets) to a greater extent than veggies, or eating in a more gingerly fashion. When the back teeth cut into the gums and tongue, it becomes painful to eat hay; you may see your rabbit start to eat hay or pellets and then let them drop out of her mouth. It’s best to be proactive and have a wellness exam every year to detect problems before they impact your rabbit’s ability to eat.
URIs (upper respiratory infections), abscesses, and other problems caused by bacteria
Bacterial infections in rabbits are common. Rabbits will sometimes have long-term bacterial infections in their upper respiratory system. You should try to clear these up under the supervision of a veterinarian, with one or more courses of antibiotics. A culture and sensitivity test will help your veterinarian determine which antibiotics are likely to be effective. Sometimes rabbits get pneumonia, which probably rates as the “second silent killer” of rabbits after GI hypomotility since rabbits tend to hide their symptoms. Abscesses often have to be surgically removed and then treated aggressively with antibiotics. Head tilt is often caused by a bacterial infection or abscess. If left untreated, these problems can become serious. With proper treatment, however, many rabbits have recovered completely from head tilt, URIs (including the often misnamed “pasteurellosis”), abscesses (even the formerly dreaded “jaw bone abscess”) and have gone on to live long, healthy and happy lives.
Ear mites/fur mites
these are very easily treated but absolute misery for the rabbit when they are not. If your bunny has a crusty brown buildup in one or both ears and scratches them often, odds are she has ear mites. Fur mites are harder to detect; flakes and loss of hair are among the signs that your rabbit should see a veterinarian. The most common effective drug of choice now for treating ear mites or fur mites is selamectin. It is available only with a prescription from your veterinarian. Ivermectin is available without a prescription, however, it doesn’t have selamectin’s residual effect and has to be administered more often.
Defining an emergency:
Any change in your rabbit’s normal behavior should be cause for concern. The most serious is a change in appetite, or refusal to eat. Any time a rabbit refuses to eat for several hours at a time, it should be considered an emergency. Other signs of a health emergency include but are not limited to: lethargy, sitting in the litter box or in a corner for a prolonged period of time, head tilt, drooling, panting, tooth grinding (a sign of severe pain). As prey animals, rabbits hide symptoms of illness; if you detect that your rabbit is in pain, it’s probably extreme. If you have any doubt, consult with a veterinarian who has extensive experience treating rabbits.
- Rabbit References
- Rabbit Health in the 21st Century
- 4th edition of The House Rabbit Handbook.
NEVER leave a rabbit unattended in your vehicle. Even with the windows down, cars heat up fast. When you transport your bunny to the veterinarian or pet-sitter, make sure you bring along frozen water bottles to place in the carrier in case of emergency. Avoid traveling with your rabbit in the middle of the day.
Housing a rabbit in an outdoor hutch is not recommended. If you absolutely cannot keep your rabbit indoors during the summer, make sure the hutch or outdoor run has adequate ventilation and is shaded throughout the entire day. When the outside temperature reaches 80º F or higher, place a jug of frozen water in the hutch to keep bunny cool. Wash a plastic jug or liter bottle, fill it 4/5ths full of water and put it in the freezer overnight. Be sure to have an extra bottle or two ready to swap out. Your rabbit will lie against the frozen bottles of water to cool off and drink the moisture off the sides of the bottle. Misters can also be used to cool the air around the rabbits (don’t train the misters on the rabbits unless it’s very hot). But keep in mind these measures may not be enough to protect your outdoor bunny if the temperatures get too high.
If your bunny lives indoors but you do not have air conditioning, keep her cool on hot days by placing bottles of frozen water in her living area. Cross-ventilate when possible by leaving windows partly open.
Provide water in heavy crocks if possible, rather than in water bottles with a sipper—rabbits drink more water from an open dish. The water crock must be heavy to prevent your rabbit from tipping it over. You can add ice cubes to the water to keep it cool longer while you are away at work. Water must be easily accessible; make sure if you do use a bottle that it’s at a comfortable height and your rabbit can drink (about 6-8 inches from the bottom of the cage or fence for an average-sized adult rabbit, lower for babies).
Place a ceramic tile or marble slab in the corner of your rabbit’s living area. The tile provides a cool spot for bunny to lie on. You can put the tile in the refrigerator or freezer to make it even cooler.
Rinse a towel with cold water, wring it out, and hang it in front of a fan so the cool air blows through it. Don’t train the fan directly on the rabbit, and make sure she doesn’t have access to the fan or electrical cord.
If you go on vacation, choose an experienced pet-sitter who knows how sensitive bunnies are to the heat.
Symptoms of overheating include: listlessness, wet nose and mouth, hot ears, mouth breathing, convulsions or frantic activity.
To treat an overheated bunny, wipe cool water on her ears and wrap her in a cool, wet towel before rushing her to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian.
IMPORTANT: We refer to the specific veterinarians listed here, NOT to the hospitals in general. Be sure to check out any rabbit veterinarian yourself before having him or her treat or diagnose your rabbit. This list is provided to give you the information you need to further investigate veterinarians who treat rabbits. It is not an endorsement of the veterinarians, clinics or organizations listed.
Be aware that rabbit veterinary care can be expensive. Consult a rabbit volunteer or go to www.rabbit.org for a referral.
Rabbit Veterinarians – Los Angeles County:
WestsideDr. Frank Lavac VCA Wilshire Animal Hospital 2421 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90403 (310) 828-4587
Dr. L. Schwartz
3465 Overland Ave.
(Overland & Palms)
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dr. Sari Kanfer
Exotic Animal Veterinary Center
171 N. Altadena Dr., Suite 120
Pasadena, CA 91107
Drs. Lori Pickell, Valerie Tesauro
TLC Pet Medical Center
1412 Huntington Dr.
So. Pasadena, CA 91030
Dr. Bronwyn Dawson
Vanderhoof Veterinary Hospital
2234 Lake Avenue, Suite 101
Altadena, CA 91001
Glendale and San Fernando ValleyDr. Charles Misetich Arden Animal Hospital 407 W. Arden Blvd. Glendale, CA 91203 (818) 246-2478
Dr. Anne Marie Dueppen
Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital
3580 Willow Ln.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91361
ALSO FOR AFTER HOURS EMERGENCIES
Dr. Daniel Reimer
Adler Veterinary Group
16911 Roscoe Blvd.
Sepulveda, CA 91343
South BayDr. Walter Rosskopf Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital 4871 W. Rosecrans Ave. Hawthorne, CA 90250 (310) 679-0693
Dr. Ann Murata
Animal Emergency Clinic
3511 Pacific Coast Highway, Ste. A
Torrance, CA 90505
Dr. Robert Kaufman
Harbor Animal Hospital
Torrance, CA 90501
Medical EmergenciesRush your rabbit to the vet if you see: lack of appetite; diarrhea; few or no fecal pellets; listlessness; crusty ears; overgrown teeth, mucus around the eyes or nose; urine-soaked fur, straining to urinate; lump or swellings; head tilt; or any sudden behavior change. Rabbits don’t show illness like cats and dogs, so any perceived problem should be treated as an emergency. One skipped meal could mean your rabbit is in grave danger.
Call your regular veterinarian for a referral to an after-hours emergency clinic so that you are ready before an emergency occurs.
Your rabbit’s diet should include lots of fresh hay (timothy or oat for adults; alfalfa hay for babies), plain commercial rabbit pellets (no nuts, seeds, etc.) and fresh, washed vegetables and leafy greens. Romaine lettuce, carrot tops, dandelions, parsley, radish leaves, broccoli leaves, and cilantro are all good.
Treats include small slices of apple, pear or other fruit, or pieces of carrot. Do not feed human treats like crackers and cookies. Fresh water should be available at all times in a bowl or a water bottle. Please note: Rabbit digestion is very sensitive, so you must introduce new foods gradually. Young rabbits age 3 months and under should only be fed hay, rabbit pellets, and water, and NO FRUIT. See our diet sheet for more information.
GeneralAn adult rabbit’s diet should be made up of water, hay, high quality pellets and fresh vegetables. Anything else is a treat and should be given in limited quantities. IMPORTANT: All dietary changes must be made gradually.
- Pellets should be fresh and relatively high in fiber (18% minimum fiber). Do not purchase more than six weeks worth of food at a time, as it will become spoiled.
- Hay should be available 24 hours a day. Hay is essential to a rabbit’s health. Hay provides roughage, which reduces the danger of hairballs and other blockages. Apple twigs also provide good roughage.
- Salt licks are not necessary.
- No nuts or seeds.
- Variety yet consistency is key for vegetables. When shopping, look for both dark leafy vegetables and root vegetables.
Babies and Teenagers
- birth to 3 weeks: mother’s milk
- 3-4 weeks: mother’s milk, nibbles of alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets
- 4-7 weeks: mother’s milk, access to alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets
- 7 weeks to 7 months: unlimited alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets (plus 12 weeks see below)
- 12 weeks: introduce vegetables (one at a time, quantities under ½ oz.), grass hays
Young Adults: 7 months to 1 year
- eliminate alfalfa, increase grass hays
- decrease pellets to ½ cup per 6 lbs. body weight
- increase daily vegetables gradually
- fruit rations no more than 1-2 oz. per 6 lb. body weight (these are treats!)
Mature Adults: 1 to 5 years
- unlimited grass hays (no alfalfa)
- ¼ – ½ cup pellets per 6 lb. body weight, preferably timothy-based pellets, such as Oxbow Bunny Basics T
- minimum 2 cups chopped vegetables per 6 lb. body weight
- fruit only as treats!
- continue adult diet if sufficient weight is maintained
- frail or older rabbits may need unrestricted pellets to keep weight up.
Suggested VegetablesSelect at least 3 kinds of vegetables daily. A variety is necessary in order to obtain the essential nutrients. Pick one each day that contains vitamin A (indicated by an *). Add one vegetable to the diet at a time. Eliminate if it causes soft stools or diarrhea.
- Beet Greens(tops) *
- Bok Choy
- Asian Broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Carrot tops
- Collard Greens*
- Dandelion greens and flowers
- Green Peppers
- Mustard greens*
- Pea pods (the flat edible kind)
- Peppermint leaves
- Radish tops
- Raspberry tops
- Romaine lettuce (no iceberg or light-colored leaf)
- Wheat grass
(*) contains vitamin A
(!) use sparingly. High in either oxalates or goitrogens and may be toxic in accumulated quantities over a period of time.
Suggested FruitsSugary fruits such as bananas and grapes should be used only sparingly, as occasional treats. Bunnies have a sweet tooth and if left to their own devices will devour sugary foods to the exclusion of healthy ones.
- Apple (remove stem and seeds)
- Carrots (yes, these are vegetables, but they are high in sugar)
- Orange (including peel)
Toxic/Poisonous Plant ListPlease note that the exclusion of a specific plant from this list does not mean that the plant is safe. If you suspect your rabbit has ingested an unsafe plant, please call your vet and/or your local poison control center or the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.
- Agave (leaves)
- Amaryllis (bulbs)
- Angel’s Trumpet
- Apple (seeds)
- Apricot (all parts except fruit)
- Asian Lilly
- Asparagus Fern
- Australian Nut
- Autumn Crocus
- Avacado (leaves)
- Azalea (leaves)
- Balsam pear (seeds, outer rind of fruit)
- Baneberry (berries, roots)
- Barbados Lilly
- Betel-nut Palm
- Bird of Paradise (seeds)
- Bitter Cherry (seeds)
- Bittersweet (American & European)
- Black Nightshade
- Black Walnut (hulls)
- Boston Ivy
- Buddhist Pine
- Busy Lizzie
- Buttercup (leaves)
- Black Locust (seeds,bark, sprouts, foliage)
- Blue-green algae (some forms toxic)
- Boxwood (leaves,twigs)
- Bracken fern
- Branching Ivy
- Buckeye (seeds)
- Buckthorn (berries, fruit, bark)
- Bull Nettle
- Buttercup (sap, bulbs)
- Cactus Thorn
- Calico Bush
- Calla Lilly (rhizome, leaves)
- Caladiur (leaves)
- Carolina Jessamine
- Castor Bean (seed, leaves – castor oil)
- Chalice vine (all parts)
- Cherry tree (bark, twig, leaves, pits)
- China Doll
- Chinaberry tree
- Chinese Bellflower
- Chinese Lantern
- Chinese Evergreen
- Choke Cherry (seeds)
- Christmas Candle (sap)
- Christmas Rose
- Climbing Nightshade
- Clivia (a.k.a Kaffir Lily)
- Coffee Bean
- Cone Flower
- Coral plant (seeds)
- Corn Plant
- Crown of Thorns
- Cuban Laurel
- Cuckoopint (all parts)
- Cutleaf Philodendron
- Daffodil (bulbs)
- Daphne (berries, bark)
- Datura (berries)
- Day Lily Deadly Amanita (all parts)
- Deadly Nightshade
- Death Camas (all parts)
- Delphinium (all parts)
- Devil’s Ivy
- Dieffenbachia (leaves)
- Dumb Cane
- Dutchman’s Breeches
- Easter Lilly
- Eggplant (all but fruit)
- Elderberry (unripe berries, roots, stems)
- Elephant Ear (leaves, stem)
- Emerald Feather English Laurel
- English Ivy (berries, leaves)
- False Hellebore
- False Henbane (all parts)
- False Parsley
- Fiddle Leaf Fig
- Flamingo Plant
- Florida Beauty
- Flowering Maple
- Flowering Tobacco
- Foxglove (leaves, seeds)
- Garden Sorrel
- German Ivy
- Ghostweed (all parts)
- Giant Touch-me-not
- Glacier Ivy
- Glory Lilly
- Gold Dust
- Golden Chain (all parts)
- Golden Pothos
- Green Gold
- Hahn’s Ivy
- Hairy Vetch
- Hart Ivy
- Hawaiian Ti
- Heartleaf Philodendron
- Heavenly Bamboo
- Hemlock, Poison (all parts)
- Hemlock, Water (all parts)
- Henbane (seeds)
- Holly (berries)
- Horse Chestnut (nuts, twigs)
- Horsehead Philodendron
- Horsetail Reed
- Hurricane Plant
- Hyacinth (bulbs)
- Indian Hemp
- Indian Rubber
- Indian Turnip (all parts)
- Inkberry Iris (bulbs)
- Ivy, Boston & English (berries, leaves)
- Jack-in-the-Pulpit (all parts)
- Japanese Euonymus
- Japanese Show Lily
- Japanese Yew
- Jasmine Java Bean (uncooked bean)
- Jerusalem Cherry (berries)
- Jimson Weed (leaves, seeds) Johnson Grass
- Juniper (needles, stems, berries)
- Laburnum (all parts)
- Lace Fern
- Lacy Tree Philodendron
- Lady Slipper Lantana (immature berries)
- Larkspur (all parts)
- Laurel (all parts)
- Laurel Cherry
- Lily of the Valley (all parts) Lima Bean (uncooked bean)
- Lobelia (all parts)
- Locoweed (all parts)
- Lords and Ladies (all parts)
- Macadamia Nut
- Madagascar Dragon Tree
- Manchineel Tree
- Marbel Queen
- Marijuana (leaves)
- Marsh Marigold
- Mauna Loa Peace Lily
- Mayapple (all parts except fruit) Meadow Saffron
- Medicine Plant
- Mexican Breadfruit
- Mescal Bean (seeds)
- Milk Bush
- Mistletoe (berries) Mock Orange (fruit)
- Monkshood (leaves, roots)
- Morning Glory (all parts)
- Mountain Laurel
- Mushrooms (some)
- Mustard (root)
- Narcissus (bulbs) Needlepoint Ivy
- Nicotiana Nightshades (berries, leaves)
- Oak (acorns, foliage) Oleander (leaves, branches, nectar) Oxalis
- Parlor Ivy
- Patience Plant
- Peace Lily
- Peach (leaves, twigs, seeds)
- Pear (seeds)
- Pencil Cactus
- Peony Periwinkle
- Philodendron (leaves, stem)
- Plum (seeds)
- Plumosa Fern
- Poison Hemlock
- Poison Ivy
- Poison Oak
- Poison sumac Pokeweed
- Potato (eyes & new shoots, green parts)
- Precatory Bean
- Privet (all parts)
- Purple Thornapple
- Queensland Nut
- Red Emerald
- Red Lily Red Princess
- Rhododendron (all parts)
- Rhubarb (leaves) Ribbon Plant
- Ripple Ivy
- Rosary Pea (seeds)
- Rubrum Lily
- Sago Palm
- Self-branching Ivy
- Shamrock Plant
- Silver Pothos
- Skunk Cabbage (all parts) Snake Palm
- Snowdrop (all parts)
- Snow-on-the-Mountain (all parts)
- Solomon’s Seal
- Split Leaf Philodendron Star of Bethlehem
- String of Pearls
- Sweet Pea (seeds and fruit)
- Sweetheart Ivy
- Swiss Cheese Plant
- Taro Vine
- Thornapple Tiger Lily
- Tobacco (leaves) Tomato (leaves, vines)
- Tree Philodendron
- Tulip (bulb)
- Umbrella Plant
- Vetch (Hairy)
- Vinca Violet (seeds) Virginia Creeper (berries, sap)
- Walnuts (hulls, green shells)
- Water Hemlock
- Weeping Fig Western Lily
- Wild Carrots
- Wild Cucumber
- Wild Parsnip Wild Peas
- Wisteria (all parts)
- Wood Lily
Yam Bean (roots, immature pods)
Yellow Jasmine Yew (needles, seeds, berries)
When picked up, a scared rabbit may kick out with her powerful hind legs and fall to the floor, breaking her back. A child struggling to hold a wiggly bunny could be badly scratched or bitten and the rabbit injured. For this reason and others, children should always be supervised with rabbits. Also, because rabbits are prey animals, they would rather not be picked up, but prefer that you meet them at their level and pet them on the floor. To pick up a rabbit correctly, place one hand under the rabbit behind the front legs and the other hand just above the bunny’s tail. Hug the rabbit against your body firmly but gently.
NEVER pick up a rabbit by the ears — this is very painful and can cause permanent injury.
NEVER chase your rabbit, use force or yell — that will only teach her to fear you. Always be sensitive and gentle with your rabbit!
Rabbits are clean animals and should generally not be bathed.
Trim rabbit nails, front and back, every six to eight weeks. Comb your bunny gently with a fine-toothed flea comb about once a week—more if he is shedding, to prevent fur balls. Rabbits cannot cough up fur balls like a cat. If your bunny gets fleas, carefully groom with a flea comb, dipping it in soapy water as needed. “Advantage” (but not necessarily other, similar products) has been used on rabbits with success; follow directions and keep bunnies separate until completely absorbed. NEVER use FRONTLINE or a flea dip or a flea collar—these are toxic to rabbits. Rough fur, “dandruff,” or loss of fur can mean fur mites or ringworm—see your vet, as these conditions can easily be treated with medication.
Secure puppy or rabbit pens 30-36” tall are best for indoor “starter” housing. If bunny jumps out, you can clip a sheet across the top of the pen for a couple of weeks until she establishes boundaries. You can put linoleum or plastic chair mats over your carpet or flooring during “potty training” and to prevent bunny from chewing or digging the carpet. We like the saying, "pen the electronics, not the rabbits!" because that gives bunnies the most space while protecting your home. Please note that playpens must be indoors only for safety reasons; outdoor pens either trap bunnies so they cannot get away from predators, or don't hold rabbits in (bunnies will tunnel under unless pens have a bottom).
The X-Pen (Exercise pen or playpen) Option
X-pens are dog exercise pens that can be purchased at local pet supply stores. They cost as much or less than a large cage. You can find “small animal” exercise pens, too, on-line and at some stores. 36” tall pen is suggested. Until you can be sure bunny won’t escape over the top, just clip a sheet to the top of the pen creating a roof (this can be removed after a few weeks) or purchase a taller pen. Pens can be adjusted to fit various spaces/size.
- - If your rabbit is not able to live in a larger indoor bunny-proofed room or area, then an X-Pen is the next best thing.
- - Room for bunny to exercise a bit
- - Easier for human companions to interact with the rabbit; bunny does not “defend” against you like in a cage.
- - Room for large toys, cardboard boxes, tunnels, hide-aways.
- - Much easier to clean than a cage especially when the rabbit is spayed/neutered and litter box trained.
Setup: use hard waterproof flooring (hard plastic desk mat, linoleum) to protect your floor, wrap an old sheet tightly around flooring, and set up the pen on top of the sheet/flooring. The setup in the photo above shows rabbits on seagrass mats over a linoleum floor. Add litter box layered with litter and fresh hay (oat or timothy), toys, water dish, dish for pellets etc.
Alternatives to the exercise pen: put a baby gate or Dutch door across the doorway to one room, and bunny-proof that room; section off a corner for your bunny; build your own large, indoor rabbit habitat using 1” x 2” welded wire and untreated lumber.
Rabbits do not tolerate heat, dampness, or drafts. Your rabbit should be in a quiet, safe location close enough to human activity so she doesn’t become lonely.
Don’t forget – Bunny still needs exercise time outside of the pen, unless it's a very large enclosure!
Outdoor housing is dangerous and not recommended.Rabbits are prone to heat stroke (anything over 85 degrees is life-threatening) and can be killed by raccoons, hawks, dogs, feral cats, fly strike and other predators. Rabbits are great escape artists: they can burrow under backyard fences or squeeze out of very small openings, never to be seen again. Raccoons are adept at opening hutch doors and rabbits can die from a heart attack when a predator attempts to break in.
We do not advocate housing rabbits outdoors. Supervised exercise time outside may or may not be safe, depending on your setup and the level of supervision; but we do not recommend that. It takes only a moment for tragedy to strike and we have heard many stories of hawks, coyotes, dogs on retractable leashes or other animals killing rabbits right in front of their caretakers.
What you Need for your Bunny
Exercise Pen or wire Puppy Gate:
to block off an area in your home for the rabbit to live in. 36″ or taller for most, but 30″ pens can work if a sheet is clipped over the top during the first week or so to prevent the rabbit from jumping over. Make sure the bunny cannot stick its head through the wire or get stuck. Pens are not recommended for outdoor housing; they are not predator-proof but trap bunny so she cannot get away.
Outdoor housing is not recommended. If the rabbit must live outdoors, purchase or build a large hutch (minimum 2′ x 4′ per rabbit) with solid flooring.
The bigger, the better! We like large cat boxes with rims.
Paper- or aspen-based litters are good; other litters can be dangerous. Some brands of safe litter: CareFresh, Aspen Supreme pelleted litter, Yesterday’s News (“Original Unscented” only). Pine shavings cause respiratory and liver damage; clumping litters can clog a rabbit’s digestive system; clay litters also cause respiratory problems.
alfalfa for babies, oat blend, timothy, orchard grass hays for adults. Make sure to transition the rabbit onto alfalfa hay slowly if she is not used to it. Hay is a must for all healthy rabbits.
Visit your local farmer’s market or health food store to buy organic produce (parsley, Romaine lettuce, dandelion, etc.-see recommended vegetable list). All produce must be washed thoroughly to remove pesticides and herbicides. Vegetables keep best in a well-regulated refrigerator in plastic bags with a towel inside to absorb moisture. Don’t feed wilted or rotten veggies; if in doubt, throw them out (or better yet, compost)!
We recommend a timothy-based pellet such as Oxbow Bunny Basics T for adults (rabbits 8 months and over, done growing) and an alfalfa-based pellet such as Oxbow Bunny Basics 15/23 for babies and growing bunnies. Kaytee Supreme plain pellets, with no nuts or seeds, is the best widely-available alternative to people who find the Oxbow products too expensive.
heavy crocks or clip-on dishes. Crocks are usually preferable to water bottles–they can be easily cleaned and bunnies drink more water from a crock. Food dishes should be small, water dishes, large.
Hard plastic toys such as jingle balls and barrels for cats and birds make good bunny toys. The rabbit should not be able to ingest or get caught on any element of the toy. Pet store treats are usually not recommended for rabbits (check the ingredients before buying). Small pieces of fresh fruit (see recommended fruit list) or dried applewood twigs are better for bunny.
Wooden nest boxes or cardboard houses for bunny to jump and hide in.
Hard plastic carriers that have a top opening are preferred. A synthetic lambswool lining prevents bunny from slipping and absorbs moisture in the carrier.
- a nail clipper
- small flea comb
- rubber brush (such as a Zoom Groom)
Flea Products (for ‘outdoor bunnies’ or those in contact with cats and dogs that go outdoors):
Advantage is the best product. The 0-9 lb. cat tubes are recommended to prevent overdose. Half the recommended dose is usually effective and safer for the bunny. Because rabbits groom themselves and each other constantly, care must be taken to follow the instructions on the packet. NEVER use flea collars, dips, Frontline (all potentially fatal) or other flea products that have not been extensively tested on rabbits. Remember “A” is for Advantage, “F” is for Fatal and Frontline!
- Gallon jugs of white vinegar
- paper towel
- hand vacuum and/or broom
When you change bunny’s box, pour a thin coat of vinegar on the bottom of the box, let it soak for a few minutes, then rinse; you’ll have no odor and no build-up. Vinegar also works miracles in getting urine off linoleum, tiles and wood and helping litterbox-train your bunny. You will want to keep bunny’s living quarters scrupulously clean. Rabbits don’t tolerate molds and must have a clean environment, but they are also sensitive to cleaning products such as bleach and other caustic cleaners.
What NOT to buy:
- NO Wire Cages. Wire cages cause hutch sores and are usually too small to provide humane housing.
- NO Harnesses. Most harnesses are not constructed properly and bunny can strangle, get loose, or break her back from a sudden stop. Harnesses cannot protect the rabbit or caretaker from predator attacks.
- NO Hay Racks. These don’t provide the amount of hay bunny needs. Rabbits can get their feet caught in the racks and hang.
- NO Seed & Nut Treats. Too fattening as well as choking hazards.
- NO Yogurt Drops. These ‘treats’ are made of milk and sucrose–very bad for rabbits!
- NO Exercise Balls & Wheels. These are really cruel for a rabbit.
- Also not necessary: vitamin drops for the water. That is not the way to provide vitamins for your bunnies.
Once your rabbit has learned to use the litter box, you can give him or her more freedom in your home–provided you have rabbit-proofed. Rabbit-proofing involves protecting your rabbit from electrocution, carpet fibers, poisonous plants, strings, candles, lead paint, and so on. As an added benefit, rabbit-proofing also protects your valuable material possessions, your antique furniture, rare books, and expensive gossamer curtains.
Thorough rabbit-proofing is critical to your rabbit’s safety: rabbits cannot cough up (regurgitate), and operations on their digestive systems are rarely successful. Electrical cords are irresistible to most rabbits and very dangerous. Don’t count on “training” your rabbit not to chew cords; rabbits are smart and quickly learn that when you are not in the room, they can get away with anything. Providing distractions in the form of rabbit-safe chew toys, such as untreated willow chews and cardboard houses, may help. But the only certain way to prevent harm to your rabbit is to create physical barriers between your rabbit and hazards in your home.
Consider reserving one rabbit-proofed room for your bunnies with a baby gate across the doorway, or construct a completely safe “rabbit living room” with puppy exercise pens. To rabbit-proof a room, lift all electrical cords out of reach or cover them completely with cable wrap that your rabbit cannot chew through. Remove all dangerous or destructible objects from reach.
- Is your rabbit chewing under the bed? Tack hardware cloth to the box spring. Or consider installing a space-saving bunk bed.
- Regular cable cover not chew-proof? Try metal channels over your electrical cords.
- Is your moulding under attack? Attach wallpaper protectors (strips of acrylic) or untreated aspen to the molding.
- Rabbits digging at the corner of the carpet? Place ceramic tiles or grass mats in the corners.
- Do the books on your bottom shelf all have chew-marks? Use the bottom bookshelf for rabbit-impervious items such as hard plastic or metal filing cabinets, or put a glass door over that shelf.
- Worried about your rabbit ingesting the wood finish off your furniture legs? Cover them with acrylic sleeves.
- Replace carpeting with tile or wood flooring if at all possible (that’s better for you, too: carpets harbor molds, bacteria and allergens). Block off the entertainment center altogether instead of attempting to cover all those wires.
Litter Box Training
Most rabbits can be litter-trained and allowed supervised freedom in the house. Start with a large cat litter box; put newspaper and/or rabbit-safe litter on the bottom and cover it with lots of fresh timothy or oat hay. Since a rabbit usually urinates in one corner of his space, this is where you place the litter box. Once the bunny uses the box reliably, you can let him out into a larger area, putting out a second box. Keep bunny confined to a 4’ x 4’ space until he is very good with his box.
During the two weeks following neuter surgery, or when you first bring your adopted bunny home, confine him to a puppy pen with linoleum or a hard plastic desk mat underneath, or large dog crate with solid, moisture-proof flooring and a large litter box in the corner. Not a little triangular box, but a BIG cat box or cement mixing box made from hard plastic. Line the litter box with rabbit-safe litter (see our suggested products page), then top off with handfuls of grass hay, such as oat blend or timothy.
Whenever you see your rabbit hop into the box, praise him. Rabbits are quite sensitive and respond well to positive reinforcement. Don’t scold your bunny for not using the box. Instead, clean up urine with white vinegar, which completely removes the smell, and sweep up fecal pellets, placing them into the box where they belong.
Tips to help speed up and improve box training
- Use a paper towel to soak up “accidents” and place it in the litter box.
- Keep the floor outside the box scrupulously clean.
- Provide a bigger litter box and/or a second litter box with soft litter and no hay.
- Use a brand of rabbit-safe litter that has very little odor of its own.
- Put fresh hay in the box several times daily to encourage bunny to hop in.
After thorough box-training, rabbits can be given more space in a bunny-proofed area of the home and are on their way to becoming well-behaved house bunnies.
- Bunny goes everywhere besides the box, and tends to nap in the box. Your rabbit is sending you a clear signal that s/he needs a second box, one to sleep in, one to “go” in.
- Bunny’s hopping all over and leaving pellets all over, too. The biggest mistake new bunny parents make is to give the rabbit too much space, too soon. Wait until your bunny’s box habits are as good as they are going to be, before letting him or her run “free” in the home.
- Bunny has picked a spot to use for the “bathroom” and goes there religiously. It isn’t the spot you had in mind. Once a bunny has made up his mind that the latrine is located in a particular area, it’s hard to convince him otherwise. Just put a litter box there.
Neutered boy-girl pairs get along best, although neutered litter-mates of the same gender often stay friends. Bunny matchmaking can be dangerous, so always consult with a rabbit rescue group for tips on bonding, before you put one rabbit into another rabbit’s territory.
- Rabbits must be spayed and neutered for a minimum of 2 weeks, preferably for over a month, prior to introduction. Exception: babies under 6 weeks of age can usually be quickly and easily combined with other babies.
- Rabbits must be introduced and bonded in neutral territory. This means no house, litter box, or other property of a resident rabbit. Rabbits are extremely territorial and it’s unlikely they will accept another rabbit into their personal space without a fight.
- It’s best to let the rabbits choose their friends. This is usually done using “speed dates” at the rabbit rescue or adoption venue. You should allow an absolute minimum of 1-2 hours of dating time once your rabbit has chosen a friend, to best evaluate the potential of the bond working. When rabbits are introduced, they may be too tense for the first hour to show their true colors.
- Male-female bonds tend to be the most stable, but personality trumps sex. Two dominant rabbits are least likely to work out, while subservient, easygoing rabbits, especially if they are elderly or disabled, can often be bonded with rabbits of the same sex.
- Rabbits should be of similar energy level and health condition. Babies should only be bonded with other babies. Likewise, elderly and disabled rabbits should only be bonded with other compromised or at least sedentary rabbits. Severely compromised or ill rabbits should be allowed to recover before attempting bonding.
Set up two playpens side by side in your home with a 6-12” spacer in between them to prevent injury. Every other day, switch litter boxes to get the scent from one rabbit intermingled with the scent of the other. After about a week of this, begin switching rabbits between the pens. The litter boxes should be as close as they can get inside the pens, so that the rabbits are eating and using the box near one another. After a few weeks, you’re ready to introduce the rabbits. The best way to do this is to set up a large pen in a neutral territory. At this point, you may also be able to open up the two pens where they are and put several obstacles in them while monitoring the bonding (see below). I have done several bondings at my home in this fashion. Bonding slowly, over time, is the least stressful, safest option for the rabbits when their caretakers work full time or do not have the time or energy to bond them quickly over a few days.
When and how do you set up the pen or room for bonding?
- Start in the morning, and give yourself the whole day to work on the bond. That way it’s less likely they will fight when you go to sleep. Do not leave your rabbits unsupervised for a minute during the first few hours. Some people sleep with or at least near their rabbits for the first night of bonding.
- Work with a large space and plenty of obstacles such as cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, carriers, or tubes. Make sure there is no place for the rabbits to go into and fight where you cannot reach them, i.e. if there’s a couch in the room, block it off.
- Rabbits bond over food. Give them lots of hay and veggies to share.
- Litter boxes can be a source of tension if one rabbit occupies a box and immediately establishes territory. You may want to provide more than one box, or encourage the rabbits to come out of the box.
- Sit with the rabbits next to one another on your lap, facing in the same direction. Pet both. Let them relax a bit, making sure neither reaches to bite the other. After a few minutes, allow them to move about the bonding area, but continue monitoring them closely.
- When you are stuck, that is, the rabbits are avoiding one another or are skirmishing, take them on a scary car ride: put them together in a top-opening carrier and go on a car ride (but never in the middle of the day or when it’s hot). Move the carrier until you get the car started or they could fight in the carrier. Once you’re in a moving vehicle, it’s highly unlikely they will fight. If they do, the bond isn’t going to work out. A scary car ride can be simulated using a wheeled cart.
- Do not allow aggression to escalate; that creates a negative history. To diffuse tension or stop circling before it turns into a fight, try one or more of the following: whistle, clap your hands, or simply reach in and press one rabbit’s head gently to the floor in submissive pose. Be aware that you could get bitten if reaching into the middle of a fight.
- Humping, nipping, bickering, or chasing are all ok as long as no rabbit is traumatized. Bonded rabbits often chase one another and some even pull out fur.
- Circling or fighting has to be broken up. Circling is a precursor to the rabbits latching onto one another with their teeth and then kicking with their back feet, potentially inflicting serious wounds.
- One of the rabbits stops eating.
- One of the rabbits acts traumatized by trembling constantly.
- A rabbit screams.
- A rabbit sustains a serious injury requiring stitches and antibiotics.
How do you know the rabbits are “bonded”?
Bonding is a process. The rabbits are on their way to forming a friendship when they live together for 48 hours without fighting. It’s relatively rare for rabbits to fight seriously if they have co-existed for that length of time. They’re on the way to becoming a rabbit family unit. After a few weeks of co-existing, the relationship may change, and you may notice more snuggling and grooming. Even if you do not see a deepening of the relationship, at this point the rabbits should be considered bonded.
What do you do if one rabbit doesn’t groom the other?
Nothing. Not all rabbit pairs will groom one another. It’s common for one rabbit to do more grooming than the other, and that’s ok as long as the rabbits get along. As social animals, rabbits enjoy living, eating, and sleeping with or near other rabbits, without necessarily being soulmates. After a few weeks of living together, rabbits have already formed a bond.
Once the rabbits are bonded, do not separate them!
Never Put Un-neutered Rabbits Together
Adult males will fight; adult females will fight; one of each will lead to an unwanted pregnancy.
Dogs, Cats and Other Animals
Gentle, indoor cats usually work out a good relationship with rabbits, but the introduction must be slow and supervised. Dogs must be quiet, obedience-trained, and well behaved for them to have a safe relationship with a rabbit. Most dogs cannot be left alone with a rabbit. The mere sight of a ferret or snake can cause a rabbit to have a heart attack. Do not expect a dog, cat, or other animal to behave around a rabbit.
Finding a home for your Rabbit
Please see Finding Homes for Rabbits.
What should you do if I find a stray rabbit?
Please contact us at email@example.com or call 310-713-2478. Our call volume is very high so please do not wait if the bunny is injured or you cannot care for it. In that case, please take the rabbit to your local animal shelter or veterinarian. When feeding a stray rabbit, start with water and grass hay (NOT alfalfa hay), then introduce small amounts of plain rabbit pellets. Do not simply feed a stray rabbit lettuce and carrots–the sudden introduction of vegetables and fruits the rabbit is not accustomed to can make it seriously ill or even kill it. We understand if you are unwilling to take the bunny to an animal shelter. In that case, please see our basic care information on this website. If you cannot keep the bunny, you have the option of fostering or finding it a foster home, and listing it on our website for adoption.
Street Vendors or Selling Rabbits
UPDATE: As of September 2011, it is now ILLEGAL to buy rabbits sold on the street. Fines up to $1,000 apply for those buying from street vendors.
What should you do if you see a street vendor selling baby rabbits?
The illegal sale of animals is a problem in downtown Los Angeles and other places, especially as Easter approaches. Unscrupulous people think nothing of removing unweaned babies from their mothers to make $20. Sadly, the majority will not survive longer than a week. Even when rescued, their chances of survival and finding a good home are slim.
Do not patronize these animal traffickers as it only encourages them to sell more animals. Instead, try to get their vehicle’s license plate number and report them to the police. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call Crimestoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477).
Tipsters may also contact Crimestoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cell phone. All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.” Tipsters may also submit their crime tips online at LAPD Online WebTips.
Found Injured Wild Rabbit
What should you do if you find an injured wild rabbit?
In the Greater Los Angeles area, call 818-591-9453 to reach California Wildlife Center’s Hospital Line. You can also visit www.californiawildlifecenter.org. If you cannot reach the wildlife organization quickly, please contact an exotic veterinarian. An injured wild rabbit often has a slim chance of survival. List of wildlife rehabbers in the U.S