Domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus ) are descendants of the wild rabbits living in Western Europe and Northern Africa. In a rabbit’s natural environment they are completely herbivorous. This means that they eat only plant matter. In the twilight and night hours are when they most actively forage for their food. Their claws are used to help them dig and burrow into the ground for protection and shelter. Their speed and maneuverability helps them escape from their predators in the wild. Both in the wild and in captivity they are known to be successful breeders.
Domesticated rabbits are typically docile and quiet in nature making them a popular pet. However, they do need more care then many originally think and sadly the end result is not always a happy one. Too many are drawn in by their cuteness especially when still young. Be sure that you do research before deciding if these adorable balls of fur are right for you,
10 or more years.
Can be a bit tricky on some types of rabbits. Generally it’s not until they are to the age of sexual maturity that it’s much easier to tell. With practice you can sex your rabbits pretty accurately. However, even breeders make the occasional mistake. Often the females have a fold of skin that develops under the neck. This is called a dewlap. Females have slit opening where the males have cylindrical tubes. Males will have external testicles but like many small animals they can withdraw them into the body. This can make sexing younger rabbits difficult. There’s many websites out there that go into more details on how to sex correctly. If you still aren’t sure and don’t want any oops litters be sure to consult a breeder or vet that specializes in rabbits.
Males usually fight especially once they reach maturity. If a male has been bred it can fight to the death and kill another male if he sees them as competition. It’s generally not a good idea to house males together at all. Even ones that get along in the beginning often change later on and you’ll end up having to separate them.
Females are generally easier to pair up and often do okay together. The bigger the cage the better so that they don’t get stressed and feel over crowded.
The other pairing that usually works is a neutered/spayed pair.
Of course every rabbit is different and some prefer to live solo. Others may play well together outside of a cage but prefer not having any cage mates.
Many recommend that your rabbits are housed indoors. However, given the proper shelter and following certain precautions rabbits and do live well outdoors as well.
The cage whether indoors or out should be at least as large as possible. The bigger the cage the better. Plus you’ll find you won’t have to purchase or change cages as much as they grow. There’s a debate on whether solid or wire bottom cages are better. Either type can be used. Some larger breeds tend to have issues wire cages. If you give your rabbit some solid surfaces or a good bedding this should help prevent any issues.
Food dish - often the best the type is metal or ceramic and something heavy that won’t be easily tipped over. Many love to toss their dishes around so another way to go is the type that attach to the cage. There’s many different styles on the market these days so you can find something that works best for you and your rabbit.
Water bottle - be sure to use either a plastic or glass water bottle. Each have their pros and cons. However, both are much safer and more practical then using a water dish. Dishes of water not only get spilled too easily but harbor germs and bacteria when food and waste get kicked into them.
Litter box - typically this is a preference thing. Many rabbits can be litter trained. They tend to pick a corner to do their business and are usually pretty adamant about always returning to that area. You can place a litter box in their chosen corner. Many do pick up on the concept, especially younger rabbits. Owners find it makes clean up a lot easier. Time between full cage clean outs can be extended leaving you only having to maintain the litter box regularly.
Hides - many rabbits enjoy a quiet, warm, dark place to hang out in. Many outdoor and some indoor styles provide a hutch for this purpose. You can also purchase different rabbits houses or make your own. Another handy way is using boxes and then as they get soiled or chewed up you can always replace them.
Toys - Be sure they have something to entertain themselves. They often enjoy tossing things around, pouncing, and yes even chewing. You can get creative and make your own toys by using things around the house or check out the wide variety that many stores have now. It’s usually cheaper in the long run to find and make your own toys that way you know what your rabbits does and doesn’t like and you’re not out a ton of money on a forgotten toy.
Chew treats - Rabbit teeth constantly grow throughout it’s life. It’s important that you provide them with items to help wear them down. You can specially made chew toys and treats. Untreated pinewood or fruit tree branches are also a good things to gnaw on.
Hay - should be their primary source of food. Unlimited amounts of timothy or Bermuda are the best choice. Though some alfalfa hay okay on occasion. Do limit the amount of alfalfa as it’s been proven to cause urinary stones.
Mixed leafy greens - can and should be a daily food as well. At least one cup a day.
Pellets - are best if used in addition to the hay and greens. It shouldn’t be their primary diet but is a good source of nutrition if that is all that is available.
Fruits - Only in small amounts since the high sugar content may cause diarrhea.
Remember always introduce new foods, especially vegetables and fruit slowly.
Safe Vegetables, Fruits & Weeds
Apple (no seeds)
Nettles (small dried)
Radish tops & sprouts
Strawberry and leaves
Carrots (tops & root)
Papaya (no seeds)
Autumn Leaves (dry)
Lettuce (dark leaf varieties)
Blackberry (leaves, stems & fruit)
Dandelion (leaves, stem & flower),
Raspberry (leaves, stems, fruit)
Tomato (fruit only, leaves are toxic)
Rose petals & leaves
Nicotine, Biscuits, Salty Foods, Sweet Foods,
House Plants, Peas, Cedar Chips, Chocolate,
Avocado, Beans, Onions, Potatoes, Rhubarb,
Pesticide treated foods
Never pick them up by the ears or neck. Also never allow them to dangle in midair. It they jerk around it can crack their spine, neck, or other bones. Always carefully support their hindquarters by sliding your hand under it’s hind legs. Then lift them up and brace them close to you with both arms. Another option is lifting it using it’s underbelly and carefully holding it that way.
Never chase your rabbits to catch them.
When you need to put your rabbit back into it’s cage herd it by walking behind it.
Don’t pick the rabbit up allow it to back in on it’s own.
Spot check the cage daily. Remove any soiled bedding or litter. Also be sure that the dishes are clean. At least weekly (depending on the rabbit’s size, how many are inhabiting the cage, and the time of year) you’ll want to clean the entire cage. Be sure to only use a safe cleaning product and be sure it’s fully rinsed and dried before returning the rabbit to the cage. Warm soapy water, vinegar water mix, or peroxide mixtures are quite popular and generally quite safe for rabbits. Use extreme caution when using anything with a bleach or ammonia base and be sure it’s rinsed very well. Like many small animals rabbits tend to be quite sensitive to strong smells.
It’s recommended that any rabbits not being used to breed should be spayed or neutered.
If done properly and by vet that has experience with this procedure on small animals there’s many health benefits. Having your rabbit “fixed” may also extend it’s life as well. Males that are neutered will not “mark” their area and are usually less aggressive. Most females will also calm down as well. An unsprayed rabbit is more likely to get ovarian cancer when they are older.
Common in rabbits. They can swallow hair while they’re grooming. The best way to prevent this is regular grooming. However, if you see any of the following symptoms you should contact your vet.
Lack of appetite
change in droppings
bloated abdomen lumps bumps
Rabbits can be very sensitive to heat. Be sure that the temps are less then 80 degrees. Sometimes moving them to a basement or cooler room in the house is best in the summer. They do better in cooler temps.
Antibiotics from the Penicillin family - like Amoxicillin - are TOXIC to rabbits and should be NEVER be administered.
What your rabbit is trying to say
- Rabbit Noises: In protest, or fear.
- Thumping: Thumps hind leg when it's either frustrated or upset about something. Perhaps it senses the presence of something foreign,
- Sideways Hop: Running at full speed, they’ll jump in midair, and slightly kick their legs out sideways. They are pleased or happy about something.
- Ears Perked Up: Senses something unusual.
- Licking: Will lick and gently nip you when being affectionate.
- Humping and Nipping: Annoying trait when in heat. When they’re ready to mate, they’ll start humping more than its toys, even its owners (by the way, they can be aggressive since it humps and bites hard at the same time.
Note - There’s many opinions, conflicting information, and care sheets out there for the way to care for rabbits. As with any animal it’s important to always do your research. Be sure to check out many sources.