Rabbits need daily care and attention from their owners, but happily this never feels like a chore. It’s a good chance to interact with your pets and enjoy their company. Each day, you will need to feed your rabbits twice, check their water bottle, check that they are healthy and clean, and clean the lavatory section of their hutch. With some breeds, you may also need to allocate some time to grooming them each day, too. Less frequently, you will need to give them thorough health checks, groom them, and clean out the hutch and run.
Caring for your rabbits involves lots of fun bonding activities
This section of the guide provides some basic information on rabbit care that we expand on in more detail in other sections, such as on in our illness pages, and in our food section. We recommend you read this thoroughly before you move on to any of the more in-depth sections - especially if you are new to rabbit ownership!
Rabbits Love A Routine
Like most animals, your rabbits will be happier and more relaxed if they have some kind of routine. It is for this reason that a lot of rabbit owners try to check up on and feed their pets at roughly the same time every day.
Rabbits need some things done for them on a daily basis
Each day, your rabbits will need the following:
- A quick freshen-up of their home You should clean out the dropping tray, or, if there is a lavatory corner, clean it. If such waste is allowed to accumulate then it can create a really unpleasant atmosphere for the rabbits and often even cause health problems, such as flystrike in the summer months. The Eglu for rabbits is extremely easy to clean, so this daily task shouldn't take long. You can find out more about this in our Rabbit Hutches section.
- A water bottle refill and check It’s really important that your rabbits have access to water at all times, so as well as cleaning it thoroughly once a week, you’ll need to check that the bottle is full, clean and functioning correctly each day.
- Food and bedding refills You will need to replenish their food (including pellets, hay and fresh food), and their bedding if they’ve eaten a lot of it. The Eglu for rabbits has a special integrated hay and water holder, so that you can bring the food and water inside to refill them.
- A very general health check There is no need to give your pets a thorough health examination every single day, but you will need to look at them to make sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Make sure that they are breathing properly, that they don’t appear hurt or injured, that they are eating, and that there is nothing stuck in their fur. You will need to check their rear end twice a day in the summer to make sure that there is no buildup of poo there - this can attract flies and cause a very serious medical condition known as flystrike, which can be fatal.
You will also need to check their behaviour - do they look spooked? Are they lying down and hyperventilating? As you get to know you pets, you will learn how they look when they are happy and healthy - any departure from this norm requires further investigation.
Bugs Bunny and Peter rabbit may well live on a diet of juicy carrots and big lettuces, BUT this is not all that rabbits eat.
A rabbit has a very delicate digestive system that can be upset relatively easily by eating the wrong things leading to diarrhoea among other things. In the wild, rabbits evolved in areas with lots of low quality vegetation. They had to spend a lot of time eating and have a digestive system that would extract maximum goodness out of what they ate. Your pet rabbit is the same and so its diet should consist mainly of grass and hay. Don't worry though, it's not all as complicated as it may seem! Follow the simple rule of not making any sudden changes to diet, so if you buy a different brand of rabbit mix for instance, Mix it with your old one for a couple of weeks before switching completely.
Rabbits love getting their teeth into hay
Pellets / Mixes
These are 'complete' solutions and contain everything your rabbit needs in terms of nutrients and vitamins. Young rabbits i.e. younger than five months old are growing fast and may need feeding twice a day but after that once a day is fine. The amount that you feed your rabbit is to some extent common sense as it varies massively between different breeds. So if your rabbit seems to be getting a bit fat, reduce the quantity of feed, if your rabbit tries to eat your hand as well as the food when you feed it, increase the quantity! There can be a drawback with a rabbit mix. Although it looks more interesting than the extruded foods or pellets, some rabbits can be a bit fussy and not eat all of the mix leaving it deficient. If this is the case then a pelleted food is a better option. It may look boring to us but rabbits tend to like them. Don't be tempted to buy feed that is meant for another animal, that bag of hamster or goat food may look nice, but different animal have different needs and the wrong food could cause your rabbit's problems. Here at Appletons we recommend Westons Rabbit Pellets.
What is the point of hay if you are using a 'complete' mix? It provides the roughage / fibre that the rabbit needs. Make sure you have a plentiful supply of fresh hay. Appletons sell meadow hay both by the bale and in a handy courier size box. The hay also plays an important role in keeping the growth of your rabbit's teeth in check by wearing them down.
Water as with any animal is very important. Try to make sure that the water is kept fresh by replacing it every couple of days (if they haven't drunk it already!) When winter comes check that the water hasn't frozen over. If you aren't able to check very often, then move the water container inside the rabbits' hutch, where it should keep above freezing. If your rabbits get dehydrated they are less able to withstand the cold so won't last long with an icy crust on their water.
Unlike children, all rabbits love to eat their greens as part of their diet. You can try adding things like broccoli, kale, and fresh herbs as part of their diet but do so one at a time. Too many items on the menu will confuse the rabbits' digestive systems. Rabbits should not eat lettuce or other vegetables like cucumber and tomatoes. Don't forget that grass and hay should be the major part of their diet. As with any new food that you give your rabbits, don't make any quick changes.
Although it might look revolting, your rabbit will actually eat some of its own (what looks like) poo! A rabbits food goes through two stages of digestion. If you look carefully at what comes out of the back end of a rabbit, you will see that there are two different kinds of pellet. One type of pellet is round and relatively dry, this is a poo. The other type known as a caecotroph is actually the result of the first phase of digestion and is full of goodness, so don't try and stop your rabbit doing this it is all part of the process of extracting all the goodness possible from grass. A reason to introduce more vegetables and hay to your rabbits diet is 'sticky bottom syndrome.' Basically this occurs from a diet that is too rich and can easily be seen as the rabbit will be producing excess caecotrophs.
As with people, most rabbits have a sweet tooth! Even though it can seem kind to give them treats they can get fat very easily. Avoid human treats like sweets altogether - these can be very dangerous.
Picking Your Rabbit Up
Using the correct technique to pick up your rabbit will make it more comfortable for your rabbit and easier for you.
Remember, if a rabbit were to be picked up from above in the wild it would usually be in something's mouth. If a pet rabbit isn't used to being picked up it may take some time before it is happy for you to pick it up. A good technique for lifting your rabbit is to put one hand on the back of its neck and slowly bring it round to the front. At the same time put your other hand underneath the rabbit's hindquarters to support its weight whilst lifting.
Be very careful to support your rabbit's behind when you're picking them up
If your rabbit is very timid it may be hard to get close enough for you to pick it up. So let's go back a stage, try offering something irresistible like a carrot or a dandelion leaf. Once it is familiar with you being on the other end of the food, try stroking its head. If you do this repeatedly then you will soon become associated with food and you will hopefully find the rabbit bounding up to you expectantly! Remember not to become frustrated - some rabbits will simply never like to be picked up and it will be easier for you to spend time with your rabbit on the ground!
Rabbits Love to Play!
The key to providing your rabbits with a stimulating day is to vary their surroundings. A great way of doing this is to put toys in their run. These don't have to be bought; you can use things that you already have at home. Rabbits like to hide, climb and chew, so below are some suggestions.
Rabbit toys provide your pets with a bit of much-needed variety
Tubes - Drainage pipes and cardboard tubes make great toys for rabbits. They whizz through them, hide in them and will even reverse out of them if they meet something coming the other way!
Chews and Gnaws - These items not only provide good stimulation for your pets, but have the added benefit of providing something for them to wear down their teeth on. Cutting fresh willow branches is great for chewing.
Unsuitable Objects - Avoid giving your rabbits any sharp objects or things they could get trapped in.
Keeping Your Rabbit's Nails in Check
Like its teeth, a rabbit's nails grow remarkably quickly. Nails will need trimming around once every two months. How long you can leave them depends strongly on how much your rabbit is able to wander around and dig in the garden. A simple guide is to make sure that your rabbit's nails don't stick out beyond the fur.
If you're not very confident, it may be wise to get a vet or veterinary nurse to show you first
You (an adult) need to trim the nails back to half a centimetre from the quick. The quick is the pink fleshy part inside the nail. With most nails you can actually see this fleshy part, but it can be harder to see in darker nails. Be very careful as you do it - keep your rabbit as still as possible and only take off a millimetre or so at a time. If you take off too much and cut a blood vessel, your rabbit’s foot will bleed. If this does happen and it doesn’t look too serious, you can use a bit of cotton wool to apply a little pressure.
Going To The Vet
If you are not confident in performing nail trimming, then don’t worry. A vet will be happy to trim nails for a small fee, and if you watch carefully then you may be able to do it yourself next time!
Checking Your Rabbits' Teeth
Getting a good look at your rabbits' teeth requires reasonably tame rabbits! Gently pull back the rabbit's cheeks and check that the teeth are nice and sharp and have been worn down evenly.
A rabbit's teeth are very important to them, so it's important they're in good condition
The top teeth should overlap the bottom ones slightly. If you are worried that your rabbit's teeth are getting too long, make sure that they are eating plenty of hay as it is the most abrasive part of their diet. Sometimes, through bad diet or genetics a rabbit's teeth can overgrow. If this does happen then your vet will need to burr the teeth down.
Doesn't Your Rabbit Scrub up Well!
Grooming isn't strictly necessary unless you have a particular breed that requires it, such as an Angora rabbit. Angora’s coats can be over 10cm long, and so they will need at least 40 minutes of brushing and care every day - choosing this breed is a decision that needs some serious thought.
Many rabbit breeds will do a great deal of their own grooming
Rabbits love to be clean and will spend much of the day preening themselves. Although not strictly necessary, grooming does provide a good opportunity for you and your rabbit to spend some quality time together. Every 3 months or so your rabbit will shed some of its fur alternating between a light and heavy shed. A good brush can help the loose fur to come out.
Washing Your Rabbit
It is unlikely that you will need to wash your rabbit. In fact, it is often quite dangerous to do so unless it’s a hygienic emergency. They are very good at grooming themselves and as long as their house and run are kept clean then you won't run into any problems. If you would like more information and guidance on what to do if your rabbit gets mucky, visit our rabbit hygiene section.
Bringing Your Rabbit Indoors To Play
Depending on where in the world you live, rabbits are best kept outdoors. However, there are many owners that choose to keep them as in-house pets. Living outdoors gives them a much more natural lifestyle, but bringing them inside to handle them can be a useful way for your rabbit to get to know you better.
Rabbits aren't particularly keen on being carried large distances, so try to keep the trip from Eglu to inside as short as possible. Before you bring your rabbit inside though, there is a certain amount of rabbit-proofing that needs to be done. It’s not that they don't like the decoration in your house - it’s more that they have an insatiable urge to chew to keep their teeth short! Anything at ground level is a possible target for nibbling teeth. Carpets, curtains and wires are all also often shredded. Try not to make the mistake of bringing your rabbit inside and forgetting about it for a bit whilst answering the phone as you will probably come back to find a mess and no rabbit!
Make sure you keep the doors to the room closed so that there is no possibility of a sly escape attempt! Also, you will need to keep any other pets out of the room. Dogs and cats can be very dangerous for rabbits, even if your larger pet is just trying to be friendly.
How To Rabbit-Proof Your House
If you’re going to allow your pets free-reign in your home, then some rabbit-proofing preparations are in order. Whether you’re buying house rabbits or bringing your garden-dwelling pets into the warm for a time, you will need to protect both your belongings and your pets from unwanted interactions. Below is a list of some areas and objects that you might want to pay special attention to.
Although it's a tricky process, rabbit-proofing your home will allow you to have fun with your pets in the house
- Wires - a big hazard for the free-range pet. See section below.
- Curtains - it’s best to use short curtains in free-range rabbit rooms. If your curtains have any cords attached, you may want to install a hook high up so that they cannot be reached by your pets.
- Bathrooms, dryer rooms, garages and kitchens - we recommend that you install puppy gates to prevent your pets accessing these areas. There are lots of substances and appliances in these areas that could be dangerous.
- Guarding furniture legs - these are prime candidates for chewing. Some owners have had success with training their pets out of this behaviour, whilst others have resorted to putting different materials over the actual leg, ones that they don’t mind being nibbled on. Plastic guards are also available from pet shops and online, but as with wire protectors, make sure that these are made of a rabbit-friendly material.
- Furniture undersides - one of the simplest ways to stop your rabbits chewing these objects is to stop them reaching them in the first place. As with kitchens and bathrooms, puppy gates allow you to cordon off areas of your home, whilst stable wooden structures can be used to prevent them from getting behind or under furniture. Just be sure that nothing can fall or be pushed over, as this is dangerous for your pet.
- House plants - lots of these are not safe for rabbits to consume. It’s best to remove them from free-range rabbit rooms.
- Cupboards and drawers - many rabbits have become stuck in cupboards. Not only is it easy to lose your rabbit in the dozens of cupboards around your house, but they can also gain access to your possessions. Keeping cupboards and doors closed, and perhaps investing in child-locks are two potential solutions.
- Tables - anything on tables that are low enough for your rabbit to reach will be classified as fair game to your pet. As such, it’s best to keep books, ashtrays, and food on higher surfaces.
- Ventilation - be sure to put grills up to prevent access to these systems, as rabbits have been known to hop into them.
- Windows - you’d be surprised at how high rabbits can jump. It’s best to keep the windows closed, or to install firm mesh over windows of rabbit rooms.
- Heaters, fires and fans - it’s very risky to put these on in rooms in which your rabbits are free range. They are dangerous for curious noses and long ears.
- Providing toys - providing your rabbits with a bit of stimulation can help distract them from other objects in your home.
- Providing chews - a great way to limit the extent to which your rabbit will gnaw on objects within your home is to provide them an alternative. Rabbit chews and gnaws are specially-designed objects that enable your pets to safely wear down their teeth on a small wooden block, one that has not been treated with anything that can harm your pet. We sell a variety of these at our rabbit shop.
- Keeping your rabbits safe from others - young children and other pets should be prevented from accessing the rabbit free-range areas. Whilst young kids may mean well, they can accidentally harm these creatures, or handle them too roughly and receive a nip. Pets such as dogs, cats, snakes, ferrets and rats also pose a threat to these little herbivores. Even if your other pets are very friendly, they are a lot stronger than your rabbits and have predatory instincts that can kick in unexpectedly. Rabbits can be hurt unintentionally during play as well as intentionally through chasing.
How To Rabbit-Proof Wires
If you have rabbits roaming around your house, you will need to take some precautions, as a gnawed wire can be dangerous for all of you. An unprotected cable not only has the capacity to shock your rabbit, but it has the added hazard of being able to start a fire.
Make sure you rabbit-proof all wires within reach
Rabbits chew. A lot. It’s not always because they find things particularly tasty - it’s often due to an insatiable need to wear down those quickly-growing teeth. Thankfully, someone has invented a wide variety of rabbit-proofing equipment for you to safeguard your house with. You can buy specially-designed wire-protectors from a variety of pet shops and websites. If you do choose to get a set of these, it’s really important that you get those that are designed for rabbits, rather than generic wire protectors. This is because the rabbit-friendly options are made of materials that won’t harm your rabbit, whereas standard wire protectors may contain harmful plastics and chemicals. Exceptions to this rule are if you have been recommended a specific brand of wire protector by your veterinarian.
Please note this page is still under construction.