Feeding your rabbit Superior Nutrition diet is essential for their health. As rabbits are fibrevores, a diet containing mostly hay, leafy greens and pellets is recommended for optimum nutritional benefits. Fresh Meadow or Timothy Hay should make up around 80% of your rabbit's daily diet. Read our 'Tips and tricks for feeding your rabbit' care guide.
Fresh clean water should always be available and changed every day. It is best to use a water bottle or a heavy bowl to avoid contamination and spillage. If using a sipper bottle, it is best to have two available as a backup.
You are best to provide your rabbit with the largest enclosure possible and the run should be at least four times the length of the adult rabbit with an attached secure hutch / sleeping area. Rabbits need to be able to stretch high, jump and run with ease. It is recommended to add extendable pens on to your hutch to further increase the maximum run size. The enclosure should be escape proof and safe from predators.
Keep your hutch in an area where there are no great extremes of temperature or draughts. If your rabbit is to be housed in an outdoor hutch, make sure there is shelter from the wind and direct sunlight.
Rabbits can tolerate some cool weather if properly acclimatised and sheltered, but they must be put under shelter in the winter. If in a colder region where snow or ice is common it is recommended to bring your rabbits inside.
Rabbits can't tolerate high temperatures. Place 3cm to 5cm of bedding in the bottom of your rabbit’s hutch using wood shavings and hay. Your rabbit will also need a nest box or hidey hole.
Rabbits also thrive indoors where they can be close to their human companions. They should still have their own "home", whether it is their own bedroom, or an indoor enclosure with run to provide a safe area.
Keeping multiple rabbits
Rabbits form complex social bonds and while they naturally live in groups, these groups usually span larger territories and have individual tunnels and hiding places for individuals.
Having a bonded pair of rabbits is incredibly special and they often form a very attached relationship, showing signs of grief and stress if ever separated. However the process to bond two rabbits can be difficult, it requires patience as not all rabbits will get along.
Attentive monitoring to ensure both rabbits are safe is essential and the bonding process should be gradual while they become accustomed to the presence of one another.
All bonds are impacted by the rabbits' personalities and environment so it is important to assess your rabbit's nature and needs if you are looking at adopting a second rabbit.
The most suitable pair is a male and female rabbit, both of whom should be desexed. Desexed rabbits often have reduced hormonal behaviours that would otherwise impact bonding a pair.
Two males are not recommended and will rarely form a stable bond, even if raised from a young age together.
Having a mate is not a requirement, but it's important to remember a lone rabbit will need additional companionship from their human family and can often benefit from having a snuggly toy or blanket to cuddle up to.
Rabbits are not suitable companions for guinea pigs or other small pets. They have strong hind legs that can injure a smaller pet, communicate and behave differently and can harbour illnesses that can affect other species.
Rabbits can be taught to use a litter tray by placing the rabbit droppings into the tray over a period of a few days. They tend to use “corners” as toilets so place your litter box in the corner that your rabbit has chosen. Older rabbits can also be taught to use a litter box. Use a rabbit safe litter such as unscented shavings or pine pellets.
Behaviour and exercise
Rabbits are most active at dawn and at dusk, so these are great times for supervised play and exercise. For playtime, an outdoor play arena can be used or a rabbit harness allowing your new rabbit to explore safely. Make sure that the outdoor area is protected from predators and secure, and also provide a variety of enriching toys that allow for foraging, chew and play behaviours.
Rabbit proof your home prior to letting your rabbit loose; remove electrical cords within chewing reach and provide toys to help prevent chewing on things such as your furniture. A box on its side stuffed with hay makes a fun toy for your rabbit too.
Handle with care
Your rabbit should be handled frequently to help maintain a bond between the two of you. Open the hutch door and let them come to you to be lifted out. Offering a favourite treat or vege can help encourage them to approach you. Lift gently with both hands and hold them close to your body. It's important to remember to always support their hind legs.
Rabbits should never be lifted by their ears or by the scruff of the neck and should not be allowed to "jump" down or be held facing the ground as this may cause them to struggle and can severely damage their legs and back.
Rabbits should not be held or placed on their backs; this is called 'trancing' and is often misinterpreted as a calm, content rabbit but actually relies on the rabbits fear response to play dead and makes the rabbit stressed and vulnerable. Gently herd your rabbit back towards their hutch rather than “catching” them as you don’t want their hutch to feel like a “timeout” zone. Once your rabbit has settled in, you can try teaching them a key word like “sleeptime” when you want your rabbit to go back to their hutch, tempting them with a favourite treat or going home at a certain time. Rabbits will appreciate routine and consistency when training.
Rabbits generally stay clean and shouldn't require bathing, however a small amount of rabbit safe animal shampoo may be used in certain situations if a bath is needed. Always make sure you dry your rabbit thoroughly and brush through any coat tangles. Long coated or "fluffy / cashmere" rabbit breeds require daily grooming to comb through the coat and prevent any matting. These coat types may also require clipping by a veterinarian, however clipping the coat does not remove the need for daily brushing with a comb to break out any forming matts near the skin.
Brushing and grooming is a great way to bond with your rabbit and assess their coat and overall body condition.
Rabbits are notoriously good at hiding signs of illness or injury. It is important to keep up with regular veterinary checks and keep a close eye on your pet at home so you can act quickly if an issue arises.
Regularly handle your rabbit and check their teeth, body condition, eyes and ears are all in good condition. It is important to pay close attention to their eating and toileting habits; rabbits have a very fast working digestive system and lack of droppings can indicate medical issues such as Gastrointestinal Stasis.
Rabbits need chew toys as their teeth continually grow; it is essential that they gnaw on hard, safe objects in order to keep their teeth at a manageable length. Certain breeds are more prone to dental issues, including flatter faced breeds such as mini lops, who require additional monitoring to ensure their teeth are in good condition.
Overgrown teeth can cause serious health problems including pain, abscesses, the inability to eat or drink properly and all concerns need to be assessed by a veterinarian immediately.
Gastrointestinal Stasis is a serious health condition that pet rabbits face, it's a condition where their gastrointestinal system slows down and can be fatal. Rabbits eat regularly as their digestive system is designed to be constantly moving, and therefore pass stool regularly. Gastrointestinal Stasis causes a build up of gasses and slowing of this sensitive system. Signs of Gastrointestinal Stasis include bloating, lethargy, lack of eating and lack of faeces.
This is a sadly common issue with rabbits and can be fatal if quick treatment is not sought. If you have any concerns that your rabbit may be exhibiting these signs, act quickly and contact your local veterinarian immediately. Many rabbit owners have an emergency kit including heat pads, and a soluble food formula that can be syringed to allow for immediate action while your local clinic is contacted for support.
Discuss neutering/spaying with your veterinarian. Desexed rabbits are often calmer, happier and it reduces the likelihood of many cancers and illnesses. To learn more about the benefits of desexing your rabbit, click here.
Rabbits should also be vaccinated against the several strains of Calicivirus present in New Zealand. First vaccinations should be completed around 12 weeks of age. To learn more about vaccinating your rabbit, click here.
The signs of a healthy rabbit are:
- Active, alert and sociable
- Healthy fur
- Clear bright eyes
- Eats and drinks regularly
- Communicates by making soft noises
- Moves around normally
- Normal and regular stools
The signs of an unhealthy rabbit are:
- Prolonged diarrhoea or a dirty bottom
- Overgrown teeth
- Heat stroke – panting, loss of consciousness or seizures
- Skin lesions
- Gassy or bloated belly
- Lack of stools/droppings
- Changes in behaviour or activity level
If you notice any of these signs please contact your veterinarian.
Is a rabbit right for you and your family?
- I have the appropriate housing for this pet
- I can provide for the needs of this pet, namely the nutritional, enrichment and behavioural care specific to rabbits
- I can commit to regular veterinary care and checkups, including desexing and vaccinations
- I understand that rabbits form complex strong bonds and desexed male and female pairs are recommended
- I understand rabbits are companion animals and require a high level of social care
- I can provide daily supervised time for my rabbit outside of its enclosure
- I can commit to taking care of my rabbit for up to 10 years
- There is an adult who can provide primary care for this pet
Average size: 2-4 kg depending on the breed type
Life span: Up to 10 years