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  Rabbits are one of the most appealing of small pets, from their luxurious long, plush ears to their cottontails. They belong to the group of animals called lagomorphs, a group that includes rabbits, hares and pikas. (Hares have larger ears and larger hind limbs than rabbits; pikas are stocky, tailless little animals found in the mountain regions of western Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon). Rabbits belong to the Leporid family, meaning that have two rows of top front teeth. Their sharp front teeth, used for gnawing, grow continuously.

Today’s pet rabbit originated in Europe where it was originally domesticated as a pet and a food source. Domesticated rabbits make excellent pets. Wild rabbits, on the other hand, are not appropriate as pets. Their survival instincts in the wild make them unpredictable as human companions.

A rabbit is an appealing pet but the decision to own a rabbit should be undertaken with careful consideration Rabbits need a certain amount of daily care so daily visitations will need to be arranged during any time away from the home. As well, a well-cared for rabbit has an average life span of 8-12 years. So, that cute little bunny you put in your child’s Easter basket may still be your responsibility after you send your high school graduate off to college.

Average size

Rabbits come in a large variety of sizes and shapes, from about two pounds (Netherland Dwarf and Mini-Lop) to 20 pounds (Flemish and British Giants). The American Rabbit Society recognizes almost 50 breeds of rabbit.


Coloration varies widely from pure white to pure black and all possible variations of grey, brown and mixtures. Rabbit appearance is also varied, ranging from ears that stand up straight to ears that are large and flop to the ground or long, narrow heads to wide, flat heads. Rabbit fur can be soft or “satin”, velvety or “rex” or long and fine, i.e., “cashmere or angora”. [1]

Average life span

Domestic rabbits can live 8-12 years; the average is around 8 years.


Rabbits need a variety of food types including specially prepared rabbit pellet food, hay, fresh vegetables and water.  Rabbit pellet food should be purchased in quantities so that the pellet supply is never more than eight weeks old. Rabbits are one of the most appealing of small pets

Adult rabbits should be given an unlimited supply of hay such as oats or alfalfa and a constant source of water through a water tube.

Rabbit authorities agree that all rabbits should have access to some fresh fruits and vegetables every day but differ on the proportions to be provided.  The House Rabbit Society suggests the following additional diet for an adult rabbit - approximately ¼ to ½ cup of rabbit pellets per 6 six pounds of body weight daily and at least two cups of chopped vegetables each day (leafy green, carrots, radishes, etc; variety is important to assure a broad assortment of vitamins and minerals). Any other food such as fruit should be considered a treat and offered in limited quantities so as not to take the place of the usual balanced diet.[2]  The ASPCA recommends more reliance on a pellet diet and far less use of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Plan to make fresh rabbit pellets a primary component of your rabbit’s diet and adjust the provision of fruits and vegetables according to your pet’s preferences, tolerance and health.[3]

Rabbits should also be fed a preventive dose of a hariball-precenting lubruicant daily, such as Laxatone, Evsco Pharmaceuticals, Buena, NJ 08310 which are formulated for cats. [4]

Please be aware that rabbits often eat their own droppings. This is a perfectly natural behavior. Rabbits cannot always digest all of the food content the first time, resulting in soft. Once the rabbit eats and redigests that stool, the droppings will be small and hard


Rabbits should be fed morning and evening. The rabbit hutch should have a hay rack attached to the door or a wall so that hay will remain fresh and not trampled. Provide pellets and other food in a ceramic dish. (Rabbits will destroy a plastic dish.)

You can also place you rabbit outside to graze on the lawn (as long as you have not treated your lawn with any chemicals). Construct a mesh, three-sided box with an opening to the ground that you can place over the rabbit to prevent its escape or loss to predation while grazing. Also, you should remove uneaten pellets and fruits to avoid spoilage and unsanitary conditions in your rabbits hutch.


Rabbits need fresh clean water. Make sure there is always water in your rabbits crock/water bottle. The crock/bottle should be cleaned every few days with a mild bleach solution and warm soapy water.

Recommended Supplies

  • Pellet bowl or feeder
  • Water bottle/crock
  • Hay rack
  • Rabbit pellets
  • Hay /straw
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit
  • Wood
  • Brush and comb
  • Hutch or cage
  • Run enclosure

Housing: Rabbits can be housed indoors or outdoors. Outdoor housing is usually a hutch constructed of wood and wire mesh. In the past, rabbits have been confined to small hutch spaces but rabbit authorities now strongly advocate for a hutch that is at least 6 feet long, 2 feet wide and tall enough for the rabbit to stand on its hind legs. If you have more than one rabbit, plan on additional space. You should have a "sitting board" at least 6" - 8" square or larger to prevent sore hocks and feet.

Habitat: The hutch should have a larger space that is used for eating, toileting and general use. A second room, divided by a wall with a door, should be filled with straw and used for sleeping. The hutch should have a wooden floor, not wire, at least one wall made of wire for sunlight and sufficient circulation. The roof should be waterproofed.

An indoor rabbit can be housed in a cage with similar opportunities for separation of sleeping and eating/toileting activities. If you do use any enclosure that has a wire bottom, you must build a ledge that the rabbit can use to escape from the pressure of the wire on its feet and body.

Substrate: Cover the floor of the hutch or cage with wood shavings or straw.

Rabbit run: It is important to provide your rabbit with a safe way to exercise. One of the best ways to do so is to construct a rabbit run or ark. This type of enclosure is often built from a wooden frame with mesh stretched over it. The run should be heavy enough so that the rabbit can’t tip it over and it can’t be toppled by a curious dog. You can secure the run to the ground but most owners prefer to be able to move the run to fresh grass every few days. Be sure that the run contains some shelter from sun plus a water source.   

Winter Care: Rabbits maintained in outdoor hutches need some extra attention during the winter months. Be sure that the hutch is waterproofed. It may be helpful to cover part of the mesh with plastic or Plexiglas so the rabbit will receive sunlight but be protected from harsh winds or, turn the hutch to face south. A blanket or comforter can be thrown over the hutch to help keep the winter weather out as well.
Habitat Maintenance: Rabbits usually use one corner of the hutch as a litter area. Remove droppings from that area daily. Every week to ten days, remove all bedding, wash the hutch, and allow it to dry then replace bedding.

Normal behavior and interaction:

Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during the dawn and twilight hours.

Rabbits learn about their world primarily by their sense of smell and in turn, use scent glands to mark territory, providing information to other “sniffing” animals. Your rabbit may nudge and rub against you in order to mark you as his property. 

Rabbits need to chew in order to keep their teeth in shape. Provide your rabbit with pieces of wood so he does not select your computer cables as an alternative tooth conditioning source

Contrary to general understanding, rabbits can and do make noises. They grind their teeth when they are happy. (They may also lick or nuzzle you.) Grunting or growling usually means they are frightened and can become aggressive. A squealing or screaming rabbit is in severe distress.

Rabbits have few defenses in the wild. Instead, they rely on their ability to take flight or to remain motionless and act dead. A frightened rabbit may thump with its back legs or flatten itself against the floor.

Rabbits can become aggressive but they are not naturally inclined to hostile behavior. They usually strike out if they are afraid. If your rabbit is acting aggressively, try to understand what is causing him to be so fearful, e.g., is there a threatening family dog allowed to antagonize him? Are you picking him up incorrectly and causing him pain?

DO NOT pick up a rabbit by the ears; this practice is painful and cruel. To pick up a rabbit, place your hands around its ears to steady it, but use a hand placed under the rabbit’s hindquarters to lift the animal’s weight.

Grooming: Rabbits groom themselves, using their teeth as a comb. However, you should also groom your rabbit by brushing it every day. For rabbits with short hair, brush then comb over the whole body. For long haired rabbits, work slowly through the fur, a small section at a time. Keep nails trim with a nail clipper.

Page Last Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 21:28 EST
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