How to Look After a Rabbit: A Complete Guide

The information in this article was reviewed and approved by registered veterinary nurse, Beth Walker

Animed Veterinary Nurse, Beth Walker

Rabbits can make great additions to your household, but as with any pet, looking after them is a big commitment. If you are thinking of getting your first rabbit, make sure you do some research beforehand so you know what to expect. Rabbits are social animals and need just as much attention as a dog or cat! Looking after a rabbit also involves regular grooming, dental care and plenty of playtime.

To help prepare you for your first rabbit, we’ve put together a handy guide to provide you with everything you need to know about looking after a rabbit, from important healthcare requirements to diet. Let’s dive in!

Are Rabbits Easy to Take Care of?

It’s a common misconception that rabbits are low maintenance pets. In fact, they have lots of needs and requirements in order to live a happy, healthy life – more so than many people realise!

Rabbits tend to be popular choices for families looking for a good first pet for children. While rabbits can be incredibly rewarding and entertaining pets for children, parents should be prepared to put in plenty of time and effort to ensure their rabbits are being properly looked after. Plus, with their strong back legs and sharp claws, they can be quite difficult for children to handle. Rabbits are delicate animals and need to be handled carefully, so they are often more suited to older children.

How Long Do Rabbits Live For?

Looking after a rabbit is a long term commitment. On average, they live for somewhere between 8 and 12 years depending on the breed. Some rabbits can live even longer than this.

Should Rabbits Be Kept in Pairs?

Should rabbits be kept in pairs?

Rabbits are social animals, and it’s recommended that they live together with at least one other rabbit. This will not only make sure they feel safe, but also provide companionship, meeting their social needs. Rabbits love each other’s company and enjoy sharing meals together, grooming one another, and snuggling up for a snooze side by side.

However, not all rabbits will get on. In nearly all circumstances, it’s important to neuter your rabbits. Not only will this avoid unwanted pregnancies, but hormones can lead to fighting if rabbits are not neutered.

The easiest pair of rabbits to bond are a neutered male and neutered female. Neutered brothers and sisters who were born and raised in the same litter are usually also a good pairing. If introduced early on, same-sex rabbits who are unrelated will usually get on well too – but again, they will need to be neutered to prevent fighting as they get older.

In the past, guinea pigs were kept as companions for rabbits when it was considered unsafe to neuter rabbits. Now however, neutering is routine and safe, and it’s not recommended to keep rabbits and guinea pigs together. As different species, they don’t understand each other’s behaviour so don’t make good companions. Rather than helping each other to feel safe, rabbits may actually bully or injure guinea pigs, causing stress.

At What Age Can a Rabbit Get Pregnant?

Different breeds of rabbit will reach puberty at different ages. Roughly speaking, smaller breeds reach puberty when they are three to five months old. For larger breeds, it’s around five to eight months. Does (female rabbits) become fertile about a month earlier than bucks (male rabbits).

So, rabbits can get pregnant as young as five months old. What’s more, they can breed every 31 days! This means you could end up with a potentially huge number of unwanted baby kits if you have an unneutered male and female pair. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to get your rabbits neutered.

What Are the Other Benefits of Neutering Rabbits?

Neutering is the removal of the reproductive organs, and it’s considered a routine procedure. It’s strongly recommended that you get your rabbits neutered, not only to prevent pregnancies, but also for the following reasons:

  • Neutering prevents does from developing cancer in the uterus, which is extremely common in rabbits and often fatal
  • Neutering also reduces the risk of other diseases, such as breast cancer and pyometra (an infection of the uterus) in does, and testicular tumours in bucks
  • Neutered rabbits are less likely to be aggressive and territorial towards people and other rabbits
  • Bucks need to be neutered in order to bond with a friend. Otherwise, they will fight with other males and try to mate with females, even if the other rabbits are neutered themselves
  • Neutered bucks are less likely to spray urine

Does can be neutered from four to six months of age. Bucks can be neutered from the age of three to six months, but they will remain fertile for up to six weeks afterwards, so they should be kept away from unneutered females during that time.

How Much Is it to Get a Rabbit Neutered?

The cost of neutering a rabbit will vary between vet practices, and will depend on the sex of the rabbit. Due to the surgery being more complex in a female rabbit, does are usually more expensive to neuter than bucks. The best way to get a price estimate is to contact your vet directly.

How Much Space Does a Rabbit Need?

How much space does a rabbit need?

One of the most important things when it comes to looking after a rabbit is their house. Most rabbits will be happy living either indoors or outdoors, but they are very active animals so need plenty of space to exercise. Hutches and cages alone are not big enough for rabbits.

A pair of rabbits need access to a space that is a minimum of three metres by two metres, and at least one metre high at all times. Giant breed rabbits or groups of three or more rabbits will need even more. This is the absolute minimum, however, and we recommend a much bigger space than this.

What Should My Rabbits’ House Consist of?

Your rabbits’ living area needs to consist of a main shelter where they can rest, and a permanently attached exercise space.

The sheltered area should keep them shaded and cool in the summer and warm and dry in the winter. It should also be well-ventilated and draught-free. Their rest area should also be ‘carpeted’ with warm, comfortable bedding such as dust-free hay or shredded paper. This is likely to be eaten, so it needs to be edible.

The toilet area should be separate to the main sleeping area, and each rabbit should have their own litter tray. The toilet area should be cleaned every day, and the rest of the house should be cleaned about once a week.

Sheds and children’s playhouses make great rest areas for rabbits, and they can be attached to larger, secure areas where the rabbits can run around. A pen in a room in your house can also work well for rabbits kept indoors.

Wherever you choose to keep your rabbits, make sure their homes are secure and free from hazards, such as wires. Rabbits are very inquisitive, which makes them very entertaining but can also lead them to injure themselves if there are any hazards around.

Your rabbits’ living space should also contain hiding spaces as well as platforms that they can use to scan their surroundings. Rabbits are a prey species, so both of these will help them to feel safe, allowing them to hide from things that scare them, and look out for threats.

What should a rabbit's house consist of?

What Do Rabbits Like to Play With?

As well as having plenty of room, hiding spots and platforms, rabbits need to have lots of things to do! Providing them with an interesting environment with plenty to explore and play with will make sure they are mentally and physically stimulated.

Natural behaviours for rabbits include digging, chewing, ‘chinning’ (rubbing their chin on things to mark their scent), hiding and exploring. Give your rabbits a selection of toys that allow them to engage in these behaviours. Most rabbits will enjoy playing with simple toys you probably already have lying around the home! For example:

  • Shredded newspaper, phone books (without staples or glossy covers), and paper bags (without the handles) that they can shred with their teeth and paws – just make sure they are not eating too much of it
  • Digging opportunities, such as large plant pots filled with shredded paper or earth, or a child’s sandpit
  • Cardboard boxes with holes cut into them for hiding places
  • Cardboard tubes stuffed with hay for an enriching mealtime experience
  • Homemade tunnels made from cardboard boxes and tubes or plastic/fabric ones bought from a shop
  • Wicker or seagrass mats and baskets
  • Baby toys, like solid plastic ‘keyrings’, rattles or stacking cups
  • Specially designed rabbit toys as well as robust cat toys and balls

Different rabbits will enjoy playing with different toys, so give your pets a mix of things to find out what they like best!

How to Play with a Rabbit

How to play with a rabbit

As well as having access to lots of things to play with on their own, your rabbits should also have regular opportunities to play with you! Rabbits are generally affectionate and social creatures, and interaction with you is an essential part of looking after a rabbit in order to keep them healthy and happy.

You could roll balls with a bell inside, hide food for them to find, make tunnels for them to run through, or encourage them to hop over low walls you have built. Take your rabbit’s lead to see what they enjoy!

When playing with your rabbit, always watch out for signs that they are uncomfortable or scared and stop playing that game if you notice any. An unhappy rabbit might have their ears flat against their back, crouch low with tensed muscles and their head flat on the ground, display boxing behaviour, or thump their back legs on the ground with a tense body position.

Many rabbits are happy to be handled and will enjoy this connection. However, they are fragile and can be easily hurt so it is important you know how to handle them properly. If you’re buying rabbits for a child, make sure you supervise and teach them how to handle the rabbits first. Never hold a rabbit on their back as this is stressful for them.

How Long Can You Leave a Rabbit Alone?

Rabbits are happy to have some time to themselves, but do not feel comfortable being left alone for long periods of time. Being left alone for too long can cause stress and anxiety.

Most rabbits can be left alone while their family is at work or school, but they should never be left alone for longer than 24 hours.

What Do Rabbits Eat?

A common misconception is that rabbits eat root vegetables like carrots as the main part of their diet. The truth is, rabbits don’t naturally eat many vegetables. Carrots, other root vegetables and fruit are high in sugar and should only be fed in small amounts as occasional treats.

Your bunny’s daily diet should be mostly made up of hay and grass with a side helping of leafy greens and a few rabbit food pellets.

Eating lots of hay or grass helps wear down rabbits’ constantly growing teeth and keeps their tummies healthy. It also encourages foraging and grazing, which are important natural behaviours.

Greens to feed your rabbit include things like celery, spring greens, parsley, spinach and cucumber. Providing five to six different greens for your rabbit every day will make sure they have a good mix of the vitamins and minerals they need.

As a guide, your rabbit’s diet should consist of:

What do rabbits eat?

You can tell if your rabbit is getting the right balance of hay, grass and leafy greens by looking at their droppings. If they are small, dry and dark, or they are runny, try increasing their hay or grass and decreasing their greens. If you’re unsure about your rabbit’s diet, speak to your vet for advice.

What Health Care Do Rabbits Need?

Parasite Control

The main danger for rabbits in terms of parasites is fly strike. This is where flies lay their eggs around a rabbit’s bottom. The eggs become maggots within 24 hours and begin to eat the rabbit’s flesh. This causes a huge amount of damage and can be fatal.

To prevent flystrike, you should check that your rabbits’ bottoms are clean, dry and show no signs of flystrike every day. This is particularly important in warm weather. Your vet can also prescribe you a topical treatment to apply to your rabbit’s bottom every 12 weeks which will help repel flies. If you notice that one of your rabbits has a dirty bottom, speak to your vet as rabbits are usually very good at cleaning themselves so it is often a sign that something is wrong.

Can a Rabbit Get Fleas?

While it is possible for rabbits to get fleas, it is rare. Vets don’t usually recommend routine flea treatment for rabbits in the same way they do for dogs and cats. Outdoor rabbits could get fleas from wild rabbits, but otherwise pet rabbits don’t usually get fleas unless another pet in the household has them first.

Similarly, routine worming is not recommended for rabbits. Speak to your vet if you think your rabbit has intestinal worms.

Grooming Your Rabbit

Grooming a rabbit

Rabbits will generally keep themselves clean as they spend a lot of time grooming themselves, but you’ll still need to check them regularly to make sure. Rabbits tend to develop a mucky bottom if they are unwell, unable to clean themselves (for example due to arthritis or dental disease) or if their environment is dirty. Contact your vet if you notice any problems. Don’t try to bathe your rabbit to clean them yourself.

Rabbits need regular grooming to keep their fur in check. Long-haired bunnies are particularly prone to matted fur if they are not groomed regularly. Short-haired rabbits should be brushed at least twice a week, while those with long hair need daily brushing. If your rabbit is shedding, they may need even more frequent grooming.

Most bunnies will also benefit from having their claws trimmed roughly every six weeks. You can do this yourself at home with special rabbit nail clippers. If you’re unsure, ask your vet for advice.

Looking After a Rabbit’s Dental Health

Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. In the wild, their teeth are constantly worn down and renewed as they regularly chew on hay and grass. Pet rabbits may not get the same amount of hay in their diet, or something else might be preventing them from being able to wear down their teeth sufficiently. This means that some rabbits need their teeth trimmed, sometimes as frequently as once a month. This should always be done by a vet.

Ideally, rabbit owners will be able to spot signs that their rabbit has dental problems before their front teeth become overgrown. Look out for symptoms like:

  • Weight loss
  • A tendency for food to fall out of your rabbit’s mouth
  • Reduced appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • A dirty bottom
  • Runny nose
  • Weepy eyes
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

It’s a good idea to weigh your rabbits once a week when you clean them out. This way you can monitor their weight and keep an eye on any potential health problems.

Looking after a rabbit's dental health

Rabbit Vaccinations

A important part of looking after a rabbit is making sure they are protected from deadly diseases. Your rabbits will need vaccinations against myxomatosis and two strains of Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD).

Myxomatosis infection causes swelling of the eyes and genitals, weakness, blindness and it can quickly become fatal. Both indoor and outdoor rabbits are at risk of this disease as it is passed on by mosquitoes and other biting insects. It can also be picked up from the environment as infected rabbits shed the virus on to their surroundings. Myxomatosis is very common in wild rabbits so it can easily be brought home with you on shoes or clothing.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) causes extreme bleeding in rabbits and can be fatal. In many cases, VHD causes ‘sudden death’ in rabbits without obvious signs of illness first. Like myxomatosis, VHD is also spread by biting insects and via contaminated objects.

As a prey species, rabbits are very good at hiding illness. This makes vaccinations even more important as rabbits will often show very few symptoms until critically ill. What’s more, there are no effective treatments for myxomatosis or VHD. Vaccinations against two variants of VHD and myxomatosis are now available in one injection, and can be given to rabbits from 5 weeks old. They’ll then need annual boosters.

Wrapping Up

Rabbits are intelligent, sociable and inquisitive animals, making for very rewarding pets. However, they also need a lot of space and attention, so looking after a rabbit is a big commitment. If you do decide that you would like to welcome a pair of rabbits (or more!) into your family, this guide is here to help you provide all the necessary care. Remember, always ask your vet for advice if you’re unsure of anything. Find all your rabbit essentials at Animed Direct.