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Home > Health & behaviour > Rabbits > Rabbit care

Rabbit care

Rabbits are lovable, inquisitive creatures that make wonderful companions. They are full of personality, each with their own special traits and quirks.
                      
Rabbits love to play with toys and have lots of fun. As any rabbit owner will tell you, they are at their most adorable and irresistible when they express their joy by doing a binky - a high leap in the air to let you know they are happy!

Rabbits can be litter trained, just like cats. Rabbits thrive on an indoor lifestyle and are the perfect pet option for those who live in an apartment or home with little or no yard space.

While rabbits are incredibly social, they are most active during the morning and evening which makes them the perfect pet for those who maintain a busy lifestyle during the day.

If you are looking for a pet to adopt, but have not considered a rabbit before, we would love for you to visit one of our RSPCA Adoption Centres to meet our gorgeous bunnies looking for a new home. You will be sure to experience first hand just how lovable rabbits truly are.

             


           
Diet & nutrition
  Housing
  Enrichment & exercise
  Health
  Other pets
  Fun facts
 

Diet and nutrition

                                               
Rabbits are herbivores and require a diet that consists almost entirely of vegetable matter. Variety is essential, and food offerred must be fresh. An ideal diet consists of:                                                 
                                                
                       
 80-90% (constant supply) fresh oaten or hay

                                   
This may include Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays. Grass or grass hay is a crucial element of a rabbit’s diet, as it provides the fibre needed to maintain good gastrointestinal health. It also encourages chewing for long periods, which helps to keep teeth clean and healthy.

 10-20% (two cups per kg of body weight daily) fresh green leafy vegetables

 
This may include cos, romaine and rocket lettuce, or other dark-coloured or purple-coloured lettuces, bok choy, silverbeet, endive, small amount of broccoli, broccoli and cauliflower leaves, celery (especially the leaves), carrot tops (the green part), snow peas, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, basil, mint, parsley, coriander, small amount of kale.  

 5% (three tablespoons daily) treats
This may include carrot, green capsicum, apple (no core or seeds), banana and peel, watermelon, strawberries, sultanas.

Most pellet mixes are also considered a treat food, as they are sweet and contain ingredients such as sultanas and sunflower seeds. In conjunction with a healthy diet of fresh oaten or hay, and vegetables, your bunny should only be given one to two tablespoons of good quality pellet mix daily.

                                                                                                                                             
 Warning: Some foods are harmful to rabbits and may cause illness
 

 

 
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Rhubarb
  • Alfalfa
  • Potato peel
  •  
  • Raw beans
  • Corn
  • Grains, nuts or seeds
  • Bread
  • Biscuits
  •                                      
  • Cereal
  • Chocolates or sweets
  • Processed sugars
  • Garden plants
  • Clover hay
  •                                                                                                        
     Rabbit food pyramid
      Our rabbit food pyramid provides an easy guide to an ideal diet that will help keep your bunny happy and healthy. 
                        
    Download Rabbit food pyramid poster
                     (PDF, 451KB)
                           

     Water
                           
    It is crucial that your rabbit alway has access to fresh, clean water. We strongly advise that you provide two water sources for your rabbit, just in case one gets tipped over. 

                                                  
     Water sources
     
    Most rabbits prefer to drink from a bowl, so it is important that you provide a ceramic water bowl for your bunny. Ceramic bowls are heavier than plastic bowls and are less likely to be tipped over, so they are the recommended option.
     
    You can also provide your rabbit with a drip bottle, which attaches to the side of the rabbit's enclosure.
                                                   

     

     
    Housing                        

     Indoor housing

    Rabbits make wonderful indoor companions, making them the perfect pet option for those living in an apartment or home with little or no yard space. Rabbits thrive on an indoor lifestlye, which also helps to keep them safe from weather conditions, predators, and insects that can transmit deadly diseases. Below are some tips on housing your bunny indoors:

    • Bunny-proof your rooms by covering up electrical cords, as your bunny is likely to find these desirable for chewing, which can be extremely dangerous.
    • Consider using baby gates and play pens to divide up the house into bunny-friendly and bunny-free zones.
    • Supervise interactions between your bunny and other members of the family including other pets or young children to ensure everyone is safe and happy.
    • Rabbits enjoy private ‘me time’.  Give your bunny its own hiding place or safe enclosure to go to when it has had enough of roaming the house.
    • Rabbits are easily litter trained. A rabbit will generally choose one or two corners to toilet in. Just place a litter tray in these areas and your bunny will learn to go to the tray when he/she needs the toilet. This reduces mess around the home. Plant or paper based litters are safe for rabbits, or you can use some shredded paper.
    • It is very important to clean your rabbit’s area every day.

     

     

     Outdoor housing

    If you plan to keep your bunny in a hutch, this will need to have enough room for the bunny to exhibit its natural behaviours including running, playing, standing up and stretching.  Here are some tips on letting your rabbit spend time outdoors:
                           

    • The rabbit hutch should be at least 3 square metres (3m x 3m), with enough room for the bunny to stand up on its hind legs.
    • The hutch should have a hiding area with lots of clean bedding straw to keep your bunny comfortable.
    • The floor should be a non-slip surface, such as grass, hay, straw, towels or saw dust.
    • Avoid metal enclosures as they heat up very quickly.
    • When the weather is hot, bring your bunny’s home inside where it is cooler and out of the sun. Wrap a frozen water bottle in a damp towel for your bunny to lie against. Rabbits are very heat sensitive and can start to suffer from heat stress when temperatures exceed 25°C.
    • The rabbit’s enclosure should be fully insect proof to protect from mosquitoes, which can transmit deadly diseases to your bunny.
    • If your bunny spends time outside, you will also need to protect him/her from predatory animals like cats, dogs and foxes.

     

     

    Enrichment and exercise


    We all need to run and play to keep our minds and bodies healthy. Rabbits are no exception! To ensure that your rabbit is happy and healthy, make sure you provide a variety of environmental enrichment, including the following:

                                                   
     Enrichment items

     
    Wooden toys to chew. These help keep teeth healthy and stop them growing too long.
     
    Hiding boxes. Even a cardboard box can be great!
     
    Tunnels to play and hide in.
     
    Treat toys, such as grass/hay balls. This is a great form of enrichment, as your bunny will work to get all the yummy food inside.
     
    Hay/grass tubes, which you can purchase as a toy or make by stuffing some hay or grass into a carbdoard tube. 
                            

    Handling your rabbit
    Rabbits are naturally sociable animals and enjoy lots of attention and company. Many rabbits don’t like to be picked up but there are times you will need to pick up your rabbit, a trip to the vet for example. As rabbits’ spines are fragile, make sure their hind legs are secure so they cannot kick out and damage their spine. Make sure children sit quietly and allow the rabbit to come to them first before interacting.

     
                        
    Download How to pick up a rabbit poster
                      (PDF, 371KB)


                                                                     
                                           

    Health

                                                 
    An important responsibility of rabbit ownership is ensuring that you take your rabbit to the vet at least once a year for a check up. The vet will check that:
    • The rabbit is desexed and microchipped, and can arrange for these procedures to be done if they have not already occurred. All rabbits adopted from the RSPCA are desexed and microchipped.
    • The rabbit's teeth are growing normally and are not too long.
    • The rabiit is vaccinated against calicivirus (more information below).
    • The rabbit's eyes, ears, skin, nails and body condition are healthy.

    If you notice signs of illness in your rabbit at any time, please seek immediate vet advice.
     
    Signs of illness may include:
    • Watery eyes
    • Runny nose
    • Breathing difficulties (including noisy breathing)
    • Hair loss or skin problems
    • Diarrhoea
    • Changes in weight or appetite
    • Behavioural changes

    Rabbits instinctively hide any signs of illness as a protective mechanism, since predators will usually target a weak animal. Because of this, once it becomes obvious that your rabbit is unwell, its health can deteriorate quickly, so you should seek veterinary advice straight away.
                            
                           
     Desexing
    Desexing your bunny has many benefits, including the following:
    • It prevents unwanted litters.
    • It helps to reduce territorial behaviours that have the potential to cause aggression.
    • It prevents diseases that affect the reproductive system, including uterine cancer and testicular cancer.

    All rabbits adopted from the RSPCA are desexed before they go to their new homes. If your RSPCA adopted rabbit was recently desexed, our clinic team will give you advice on post-surgery care before you take your bunny home. 

                                      
     Calicivirus and vaccinating your rabbit
    What is calicivirus?
    Rabbits are susceptible to calicivirus, which is a fatal disease. Calicivirus causes haemhorraging and damage to a rabbit's internal organs, ultimately resulting in death. Calicivirus is highly infectious and can cause death within 24-72 hours of infection.               
                          
    How is calicivirus transmitted? 
    Calicivirus is transmitted through the secretions (saliva, nasal secretions, faeces and urine) of infected rabbits. It can also be transmitted through biting insects, such as fleas and mosquitos, that have come into contact with the disease. If your rabbit spends any time outdoors, it is very important that it is contained in an area that is mosquitto-proof and secure in order to prevent contact with insects or wild rabbits.
                                        
    What are the symptoms of calicivirus?
     Symptoms of calicivirus may include:
    • Fever
    • Lethargy
    • Loss of appetite
    • Breathing difficulties
    • Shaking
    If your rabbit is displaying any of these symptoms, please seek immediate vet attention.
                                       
    How can I protect my rabbit from calicivirus?
    There is no treatment for calicivirus, but vaccinating your rabbit is the best way tp protect it from the disease. Rabbits can be vaccinated from 10 weeks of age, and should be vaccinated yearly thereafter. All rabbits adopted from the RSPCA have been vaccinated against calicivirus.

    Make sure you keep your vaccination record and present it to your veterinarian when your rabbit's next vaccination is due.

    Note: Though the calicivirus vaccine is widely available, unfortunately the Myxomatosis vaccine is not available in Australia. Please see below for more information about Myxomatosis.

     Myxomatosis
    What is myxomatosis?
    Myxomatosis is caused by the myxoma virus, a poxvirus spread between rabbits by close contact and biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. Myxomatosis was introduced to Australia in 1950 to reduce pest rabbit numbers. The virus initially reduced the wild rabbit population by 95%, but since then resistance to the virus has increased and less deadly strains of the virus have emerged.

    The virus causes swelling and discharge from the eyes, nose and anogenital region of infected rabbits. Most rabbits die within 10-14 days of infection, however highly virulent strains of the myxoma virus may cause death before the usual signs of infection have appeared.
                                   
    How is myxomatosis transmitted? 
    Myxomatosis is transmitted between rabbits by close contact and biting insects, such as fleas and mosquitoes. It is recommended to keep your rabbit indoors. If your rabbit spends any time outdoors, it is very important that it is contained in an area that is mosquitto-proof and secure in order to prevent contact with insects. If your rabbit is allowed to exercise outside, avoid letting them out in the early morning or late afternoon when more mosquitoes are more numerous.

    What are the symptoms of myxomatosis? 
    Symptoms of myxomatosis may include:
  • Runny and/or swollen eyes, nose and mouth
  • Redness and swelling around the genitalia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Breathing difficulties

  • If your rabbit is displaying any of these symptoms, please seek immediate vet attention.
                                       
    What should I do if my rabbit contracts myxomatosis?
    If your pet rabbit develops myxomatosis, your vet may recommend having the rabbit it humanely put to sleep, which is most often the kindest option for bunnies sufferring from the disease. Treatment is rarely successful, even if commenced early in the infection, and the course of disease is very painful and stressful.

    Thoroughly disinfect your rabbit hutch, water bottles and food bowls with household bleach, rinsing it off so that it cannot be ingested by any other rabbits.

    Bringing a new rabbit home is not recommended for at least four months after a case of myxomatosis, as the virus is able to survive in the environment for some time.

    How can I protect my rabbit from myxomatosis?
    Pet rabbits do not possess any resistance to myxomatosis, and mortality rates are between 96-100%. With such a poor prognosis, treatment is not usually recommended. There are two vaccinations against myxomatosis, however these are not available in Australia. Thus, the only way to prevent infection is to protect your pet rabbits from biting insects, such as fleas and mosquitoes. 

    You can use Revolution (Selamectin) or Advantage (Imidocloprid) for flea prevention, but you must check first with your vet for dosages. Do not use Frontline (Fipronil) as this has been associated with severe adverse reactions in rabbits.
                                                                          
                       
                          
     Grooming
    Rabbits shed hair year round, particularly during the warmer months. Grooming is important for keeping their coat clean and healthy and is also an excellent way to bond with your rabbit.

    Short haired rabbits should be groomed weekly using a soft rubber brush, stroking in the direction of the fur.

    Long haired rabbits need daily grooming to prevent matts and should be groomed with a slicker brush or comb. In addition, they will need to have their coat clipped or plucked regularly. This will prevent them from swallowing too much hair when grooming themselves. Unlike cats, rabbits are not able to vomit if they have a hairball and instead, this can create a dangerous blockage in their gut. This condition is known as woolblock and can cause the rabbit to become very sick if left untreated. Early signs include appetite loss and the size of their droppings can become smaller than usual. Keeping longer haired rabbits as litter trained, indoor pets can help keep their coats clean and free of debris.

    Nails should be clipped regularly to prevent foot problems. Each nail has a blood vessel running up the middle and it is important to avoid cutting this as it is very painful and will cause bleeding. A vet or experienced pet groomer can show you how to trim your rabbit’s nails successfully.
      
    Note: Rabbits do not need to be bathed, as they are very clean animals. Bathing a rabbit wll also cause distress to the animal.                 
                                                                           

    Other pets

    Pets can feel lonely too, and rabbits are highly social animals. Consider providing your bunny with a friendly desexed friend for a play mate and companion. 

    If you decide to adopt a friend for your rabbit, it is highly advisable that this friend is of the same species. Though there have been cases where rabbits and guinea pigs have been friends with each other, it is not advisable to keep these animals together. Rabbits can bully and seriously injure guinea pigs.

    It is crucial that both rabbits are desexed, as this helps to calm a rabbit's temperament and reduce territorial behaviour that can cause aggression. If the rabbits are not desexed, you will also have another problem on your hands, as rabbits can give birth to many litters of babies each year!
                           
    If you bring your rabbit to the RSPCA, our adoption team can assist you in finding the right friend for your bunny. It is important that the introduction process is done slowly and carefully. Not all bunnies get along, and fights can occur if the rabbits are not a good match for each other.

     

         


                           
     
                            10 fun facts about rabbits                        

    1 Rabbits can be easily housetrained to use a litter tray! It is easier to housetrain a desexed rabbit. Rabbits have good memories and get to know where everything is in their territory.
    2 Rabbits are crepuscular which means they snooze all day and are most active in the early morning and in the evening. This makes them the perfect pet for working people!
    3 Rabbits are very clean animals who groom themselves and their bonded partner, from head to toe around fie times a day! This means you rarely need to give them a bath.
    4 Rabbits have good night vision and can see movement from long distances. They can see things to the side, behind or above them without even moving their heads.
    5 Rabbits recognise their owners by shape, smell and voice. Domestic rabbits normally live around eight to ten years but can live up to fifteen years!
    6 In the wild, rabbits live in large groups of burrows called warrens. One single warren in Europe had 450 rabbits and 2000 entrances! They are social animals so should always be kept in desexed male and female pairs.
    7 When a rabbit is very happy, it expresses its joy by jumping up into the air, twisting and flicking its feet and head. This movement is known as a binky!
    8 Rabbits chew 120 times a minute and like to pick their favourite foods. A clean, fresh pasture / oaten hay should make up about 80% of their diet with plenty of fresh leafy green vegetables and grass. Occasional treats are chopped fruit, carrots, sultanas and sprouted birdseed.
    9 Rabbits use their long ears to pick up sounds from every direction and can hear in two directions at once! Rabbits use the large surface area of their ears to help regulate body temperature.
    10 Rabbits are very playful, they love to toss toys around and some even learn to play fetch! Rabbits must get at least four hours of exercise per day to prevent boredom and more importantly osteoporosis.

     



     
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