Rabbits are active and playful animals that are also very social. They will form a close bond with other rabbits and even with people. As long as you know what to expect from pet rabbits, they have the potential to be wonderful pets. The ideal owner for a pet rabbit is an individual or family with the time and space to dedicate to an active pet that enjoys cuddling and playing and requires a moderate amount of maintenance. Rabbits come in many different breeds that range in appearance, including lionhead, mini lop, mini rex, rex, lop, Dutch, English spot, and hotot.
Common Name: Rabbit
Scientific Name: Oryctolagus cuniculus
Adult Size: 8 to 20 inches long on average, weighing 2 to 20 pounds (varies by breed)
Lifespan: 8 years on average (varies by breed)
Rabbit Behavior and Temperament
Rabbits are social creatures. And with gentle handling, they are generally quite tame, playful, and entertaining to watch. Many can even learn to respond to their name and come when called.
Rabbits often form close bonds with their owners and like to be around them. Some rabbits are OK with being picked up. But more often they prefer their feet on the ground and enjoy cuddling up next to their owners for petting. They don't tend to bite, but some might scratch if they feel they're being improperly handled. Thus, pet rabbits typically aren't a good match for children who don't understand gentle handling.
It is ideal to keep more than one rabbit to meet their social needs. Members of the opposite sex can be kept together as long as they are spayed and neutered. Moreover, some rabbits can get along with other household pets, including well-mannered dogs and cats. But they should never be around other animals that might view them as prey.
Rabbits are generally quiet pets, and their care is fairly straightforward with daily feedings and regular cleanings. Daily exercise outside of their cage also is a necessity. And they need to chew. So lots of safe chew toys should be provided, and any spaces where the rabbit is allowed to roam must be carefully rabbit-proofed. A rabbit that is deprived of toys and socialization often becomes destructive.
Rabbit breeds range widely in size, stretching around 8 to 20 inches long. There are small breeds that only weigh a couple pounds, as well as large breeds that can be 20 pounds or more.
Rabbits are prey animals, which means housing your rabbit outdoors is generally not a good idea; keep your rabbit enclosure indoors.
When not being directly supervised, your rabbit should be kept in an enclosure that's at least 2 feet by 3 feet for one medium-size rabbit. Multiple rabbits housed together need more space. The height of the enclosure should be greater than the height of your rabbit when it fully stretches up on its hind legs. Because rabbits have tender feet, avoid wire-bottom cages; a better choice is a plastic-bottom dog crate.
Inside the enclosure, provide your rabbit with:
- Plenty of toys, including chew toys
- A shelf onto which your rabbit can hop to maintain leg strength
- Ceramic food and water dishes
- A litter box
With all the items in the enclosure, make sure there's still enough room for your rabbit to fully stretch out with its back legs extended.
Many pet rabbits are allowed to roam around the house when their owners are around. If you choose to allow this, be very careful to rabbit-proof your home. Rabbits love to chew, and dangerous electrical cords are at just the right height for them to find and munch on.
If you'd rather not give your rabbit run of the house, you can provide it with an exercise pen. Pens designed for puppies are ideal. They provide room to move without giving your bunny the option of exploring potentially dangerous spaces. Many owners even use exercise pens as their rabbit's primary enclosure.
Specific Substrate Needs
Regardless of what type of enclosure you choose for your rabbit, make sure the floor is nonslip. Some owners put washable carpeting on the enclosure floor to give the rabbit some cushion. You also can put down some straw for your rabbit to make a cozy nest. Use dye-free paper litter in the litter box; never use clumping litter. Plan to clean the litter box at least every other day, and wipe down the whole enclosure with mild soap and water weekly.
What Do Rabbits Eat & Drink?
Rabbits are herbivores, and their daily diet should consist mostly of hay. Feed an unlimited amount of grass hay each day, such as timothy, oat hay, or orchard grass; avoid alfalfa hay. You can simply pile the hay in the enclosure, or put it in a special feeder called a hopper. Just make sure there's always some available.
Supplement the hay with a variety of green leafy vegetables. Good choices include lettuces (except iceberg), herbs, watercress, carrot tops, cucumbers, and sprouts. Provide a more limited supply of other vegetables and fruits. Check with your vet on the quantity to feed and to be sure all items you offer are rabbit-safe. You can offer fresh foods once or twice a day, simply placing them in the enclosure near your rabbit. Remove any uneaten fresh food after a few hours to prevent spoilage.
You also can offer a limited amount of commercial rabbit pellets. However, overfeeding pellets can cause digestive issues and obesity. So be sure to discuss the feeding amount with your vet. Place a day's worth of pellets in a ceramic bowl. Discard any leftover pellets before feeding the next day's portion.
Finally, rabbits always should have access to fresh water. Use either a ceramic dish or water bottle attached to the side of the enclosure (make sure your rabbit knows how to drink from the bottle), refreshing the water daily.
Common Health Problems
Rabbits are prone to certain medical problems, such as:
- Digestive issues, including blockages and diarrhea
- Eye problems, such as corneal ulcers
- Respiratory infections
- Skin issues, such as mites and ﬂeas
Some rabbits also might experience overgrown teeth. Rabbit teeth continuously grow and need to be worn down via their diet and chew toys. Overgrown teeth can make it difficult for a rabbit to eat and drink and typically must be trimmed by a vet.
Training Your Rabbit
Most rabbits take well to litter box training, as rabbits are fairly clean animals that like to pick spots to be their toilet. Place a litter box that your rabbit can easily hop in and out of inside the rabbit’s enclosure where it’s already been relieving itself. Also make sure your rabbit always has access to a box when it’s outside its enclosure. It’s best to limit its out-of-cage area (such as to a puppy play pen) until the rabbit has learned to use a litter box. That way, it shouldn’t ever be far from a box when it has to relieve itself.
Besides the litter, put a handful of hay in the box, which should entice your rabbit to go in. Replace the hay daily to keep it sanitary, and replace the litter every couple of days. If the box becomes too dirty, the rabbit is likely not to want to use it. Furthermore, rabbits that aren’t spayed or neutered are more likely to relieve themselves outside of the litter box as a way to mark their territory.
Getting several hours of exercise per day is essential to keep a rabbit happy and to prevent health issues, such as obesity. Let your rabbit out of its enclosure as much as possible to allow it to roam in a safe area, as long as you're able to supervise. A minimum of four hours outside of the enclosure per day is ideal. To encourage activity, offer toys such as a tunnel for exploration or a treat ball.
Rabbits do groom themselves, but brushing helps to remove loose fur and prevent hairballs. Brush short-hair rabbits roughly once a week. Long-hair rabbits often need brushing daily to prevent tangles and mats.
Baths are generally not necessary, though you might need to spot clean a dirty part of your rabbit’s coat by gently rubbing it with a damp cloth.
Most rabbits also need nail trims, as they don’t naturally wear down their nails enough in their indoor environment. Your vet can show you how to properly trim nails at home.
Rabbits may be small, but they are relatively expensive animals. On a monthly basis, your primary costs will be for food and litter. Expect to spend between $40 and $60 on average, depending on how many rabbits you have and which varieties you choose. Plus, you’ll need to replace worn toys—especially chew toys—on a regular basis at a cost of around $10 to $20. Finally, don’t forget to budget for routine veterinary checkups and emergencies.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Rabbit as a Pet
Rabbits are quiet pets that don’t take up a great deal of space. They also can be quite social, playful, and engaged with their owners. However, their upkeep is relatively expensive. And they need a lot of interaction, which often means keeping a second rabbit.
Similar Exotic Pets to the Rabbit
If you’re interested in pet rabbits, check out these other exotic pets:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Purchasing or Adopting Your Rabbit
You can find rabbits at pet shops, though the shops often might not be able to give you adequate information about their rabbits' health and history. It's better to go through a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Adoptable rabbits are easy to find, as some people tend to underestimate the animal's care needs, cost, and lifespan. Expect to pay between $20 and $100 on average, though this can vary based on such factors as the rabbit's age and breed.
Local exotic animal veterinarians might be able to recommend a good breeder or rescue organization for you. The main benefit of a breeder is you’ll likely have a wider selection of younger animals and rarer breeds. However, don’t write off older rescue rabbits. You’ll be able to get a good sense of an older rabbit’s personality right away, and they’re often already tame around people and even litter trained.
To avoid becoming an accidental breeder yourself if you’ll be bringing home multiple rabbits, discuss spaying or neutering with your vet.
Does a rabbit make a good pet for kids?
Rabbits can be good pets for older children who understand how to handle them gently and respect that rabbits don't always like to be picked up.
Are rabbits hard to take care of?
Rabbits require a moderate amount of care that involves daily feedings, regular cleanings, and lots of play and interaction.
Does a rabbit like to be held?
Some rabbits accept being held, but most prefer to remain on the ground. However, many still enjoy cuddling up next to their favorite humans.
Owning a Rabbit. VCA Hospitals.
Rabbits as Pets. Best Friends Animal Society.
Housing of Rabbits. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Feeding Your Rabbit. VCA Hospitals.
Disorders and Diseases of Rabbits. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Rabbit Health Check: Signs of a Healthy Bunny. Best Friends Animal Society.
Litter Training. House Rabbit Society.