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Living with a House Rabbit

Why a House Rabbit?
Perhaps you've just adopted your first rabbit, or maybe you already have a rabbit and would like more information to help you understand her better. The House Rabbit Society, a national nonprofit organization, recommends that you keep your rabbit in the house rather than outdoors. Rabbits are intelligent, social animals who need affection, and they can become wonderful companion animals if given a chance to interact with their human families.

The benefits of spay and neuter
    Although most rabbits will use a litterbox, hormones may cause unneutered males and unspayed females to "mark territory." Spaying or neutering your rabbit improves litterbox habits, lessens chewing behavior, decreases territorial aggression, and gives your rabbit a happier, longer life. Have your rabbit neutered between ages 3 1/2 to 6 months, depending on sexual maturity, by an experienced rabbit veterinarian.
    For rabbits more than 2 years old, get a veterinary checkup first.

    Rabbits may have free run of the home. However, it's best for most--and necessary for some--to start with a cage. To make cage time learning time, fasten a litterbox in the corner of the cage that your rabbit chooses for a "bathroom." As soon as he uses the box consistently, you can give him some freedom. Place one or more large litterboxes in corners of the running area outside the cage.
    Use only positive reinforcement (treats and praise)--never punishment.

    Bunny-proofing your home is part of living with a house rabbit. It is natural for rabbits to chew on furniture, rugs, drapes, and, most deadly of all, electrical cords. Cords must be concealed so that the rabbit cannot reach them. Exposed cords can be encased in vinyl tubing (found at hardware stores). By splitting the tubing lengthwise with a utility knife the cord can be pushed inside it.
    Give your rabbit enough attention, safe chewables, and toys, so that she is distracted from chewing furniture and rugs. A cardboard box stuffed with hay makes an inexpensive playbox. Young rabbits (under a year) are more inclined to mischief and require more confinement and/or bunny-proofing than mature rabbits.

House rabbits and other animals
    House rabbits and indoor cats can get along fine, as do rabbits and well-mannered dogs. Dogs should be trained to respond to commands before being trusted with a free-running rabbit, and supervision is needed to control a dog's playful impulses (this is especially true for puppies). Adding a second rabbit is easiest if the rabbits are neutered adults of opposite sexes, and they are introduced for short periods in an area unfamiliar to both rabbits.

Major Health Problems
    Intestinal blockages: Because rabbits groom themselves constantly, they get furballs just as cats do. Unlike cats, however, rabbits cannot vomit, and excessive swallowed hair may cause a fatal blockage. Rabbits can also develop a serious condition known as GI stasis which has many of the same symptoms.
    If your rabbit shows a decrease in appetite and in the size of droppings, get advice from a rabbit veterinarian.
    Prevention: keep bunny brushed (less hair is swallowed); provide exercise time/space--at least 30 hours a week; give a fresh handful of hay daily; add fresh vegetables gradually to the diet; give petroleum laxatives during a heavy molt or if synthetics have been swallowed.

    Bacterial balance: A rabbit's digestive tract is inhabited by healthful bacteria. If the "good" bacteria balance is upset by stale food or a sudden change in diet, harmful bacteria can take over the digestive track and kill the rabbit.
    Prevention: Keep all rabbit food in a cool dry place and make dietary changes slowly, giving a new food in small amounts. If no abdominal gurgling or loose stool results in 24 hours, the food may be offered again. If your rabbit goes outside, check for pesticides and toxic plants. (A list is available from your local poison center.)

    Infectious bacteria: Many rabbit diseases are caused by bacteria, not viruses, and can be treated with antibiotics. If your rabbit shows symptoms of a "cold," take him to a veterinarian familiar with antibiotics that can be safely used in rabbits. Oral drugs of the Penicillin family, such as Amoxicillin, should NOT be given to a rabbit, since there is risk of destroying good intestinal bacteria.

It's up to you
    Find an experienced rabbit doctor before a problem develops. If your rabbit has been harassed by a predator, take him to a veterinarian even if no injuries are apparent. When it is over, keep your rabbit cool with nearby wet towels or ice.
    Regularly check eyes, nose, ears, teeth, weight, appetite, and droppings.

Danger Signs
    Don't waste valuable time Call your veterinarian immediately if you see:
Diarrhea with listlessness
Sudden loss of appetite with bloat and abdominal gurgling
Loss of appetite with labored breathing
Loss of appetite with runny nose
Head tilt
Incontinence (urine-soaked rear legs)
Abscesses, lumps or swellings anywhere
Any sudden behavior change

Have List
Roomy cage
Resting board
Litterbox (in cage)
Pellet bowl or feeder
Water bottle/crock
Toys (chew & toss)
Pet carrier

Bunny-proofed room(s)
Toys (chew & dig)

Fenced patio/porch/playpen (with floor)


Limited pellets daily
Fresh water
Hay /straw (for digestive fiber and chewing recreation)
Fresh salad veggies/fruit (add gradually)
Barley/oats (verysmall amounts)
Wood (for chewing recreation)
Multiple enzymes (digestive aid)
Petroleum laxative (when needed for passing hair)


Flea comb
Flea products safe for rabbits (no Frontline!)
Toenail clippers


Dust-free litter (not wood shavings)
Pooper scooper
White vinegar (for urine accidents)
Hand vacuum
Chlorine bleach (for disinfecting)

More info needed?
Our web site contains all the information you might need on bunny-proofing, house-training, handling, introducing two rabbits, spaying and neutering, and locating rabbit veterinarians.

House Rabbit Society is a nonprofit rescue and education group.
We welcome your feedback and appreciate your donations. Please join today!