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Rabbit

Rabbit Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Overview

Oryctolagus cuniculus

Rabbits are intelligent, affectionate, social animals who need daily interaction with humans or other rabbits. Like people, rabbits have different personalities; some are quiet and shy, while others are more outgoing and rambunctious. There are at least 60 different rabbit breeds, which range in size from the smallest Netherland dwarf, weighing about 2 pounds, to the largest Flemish giant, weighing close to 20 pounds. Other popular breeds include lop-eared rabbits (with ears that point downward), the Dutch bunny (with a prominent white belt around their belly), the Rex rabbit (with short, velvety fur) and the lionhead (with long fur encircling their head like a mane). Because more than 70% of female rabbits who are not spayed develop uterine cancer that is ultimately fatal, female rabbits should be spayed after 5–6 months of age. While there is no medical reason to neuter male rabbits, neutered males are generally less likely to mark territory by spraying urine and may be less aggressive. Spayed or neutered rabbits tend to be healthier, live longer and are typically better companions. If males and females are to be housed together, the female must be spayed or the male neutered to prevent unwanted breeding.

Typical rabbit appearance and behavior

  • Rabbits are crepuscular (more active at dawn and dusk) but typically adjust to pet parents’ behavior
  • They are very social animals that need daily handling and out-of-habitat time; they often enjoy living with other rabbits, especially if they are raised together
  • When first introduced, rabbits can be territorial and may fight; when they are initially introduced, their meeting should be closely supervised and occur in neutral territory
  • Rabbits have very strong, muscular back legs and delicate skeletons; they can kick very hard and easily break their backs. Therefore, when handling a rabbit, ensure you are fully supporting their body, especially the hind legs, and never pick up a rabbit by their ears or try to hold them on their back, as they can easily get injured
  • Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box
  • Rabbits need to constantly chew on hay and hard objects to help wear down their continuously growing, open-rooted teeth
    • To help wear down their teeth, rabbits can chew on hay, commercially available wooden toys, mineral blocks and other pet-safe chew items
    • Not all wood is safe to be given to rabbits; do not give rabbits apricot, cherry, plum, avocado or peach fruit tree branches, as these contain stone fruits with pits that are toxic to bunnies, and cedar and fresh pine contain oils (phenols) that can smell good but are potentially toxic to rabbits
  • Because of their need to chew and dig, rabbits must always be supervised when they are out of their habitats, or they may chew wires (causing electrocution), paint (causing lead poisoning), furniture, rugs or other inappropriate objects; rooms must be “bunny-proofed” before rabbits are allowed access to them to prevent unwanted chewing of potentially toxic objects

Characteristics

Care difficulty Intermediate
Average Life Span 10+ years with proper care
Average adult size 12+ inches long, depending on breed
Diet Herbivorous
Minimum habitat size At least 2’W x 2’H for small to medium breeds and 3’W x 3’H for large to giant breeds

Habitat

Habitat size

The habitat should be at least four times the size of the rabbit (so that rabbits can fully stretch out and hop around), be escape-proof and have adequate ventilation, with solid flooring to prevent pressure sores from forming on the soles of rabbits’ feet. There also should be plenty of room for exercise and play outside the habitat. Always provide the largest habitat possible.

Building your habitat

Rabbits acclimate well to average household temperatures, not to exceed 80°F. They have very few sweat glands, so they overheat easily at higher temperatures. Be cautious of extreme temperature changes. The habitat should never be in direct sunlight or in a drafty area.

  • Bedding
    • 1–2 inches of bedding should be placed in the habitat
    • Proper bedding includes high-quality paper-based bedding, either commercially available shredded or pelleted paper material meant to absorb waste products
    • Paper-based products are preferred over wood bedding, as paper is digestible if ingested, while ingested wood bedding can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction; cedar-based products also contain oils that can irritate rabbits’ skin and respiratory tracts and should not be used
  • Décor
    • Rabbits should be provided with a hideaway box for privacy. Each rabbit in the habitat should have their own hiding spot; acceptable commercially available boxes include those made from wood, edible materials (such as braided straw or wicker) or cardboard that is made to be chewed
    • Help your rabbit stay physically and mentally stimulated with a variety of toys that can be rotated to reduce boredom
    • A hay rack can help keep hay or other grasses off the ground and uncontaminated by feces or urine
    • An appropriately sized litter box and small animal litter will allow you to train your rabbit to use a litter box, which can help keep their habitat cleaner
  • Additional accessories

Cleaning your rabbit's habitat

  • Bedding and litter box should be spot cleaned daily to remove soiled material and uneaten food, and the entire habitat and its contents should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week (more often when there is more than one rabbit in the habitat). To clean your rabbit’s habitat:
    • Rabbits should be relocated to a temporary enclosure while the habitat is being cleaned
    • Use a small animal habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution; leave on the habitat for 10 minutes to ensure proper disinfection before rinsing (follow the habitat cleaner manufacturer’s instructions)
    • Rinse thoroughly with water to remove habitat cleaner or bleach smell
    • Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new bedding, clean décor items and your rabbit back into the habitat

Feeding

A well-balanced rabbit diet consists of:

  • High-quality pelleted food formulated specifically for rabbits and offered in limited quantities (about ¼ cup per 5 lbs. of body weight per day)
  • Unlimited amounts of timothy hay (or other grass hay, such as orchard grass, oat or meadow hay)
    • Alfalfa hay contains higher amounts of calcium, fat and protein and is fine for young, growing rabbits, as well as for lactating and breeding rabbits, but should not be fed to adults except as an occasional treat; excess alfalfa fed to adults can lead to obesity and the development of bladder stones
  • Limited amounts of treats, vegetables and fruits
    • Leafy greens, herbs, carrot tops, and chopped vegetables (such as bell peppers, cucumber, squash, celery, broccoli and Brussels sprouts) are fine for rabbits. Small amounts of high-fiber fruits, such as apples and pears, may be given as treats occasionally, as well. Excess fruit or pelleted food contains too much carbohydrate and can upset the normal balance of bacteria in rabbits’ intestinal tracts, as well as lead to diarrhea, bloating and decreased appetite. Do not allow rabbits to eat fruit seeds, pits or rhubarb
  • Clean, fresh water, changed daily, should be offered in a water bottle or a bowl, depending on your rabbit’s preference

Things to remember when feeding your rabbit:

  • Hay, which is fiber, is critical for rabbits—not only to help wear down their continuously growing teeth, but also to maintain proper digestive health since rabbits require fiber as the mainstay of their diet to heave a healthy GI tract
  • Fresh food, timothy or other grass hay and water should be offered daily and available throughout the day
  • Fresh vegetables with smaller amounts of fruit and treats can be given daily but should not exceed 10% of your rabbit’s total diet
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within 10 hours should be discarded, or they may become spoiled and can be a source of infection if consumed
  • Do not feed chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, as these are toxic to rabbits and can cause serious medical conditions and death; avoid sugary and high-fat treats, as rabbits’ intestinal tracts are not adapted to digest these foods
  • Many house plants are toxic to rabbits, so always supervise your rabbit when they are outside of their habitat to ensure they do not nibble on plants; rabbits also should not eat grass treated with pesticides or any other chemicals
  • It is normal for rabbits to eat cecotropes—soft, black feces filled with minerals and vitamins that they pass early in the morning or late at night; this practice of ingesting stool (coprophagy) often happens first thing in the morning, so pet parents may not notice this behavior

Rabbit care

  • Rabbits stay clean and rarely need baths but can be spot cleaned with a damp washcloth and unmedicated, mild soap (thoroughly rinsed off) or unscented baby wipes, if needed
  • Their fur may be brushed with a soft brush; long-haired rabbits should be brushed a few times per week to decrease hair ingestion and prevent tangles
  • Rabbits need their nails clipped approximately once a month
  • Consult a veterinarian if a rabbit's teeth seem too long or if they are salivating excessively or dropping food when they eat; their teeth may need to be trimmed

Where to buy

Petco does not sell rabbits. Contact your local shelter or rabbit rescue or search available, adoptable rabbits at Petco Love to meet some of the amazing rabbits looking for their forever home.

Mandarin goby supplies

Habitat mates

Rabbits may be kept in mixed-sex pairs if spayed or neutered, or same-sex pairs if they are raised together. Do not keep unspayed females with unneutered males, as rabbits reproduce quickly after just a few months of age. Different species of small animals should not be housed together. In particular, rabbits and guinea pigs should never be housed together, as each carries bacteria in their respiratory tracts that can cause illness in the other one.

Health

Signs of a healthy animal

  • Active, alert and sociable
  • Eats and drinks regularly
  • Passes normal, pelleted stool
  • Healthy fur and skin (not itchy, no hair loss)
  • Eyes, nose and mouth free of discharge
  • Breathing is unlabored
  • Walks normally
  • Communicates by making soft noises (such as purring, clucking and humming) when happy and louder sounds (such as whining, teeth-grinding and foot-stomping) when upset

Red flags (if you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian)

  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal hair loss
  • Itchy, scabbed skin
  • Diarrhea or dirty bottom
  • Lack of fecal pellets
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Ocular or nasal discharge
  • Skin lesions
  • Overgrown teeth

Common rabbit health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Diarrhea Loose stool caused by poor diet (lack of fiber, too little hay, excess carbohydrates, too many pellets), stress, internal parasites, unclean housing, or other illnesses Consult a veterinarian to determine cause and treatment
Heat stroke Emergency condition that can occur if rabbit is left in a hot room; symptoms include heavy panting, seizures and loss of consciousness Can be fatal; consult your veterinarian immediately
Malocclusion/dental problems Overgrown teeth, drooling, dropping food, inability to close mouth, weight loss Consult a veterinarian to have teeth trimmed regularly
Mites External parasites that cause rabbits to lose patches of hair and develop flaky, sometimes itchy skin, especially over their backs Consult a veterinarian for treatment; some mites may be zoonotic (contagious to people)
Jaw abscesses Abnormal swellings along the jaw. Consult a veterinarian
Ringworm Skin infection caused by fungus; manifests as patchy hair loss and dry flaky skin, especially around the face and ears Consult a veterinarian; ringworm is contagious to people, so be sure to thoroughly disinfect the habitat and environment

FAQs

  • What do rabbits eat? A rabbit’s diet should primarily consist of hay or other grasses, vegetables, small amounts of commercially available pellets, fresh water and fruit as an occasional treat.
  • What do rabbits eat in the wild? Rabbits in nature eat grasses, vegetation, clover, wildflowers, twigs, bark, and buds.
  • Are rabbits rodents? Rabbits are not rodents. They are lagomorphs.
  • How long do rabbits live? Rabbits can live 10+ years with proper care and nutrition.
  • Are rabbits nocturnal? They are crepuscular, which means they are active at dawn and dusk.
  • What is a bunny versus a rabbit? The word bunny is used as a term of endearment for the animal properly called a rabbit.
  • What is a hare versus a rabbit? Hares and rabbits are actually different species. While they may look somewhat similar, hares are bigger, have larger ears and tend to be less social than rabbits.
  • Can rabbits eat celery? Yes, although there is little nutritional value in celery because it is nearly all water.
  • Can rabbits eat grapes? Rabbits can have a couple of grapes as an occasional treat, but fruits such as grapes are too high in sugar for rabbits to eat often and can lead to gastrointestinal upset.

Additional Care Sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all small animals are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, ringworm and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your small animal or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for small animals and should consider having a pet other than a small animal.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about small animals and disease.

Note: The information in this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.