Rabbit Care

Welcome About Dr Fry Dr Fry's Pets Upcoming Events Event Pictures Kitten & Puppy Care First Aid Common Pet Diseases Natural Remedies Nutrition Pet Recipes Rabbit Care Pet Sitters Favorite Links Adoptions MY Blog Oliver's Costumes Ferrets More Pet Pics

What's Up Doc? Learn How to Properly Care for Your Rabbit....

BEFORE GETTING A RABBIT, PLEASE THINK ABOUT THIS LIVING CREATURE AND BE PREPARED TO TAKE CARE OF HIM OR HER FOR THE NEXT 8-10 YEARS:  The HSUS estimates that new rabbit owners will spend $300 when acquiring a rabbit--$150 to cover the costs of a cage and other necessary equipment. In addition, taking care of a live animal requires regular expenses for grooming, food, toys, and other supplies. The HSUS also encourages all pet owners to save $20 per month for unforeseen expenses, such as emergency veterinary care and care for elderly pets.  Unfortunately, each year after Easter animal shelters are inundated with bunnies (ducklings and chicks too) relinquished by people who bought them on a whim. Many must be euthanized due to a lack of available homes. Some animals given as Easter gifts are released into the wild when people tire of them. Unable to fend for themselves, the hapless creatures usually die of starvation or exposure to the elements, or are preyed upon by other animals.

Examinations, Diet, Housing and Handling....

What is involved in a rabbit exam?

The veterinarian will examine your rabbit’s eyes, ears, and teeth. The skin will be examined for parasites. The veterinarian will listen to your rabbit’s chest, and palpate its abdomen. She will discuss diet and rabbit care with you, and answer any questions you may have about your rabbit. The veterinarian will also demonstrate how to trim your rabbit’s nails.

Why should my rabbit be spayed or neutered?

SPAYING: This procedure refers to the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovariohysterectomy) through an incision in the abdomen. Spaying female rabbits is very important since female rabbits have approximately an 80% chance of developing ovarian or uterine cancer after the age of 2 years! After the age of 3 years, the chances increase to appromixately 90%. Spaying is done at 4-6 months of age. The spaying of older, overweight bunnies is more difficult.

NEUTERING: This procedure (also known as castration) refers to the surgical removal of the testes. While testicular cancer in bunnies is not common, neutering is still highly recommended in order to reduce aggressive behaviour, and the spraying of "territory" with urine. Neutering is usually done at 4 months of age, however, your veterinarian much examine your rabbit first.

Rabbit Pellets:

A good quality rabbit pellet may be offered daily, but in limited quantities. The uncontrolled feeding of a pelleted diet can lead to obesity, heart and liver disease, chronic diarrhea, and kidney disease which results from the high concentration of carbohydrates, low fiber and high calcium levels in the pellets. Keep the pellets in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage.

Overfeeding of pellets is the #1 cause of health problems. Rabbits up to 8 months of age can have access to pellets free-choice because they are still growing rapidly. However, after 8 months of age, they should receive about 1/4 cup of pellets per 5-7 pounds of body weight.


Timothy or other grass hay should be offered daily in UNLIMITED amounts. It is important that hay be available at all times for your Pet. Rabbits tend to eat small amounts of food frequently throughout the day and withholding hay for long periods of time can lead to intestinal upsets. The fiber in the hay is extremely important in promoting normal digestion and motility, and for the prevention of hairballs. Hay also contains proteins and other nutrients essential to the good health of your bunny.

Hay should be stored in a cool, dry place with good air circulation (don’t close it tightly in a plastic bag). Discard wet or damp hay, or any hay that does not have a "fresh" smell. A good way to offer hay is to use a hay rack on the outside of the cage. Your bunny can pull the hay into the cage through the bars as s/he needs it. This keeps the hay clean and eliminates much of the waste.


These foods should be given daily. Rabbits in the wild eat primarily tough, fibrous leaves, bark, and other difficult-to-digest plants. Their digestive tract functions best when it has the most work to do in breaking down cellulose. If your Pet is not accustomed to having any fresh foods, then start out gradually with the green leafy veggies and add a new food item from the list every 5 to 7 days. If the addition of any item leads to diarrhea, soft or unformed stools in 24 to 48 hours, then remove it from the diet. Young bunnies should be introduced to new foods gradually.

You may give 1 heaping cup per 5 lbs of body weight after the gradual introduction to these foods:

Carrots and carrot tops, beet tops, dandelion greens and flowers (these are excellent, but no pesticides, please), kale, collard greens, escarole, romaine lettuce (don’t give light-colored leaf lettuce or iceberg lettuce), parsley, clover, cabbage, broccoli, green peppers, pea pods (the flat, edible kind), Brussel sprouts, bok choy, radicchio, and spinach.

* Try to expose your bunny to a variety of greens, since feeding only one type may lead to nutrient imbalances.


You may give one of these treat foods daily in small amounts....about 1 tablespoon per 5 lbs of body weight... strawberries, papaya, pineapple, apple, pear, melon, raspberries, peach, pear, banana, dried fruit, or dried whole grain bread.

Note: papaya and pineapple provide important digestive enzymes to help break down hairballs which is very important since rabbits can not vomit.


Do not give any of the following foods routinely because of their potential for causing dietary upset and obesity: salty or sugary snacks, nuts, chocolate, breakfast cereals, and other grains including oatmeal and corn.

Green beans, white and red potatoes, beets, fresh corn and peas can cause gas.

Whole seeds, nuts, grains, dried corn and peas can cause impaction.

Sweet potato, cassava, bamboo shoots, maize, limas, millet, bracken fern, tea leaves and coffee plants are dangerous and contain compounds that destroy nutrients.

Rhubarb leaves, raw lima/kidney/soy beans, onions and citrus peels contain toxins.


Water should always be available. A rabbit cannot endure a lack of water for longer than 24 hours, or less in hot weather. The water must be changed daily. A dirty water container can harbor bacteria that can cause disease. The container can be either a water bottle or a heavy bowl that is weighted or secured to the side of the cage so that it does not tip over. In some rabbits that use a water bowl, the dewlap (loose flap of skin under the neck) may become irritated and infected from being repeatedly dipped in the water.


Rabbits can be housed indoors or outdoors. Indoor rabbits should be confined to a suitable enclosure when their activity cannot be adequately supervised. A roomy cage with at least one-half of the floor's surface area covered with Plexiglass or washable towels is recommended. The Plexiglass or towels provide relief from constant and continual contact with the wire floor, helping to prevent hutch sores on the feet. A water bottle or ceramic crock, food dish and a litter box should be provided for the rabbit inside the enclosure.

Under no circumstances should rabbits be allowed total freedom within the home without supervision. Rabbits love to chew and can be very destructive to household furnishings.  They can also be seriously injured by biting into telephone and electrical cords.  Provide appropriate chew toys to help wear down their teeth because rabbit teeth continuously grow.   Rabbits like to play with small cat toys too. Cardboard boxes and paper bags can even provide entertainment to your bunny. Just make sure to have play time every day so your rabbit gets some exercise and doesn’t get bored.

Like cats, rabbits can be easily trained to use a litter box in the home. If the rabbit has already selected an area for elimination, the litter box should be placed in this location. It helps to place some of the rabbit's fecal pellets in the litter box to encourage its use.   Corn cob bedding, wood pellets or pelleted newspaper are good substrates for the litter box.

For outdoor rabbits, adequate shade and a "hiding spot" should be provided as well. Rabbits are typically anxious, wary animals and are easily frightened. This is especially true of newly acquired Pet rabbits. A concealed area into which these rabbits can retreat when they feel threatened is necessary to prevent injury that would result from excessive and futile efforts to escape from the cage. Hiding provides a safe alternative to useless and often injurious escape efforts.

Shade must be provided to prevent heat stress or heat stroke. All rabbits, even those housed indoors, are especially sensitive to high environmental temperatures. Adequate shelter must also be provided against wind, rain, snow and ice.


Improper handling may cause serious, life-threatening injuries. Fractures and dislocations of the back, most often resulting in paralysis of both rear legs, are the most common injuries. These injuries also occur when rabbits are suddenly frightened and attempt to escape from a small enclosure.

A rabbit's spine is relatively lightweight and fragile. When a rabbit becomes frightened, it violently struggles by powerfully kicking its back legs. The lightning-fast movements of the rear legs cause over-extension of the lumbosacral (lower back) region of the spine, which frequently results in fractures or dislocations. One should never try to overpower a struggling rabbit. If a rabbit violently resists physical restraint, it should be immediately released and approached later when it has calmed down.

A soft-spoken, relaxed approach with rabbits works well. Covering the eyes and lightly stroking a rabbit will usually result in a hypnotic-like trance that often renders them less prone to panic and injury.

Rabbits should never be picked up by their ears. If you are concerned about being scratched by the claws, place a towel over the rabbit's back and wrap it around the body to restrain all 4 feet before picking up the rabbit. An alternative method of picking up a rabbit involves sliding one hand under its breast bone and grasping both front legs between the fingers of this hand. The other hand is then gently worked under the rear quarters to fully support them as the rabbit is lifted upwards, in the same manner as cats are held and supported.




In the spring, you may run across a seemingly abandoned nest of bunnies in the wild. Your heart may prompt you to intervene, but the best thing you can do is LEAVE THEM ALONE.

Chances are they have not been abandoned, and by removing them from the wild you greatly reduce their chance for survival. Mothers do not stay in the nest with their
babies like some mammals and birds. They build a nest with fur and grasses that help keep the babies warm between feedings. Mothers will stay away from the nest during the day so that predators will not see where her nest is.

If you happen to remove a healthy baby from the wild, put him back where you found him. The mother will most likely return to feed the baby. Mother rabbits nurse their babies for ONLY  5 minutes a day – once early in the morning and again in the evening. The milk is very rich and the babies fill up within minutes. 
Then they can usually go 24 hours without another feeding.

Often, people find
infant rabbits that appear to be too small to be on their own. The rule-of-thumb is that if the rabbits are 5 inches or longer, they are old enough to be on their own and should be released where they were found.

Baby rabbits should be picked up only as a last resort, such as when you know that the parents are dead or injured. Young rabbits are difficult to rehabilitate and more often than not, they do not survive the
stress of being handled.

Do not attempt to take care of baby rabbits yourself. They require special conditions and
diets that only a trained rehabilitator can provide. If you are certain that the mother is no longer able to care for the babies because of severe injury or death, contact a wildlife rehabilitation center. It is possible that they can find a foster mother – a rabbit who is nursing bunnies of the same age – to care for the babies.

The following is a brief outline of their
aging process:

  • Newborn rabbits have pink bellies and the hair is slick. The ears are not erect and their eyes are closed.
  • 5 to 6 days old: The bunny is fully furred, but the ears are not erect and the eyes are still closed.
  • 7 to 8 days old: The ears begin to stand up.
  • 10 days old: The eyes open.
  • 12 to 14 days old: The bunny is able to hop and nibble on solid food.
  • 21 to 28 days old: The ears are 1 inch in length and the bunny can live independently.

    If you find bunnies with ears at least 1 inch long, leave them alone. They are able to live independently. If they appear to be less than 21 days old, keep in mind that the best chance any wild rabbit has of survival is to remain in the wild. You may think that the doe has abandoned the baby, but frequently she is nearby and just allowing the bunny a chance to explore its world. You can  M
    ake sure the bunnies are not injured AND Cover the nest loosely with grass.

    To be sure that the mother has come back to the nest, place several strands of string or yarn over the nest. If the string has not been moved by morning, then the mother has probably not returned and you should call a rehabilitation center.

    If you know that the mother has been killed, take the bunnies to a wildlife rehabilitation center for the best chance of survival. Of course, injured babies of any age should be examined and treated by an experienced veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitation center. There are many rehabilitation centers throughout the country. For a list of contacts, visit www.tc.umn.edu/~devo0028/contact.htm


    If you are unable to find a wildlife center in your area, or if you are unable to find a foster mother rabbit, you can attempt feeding and rearing an orphaned bunny. Be aware that taking the bunny to an experienced rehabilitator will give the baby the best chance of survival. Also, depending on the local laws in your area, it may be against the law for someone without a wildlife rehabilitation license to care for wild animals. For those people that decide to attempt raising an orphaned bunny, here are some suggestions:

    Kitten milk replacer (KMR® in powdered form) is currently recommended. Goat's milk, found in the dairy section of the grocery store, is an acceptable alternative and has been successfully used by several wild rabbit rehabilitators. Fox Valley makes various wildlife formulas. You can contact them at 1-800-679-4666.

    After preparing the KMR according to label directions (or purchasing goat's milk), begin slowly feeding the orphaned bunny twice a day as they are fed in the wild. The amount of formula per feeding depends on the age of the bunny and whether it is a jack rabbit or cottontail. Contact a wildlife organization for specific, individualized help and information regarding your orphan bunny.

    It may be difficult to feed the bunny only twice a day, but overfeeding, diarrhea and bloat are the primary causes of infant death. Trying to mimic their mother by feeding twice a day may greatly increase the bunny's chance at survival.

    Baby bunnies are unable to urinate and defecate without stimulation. Normally the mother cleans the genital area to stimulate urination and defecation. You will have to gently rub a warm moistened cotton ball around the rectal and genital area. Do this after each feeding until the bunny opens his/her eyes.

    It is extremely important to minimize contact with the bunny. An important instinct that successfully released bunnies must have is a fear of humans. For this reason, wild bunnies are not just let out into the world without preparation. Make sure you get in touch with a wildlife center before releasing your bunny for proper instruction. An excellent reference is the House Rabbit Society www.rabbit.org

  • Orphan Rabbit Care