Rabbit Care Advice
- Rabbits as pets
- I need company!
- Where do I need to live?
- House Rabbits
- Diet - what do I need to eat?
- Behaviour - what I need to do
- How to handle me
- Keeping me fit and healthy
- The 5 welfare needs
- Are rabbits the right pet for you?
- Rabbit care in winter
Rabbits make rewarding pets for adults and supervised older children but are not suitable for younger children. They’re naturally social, intelligent and inquisitive so can become friendly and confident around people if gently handled from a young age, although they do not naturally enjoy being cuddled. Rabbits need loving, patient owners who are prepared to spend plenty of time with them, and provide plenty of space and lots of opportunities to play. They live for 8–12 years so are a long-term commitment.
Rabbits should not be kept alone. They are happiest when they have a friendly rabbit for company. A good pairing is a neutered male and a neutered female, especially if they’re brought up together. New pairs should be carefully introduced to each other under expert advice from a vet or behaviourist.
Rabbits should not live with guinea pigs because rabbits and guinea pigs have different diets and communicate in different ways. Rabbits can bully or injure guinea pigs, and can pass diseases on to them.
Rabbits, whether kept indoors or outdoors need a lot of space, a big shelter and a spacious living area.
The shelter is somewhere for your rabbits to rest, hide and feel safe. This area needs enough space for all your rabbits to live together and be able to have space to spend time apart if they wish.
The living area should be large enough for your rabbits to run, jump, hop around, explore and forage. This area needs places to hide, platforms to jump up on and items to explore like tunnels, boxes, large terracotta plant pots and willow toys. Your rabbits should ideally have access to the living area at all times, and at least in the early morning, late afternoon and overnight, when they are most likely to graze and socialise.
All areas must be large enough to allow rabbits to stand on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof, to turn around easily, to lie fully stretched out, to run and to take several hops in a row. Accommodation should be well ventilated, draught-free, protected from extremes of temperature and secure to avoid rabbits escaping and stop predators getting in.
Outdoor homes should be weatherproof, with a raised floor to keep them dry and improve ventilation. Indoor shelters should have natural light and ventilation.
Most rabbits can be kept outdoors all year round, but others can live happily indoors or be brought indoors for winter, provided you meet their needs. You should provide regular chances to exercise, grass to graze (e.g. grown in trays), and opportunities to dig. Make your home rabbit-proof by covering electrical wiring, removing poisonous household plants such as lillies and supervising your rabbits, or using a large rabbit playpen for unsupervised playtime. Before getting house rabbits always consider other pets in the household.
Rabbits can be litter trained by filling litter trays with newspaper and hay/straw, shredded paper or cat litter (e.g. non-clumping and non-expanding natural wood or paper-based types). Put some soiled litter in the trays and place them in the areas your rabbits naturally use to go to the toilet. Always put litter trays away from where your rabbits sleep.
Shelters should contain lots of absorbent bedding materials (such as a layer of newspaper or dust extracted woodshavings topped with shredded paper, dust-free hay or straw) to keep your rabbits comfortable and warm. During winter, plenty of extra hay and barley straw will help to insulate your rabbits’ home.
Replace soiled bedding and litter daily, and thoroughly clean the entire housing weekly using a pet-safe disinfectant. Rabbits should be removed from their accommodation during cleaning until all areas are dry. Cleaning can upset rabbits by removing their own scent, so place some dry used litter and bedding back into their litter tray and home to make sure some familiar scent remains.
Rabbits need a balanced diet which is high in fibre. Sudden changes to their diet should be avoided, as this can cause fatal stomach upsets.
Hay and grass
Hay (and ideally grass) must always be available for your rabbits to eat - it helps maintain healthy digestion and wears your rabbits’ teeth down naturally. Putting hay in racks off the ground can prevent it from becoming soiled. Do not feed grass clippings – rabbits should eat the grass as it grows.
Hay forms the majority of your rabbits’ diet, but specialist rabbit foods can be fed in addition to hay to provide additional nutrition. We recommend feeding pellets/nuggets, as rabbits often pick bits out of muesli mixes, so they miss out on essential nutrients – this is known as selective feeding.
We feed Pets at Home nuggets to our rabbits while they’re with us, and recommend that you continue to do so when you take them home. If you do wish to change their diet, introduce the new food gradually over about 10 to 14 days.
Rabbits can be given small quantities of fresh, washed leafy greens daily such as broccoli, kale, fresh herbs and freshly picked dandelion leaves (again, introduce any new foods gradually). Fruit and root vegetables like carrots are high in sugar, so give them only in small amounts as occasional treats. Never give your rabbits any frozen foods.
Rabbits need fresh water every day in a heavy based bowl or bottle. You should check your rabbits’ water at least twice a day, and make sure it does not freeze if your rabbits live outdoors over winter.
Like us, rabbits can easily get bored. They need to be able to forage, graze, chew, hide, dig, run, hop and jump. To help, you should try:
- hiding healthy treats around their home
- scattering pellets or greens into the hay
- putting pellets in food balls or puzzle feeders
- providing lots of natural wood or willow toys they can chew
- provide an area in which they can dig
- give large cardboard tubes and other rabbit toys so they can explore and play give them platforms to jump up on to.
Rabbits need constant access to hiding places like large boxes, for when they feel frightened.
Rabbits are prey animals so do not naturally enjoy being handled, but they need to be health checked and groomed regularly. To build your rabbits’ confidence, sit on the ground with them whilst offering them small, healthy treats frequently so they associate you with tasty food. When they’re used to being stroked, try slowly picking them up by placing one hand under your rabbit’s chest and the other hand under their bottom. Hold your pet close to you so it feels secure and cannot fall. Rabbits can be injured if handled incorrectly or dropped, so children should always be supervised and must never be allowed to pick rabbits up by themselves.
Rabbits should be neutered to avoid breeding and reduce the risks of fighting, urine spraying and some cancers. It is known that many female rabbits will develop fatal womb cancer if they are not neutured, so even rabbits kept on their own or with another female companion should be neutered. Ask a vet for advice.
Rabbits must be vaccinated against two killer diseases – Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), usually yearly. Ask your vet about when to get these vaccinations. We recommend insuring your rabbits to ensure you are covered for any unexpected veterinary fees. Microchipping your rabbits is also advised in case they get lost and some insurers offer discounts if they are chipped.
Check your rabbit for signs of illness or injury daily. Healthy rabbits are alert with bright eyes, dry nostrils and clean, shiny coats. Their droppings should be small, firm pellets. Take them to your vet at least yearly and immediately if you suspect your rabbit is in pain, injured, showing signs of illness or developing any changes in behaviour (e.g. loss of appetite, appears listless, coughing, runny eyes or nose, diarrhoea or aggression).
Check your rabbits’ bottoms daily (or twice daily during warm weather), and clean them if necessary. Otherwise urine staining or droppings can attract flies which lay eggs on the rabbit and cause fatal ‘flystrike’. If your rabbit has a dirty bottom frequently, seek advice from your vet.
If rabbits’ teeth grow too long, they become very painful and make eating difficult. Hay should always be availble for your rabbits to eat as it helps to wear their teeth down. Check your rabbits’ front teeth regularly and go to your vet if you are concerned.
Grooming and nail clipping
Long-haired rabbits need grooming daily. Short-haired rabbits can be groomed weekly. Regular grooming helps you bond with your rabbits and spot health problems. Your vet can show you how to clip your rabbits’ nails regularly.
Travelling and moving house are stressful and can make your rabbit seriously ill. Transport your rabbits, together with their friends, in a secure plastic carrier. Put something familiar smelling inside the carrier and in their new home.
Health and hygiene
All pets can carry diseases, some of which can pass to people. Always clean your hands with soap and water after handling or feeding your pets and ensure children do the same. Likewise after cleaning their home and equipment. It is best to avoid kissing your pet.
For more information on keeping rabbits happy and healthy visit:
The RSPCA and Pets at Home are committed to supporting responsible pet ownership and are working together to help ensure that pets are cared for properly and their needs are met:
- for somewhere suitable to live,
- for a proper diet, including fresh water,
- for the ability to express normal behaviour,
- to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
- for protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Rabbits are a big commitment. Ask yourself the following questions to see if rabbits are the right pets for you and your household.
Who are the rabbits for?
Rabbits are not suitable for young children, and even if older children look after them, remember you will be responsible for ensuring they are cared for properly every day.
Have you thought about the future?
Rabbits are a long-term commitment and can live for 8–12 years. If you’re getting rabbits for older children, have you thought about what will happen when they leave home?
Do you have the time for rabbits?
Caring for rabbits takes a lot of time each day as they will need cleaning out, feeding, grooming and interacting with.
Do you have the space for rabbits?
Rabbit housing will take up a large area of your house and/or garden. Are you prepared to sacrifice this space? Rabbits can be messy and destructive if kept in the house.
Can you afford rabbits?
Rabbits are not cheap pets. Consider the costs of yearly vaccinations, neutering, other veterinary fees, housing, holiday care, food, bedding and toys. Remember that you will need to increase this cost for two rabbits as new research shows costs for two rabbits are not double that of one and that rabbits can live for up to 12 years.
What will you do when you go on holiday?
Rabbits get stressed by travelling and new surroundings so would prefer to stay in their home whilst you are away. You will need to find a trustworthy and competent person to visit your home and look after your rabbits. This is basic information only, so if you decide you can care for rabbits you’ll need to obtain more detailed information beforehand.
It is important to ensure you can commit to your rabbits forever. However, if in future you can no longer care for a pet you purchased from us, please contact Pets at Home as we will try to rehome them via our in-store Adoption Centres. Never abandon any pet or release them into the wild.
Your rabbits will naturally prepare themselves for the onset of the dark, cold winter months. However, as a responsible pet owner you should give your rabbits extra attention over winter. There are many factors to consider and disregarding these can lead to illness or fatalities. This leaflet contains tips on how to make your rabbits more comfortable in winter and should be read alongside The Pets at Home guide to Caring for your Rabbit.
Care must be taken when housing rabbits outside in Autumn/Winter, in extreme cold temperatures we would advise you house them indoors.
Rabbits need company and are much happier if they have a companion to sniggle up to.
If you keep your rabbits outdoors it’s important to consider their welfare throughout the winter. Ask yourself a few simple questions to establish if your rabbits are in the most suitable place in your garden.
Is My Rabbit Warm Enough
Rabbits have soft fur pads on their feet and naturally build up thick fur as they prepare themselves for winter. However, you should ensure that they have a generous supply of dry straw or hay bedding in a draught-free corner of their hutch. Never give your rabbits a blanket to snuggle up in as rabbits have a tendency to chew and this could make them ill.
Rabbits don’t like to be exposed to draughts, especially at night time. If your rabbits’ hutch is in an exposed area, move it so that it’s sheltered from draughts and bad weather. A hutch cover will protect your pets from the wind and rain and keep their hutch warm and dry.
A hutch snuggle helps to regulate the temperature keeping your pets’ home warm in winter and cool in summer.
Should I Bring My Rabbit Indoors?
Despite the cold weather rabbits are designed to live outdoors and although desirable, it’s not essential to bring them indoors in winter. Instead, you could place their hutch in a garden shed or outhouse which will provide shelter and protection from predators. Never keep your rabbits in a used garage as the fumes from your car can be very dangerous. A secure fence around your garden will discourage predators from entering - their food supply is scarce in winter so make sure your pets’ hutch is protected. Remember that the shock of seeing a predator could be fatal to your rabbits.
How Can I Make Winter More Fun for My Rabbits?
Playtime is important all year round so make sure you give your rabbits lots of attention and provide them with toys and boredom breakers to entertain them. Pets at Home stocks a wide variety of fun toys for rabbits. You can also make your own toys by cutting a few holes out of a cardboard box for your rabbits to hop in and out of or provide large cardboard tubes which are great for hiding in. Rabbits enjoy having a box of hay or shredded paper to dig in. Remember that your pets require daily exercise. Never put your rabbits, especially baby rabbits, outside to exercise if the ground is cold and the grass is wet. This can lead to severe stomach upsets so it’s much better to let them play somewhere safe indoors.
Are There Any Changes I Need to Make to My Rabbits' Diet in Winter?
You don’t have to make any big changes to your pets’ diet in winter. Feed your rabbits dried forage such as dried grass and hay and suitable fresh foods from the supermarket. For a full list of recommended foods for rabbits visit petsathome.com. Good nutrition is very important as it promotes growth of a thick fur coat for extra insulation and can help your rabbit gain extra weight helping it to survive the winter months. Never over feed your rabbits as this could lead to obesity.
During summer rabbits gain lots of moisture from grass which is unavailable in the winter months. Therefore, you should provide your pets with a constant supply of fresh water. It’s important to check their water bottle and food bowl twice a day as they’re prone to freezing in low temeratures. If your rabbits are unable to drink, they’ll become dehydrated leading to health problems. Adding 2–3 drops of medicinal glycerine to their water can help to prevent it from freezing. Remember to check their food for signs of frost. Refill their bowl and bottle with food and water that are at room temperature to delay the onset of frost.
A bottle snug ensures that your rabbits’ water bottle doesn’t freeze in winter and stays cool and algae free in the summer.
If you’re concerned about your rabbits being outdoors during winter, consider bringing them indoors. Litter training is easier than you may think - rabbits are creatures of habit and will quickly adapt to using a litter tray. Their territorial nature helps as they tend to mark their territory with droppings, generally in the same places. Neutered rabbits make better house pets as they’re easier to train and adapt well to living indoors. Rabbits like to have their own space including an area where they can eat and sleep. Place their cage or pen in a quiet area of the room and avoid disturbing them when they’re inside. Position their food close to the litter tray as rabbits sometimes eat whilst using the tray.
Choosing the right litter is very important. As rabbits like to chew it’s essential that the litter is non-toxic. If the litter is dusty this can cause irritation to your pets’ eyes and potentially their respiratory systems. A non-absorbent litter can lead to puddles of urine which may irritate their skin. Non-toxic, dust-free and absorbent litter that does not stick together when wet (nonclumping) such as wood litter pellets are ideal. Alternatively, a bedding material such as hay or straw placed on top of layered newspaper can be used as litter.
You’ll need to make a few adjustments to your home before bringing your rabbits indoors. Rabbits love to chew and will chew through electric cables. Cover exposed wires with a protective tubing to keep your pets safe. Rabbits make fantastic house pets and they’ll be happy living indoors.
Preparing for Spring
It’s important to take your rabbits for a check-up. Your vet will also be able to advise you on when your pets’ inoculations are due.
Check your rabbits’ hutch for damage and dampness and replace the weatherproof protection if necessary.
It is essential to worm your rabbit throughout the year. We recommend Panacur® Rabbit for preventing and treating worms as well as other parasites. Ask one of our suitably qualified team members at your nearest store for more information.
Useful items for rabbits in winter
- Hutch cover
- Bottle cover
- Hay bedding
- Rabbit toys
- Indoor rabbit cage
- Litter tray
- Rabbit toys
- Hutch /indoor rabbit cage and run
- Ceramic food bowl
- Water bottle
- Wood shavings
- Pets at Home rabbit nuggets
- Mineral stone
- Vitamin supplement
- Probiotic supplement
- Litter tray and litter
- Toys such as gnawing sticks and large cardboard tubes
- Bottle brush
- Pet-safe disinfectant
- Brush /comb
- Book /DVD on rabbits