How to Care for an Adult Rabbit

ADULT RABBIT DIET

A balanced diet for an adult rabbit consists of:

• Unlimited fresh, quality Grass Hay

• Adult Rabbit Pellets (limited to ~ 1/4 cup per 5lb rabbit every day)

• Fresh Leafy and Herb Vegetable Greens (at least 1 cup per 5lb rabbit every day)

HAY 

Hay is not just for horses – it’s for bunnies, too!

Hay is THE most important part of your rabbit’s diet.  It is an essential source of fiber, which is critical and essential in keeping your bunny’s delicate gastrointestinal (or “GI”) tract moving.

As rabbits chew hay they are also benefitting by keeping their teeth in shape to prevent serious dental problems which commonly occur in rabbits with a low fiber or hay-deficient diet.

Your rabbit should have unlimited fresh grass hay available to them at all times – at minimum, give your bunnies a big handful of fresh hay on top of their litterbox at least 3 times per day. 

There are a variety of grass hays that are available to meet an adult rabbit’s dietary needs being high in Fiber* which is critical to maintain the digestive health of a rabbit. These types of hays include:

  • Timothy Hay
  • Oat Hay
  • Orchard Grass/Mountain Grass Hay
  • Bermuda Hay
  • Brome Hay

*Please note that Alfalfa Hay is a low fiber, high protein legume hay. It is only meant to be fed to young bunnies ranging from about 8 weeks – 5 months old. 

It is recommended that you purchase hay in bulk from local feed stores, as opposed to purchasing commercial pet store hay. Hay is available at barns and feed stores that usually cater to horses and other exotic pets. Rabbits and horses have very similar digestive tracts and hay diet requirements.

Recommended Hay supply barns and feed stores:

Stephens Hay & GrainRed Barn Feed & Pet    Lomita Feed Store

If you decide to purchase your hay from a pet store:  prepackaged hay sold in retail pet stores are not usually worth the price you pay when compared to the quantities you can purchase at feed stores, and it is not nearly as fresh. Your rabbit will probably not like the taste of pet store hay either which can lead to lack of proper fiber in the bunny’s diet, which will lead to digestive and medical problems for your rabbit.

Rabbits can be easily litterbox trained. It is the ideal and healthiest feeding setup for an adult rabbit to eat, graze, poop and pee all in one place. To minimize bunny messes, place safe bedding such as Carefresh® bedding, or any paper-based bedding safe for small animals, at the bottom of the litterbox tray, and place a generous layer of fresh hay on top of the bedding.  It is best to change the litterbox with new bedding & hay every 1-2 days at least.

Again, you must feed your rabbits a fresh handful of hay at least 3 times per day every day. You must change the entire litterbox pan with fresh bedding and hay at least every 1-2 days.  

PELLETS 

Only purchase plain, Timothy Hay-based pellet food that contains at least 18% fiber and no more than 16% protein.  Timothy-based pellets are the best choice for an adult rabbit. Oxbow® brand Adult Rabbit Timothy Pellets is an excellent product which can be purchased online, exotic veterinarians, Hay feed stores, or from Petsmart.

Pellets should be limited to about 1/4 cup of pellets per rabbit per day. This should be adjusted to less or more, depending on the overall health and weight of the rabbit.

**AVOID any rabbit pellet products that are primarily Alfalfa-based, or pellets that contain fillers, fruits, nuts, seeds and corn. These commercial products are typically described as “Deluxe” or “Gourmet”- which are anything but!

These ingredients can be very HARMFUL to rabbits, do not provide any nutritional benefits, and can cause FATAL intestinal blockages in their sensitive digestive tracts**

FRESH LEAFY GREEN VEGETABLES

Below are examples of safe and beneficial vegetables for a rabbit that can be fed in regular quantities (on a daily basis):

Carrot Tops (greens only)

Italian Parsley (curly parsley is also acceptable)

Cilantro

Romaine Lettuces – red or green leaf (absolutely NO iceberg lettuce)

Basil

Dill

Mint

Here are examples of safe and beneficial vegetables for a rabbit that can be fed in moderate and limited quantities (about 4 times/week):

Dandelion Greens

Fresh Wheatgrass

Endive

Escarole

Kale

Mustard Greens

Chard

Collard Greens

Spinach

Turnip Greens

It is encouraged to combine about 3-5 different vegetables for each feeding, as rabbits love a variety of their favorite veggies. Ideally all bunny-safe vegetables should be Organic, however if this is not possible then make sure to clean the vegetables extremely well to remove all pesticide residue before serving them to rabbits. It is best to place the freshly washed vegetables on a paper plate or rounded plastic plate. Do not place vegetables on top of the litter box.

TREATS 

Avoid all commercially produced “treats” that are typically found in pet stores. They contain highly starchy, unnatural and potentially dangerous ingredients that rabbits cannot digest and causes many GI tract problems that usually require a vet visit for treatment.

There are a variety of organic and natural alternatives that are truly considered treats for rabbits which are healthy for them as well. Examples include:

A small piece of carrot

A small slice of fresh fruit – apple (no seeds!), banana, pineapple, strawberry, mango

Feed these treats sparingly—no more than 1-2 tablespoons daily.

RABBIT HOUSING AND LIVING ENVIRONMENT

Rabbits should never live in a cage, hutch, or restricted to solitary confinement outside the home.

Domestic adult rabbits are companion house rabbits – they must always be housed INDOORS in a safe, “bunny-proof” living space in the home. This can range from an exercise pen (“X-pen”) enclosure with at least 4×4 feet worth of space, to their own “bunny room”, to fully free roaming living in a bunny-proofed home with the family.

Many rabbit owners allow their rabbits the free run of a room or a portion of their homes.  Whichever situation works best for the safety of your rabbit(s), it is still always best for your rabbit to have a dedicated “home base” of their living environment that they can call their home and feel safe in whenever they are scared or feel threatened.

Allowing your house rabbit to live in an exercise playpen offers the following benefits:

• Easy to clean

• Easy to move

• Easy to adapt to different living spaces

• Large enough for your bunny to hop around and play comfortably

• Is around the same price as a ‘decent’ cage

Protecting your flooring with bunny safe coverings in the exercise pen is wise and recommended. Berber carpeting, sea grass/mountain grass/other natural fiber rugs and carpets are excellent choices, especially since rabbits will tend to chew and dig on it and at times ingests it.

You may also lay bed sheets, blankets, and towels to protect flooring, however you must be aware and watch your rabbit to make sure he/she doesn’t eat and ingest these fibers.

Bottom line is you want to make sure your rabbit’s living space and floor coverings are as safe as possible.

WHAT KEEPS MY BUNNY BUSY? 

Your rabbit will love to play, be active and interact with things to avoid being bored. Your rabbit’s housing should contain a variety of bunny-safe items for them to chew on, toss and play with including these essentials:

• A large, plastic litter box for your bunny to eat, graze poop & pee all in one place

• A cut-out cardboard box for your rabbit’s privacy and a place to hide and feel safe

• Food and water bowls – heavy bottom crock bowls are best

• Toys that are natural wood based (there are only certain woods that are safe for rabbits)

•Empty/clean cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towel rolls

•Baby toys such as plastic keys/rings, plastic alphabet blocks (NO teething toys)

• Willow baskets and items (peeled or unpeeled)

•Dried willow leaves (untreated & pesticide-free)

• Apple sticks, dried apple leaves (untreated & pesticide-free)

REFERENCE TERMS OF COMMON RABBIT BEHAVIORS, BODY LANGUAGE & COMMUNICATION  

The “Blind Spot”: Because a rabbit’s eyes are positioned on the sides of her head, she has a small blind spot directly in front of her.  So if you see her sniffing around for a morsel that’s right in front of her nose, it’s perfectly normal and doesn’t mean she’s going blind.  For the same reason, you may startle her if you reach straight in to pat her, as you would a dog or a cat; it’s better to reach in from her side or over her head.

The Thump: Bunnies usually thump, or kick their back foot to the ground, to convey any anxiety/stress, fear or mere displeasure or annoyance.

There are a number of reasons or triggers that may cause a bunny to thump – such as wanting to get your attention, or  to protest the kind of attention they’re getting but don’t necessarily like (as if the bunny is saying “Go away: I don’t want to be picked up!” or “Shame on you for trimming my nails!”)

“Dead-Bunny Flop”: Your bunny may suddenly flop down on her side, perhaps rolling over a little onto her back.  This is a sign of sheer relaxation.

The “Binky”:  This is the ultimate form of expression that conveys joy and happiness in a rabbit. When a rabbit can’t contain her happiness, she will do a binky. This is described as a mid-air jump and the rabbit shakes her body and kicks up her heels at the same time. If the bunny has enough space to binky freely you will know it when you see it – and it is by far one of the most entertaining behaviors that a rabbit owner ever has the pleasure to witness.

Tooth Grinding or ‘Purring’: Bunnies often show contentment by gently grinding their teeth or “purring”.  However, a loud tooth grinding indicates pain.

Nipping:   Bunnies may nip, or ‘fake bite’ a human or another rabbit or animal. This typically occurs when they are first getting to know you, without meaning any harm.  An effective discouragement is to let out a short, high-pitched yelp every time you’re nipped.  Your bunny should take that to mean, “Hey, knock it off—that hurts!”  Bunnies also commonly nip to say, “I want down!” or “Get out of my way!”

Chinning: Rabbits often lay claim to objects and people by rubbing their chins against them, this is how they mark objects with a scent undetectable to people but is detectable to other bunnies or animals.

Territory Marking: Rabbits often claim space as their own by leaving “territorial poops.”  Such marking is very common in rabbits that have not been spayed or neutered.

Pulling hair: Pregnant rabbits pull hair from their chests and legs to make nests for their kits.  Un-spayed females (or even spayed females living in the vicinity of unneutered males) sometimes undergo pseudo pregnancies in which they display this behavior.

Eating “Poop”: She’s eating her poop???  If you see your bunny bring her head down to her anal area and come up munching – then she has just eaten her cecotrope.  Cecotropes are nutritious pellets created from indigestible fiber in the part of the rabbit’s intestine known as the cecum.  Unlike the hard, round fecal pellets you find in your bunny’s litterbox, cecal pellets look like tiny, gooey, clusters of grapes.  Because rabbits normally eat them as soon as they are processed, you’ll rarely see them.  Finding more than an occasional cecotrope may indicate a health problem—obesity, a diet too high in protein or starch and/or too low in fiber, or the onset of a serious illness.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS WHEN YOUR RABBIT IS SICK AND HAVING AN EMERGENCY (REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ATTENTION BY A VET)

MEDICAL EMERGENCIES 

Because they are prey animals, rabbits instinctively hide their illnesses, so their caretakers must be especially alert to subtle signs of illness.

Loss of appetite or smaller and/or fewer poops may indicate ileus, commonly known as GI Stasis or Gastro Intestinal Stasis.

Signs of a medical emergency include: 

• 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

If you observe any of the above symptoms, don’t waste time—call your veterinarian immediately. 

OTHER MEDICAL ISSUES & GROOMING NEEDS

Teeth: A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing.  Sometimes rabbits’ teeth become overgrown, a condition known as malocclusion, and need to be trimmed.

Rabbits’ molars can have painful points that cause them to stop eating.

Drooling and loss of appetite can be indicators of tooth problems.  Take your rabbit to a vet immediately if she shows signs of tooth problems, and make sure she has a good oral check-up at least once a year.

Ears: Whenever you trim your bunny’s toenails, be sure to check her ears for dirt, wax buildup, redness, or any sign of infection.  Other indicators of ear problems include scratching the ears and shaking the head.  Contact your vet if you see any of those signs.  At least once a year, your vet should examine your rabbit’s ears with an otoscope; lops may require more frequent exams because they can have more of a tendency for ear infections.

Shedding:  Rabbits shed their fur four times a year in a process that can take anywhere from a couple days to a few weeks to complete.  Long-haired rabbits, in particular, are prone to hairballs—just as cats are.  But because bunnies, unlike cats, cannot vomit, the hair they swallow when they groom themselves can cause a potentially-fatal intestinal blockage.  To prevent this problem, groom your rabbit regularly during heavy molts and make sure that she is getting plenty of exercise and eating lots of hay.

Nails: Trim your rabbit’s nails every 6-8 weeks, or nip off the end of the nails once a month.  Use cat/dog nail trimmers and be careful not to cut the quick (the vein running through the rabbit’s nail).  If the quick isn’t visible, get a better view by shining a flashlight under the nails.

Red Urine: The color of a healthy rabbit’s urine ranges from clear through a spectrum of yellows, oranges and reds.  Much of this variation is due to diet and environment (i.e. stress).

So long as you do not observe blood spots (will look like human blood, spotted in the urine stain or by itself), the bunny is not an un-spayed female, and no other indications of trouble (i.e. straining in the litterbox), then don’t be too alarmed by reddish urine.  Do make a note of it and discuss this with your veterinarian so that they can perform a test for any underlying issues.

Flea and Tick Treatments: Consult your veterinarian before using any flea and tick treatment to ensure that you are applying a formula and dosage safe for rabbits.  Note: Never use Frontline brand flea treatment on your rabbit, it can cause death!

*IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU HAVE YOUR RABBITS EVALUATED AND TREATED BY A “RABBIT SAVVY” VETERINARIAN WHO SPECIALIZES IN EXOTIC ANIMALS FOR BEST POSSIBLE TREATMENT AND CARE*

  • Recommended Veterinarians in Los Angeles & Orange County specializing in Rabbits:
  • Recommended Grooming Tools & Grooming Services

Grooming Brush

The HairBuster grooming comb is the best shedding tool for rabbits – available online at www.bunnygear.com

Professional Grooming Services

Vicki, The Bunny Groomer – Calabasas, CA www.bunnygroomer.com

DJ, Bunny Sitter & Groomer – Burbank, CA www.thebunnysitterclub.com

ESSENTIAL RABBIT RESOURCES

READING MATERIALS: 

Stephan Flores, The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits – Great for both first-time and experienced bunny parents. This book will become your single, most-powerful reference tool to help you successfully and happily live with your house rabbit.

Marinell Harriman, House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit (4th edition) – Best guide to life with a house rabbit containing marvelous photographs.

Kathy Smith, Rabbit Health in the 21st Century:  A Guide for Bunny Parents (2nd edition) – Addresses many common and major health issues in terms easily accessible to the layperson.

ONLINE RESOURCES: HOUSE RABBIT INFORMATION, FORUMS & SHOPPING

Bunny World Foundation www.bunnyworldfoundation.org 

The House Rabbit Society www.rabbit.org

www.ILoveMyHouseRabbit.com 

www.MyHouseRabbit.com 

www.Bunnyhugga.com

www.Best4Bunny.com

More online websites for rabbit safe, “bunny-approved” healthy food, treats, toys, essentials, and supplies as well as forums & education:

www.BusyBunny.com 

www.BinkyBunny.com 

www.Pet-Rabbit-Toys.com 

There are numerous other helpful online rabbit resources – just do a web search for “house rabbit”.

~ Thank You for Considering Adopting a Rabbit and Saving a Precious Life! ~

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