Are you considering adding a bunny to your household?
Bunnies can make great pets – they’re personable and friendly by nature and you won’t need to worry about taking them for walks multiple times a day. Still, learning how to take care of a bunny is an important step that includes a lot of aspects things that you may not expect.
But don’t let their small size fool you, they’ll quickly become a member of your family and you’ll develop a lasting bond. Before making the commitment to a new furry friend, you should consider their lifespan and care requirements.
This bunny care 101 guide will help you decide if you can take care of a pet bunny properly.
Lifespan of Pet Rabbits
The average lifespan for domesticated bunnies kept strictly indoors is between 8-12 years.
Domesticated bunnies housed in outdoor hutches live significantly shorter lives at 2-3 years, likely due to stress caused by outdoor conditions.
You can help your bunny live a full life by offering high-quality food/hay/water, getting them spayed or neutered, and providing plenty of opportunities for mental stimulation and lots of love.
It’s important to check your rabbit for signs of illness (eye discharge, runny nose, sneezing, lethargy, aggressive behavior, diarrhea) regularly and keep their environment stress free.
Housing For Rabbits
With bunnies, you have a few options for housing: free roam, puppy pen, hutch, and commercial rabbit cages.
Letting your bunny free roam is the ideal option because it provides plenty of opportunities for exercise and socialization but it’s not realistic for many bunny owners.
A good alternative is a “free roam room” with their food, water, and litter box readily available. Limiting your bunny to one room makes it easier to bunny proof and to restrict access to other pets.
Some people choose to buy a puppy pen instead of a cage because they’re large but still easy to move. You’ll want to get a puppy pen that is 36 inches or higher because bunnies can jump quite high.
Hutches are an option if you are planning to keep your bunny outside. You will want to ensure the hutch is secure because of the added risk of predators and environmental factors. The problem with predators, in particular, is that your little bunny doesn’t have anywhere to go, they can stand outside of the cage and terrorize them.
The commercial rabbit cage is the most popular choice, and bigger is better. You will want to look for a cage that is plenty big to give your furry friend lots of room to play. This will ensure there is enough space for your bunny and all of their supplies.
A good rule of thumb is 8 square feet of enclosed space and 24 square feet of exercise space for 1-2 bunnies. Cages with positive reviews include Prevue Pet Jumbo Tubby Rabbit Cage, Living World Deluxe Habitat, and Ferplast Rabbit Cage.
If you have been around a bunny before you probably know how much they love to chew, dig, and explore.
To keep your bunny safe, you’ll need to bunny proof the area your bunny will be free roaming even if you intend on supervising their play. The first thing you will want to do is make sure all wires are completely out of reach or covered with hard plastic sleeves.
Baseboards and furniture legs might be an attractive treat for your bunny so you will want to consider covering those too. To keep your bunny out of areas you don’t want them, block off potential escape routes but don’t forget that some bunnies can jump over 36 inches and squeeze through tight spaces.
Finally, don’t keep house plants accessible to your bunny. Some common plants are poisonous if consumed but that won’t stop your bunny from chewing on them.
Bunnies are strict herbivores which means their bodies can only digest vegetable material. They need to be fed a diet rich in fiber so look for pellets with a high fiber content (18% or higher) and have a source of hay available in their cage to provide additional roughage.
Most bunnies should be fed ¼ – ½ cup of pellets per 6 lbs of body weight and unlimited hay. Vegetables should be introduced slowly to avoid upsetting your bunny’s stomach with the goal of feeding 2 cups of vegetables per day.
With bunnies you want to stick with green vegetables: bok choy, carrot tops, cilantro, dandelion leaves, and romaine lettuce. You can offer your bunny fruit like apples (no seeds) and bananas but it should be given sparingly due to the high sugar content.
Reputable commercial rabbit food brands include Oxbow Bunny Basic Essentials, Vitakraft Vitasmart, and Supreme Selective Fortified Rabbit Food.
Hay is an important component of a bunny’s diet. It’s high in fiber and helps maintain digestive function. It has another important job too – providing the roughage needed to keep a bunny’s teeth from growing too long.
It should be readily available in your bunny’s cage preferably kept in a hay rack to avoid contamination from urine and excrement. There are a few varieties of hay to choose from. If your bunny is less than 7 months old, you will want to provide alfalfa because it’s higher in protein and caloric content.
When your bunny is older you will need to switch to orchard grass, timothy hay, or oat hay. You can purchase hay from local farmers, most pet stores, or online.
Common Behaviors of Bunnies
Bunnies might be quiet animals but they have a unique way of showing how they are feeling. Here are a few of their common behaviors but there are many more!
Binkie: One of their most interesting behaviors is known as the binkie. A binkie is when a bunny leaps into the air and kicks their feet to the side and it’s how they show happiness.
Flopping: Flopping can be an alarming behavior because it might look like your bunny fell but don’t worry – they’re feeling relaxed and content.
Licking and Purring: Bunnies show affection through licking and purring (light teeth grinding usually while relaxed or being pet).
Chinning: A bunny’s chin has special scent glands used to mark their territory by rubbing their chin on objects. This behavior is known as chinning.
Alarming behaviors: Growling from anger/stress or screaming. Bunnies only scream during occurrences of extreme pain. If you hear your bunny screaming, you will need to seek immediate assistance from a veterinarian.
Pet Rabbit Grooming
An advantage to keeping a bunny as a pet is that they are excellent self groomers.
Fur: They keep themselves clean by licking their fur, much like a cat does. You will need to help them by brushing their fur weekly – this will keep them from ingesting too much hair. During times of high shedding, you will need to brush them more often.
Bathing: Bathing is stressful for bunnies and is usually unnecessary and puts them at risk for hypothermia. If you absolutely need to bathe your bunny, you can try spot cleaning using cornstarch or a damp cloth.
Mats: If your bunny has mats, avoid using scissors to remove it because their skin is sensitive. Instead, use a tool specific for removing mats and use a very fine blade.
Skin: Flaky skin and bald patches are usually a symptom of mites or an allergic reaction to fleas. These conditions require veterinary prescribed medicine.
Nails: Your bunny’s nails will need to be trimmed every 6-8 weeks.
Teeth: Bunnies teeth continually grow so it’s important to check them regularly to confirm if they are wearing down and if they are growing straight.
Toys For Rabbits
Bored bunnies are destructive to themselves and the environment. You can help them out by providing toys for mental stimulation. Some popular choices are cardboard boxes and tubes, safe objects for throwing and rolling, digging stations, twigs (make sure they are non-toxic and free from pesticides), tunnels, and some puzzle toys.
Bunnies need exercise so it’s important to give them space to move around preferably outside of their cage.
Bunny Socialization & Handling
Bunnies are social animals and they are usually happier in pairs. A male and female pair is usually recommended but you will have to get them both fixed. Same-sex bunnies can get along too but it might take more time especially if you didn’t bring them home already bonded.
Bunnies thrive from human companionship so it’s a good idea to spend time socializing with your new friend to encourage a strong bond. Get down on the floor with your bunny and play with them – aiming for at least one hour of interaction daily.
Like people, some bunnies will be more shy and will take more time to develop a bond. In these situations it’s recommended you interact with your bunny but give them space and don’t try to rush the bond.
Most bunnies aren’t fans of being picked so be careful and gentle – young children should never be allowed to pick up a bunny without help. If your bunny struggles at all, put them back on the floor.
Illnesses and Veterinary Care for Bunnies
Veterinary care isn’t something most people think about when it comes to small animals. It can be difficult to find a veterinarian who specializes in exotic/small animal care and it is usually expensive.
There are times you will need to access veterinary services though so it’s recommended you have a veterinarian accessible before you need one. You can help keep on top of illnesses by being aware of signs and what they might indicate.
Common signs of illness include:
Loud teeth grinding: pain
Very hot or very cold ears: fever or drop in temperature
Runny nose, labored breathing, chronic sneezing: allergies or upper respiratory infection
Drooling: issues with teeth like malocclusion (teeth misalignment)
Head tilt: ear infection
Patchy fur, scaly skin, scratching: mites
Lack of appetite
All in all, bunnies are very rewarding pets, and once you learn how to care for bunnies it’s really not that difficult to stay on top of everything. They need love, friendship, and all of the practical care steps to keep them feeling great and living long, healthy lives!