2128 State Road 16 ● La Crosse, WI 54601
(608) 781-3466 ● www.lacrossevet.com
PET RABBIT INFORMATION
Rabbits are very curious, intelligent, and playful companions. They can be litter
trained and make wonderful house pets and additions to your family.
Your pet rabbit can create many years of companionship and fun for you and your
family if you understand; rabbit behavior, proper veterinary care, creating the proper
environment with plenty of enrichment, and how to bunny proof your home.
Rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents. Males are called bucks and females are called does.
Rabbits are not good starter pets for children. They are a delicate and ground loving species. Most
rabbits do not enjoy being held or handled and often times try to escape a child’s arms by biting and
scratching. This can cause severe back injury to the rabbit when it struggles to get away and return to
a solid surface. Proper handling is important with your pet rabbit.
Myth: Rabbits are low maintenance and do not live very long. Rabbits have the same needs as dogs
and cats and need proper veterinary care when an illness arises. Rabbits have specific dietary needs
(found further in this handout). It is recommended that rabbits be spayed and neutered to prevent
unwanted behaviors. Cages and litter boxes need to be cleaned frequently to prevent ammonia odor
and urine build up. A rabbit that is properly cared for can live up to 10 years.
HOME AND ENVIRONMENT
It is recommended to have a cage for your rabbit, even if they have free roam of your home. They
enjoy a place to call their own to nap, hide, or nibble on some hay and treats. Store bought rabbit
cages often come with wire or mesh bottoms with a pull out litter tray underneath to catch feces and
urine. A cage like this is perfectly fine as long as your rabbit has a resting board (wooden board,
cardboard, folded newspaper, or a grass mat) for your rabbit to rest on. This can prevent your rabbit
from getting sore hocks; open sores on their feet from constant exposure from wire surfaces.
The tray of the litter pan should be lined with shredded newspaper, wood shavings (avoid cedar or
pine, as the odor can be toxic to your rabbit, causing liver and respiratory damage), or a paper based
litter. Litter pans need to be cleaned often to prevent ammonia odor build up. Rabbits often times back
into the corner of the cage to urinate and defecate. Urine guards for the cage can be purchased at
stores to prevent over spray onto your walls and carpet. You can also purchase a corner litter box with
urine guards built in.
A rabbit must have access to water, food, and hay while in their cage. Water can be provided to your
rabbit by a hanging bottle or a heavy spill proof ceramic dish. Avoid plastic dishes, as your rabbit will
chew them. Hay can be placed directly on the floor, in a toilet paper/paper towel tube, or in a hay rack
on the side of the cage. If your rabbit will be eating meals in their cage the dish should be metal or
ceramic to avoid chewing on bowls. Plenty of toys in the cage will help your rabbit ward off boredom
and keep them from being destructive.
Cages should be kept clean, and it is recommended to clean once weekly to avoid ammonia and urine
build up. White vinegar is a really great cleaning solution to help ward of urine build up on the tray and
cage wire, or in litter boxes. The rabbit’s cage should be a clean and inviting place for your rabbit. They
should view their cage as a safe place. Rabbits can become territorial of their cages and try to defend
their “space” if they feel threatened.
TOYS AND ENVIROMENTAL ENRICHMENT
Rabbits love to play and they need mental stimulation just like dogs and cats to stay active. They like
to chew, push things around with their noses, jump, and dig. Giving your rabbit toys of their own will
keep them from chewing on unwanted objects; such as furniture, carpet, wires, and walls. They are
many store bought toys you can invest in for your rabbit, but there are also many recyclable items in
your house your rabbit can use as toys as well. Below is a list of suggested toys and enrichment
activities for your rabbit.
Toilet paper or paper towel tubes, plain or stuffed with hay.
Hard plastic baby toys (avoid teething items that have fluid in them)
Wire or plastic cat balls. (make sure the bells, if any, inside are
large to avoid choking hazards)
Old books (phone books, magazines) for shredding
Canning jar lids
Empty rolled oats containers
Balls (plastic whiffle balls, golf balls, etc. – avoid Styrofoam.)
Boxes of all sizes (remove staples and tape)
Grass mats for chewing and digging
Big tub of hay or straw to dig in
Untreated willow baskets and balls
Cardboard tunnels (can be found at hardware stores or pet stores)
Hanging bird toys (avoid any that have bird treats attached to them
RABBIT PROOFING YOUR HOME
Rabbits have the ability to rip, chew, tear, and shred pretty much anything they come in contact with.
Their teeth continuously grow so they naturally chew to wear their teeth down to avoid overgrowth.
Providing some of the toys listed above for your rabbit to chew on will help direct their chewing to
appropriate items instead of your home.
Some rabbits are allowed free roam of the entire home, while others have a room of their own that is
rabbit proofed. How you house your rabbit will depend on their behaviors around your home. The
number one household hazard to rabbits is electrical cords. If you cannot cover or move the cords, it is
best to prevent your rabbit from entering that area. A rabbit who chews a cord can suffer electrical
shock, or even death, not to mention the hazard to your home when a cord is severed. Cords can be
hidden behind book cases and other furniture that the rabbit cannot get behind. Another option is to
encase the wire in something your rabbit cannot chew through. You can purchase plastic cable covers
at most electronic or automotive stores. Another option is plastic tubing or garden hose, cut lengthwise
and your cord inserted into the tube.
Rabbits also enjoy carpet fibers. They may dig or chew at the fibers causing a health hazard for your
rabbit. If carpet fibers are ingested it may lead to intestinal blockage. If your rabbit has a few favorite
spots in your house they like to dig or chew at, you can place a grass mat in those areas to encourage
chewing and digging on appropriate items. A box full of hay or straw can also give your rabbit an outlet
for their need to dig. If you have tried alternatives and your rabbit continues to chew your home, it
may be best to seclude them to their own “rabbit room” instead of having free roam of the house when
you are not around to keep an eye on their behaviors and redirect to appropriate items.
Another hazard to your rabbit is household plants. Many household plants are toxic to rabbits and can
cause illness or death if ingested. Plants should be kept out of reach of your rabbit.
Any home can be rabbit proofed as long as the appropriate measures are taken. Books can be moved
to higher shelves, shoes can be put away, important papers should be picked up and placed out of
reach, clothes should be put away. Any important items left on the floor, you can bet your rabbit will
find them and possibly destroy them!
SPAYING AND NEUTERING
Just like cats and dogs, it is recommended to spay and neuter your pet rabbit. Spaying and neutering
has both behavioral and medical benefits. Rabbits enter reproductive age between 3 and 6 months of
age. They sometimes become territorial and can aggressively defend their territory by grunting,
lunging, and biting. Rabbits that are not spayed or neutered may mount hands, feet, fuzzy slippers,
and anything else that is available is a very common behavior. The most common behavior of intact
rabbits is spraying. Rabbits spray to mark their territory and oftentimes jump in the air and spin in a
circle while spraying. Rabbits can also directly spray humans they like to claim them as their own.
Spaying or neutering often relieves most of these behavioral issues without changing your rabbit’s
More importantly, for medical reasons, it is recommended to spay or neuter your rabbit. Studies have
shown that unsprayed female rabbits develop uterine and/or mammary tumors by age five. Spaying
your rabbit can add years to their life.
Spaying and neutering should be done only by a veterinarian with experience in treatment of rabbits.
Male rabbits can be neutered as soon as their testicles descend (usually around 3-6 months of age).
Females can be spayed around 6 months of age. La Crosse Veterinary Clinic routinely spays and
“Many people are surprised to find that rabbits can be litter-trained. It takes patience, time, and a lot
of litter-boxes (at first), but the result is a companion that can be trusted in the main living areas of
your home. Spaying or neutering your rabbit is the first step. Unaltered rabbits are highly territorial and
will frequently spray large amounts of urine to mark their territory, especially during adolescence.
Spaying and neutering decreases this urge to spray and improves litter habits greatly. Rabbits vary in
how quickly they learn to use a litter box. Young rabbits are often hyper and too busy exploring to
remember to return to a litter box, and can be more difficult to train. A rabbit with a well-established
spraying habit may continue to spray, especially in the presence of another rabbit. The setup and
training you will most likely have to start with several litter boxes. Fill them with newspaper, hay, or
paper-based litter. (Pine and cedar shavings can cause respiratory and liver damage and should not be
used.) Clay cat litter and corn cob litter can cause intestinal blockages if ingested and are not
recommended either. Clumping cat litter is especially dangerous if ingested as it can cause a cementlike blockage and should never be used. Litter training begins
in the cage. Rabbits tend to urinate in one spot, so place a
litter box in the corner of the cage that the rabbit has chosen
to use as a bathroom. If the cage has a wire floor, place
newspaper or other resting material on it or he will probably
choose to sit and rest in the comfy litter box instead of the
wire. Rotate the litter box every day since bunnies tend to
frequent one corner of the box. Place a few droppings and
some urine soaked litter in the litter box to encourage him to
continue to use that place. Place fresh timothy or orchard hay
in or above the litter box every day.
When he is reliably urinating in the litter box, allow a little freedom in a small area such as a bathroom.
As he becomes successful in a small area, you can increase his territory. If he makes a mistake and
misses a litter box, use white vinegar to clean the area. If he consistently urinates in one spot, place a
litter box there. He will eventually narrow his bathroom areas to one or two favorite litter boxes and
the extra ones can be removed. Control of droppings usually follows urine training. When entering a
new territory, even neutered rabbits will mark it with droppings. As they become more familiar with
their surroundings, this marking decreases and usually becomes controlled on its own. Litter boxes
should be cleaned once or twice weekly or more frequently if more than one rabbit is using them.
Soiled recycled newspaper litter can be composted or used to fertilize a garden, or simply thrown
away. Clean the litter box with white vinegar. This will dissolve any calcium buildup on the plastic and
gets rid of any odor. Never use Lysol or pine cleaners, as the phenols in these cleaners can cause liver
and respiratory damage.” 2013 BunnyBuddies.com
Some common paper based litters are;
Shredded paper (staples and tape removed before shredding)
Feline Pine is a wood litter that has had the aromatic oils removed and is safe for pets.
FOOD AND TREATS
The most important food you can feed your rabbit is unlimited
amounts of grass hay. This can be in the form of Timothy, Oat, or
Orchard/Coastal Grasses. Hay should be supplied 24 hours a day.
Legume hays (alfalfa and clover) contain higher volumes of
calcium and protein which can lead to health problems if fed in
large amounts to rabbits over 6 months of age. It is recommended
to avoid this type of hay and only use it as treats. Hay provides
fiber without unnecessary calories and helps prevent intestinal
problems like hairballs and Gastrointestinal Stasis (slow down or
complete halt of the intestinal system).
Pellets should be offered in small amounts to rabbits over 6 months of age. Pellets with high amounts
of fiber (around 18%), low fat, low calcium, and low protein is recommended. Do not feed pellets
mixed with nuts, seeds, dried vegetables, or other treats in them! This type of pellet is very
low quality and very high in fat. A plain pellet with high fiber is the best thing for your rabbit.
Vegetables should make up a portion of your rabbits diet as well. A list of safe vegetables is found later
in this reading. Three types of vegetables should be fed daily to your rabbit. If you notice any diarrhea
or stomach upset while feeding these vegetables it is recommended to stop feeding and reintroduce
slowly. Be sure to wash all vegetables before feeding them to your rabbit.
Treats such as apple, pear, melon, papaya, or banana can also be fed in small amounts (no more than
a tablespoon per day). Grains such as rolled oats (old fashioned oatmeal – NOT instant oatmeal) or
barley can also be fed as treats to your rabbit to help keep their coat shiny and soft.
UNLIMITED HAY IS IMPORTANT TO AID IN DIGESTION
Timothy is the best – all but the pickiest rabbits enjoy Timothy Hay
Orchard grass is also good – can often times be seasonal and hard to find
Good for rabbits under 6 months of age, too rich for those over 6 months of
Great for treats only, do not feed in large amounts
Local variety, does not have much nutritional value, recommended for litter
There are many varieties of pellets on the pet food market. It is best to look for a pellet that is readily
available, so you are not switching your rabbits feed each time your purchase new, as this can lead to
intestinal upset. You can find pellets at pet stores, feed stores, and Farm & Fleet. Look for a pellet that
is high in fiber and low in protein. Do not buy the kind with added seeds and colored dried fruit and
bits, it is basically junk food for rabbits. One of the more common mistakes with new rabbit owners is
over-feeding their rabbits pellets. Below is a table for suggested feeding portions of pellets.
PELLET FEEDING GUIDELINES
(based on high quality timothy pellet)
Rabbits up to 6 months of age should have free access
to pellets, hay, and fresh water. When your rabbit
reaches 6 months of age it is recommended to cut back
their pellet intake and offer more timothy hay to
prevent them from becoming overweight.
Rabbits should be allowed to enjoy vegetables to help supplement vitamin intake. Introduce new
vegetables slowly to prevent diarrhea, gas, or upset stomach. Feed at least one cup daily per five
pounds of body weight, some rabbits will eat a lot more than others. The vegetables on this list are all
safe for rabbits, but some rabbits have different preferences than others. Most fresh herbs are also
considered delicious and safe to your rabbit as well!
Loose Leaf Lettuce
Radish & Radish Tops
- Spinach (in limited quantity)
Carrots & Carrot Tops
A small amount of fruit can be fed daily. Introduce new vegetables slowly to prevent diarrhea, gas, or
Rabbits also enjoy frozen fruits in the summertime.
Be careful! Apple & pear seeds, fruit pits,
banana peel, and orange rind can also be deadly.
DANGEROUS & DEADLY FOODS
Be careful, there are many foods and plants that are toxic and dangerous to feed your rabbit. Below is
a list of some foods to avoid!
Jack In the Pulpit
- Breakfast cereals
- Fresh Peas
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Bamboo Shoots
- Rhubarb Leaves
- Bird of Paradise
- Redwood Tree
- Carolina Jasmine
- Licorice Plant
- Mountain Laurel
- Sweet Potato
- Tea Leaves
- Lima, Kidney & Soy Beans
- Calla Lily
- Aloe Vera
- Sweet Pea
- Angels Trumpet
- Bleeding Heart
- Castor Beans
- Easter Lily
- Lily of the Valley
- Pig Weed
- String of Pearls
Be careful! Apple & pear seeds, fruit pits,
banana peel, and orange rind can also be deadly.
Rabbits should be handled very carefully, they do not like to be suspended and not supported while
being carried. They will oftentimes struggle and scratch their owners if not handled and carried
properly. They have a very delicate skeletal system that can be damaged while struggling if handled
improperly or if they are dropped.
A rabbit should never be picked up by their ears. Their ears are
not strong enough to support their body weight and lifting by
the ear can hurt them and cause damage. Rabbits should never
be lifted by the scruff of their neck, this also hurts and can
cause damage if your rabbit struggles and kicks their back feet.
If you must scruff your rabbit, do not lift them. Instead scoop
your other hand under their belly and lift while moving the hand
on the scruff to their back end to help support them and pull
them closely into you to help them feel safe and supported.
The best way to pick up a rabbit is to slide your hand under their chest, place your other hand firmly
on their back end, and scoop the rabbit towards your body. Covering their eyes with your hand
sometimes calms them down as well. Some rabbits even struggle when they are placed securely
against your body. If your rabbit begins to struggle, stoop down to floor level and gently set them
down. Do not ever drop your rabbit!
Most rabbits do a very good job of keeping themselves clean. However, there are times when you will
need to intervene and keep your rabbit looking well groomed and clean.
Long fur rabbits, such as angoras, fuzzy lop, jersey woolly, and lion heads need vigilant brushing to
keep their wool-type fur mat free. Once your rabbit’s wool begins to form mats the only way to remove
them is to gently cut them out, being very careful not to cut their delicate skin. If you are not
comfortable removing these mats it is best to contact a groomer or your veterinarian. Long haired/wool
breeds require more maintenance than shorter haired breeds.
Short fur breeds will need to be brushed as well, but not as frequently as long haired/wool breeds. A
rabbit sheds twice per year, which is also known as a molt. When a rabbit molts they begin to lose
large amounts of fur and will need more frequent brushing to keep the fur from forming mats. When a
rabbit molts they also have a greater chance of ingesting hairballs, which can be dangerous to their
health, as they do not have the capability to vomit a hairball like a cat does.
Rabbits also need their nails trimmed regularly. Without proper nail trimming the nails can grow too
long and cause foot problems, such as sore hocks. The nails can also become so long they curl around
and grow into your rabbit’s foot pads. Nail trimming can be done by your veterinarian or with a little
practice you can learn how to do it on your own as well. We are always willing to teach you how to
trim your rabbits nails! If you make a mistake and accidently cut through the quick on your rabbit’s
nails, the bleeding can sometimes be severe. This can be stopped by using styptic powder, quick stop,
corn starch, or regular flour. It is recommended to keep an eye on that toe for a couple days to make
sure it does not become infected, though.
MULTIPLE RABBIT HOUSEHOLDS
Rabbits are very social animals, and often times enjoy companionship of another rabbit. Some rabbits
also make friends with the family dog or cat. But it is recommended to keep an eye on socialization in
the beginning to make sure your cat or dog will tolerate your rabbit before leaving them unsupervised.
Introducing new rabbits can sometimes be difficult. The easiest pair to introduce is a neutered male
with a spayed female. It may be easier to introduce a spayed female to an already established
neutered male. Female rabbits, even when spayed, can be territorial and not like sharing their space
with another rabbit. It is possible to have two spayed females become bonded, but it can be a bit more
difficult. The most difficult pair to introduce is two neutered males. Although not impossible, it is
recommended to do this introduction very slowly, to avoid any altercations that could lead to injury.
When introducing new rabbits it is best to do it slowly. Once your new rabbit has had a health exam
and you are sure it is in good health make the introductions slowly. Introduce them in an area that is
new to them both, as they may band together to explore the new area. Keeping their cages close
together so they can smell each other through the cage is also a way of slow introductions. Once your
rabbits are comfortable with each other in their new surroundings you can expand their space. If at
any time, a fight occurs, you can bring them both back to new territory and slow introductions.
Sometimes, it is not possible to bond a pair of rabbits. This is a possibility when introducing any new
rabbits. In this case, it is recommended to keep them separate and not reintroduce them.
Accommodations will need to be made so they can live separately and far enough away from each
other to avoid stress on either rabbit.
There are many diseases common to rabbits that need to be diagnosed
and properly treated by your veterinarian. This section is not meant to
diagnose illnesses on your own, but to help illustrate signs and
symptoms that indicate your rabbit may need veterinary care.
Some rabbits are more apt to have teeth problems than others. This is
called malocclusion, when your rabbit’s teeth do not line up properly
If you ever notice your rabbit is not eating, drinking, urinating, or
defecating, consult your veterinarian. Rabbits get ill very suddenly and
their health can deteriorate very rapidly without proper veterinary care.
and continue to grow, despite chewing on food, hay, and toys. This can happen in both the front teeth
and rear molars. These teeth will need to be clipped, filed, or sometimes extracted by a veterinarian.
Sore hocks are a condition in which the bottom of the rabbit’s feet has hair loss, and the feet wear
away. This can be very uncomfortable for your rabbit. You should check your rabbit’s hocks routinely
and your rabbit should be provided a flat, clean, and dry resting place to help avoid sore hocks. If you
notice your rabbit has sore hocks, please contact your veterinarian.
Rabbits can be bothered by fleas, flies, mites, or other small pests. If you notice your rabbit has any
small specks, dry flaky skin, or crusty material in your rabbit’s ears, contact your veterinarian.
Respiratory diseases are very common in rabbits. If you notice any nasal or eye discharge, labored
breathing, crusty fur on the front feet of your rabbit (which would indicate excessive drainage they are
wiping away from their face), or excessive sneezing or coughing, take your rabbit to your veterinarian
SYMPTOMS OF ILLNESS
(if you notice any of these signs or symptoms, please contact your veterinarian to schedule an
Inactivity, your rabbit is hunched up and not social
Tilted head, loss of balance or coordination
Loss of consciousness or convulsions
Loss of movement in hind legs or any apparent broken bone, serious cut, or injury
Runny nose or eyes
Lack of interest in food or water
Lack of feces or urine in the litter box/litter pan below cage
Excessive gurgling digestive sounds
Diarrhea (liquid stool or normal stool surrounded by mucous) If you see soft droppings that
resemble bunches of grapes, do not panic. These are normal in small amounts and are called
cecotropes (night feces) and your rabbit will routinely ingest these feces for vitamin
Bulging eyes and grinding teeth
Bloated or distended abdomen
Any sores, abscesses, lumps, or bumps