Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the United States and make great household companions. Boulder Veterinary Hospital offers specialized exotic pet care and is staffed with a qualified rabbit veterinarian who can help you improve your rabbit’s health and increase their longevity. Rabbits should visit our animal hospital at least annually for their wellness exam, and possibly more frequently if they have a chronic health issue.
Health and Wellness for Rabbits
Our medical team is dedicated to providing your rabbit with the best veterinary care, with services that include:
An appropriate, well-balanced diet is essential to making sure your rabbit is getting substantial nutrients to maintain their long-term health. A proper diet also helps to keep your rabbit’s teeth in good shape, so they don’t become overgrown and sharp and cause injury to their mouth. Our veterinarians will provide specific diet recommendations for your pet based on their health and lifestyle.
Below are some common signs your rabbit may not be feeling well:
Decreased (or lack of) appetite
Loss of balance
Grinding their teeth
Runny eyes or nose
Decreased (or lack of) stool
Rabbit Care Instructions
In their natural habitat, rabbits eat dried grasses and other high-fiber vegetation. The most important component in your rabbit’s diet should be grassy hay (timothy, orchard, meadow) provided by the Oxbow brand (they also offer pellets). We do not recommend giving your rabbit alfalfa hay. While there are commercial diets available for rabbits in pet stores, not all of these diets are appropriate or high quality. Pelleted diets should be 100% rabbit pellet (no alfalfa or added fillers like peanuts, dried fruit, or seeds).
Adult rabbits should be fed 1/8 cup of pelleted diet per kilogram of body weight each day. If you feed your rabbit an appropriate pelleted diet, they will not require multivitamins or salt and mineral licks to compensate. We do not recommend these items.
We recommend feeding your rabbit a salad of less than 1 cup per kilogram of body weight per day. The majority of fresh salad should be composed of leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce, Bok choy, mustard greens, carrot tops, cilantro, etc. Smaller components of the salad can include vegetables, and a very small portion of fruits (which are high in sugars).
It’s important to remember that rabbits have an extremely sensitive digestive system, so avoid introducing new food items right away. When changing diets, gradually mix in the new food over the course of about 2 weeks. NEVER feed your rabbit avocados, chocolate, fruit seeds/pits, raw onions, leeks, garlic, or meat, dairy, or eggs.
Rabbits are active at dawn and dusk, but they can adjust their schedules to yours. They are also highly sociable and should be housed in common spaces, like your living room, so they can enjoy frequent interactions with your family. The rabbit enclosure should be kept shaded to protect against too much sun exposure.
Because rabbits are social, they should never be kept or housed alone. Couples, harems, and single-sex groups can all live together peacefully. Female rabbits housed together may sometimes fight more than castrated males, so if you are housing multiple rabbits, ensure there are multiple feeding and water stations to avoid any fighting.
When it comes to rabbits, the larger the enclosure the better. The minimum size requirement of a rabbit enclosure should be a length and width that are at least 4 times the length of one rabbit. As your rabbit grows, increase their enclosure size as needed and as more rabbits are added.
Rabbits need room to run and jump, so a spacious single or split-level cage is ideal. We also recommend a coated wire or hard plastic cage, as wood can be easily chewed through. All surfaces should be complete (not wired) and covered with paper, aspen shavings, or a fleece blanket. Avoid rough surfaces, which can cause inflammation of your rabbit’s foot pads. Also avoid using pine or cedar shavings as bedding or litter, as they are toxic and can cause liver problems in your rabbit.
Rabbits feel safest when they have multiple hiding places available to them in your home. Hides and beds can be homemade out of cardboard boxes or PVC piping, or store bought (plastic, tunnels, beds, etc.).
To maintain their dental health, rabbits need various chews to keep their teeth from overgrowing. These include toys that encourage gnawing, such as pumice stones, young branches from elm, ash, maple and birch trees, or tree bark from apple, pear, or peach trees. You can also look for commercially available wooden toys that are safe for your rabbit to chew on. Avoid harvesting wood from trees without first knowing which trees are safe and which ones are toxic to rabbits.
Never house your rabbit in a glass aquarium, as it does not allow for proper ventilation.
You need to supervise your rabbit at all times when they play outside of their enclosure. We recommend letting your rabbit out to play for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening each day. While it’s important for your rabbit to play and exercise outside of their enclosure, it still needs to be large enough to allow for a healthy level of activity throughout the day. Also, make sure areas of your home are rabbit proofed when you let your rabbit out for supervised play. Thanks to their teeth, rabbits can easily chew through wires and furniture, and they can also be at risk of getting stepped on or injured by moving furniture.
If you want to create a designated area for your rabbit outside of their enclosure, you can invest in a metal or plastic playpen (plastic is acceptable for non-chewers). If your rabbit is a jumper, make sure the top of the playpen can be sealed off.
Female rabbits should be spayed before 6 months of age to prevent unintended pregnancies and health problems later in life such as mammary, uterine, and ovarian cancer. Intact female rabbits have a 65% chance of developing uterine adenocarcinoma by 4 years of age.
Male rabbits should be neutered to prevent future health complications and prevent unintended pregnancies. Neutering your male rabbit can prevent them from developing testicular cancer and makes them less likely to engage in hormone-induced behaviors such as mounting, urine spraying/territorial marking, and aggression.
Rabbits do well at keeping themselves clean; we recommend against bathing your rabbit. If they are not doing a good job of grooming themselves, contact us right away, as they might have an underlying health issue.
Rabbit teeth never stop growing, with a rate of about 2mm of growth each week! However, this rate of growth depends on your rabbit’s diet and overall tooth wear. A variety of appropriate chews and a diet that consists of about 85% hay will ensure your rabbit’s teeth are kept ground down naturally and evenly. If you notice anything abnormal about your rabbit’s eating habits, make note of them immediately and contact us as soon as possible.
The following signs/behaviors could indicate a medical emergency for your rabbit. Contact us or a nearby animal ER right away:
- Bleeding or trauma
- Lack of eating or fecal production for 4 hours or more
- Seizures or collapse
- Straining to urinate or defecate
- Respiratory distress