—Caring for Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)—
are gregarious, generally mild-tempered, active, and
curious. Rabbits are easily frightened and will often flee
when threatened, although a rabbit may aggressively defend
its territory (e.g., a cage) against handlers and other
intruders. The long incisors can deliver a painful bite.
When a rabbit is not securely held, it may kick with its
strong rear limbs and inflict painful scratches with the
rabbit’s entire skeleton represents only 8% of its total
body weight, compared to 13% for the cat. This makes the
rabbit prone to bone fractures and spine injuries, and so
care must be taken to prevent the animal from being dropped
or being improperly picked up. Rabbits may even break their
own spine when allowed to kick forcefully with their rear
limbs, such as when they are not well restrained.
(to people and rabbits) are frequent due to the lack of
knowledge and skill to properly handle, transport, and
restrain a rabbit. Training to work effectively and humanely
with these animals is essential for the safety of people and
rabbits. Although rabbits do make excellent pets, they may
not be a good classroom animal in the lower elementary
Life span: 5–8 years
Body weight: adult, 2–6
kg (4.5–13 lbs); newborn, 30–80 g (1–3 oz)
Females: 4–6 months
Estrous cycle: No
regular cycle; females usually receptive to breeding at 4–6
Gestation: 29–35 days
Litter size: 4–10 kits
Weaning age: 4–6 weeks
Adult daily food intake:
About 150 g (5 oz)
—Home Sweet Home—
should be housed in roomy wire cages with at least some
solid floor area (e.g., covered with a Plexiglas™ sheet or
washable towels) to provide relief from the constant contact
with the wire floor. Rabbits should never be allowed
unsupervised freedom in a room because they love to chew and
can injure themselves by biting electrical cords and other
materials found in the classroom or the home.
are adept at escaping from unsecured cages. If housed
outside on the ground, the cage should have a secure
flooring (e.g., wire mesh), else rabbits may quickly dig and
tunnel out from the enclosure. Cages must be cleaned often,
at least once every 2 weeks. Rabbit urine contains large
amounts of minerals; dried urine forms deposits that can be
removed with an acid solution before washing the
cage. Vinegar is a good acid to use for removing these urine
deposits. Rabbits shed a lot and the hair should be removed
often from the cage and the room where the animal is kept.
Male rabbits may direct a stream of urine out of the cage
through the wire mesh, which should be taken into
consideration when determining the location of the cage.
urine appears milky and varies from white to yellowish white
to clear red. Red-colored urine may be mistaken for blood
and can create an incorrect impression that the animal has
bled a lot inside its cage. Additionally, rabbits produce a
special type of stool called “night feces” which is very
soft and covered with a thick mucus. The animal eats this
stool to recycle proteins, water, and B vitamins. Because
this stool is consumed overnight, this behavior is seldom
seen by caretakers but if observed should not cause concern.
Rabbits are sensitive to high environmental temperatures;
the optimal room temperature for rabbits is 61–72ºF.
typically become bored in a simple caged environment lacking
the opportunity for exercise, play, exploration, and
interaction. Rabbits enjoy gnawing, so small dog chew bones
may be given. Other safe toys designed for rabbits are
available from laboratory animal suppliers. To allow rabbits
some options in how they use their cage space, cages can
incorporate nest boxes for hiding, raised areas for
climbing, and sufficient space to stretch out in recumbence
and to hop about. Claws will require clipping periodically
to prevent them from being torn when caught in fabric or
wire mesh. Claw clipping should be done by a veterinarian or
a person who has been trained in this procedure.
pellets made from alfalfa are available at pet supply and
feed stores. Check the expiration date to make sure the food
is fresh. Use a heavy crockery bowl that can't be tipped
over and is easy to clean. A daily portion of hay is a must,
too, in order to keep your rabbit's digestive tract healthy.
Be sure to place it in a hayrack so it doesn't become
contaminated with feces and urine. A salt lick is also
recommended to prevent mineral deficiencies. Again, hang it
from the side of the cage to prevent contamination. Keep
fresh water available in a suspended "licker" water bottle
at all times.
supplement your rabbit's food with fresh foods like carrots,
potatoes (no skins), any fresh fruit, broccoli, zucchini,
cucumbers, sprouts, rolled oats and dried whole wheat bread.
Introduce new foods slowly and in small amounts to reduce
the risk of diarrhea.
can develop health problems that can be quite expensive to
treat. Make sure you are ready to face these expenses before
you choose a rabbit.
well-cared-for rabbit can live 12 to 15 years. They're
sexually mature at ten to twelve weeks and females can
become pregnant at any time because they have no heat cycle.
and neutering your rabbit, not only helps reduce pet
overpopulation, but also improves litter box habits,
minimizes excessive chewing and decreases territorial
have sensitive respiratory and digestive systems. Because
they can't vomit and are susceptible to total blockage, it's
essential that they receive a proper diet and are groomed
regularly to prevent hairballs. Hay, exercise and hairball
medicine like Laxatone and Petromalt are good preventatives.
can suffer from heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke include
panting, salivation, ear reddening, weakness, refusal to
move, and convulsions. If heat stroke is suspected, the
rabbit should be sprayed or gently bathed with cool (not
cold) water. Consult a veterinarian immediately.
your rabbit's teeth grow continuously, it's essential that
you provide it with hard things to gnaw on to prevent its
teeth from growing too long. Hard wood, untreated wicker and
hard bread crusts are some suggested items. It's also
possible for your rabbit's nails to overgrow, causing
discomfort and increasing your risk of being scratched. Ask
your veterinarian to show you how to trim your rabbit's
frequently develop hair balls in the stomach; hair enters
the stomach when the rabbit grooms its fur, and the fur
remains in the stomach because it does not pass in the feces
and the rabbit is unable to vomit. Hair balls problems can
be suspected when the rabbit loses its appetite and becomes
thin and listless. Surgery may be necessary to remove the
hair ball, although oral administration of enzymes may help
dissolve the hairball and resolve the problem. A
veterinarian should be consulted.
especially adults, may develop sore feet (including skin
ulcers) on the rear paws when housed on wire floors. This
condition should be treated by a veterinarian.
—Handling with Care—
let your rabbit know you're there by placing your fist on
the ground and allowing it to sniff the back of your hand.
To pick your rabbit up, gently slide your hand underneath
its body behind its front legs, and with your other hand
support its back end, scooping it up in one motion. Quickly
bring it close to your body for added support. Rabbits will
kick and squirm if they feel insecure, and can break their
backs if handled incorrectly. Rabbits aren't very agile, so
you'll need to hold your rabbit firmly to prevent it from
falling or jumping out of your arms.
have children, be sure to supervise them whenever they
handle your rabbit. Never allow them to pick the rabbit up
by its ears or let its body hang. A rabbit's natural
instinct is to be close to the ground, so its best to have
the children sit on the floor until your rabbit becomes more
comfortable being handled.
are social creatures, and shouldn't be left alone for long
periods of time. They're curious and playful and enjoy
having toys to entertain themselves. Some inexpensive
suggestions are cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls,
wire cat balls, plastic baby keys and Mason jar rings. If
you'd like to get a friend for your rabbit, the best pairs
are two females that were raised together or a female and a
neutered male. Males generally don't get along unless
they're neutered. You may also want to consider a guinea pig
as a companion for your rabbit.