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      It takes only a little time to properly care for a rabbit, but as with all animals they must be observed and fed daily.  Rabbits can be trained to a litter box, just like a cat.  We do not recommend the clumping or clay litters which can cause problems if ingested; the natural type products are the safest.  A rabbit can be trained to be on a body harness leash.  There are over 31 different breeds of rabbits.

     If you decide to house your pet in a hutch, we recommend the minimum size be 2′(wide) x 3′(long) x 2′(high); or 1 sq. ft/1 # body weight.  The floor should be a wire mesh of 1/2″ or less, and the hutch elevated above the floor for easy cleaning.  One third of the hutch should be a nesting area, with a fine screen or solid floor.  We do not advise cedar, redwood, other aromatic oil-type shavings, or non-kiln dried pine shavings to be used as bedding.  Aspen shavings are fine.  A hinged roof with a latch will make cleaning easier.  Place the hutch where she can be out of the wind, rain, and weather.  If you clean the cage, use a 1/30 chlorine bleach solution, water rinse and then allow to air dry before reintroducing the rabbit to their habitat.  If a rabbit cannot have access to shade and water, heat stroke can easily occur.  To properly handle a rabbit and learn more about your pet, visit Rabbit Rescue and Rehab.

      When carrying a rabbit, always support their rear, and do not let them kick, or possibly a broken back can occur. Placing rabbits on slippery surfaces can also result in broken backs, although most paralyzed rabbits are due to parasites and infections, not broken backs.   Rabbits should not be on clumping litter.  Any animal that eats a clumping litter can develop intestinal blockage issues.  Although aspen bark, hay, peat moss, straw and any similar hay or pelleted product can be used for the litter box; consider the issue of “what will occur if my rabbit ate the litter”.  Regular clay litters with no deodorants or additives are very adequate and recommended. 

      Rabbits are herbivores, which mean that they eat plants and not meat.  A commercial rabbit pellet food is available and for most rabbits this is an adequate food, if hay is also provided.  Studies indicate that feeding hay is good for rabbits.  The rabbit food should contain 1518% protein, 25% fat, and 1620% fiber, and have very little “dust” or fine particles.  Alfalfa hay or alfalfa/grass hay mixes are good hays to feed to growing rabbits, especially since these hays are high in fiber.  We highly recommend feeding grass hay to all rabbits; especially to mature rabbits.  Adult rabbits, especially male rabbits, should not be fed alfalfa hay due to a bladder stone concern.  Feeding at least 1/4-1/2 of her diet as grass hay will help prevent intestinal problems such as diarrhea, colitis and hairballs; we feel 2/3+ of their diet should be grass hay.  Feeding alfalfa pellets only may create bladder stones in some rabbits.  Some grain (oats) can be given, but we recommend mostly moderation in the amount to less than 5% of her diet.  Teeth and other oral problems develop when rabbits are not feed a high roughage/high fiber, long stem hay diet.  We do not recommend the mixtures sold which contain seeds.  As a general rule rabbits and pocket pets should not have seeds or especially fruit as over 5% of their diet.  Grains and seeds cause digestive upsets in herbivores; hay is a lot healthier.  Vegetables should be limited to 10-<15% f their diet.  A 6 month supply is the maximum amount of food to purchase.  Do not feed any of the cattle pelleted feeds that contain antibiotics (pellets or cubes with no antibiotics are OK).  You may supplement as treats a small amount of fresh fruit and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, apples, greens and their roots, etc.  Carrots are high in sugar and should be limited; we do not recommend grapes or raisins for rabbits.  Lettuce and cabbage should be restricted to less than 10% of her diet, or loose stools may result.  Be consistent in the feeding schedule, or an enteritis/diarrhea can occur.  Evening feedings are sometimes preferred, and by feeding only the amount a rabbit can eat in 30 minutes this can be adequate if she is overweight.  Most does will eat 36 oz. of pellets or hay per day (average is 4 ounces).  If a doe is nursing, feed them “ad-lib” (leave the food bowl full).  The average rabbit requires no more than 2500 calories per day, less if overweight.  A brown mineralized salt block or wheel is recommended.  Fresh water should be provided at all times, either in a ceramic bowl or water bottle.  Most rabbits will not eat if there is no water available.  Daily look to ensure that there are some new stools and that water is being consumed, especially if using a water bottle.  

      The long hair rabbits, such as Angoras, have a problem with hairballs forming in their stomach.  Hairballs make a rabbit eat less, and are only successfully treated by surgery.  Feeding a high fiber diet (25% fiber), which can be found commercially, can prevent this problem (besides feeding 75% hay) along with routinely combing.  Some shorthaired rabbits can also develop hairballs.  We recommend hay daily for all rabbits, in addition to combing every 12 days for the prevention of hairballs.  The use of raw, green pineapple juice (not canned or processed) has been suggested for hairball prevention; the sugar in pineapple juice can cause fermentation problems in the rabbit’s intestines.  AS FYI the raw pineapple juice contains papain enzyme, which also can be found in tablet form called Papaya tablets, available at most health food stores.  Giving 13 tablespoon of juice 3 times a day can be tried for the treatment of hairballs; but call a veterinarian first if they have hairballs or not eating (dysbiosis); we do not recommend pineapple juice.  We have found that the hay diet is superior to using the enzymes to prevent hairballs.  Unfortunately, the hairball medicines for cats also do not work very well for rabbits, although giving this product will not hurt your rabbit.  We also advise that Angoras be clipped to a 1/2 inch coat yearly if hairballs occur.  Rabbits like to be rubbed behind the ears and between their eyes.  Some people believe that by brushing back to front, you will help remove more hair than by only brushing backwards; brush the way the rabbit prefers/allows you to easily brush.  

      The average pet rabbit does not require any vaccinations if kept strictly indoor and does not go to shows or visits other rabbits.  We do have a vaccine for myxomatosis and rabbit hemorrhagic disease (calici virus) which we recommend for show rabbits and rabbits housed outdoors in the western coastal states; Oregon and California have myxomatosis, yet we do not have the myxomatosis diseases in our area (yet).  We do have a Pasteurella vaccine available if you have such a problem.  The rabbit hemorrhagic disease vaccine (RHD) is conditionally approved for use in our state and we recommend this RHDV vaccine for most of our patients.  You should be aware that the toenails and sometimes the teeth need to be trimmed.  Castration of the bucks, and spaying of the does can be done if desired.  Spaying female rabbits will decrease their chance of getting ovarian cancer.  We recommend periodic fecal checks of her stools for parasites.  Some flea control products, such as fipronil or products labeled for dogs are toxic to rabbits.  Most domestic rabbits in our area do not need any flea or tick products, and if such parasites are found please call us and we have products labeled for kittens.  Products such a Frontline (fipronil) are toxic to rabbits.

      Medical problems can occur in rabbits.  Snuffles, or Pasteurellosis, can cause a pneumonia or nasal discharge and should be treated promptly.  Diarrhea also can occur and requires veterinary attention.  (One of the easiest ways to medicate some rabbits, with pills, is to hide them in bananas).  Conjunctivitis (eye infections), skin tumors, heat exhaustion, parasites, vent disease, wet dewlap, hutch burn, etc. are also occasionally observed.  Coprophagy, or ingestion of the stool, is a normal process.  Rabbits are also referred to as cecotropes, as the softer stool they eat is normally from the cecum (a part of the intestines).  Tattooing of the right ear is a method of identification for breed registration, while the left ear is used for individual identity by the owner.  If you need to medicate a rabbit, try mixing in banana or yogurt and placing on a large leaf of kale, green lettuce, etc.  One can also mix an Rx into a flavoring medicine (Ora-Sweet a human product), grenadine syrup, etc.   

      Breeding requires a different adjustment to the hutch and the care of the rabbits; only a brief overview will be given here.  We recommend that you utilize our materials in the clinic for more information for breeding rabbits.  Rabbits can begin breeding by 312 months of age, the larger breeds developing later.  Wean and separate rabbits by 3 months if you do not want them to breed.  A female can become pregnant as early as 3 months.  Commercial breeding of the does usually stops after 6 years of age.  One buck can be used for 10 does; or to use him for breeding 23 times a week.  Rabbits are “induced ovulators” where the female ovulates only after breeding.  We advise taking the doe to the buck’s hutch, in order to decrease territorial fighting.  When in estrus, the doe’s vagina will be pink and moist.  The gestation can range from 2835 days, with a normal of about 31 days.  A nesting box of 12″ x 18″ x 8″ tall is adequate for the average size doe.  Kindling, or birth, usually produces a litter of about 68, and can range from 1 to 12.  Before and after giving birth, make sure that adequate food and fresh water is always available.  A nursing doe can drink up to 1 gallon of water daily.  Expect the doe to pull her hair out in order to line the nest.  We usually advise leaving the doe and her kits alone (no excessive excitement), as this may lead to nervousness and possibly cannibalism; besides stress cannibalism can also occur due to malnutrition and a lack of water.  A doe may not retrieve her young, should they wander away from the nest, and thus it is okay to place them back into the nursing box.  The baby’s eyes open around 1014 days, and they can begin eating solid food at 34 weeks of age; start with grass hay.  The litter can be separated from the doe at 8 weeks of age.  To avoid digestive problems do not feed vegetables to rabbits until they are 4+ months of age; fruit should always be limited to a very small amount as an adult.  Three to four weeks after weaning, the doe can be bred again.  Sometimes pseudopregnancy occurs, where the doe appears pregnant and ready to kindle 17 days after breeding.   Male rabbits will make a better pet if they are castrated.  A male rabbit may “spray” his territory in the breeding season.  Molting does occur in rabbits.  Hares (Lepus) have 24 chromosomes while the rabbits (Orycytolagus and 7 other genus) have 22 chromosomes; they cannot interbreed yet as FYI same family-order.  Lagomorphs are not rodents (rodentia).  We have many other rabbit handouts on feeding, mature rabbit care and other issues.  

      With good care, a rabbit can live for up to 10 years.  To prevent dental problems in rabbits and other similar pocket pets feed 3/4+ of the diet as a grass hay, very little fruits or sweet treats and limit other vegetables and pellets to less than 20% of their diet.

The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic