How to Care for a Pet Rabbit

Rabbits are unique pets. They have specific needs in order to live a long, happy and healthy life. Here is a basic overview on how to care for a pet rabbit:

Step 1: Set Up Safe Indoor Housing

Rabbits inside playingThere are several options to house rabbits inside. They can live free-reign in a bunny proofed room/rooms, or they can be contained within a puppy pen, bunny condo, or large rabbit cage.  If contained, their space should always be large enough so they can hop around, and they should be let out of their pen for at least a few hours everyday for exercise.

Make sure the primary location of your rabbit is not isolated from you and your family. A family room or living room is a good place. Learn more about indoor rabbit housing at Housing Your Pet Rabbit Indoors.

Step 2: Bunny Proof Your House

Wire coverRabbits need space to run around and explore. In order to create a safe space for your bunny and to protect your belongings, you will need to thoroughly bunny proof the area. This includes covering all wires with plastic sleeves or flex tubing, or lifting them 3-4 feet out of reach of your rabbit.

If you don’t want your baseboards gnawed, you can cover them with plastic guards, 2x4s or furring strips. You’ll also have to block off certain areas since rabbits like to chew the undersides of beds, items on bookshelves, house plants, and more. Basically, your rabbit will try to chew everything in reach. Learn more at Bunny Proofing Your House.

Step 3: Provide Fresh Hay

Rabbit eating hayA rabbit’s diet should mainly consist of hay.  Fresh hay should be provided to rabbits at all times. Baby rabbits should be given alfalfa, and adult rabbits should be fed timothy hay, grass hay, or oat hay.

Using a large hay feeder is helpful because it keeps large amounts of hay dry, clean, and accessible. Learn more about the importance of hay and where to buy it at Hay for Rabbits: The Basis for a Healthy Diet.

Step 4: Provide Fresh Greens, Fiber-rich Pellets, and Fresh Water

Rabbit eating greensSupplement your rabbit’s hay with fresh vegetables, fiber-rich pellets (in limited quantities for adult rabbits), and fresh water daily.  You can learn more about what kinds of food to feed your bunny at What to Feed Your Pet Rabbit.

You can also learn about growing many of your rabbit’s favorite vegetables at Bunny Gardening for Beginners.

Step 5: Set Up a Litter Box

Rabbit in litter boxRabbits have a natural inclination to poop and pee in one area.  Take advantage of this by setting up a medium-sized cat litter box or shallow storage bin near their food/water bowls and hay feeder.

Put a thin layer of rabbit-safe, recycled newspaper pellet litter at the bottom of the litter box. Do not use clay/clumping cat litter or wood shavings, as they are not safe for rabbits. Then put hay on top of the litter. Rabbits like to eat hay and poop at the same time, so this will encourage good litter box habits. Learn more at Litter Training Your Pet Rabbit.

Step 6: Provide Enrichment

Rabbit in cardboard castleRabbits can get bored easily. Not only do they need space to exercise, they also need mental stimulation. Cardboard castles are great because rabbits spend hours chewing new windows and doorways. Cardboard castles also provide a quiet refuge for the rabbit when necessary.  Learn more at Building a Cardboard Castle for Your Bunny.

You can also provide a variety of toys for your rabbit to pique his or her interest. Learn more at Enrichment for Your Pet Bunny and Playing with Your Pet Bunny.

Step 7: Groom Your Rabbit

Rabbit's nailsRabbits are naturally clean animals and wash themselves frequently. But you still need to groom your rabbit on a regular basis. Rabbits go through shedding cycles a couple times a year. It’s important to brush your rabbit to remove all the excess fur. Otherwise, your rabbit could ingest it and have serious digestive issues.

Regular nail clipping is also important because long nails can get snagged on things or they can curl into your rabbit’s paw. Learn how to clip your rabbit’s nails yourself at Clipping Your Rabbit’s Nails.

Step 8: Bring Your Rabbit to a Rabbit-Savvy Vet

Veterinarian with rabbitRabbits are prey animals, and so their natural instinct is to hide any symptoms of illness. You must keep a watchful eye to ensure your rabbit is eating, drinking, pooping, and peeing regularly. If you notice any change in behavior, it is important to call a rabbit-savvy vet immediately. Learn about common rabbit diseases to look out for at our Rabbit Health section.

In addition to responding to illness, it is also essential to bring your rabbit in for regular veterinary checkups.  The vet can check the ears, eyes, teeth, and gut to make sure the rabbit is in good health. Finally, consider spaying or neutering your rabbit. Spaying/neutering can reduce aggressive behavior, improve litter box habits, and improve a rabbit’s overall health. Learn more at Spaying or Neutering Your Pet Bunny.

Find a rabbit-savvy vet in your area at the House Rabbit Society Veterinarian Index.

Step 9: Understand Rabbits’ Unique Language and Behavior

Sleeping rabbitPet rabbits are different from cats and dogs. It’s essential to understand how rabbits think so you and your rabbit can live a happy life together. Learn about their unique language at Binkies, Nose Bonks and Flops: Rabbit Behavior Explained and demystify unfavorable rabbit behavior by reading Help! My Rabbit Hates Me!. By catering to your rabbit’s natural inclinations, you can build a trusting, loving relationship with your bunny. See Building a Relationship with Your Rabbit for more information.

Rabbit Supply Checklist

  • Indoor housing
    Get a puppy pen 36 inches or higher so your rabbit can’t jump out. Buy on Amazon >
  •  Wire protection
    Make sure to cover all your cords with flex tubing or plastic sleeves. Buy on Amazon >
  • Litter box
    A medium-sized cat litter box (no top) or a shallow storage container will do. Buy on Amazon >
  • Rabbit-safe litter
    Opt for a recycled newspaper pellet litter such as Yesterday’s News (unscented). Buy on Amazon >
  • Food / water bowls
    Ceramic dishes are heavy enough so your rabbit can’t tip them over. Buy on Amazon >
  • Hay feeder
    This helps keep hay fresh and available to your rabbit at all times.  Buy on Etsy >
  • Chair mat (optional)
    You may want to protect your floor in the bunny area. Make sure to get a hard plastic one to resist chewing. Buy on Amazon >
  • Food (hay, pellets, vegetables, and water)
    Purchase hay by the bale from a local farmer (check local Craigslist ads) or order bulk hay online at Small Pet Select (use coupon code MYHOUSERABBIT for free shipping). Buy hay and pellets at Small Pet Select >
  • Cardboard box
    Create a cardboard castle by cutting doorways and windows in a large cardboard box.
  • Toys
    Cardboard/wooden tunnels, cardboard toilet rolls, old phone books, shoe boxes, etc. make great toys for rabbits.
  • Nail clippers 
    You will need to regularly trim your bunny’s nails.  If your rabbit has dark claws, a small flashlight helps you to locate the quick.  Buy on Amazon >
Bunny area with litter box, food dishes, and hay feeder

An example of a rabbit area setup. This works for rabbits who are contained by a puppy pen or roam free in a bunny proofed room. A cardboard castle and other chew toys complete the area.

Now that you have a good overview of how to care for a pet rabbit, you can visit our Rabbit Care, Rabbit Behavior, and Rabbit Health sections for more information.

About the Author

Abi Cushman is the proud owner of two mischievous agouti rabbits named Coco and Cosette. She also co-edits the fun wildlife website called Animal Fact Guide.