By Adrienne A. Kruzer, BBA, RVT, LVT
woman holding and taking care of bunny
David Prado / Stocksy
There are plenty of reasons rabbits have grown in popularity as pets (including the joy their big ears, soft fur, and fluffy tails bring), and there are now over 50 breeds of rabbits for bunny lovers across the world to care for. Some breeds have special considerations, but overall, caring for any rabbit breed requires the same basic equipment and knowledge. If you’re interested in adopting a rabbit, or even if you already have one, here’s your guide to what to know and have to keep your rabbit healthy and happy and make sure they live a long life.

Setting expectations

The lifespan of a healthy pet rabbit is between five and ten years, but for your rabbit to have a happy life, you’ll need to do your part in providing them with proper care. Rabbits have individual personalities and offer amazing companionship, but in exchange, they require space, regular cleaning, proper nutrition, mental stimulation, and veterinary care. They also should have a rabbit friend, so if you’re planning on getting a bunny, you should ideally plan on getting two. A rabbit requires more work than a hamster or guinea pig, so it’s important to know everything that’s required to properly care for them before deciding that a rabbit is the right pet for you.

What to feed a rabbit

Rabbits are herbivores, so they only eat plant matter, but the specific kinds and ratios of different plant matters are important. As a young rabbit, alfalfa hay should make up about 80% of your rabbit’s diet, with some dark leafy greens and fortified rabbit pellets making up the remaining 20%. As your rabbit matures into an adult, you’ll want to switch your adult rabbit from alfalfa hay to a grass hay such as orchard or timothy hay. Limit rabbit pellets to about 1/4 to 1/2 cup a day, but you can provide up to two cups of dark leafy green vegetables. If you have a dwarf breed or other smaller breed of rabbit, you may need to decrease the amount of vegetables and pellets you provide.

There are a variety of raw vegetables that can be fed on a daily basis to rabbits, including:

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Beet greens
  • Bell peppers
  • Bok choy
  • Boston bibb lettuce
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Butter lettuce
  • Carrot tops
  • Cilantro
  • Clover sprouts
  • Cucumbers
  • Dill
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Fennel
  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Mint
  • Okra leaves
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Pea pods
  • Radicchio
  • Radish sprouts
  • Radish tops
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Watercress
  • Wheatgrass
  • Zucchini

The following vegetables and fruits can be fed on a limited basis (once or twice a week) to avoid digestive issues:

  • Apple (with the seeds removed)
  • Banana
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli (only the stems and leaves)
  • Calendula flowers
  • Carrots
  • Chamomile flowers
  • Chard
  • Clover
  • Cranberries
  • Cherries (with no pits)
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens (pesticide-free)
  • Day lily flowers
  • Dianthus flowers
  • English daisy flowers
  • Grapes
  • Hibiscus flowers
  • Honeysuckle flowers
  • Kale
  • Marigold flowers
  • Melon
  • Nasturtium flowers
  • Nectarine
  • Orange
  • Pansy flowers
  • Papaya
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Pineapple
  • Plum
  • Raspberries
  • Rose flowers
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon

Also make sure to provide fresh water from both a water bottle and a water dish. Rabbits will drink more water if you provide a water dish, but choose one that cannot be easily tipped over.

Spaying / neutering

Rabbits sadly have a high prevalence of reproductive organ cancers, so spaying or neutering your rabbit is a good idea to keep them healthy. Neutering males will also help decrease territorial behaviors such as aggression and urine marking, and if you have both male rabbits and female rabbits living together, getting them spayed and neutered will prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Not all veterinarians are able and willing to perform surgeries on rabbits, though, so you may need to do some research to find a vet near you that treats them.

It’s ideal to spay or neuter your rabbit when they’re between four and six months of age, but the procedure can be performed later in life as well. There’s always a risk when anesthesia is involved, so discuss the pros and cons of these surgeries with your veterinarian to determine what is best for your rabbit.

Rabbit enclosure and environment

Rabbits are not the kind of pets that can just sit in a cage. They require space to run, play and explore safely outside their cages, as well as an enclosed area to eat and sleep.

Depending on your home, your rabbit may be able to live outdoors year-round in a hutch, which can be made or purchased. Just make sure your rabbit’s hutch is secure enough that predators like hawks and raccoons cannot get inside them. If you want to let your rabbit run around outside, use a harness and leash or x-pen to give them some extra space — but always closely supervise them.

If you choose to house your rabbit indoors, purchase a large rabbit cage or make an enclosure out of a dog crate, x-pen, or large storage container. In addition to a cage, your rabbit should also have a rabbit-proofed room or area to run around when they’re not sleeping in their enclosure.

Rabbits don’t do well in environments above 77 degrees, so you’ll want to limit outdoor time when it’s hotter and ensure you provide them ways to keep cool. If you don’t have air conditioning, make sure your rabbit’s space has frozen water bottles, fans, and other things that help them stay cool.

bunny in hutch
Robin Deimel / AdobeStock

Exercise and enrichment

Rabbits love to run and play — activities that are also good for their physical and mental health. Provide your rabbit with ample space each day to exercise, as well as toys, food puzzles, and other forms of enrichment. Toys that your rabbit can pick up, roll, or throw are popular options in addition to toys that can be chewed. Keeping your rabbit’s body and mind busy is important for its overall well-being, so you can provide mental stimulation by stuffing hay and vegetables into empty toilet paper roll tubes, tissue boxes, and store-bought food puzzles.

Litter training

No one likes to find urine and feces all over the place, plus having a designated area for your rabbit to eliminate waste matter makes your cleaning routine much easier. Choose a litter box with low edges so your rabbit can easily see and access the area and place it somewhere your rabbit already prefers to urinate, such as in a corner. A corner of an enclosure or room is a popular place for a litter box to be placed, but rabbits also often defecate while they eat, so you may want to place your rabbit’s hay hopper so that they have to sit in the litter box while they eat.

Place absorbent, dust-free substrate in the litter box, and put some of your rabbit’s feces and urine in the litter box if they eliminate outside of it during the training process. This will help attract and remind your rabbit of where they should go. Avoid cedar, pine, or other wood shavings which can cause health issues for some rabbits. And don’t use clay or cat litter either; they are unsafe for rabbits.

You can reward your rabbit with healthy treats if you see them using the litter box but don’t punish your rabbit if they don’t.

Rabbit proof your home

Choose a rabbit-proofed room or area in your home for your rabbit to spend time in each day. If you can’t rabbit-proof an entire room, an x-pen can create a large space within a room for your rabbit to run around in. Make sure there aren’t any carpet, strings, or wires in this area that your rabbit could chew on, get tangled in, or pull up. Also, keep dogs and cats away from the space and cover or close up any areas where your rabbit might be able to get stuck, such as floor vents, spaces under doors, tables, or shelves.

How to handle and pet a rabbit

Rabbits should never be picked up by their ears or scruffing. Both of these restraint methods are stressful and can injure a rabbit. To safely pick up your rabbit while also ensuring they feel secure, place one hand under their chest and the other under their hind end. Hold the rabbit close to your body while supporting them. If your child wants to hold your rabbit, have them sit on the ground to avoid the rabbit accidentally falling or being dropped. Don’t let your rabbit dangle while kicking their legs or restrain them so firmly that if they kick their legs hard against a surface, they’ll injure their back.

To pet a rabbit, gently stroke their fur in the direction that the fur naturally lies. Rabbits enjoy having their head scratched and their back pet, but specific rabbits may also enjoy having their chins scratched or even request a belly rub by flopping over onto their sides.


While they can be held and cuddled, bunnies may respond fearfully at first, perhaps with a sudden movement that could startle a small child and result in the bunny being dropped. For that reason, a rabbit may not be an ideal pet for kids under five. If your rabbit is not well-socialized, gaining their trust may take some time. Tasty treats should be reserved to give to your rabbit during socialization time, but patience is the key ingredient. Move slowly and allow your rabbit to come to you, and avoid grabbing or startling them. Sitting on the ground in your rabbit’s play area encourages your rabbit to hop up to you but let them come to you — don’t chase them. You can also hand feed your rabbit their regular hay and vegetables each day if they aren’t used to being around people at all. This will help them learn to trust you. Rabbits can nip, but they are not typically aggressive and are more likely to run away if they are scared rather than bite.


Some rabbits need more grooming attention than others, but your rabbit may require regular grooming, including brushing, haircuts, nail trims, baths, and ear cleanings. If your rabbit has fur that regularly tangles, has mats, or gets feces stuck in it, it may require regular brushing or haircuts. Most rabbits need nail trims unless they spend enough time on surfaces that will naturally wear their nails down. Your rabbit may also need ear cleanings, especially if they have an ear infection, mites, or floppy ears. They usually only need baths if they get dirty and special care should be taken not to stress, chill, or overheat them while bathing them.

Bunny check-ups

As of 2021, one vaccination is available for rabbits in most of the United States: Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2). This vaccine is not legally required like rabies vaccines are for dogs, cats, and ferrets. Because of this, many pet owners don’t think that rabbits need regular check-ups with a veterinarian, but this is not the case. Rabbits should receive annual physical examinations just like other pets so their vet can look for any changes in their health and hopefully address them before they become problems. Your veterinarian will listen to your rabbit’s heart, lungs, and gut sounds, look in their eyes, ears, and mouth, feel their body for any lumps or other abnormalities, watch them move around the room, and discuss their behavior, environment, and diet.

Consider adopting a rabbit

Since many people do not understand all the time required to properly care for a pet rabbit, many relinquish their rabbits to shelters and rescue groups. While you can purchase a rabbit from a pet store or breeder, you may want to consider rescuing a rabbit by adopting one instead. Contact your local humane society, SPCA, ASPCA, or rabbit rescue group to see if any rabbits are available for adoption. Even if you are looking for a specific breed or age of rabbit, you may be surprised to find that exact type of rabbit is near you, waiting for a new home.


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Practitioner’s Guide to Pocket Pet and Rabbit Theriogenology

How to Keep Rabbits Cool in Summer

Rabbit Vaccines: Everything You Need to Know

Adrienne Kruzer is an accomplished veterinary technician and writer with over 15 years of hands-on experience caring for domestic and exotic animals.