Rabbits can make great pets and are a popular choice when people seek a pet for their family. Sadly though, many end up for adoption as people underestimate the care they require. Rabbits are high maintenance pets that can reach ages of 10+, so they are a long-term commitment. They are social and smart creatures that need company to feel happy, and enrichment to prevent them from getting bored. Health wise, they are fragile creatures. They break bones easily so they need to be handled with care. Because of this, they are less suitable as pets for younger children.
Owning any pet comes with a financial responsibility. Be prepared and put aside money for the vet. Even though they are small animals, expenses at the vet are usually high. Rabbit veterinary care is a specialization, hence driving the price up. Besides veterinary pet care, you will need to keep in mind expenses of food, litter, care products, spay/neuter fees, bunny proofing supplies and, especially the case while living in the UAE, relocation costs.
Rabbits are herbivores, which means they only eat plant material. Rabbits tend to eat frequent, small amounts. They need a high fiber diet to keep their digestive system and teeth healthy. Eating wears down the rabbit’s teeth, which keep growing throughout their life.
Make sure your rabbit always has good quality hay or grass available. The majority (about 85 to 90%) of your rabbit’s diet should consist of hay and/or grass. This will be about a bundle as big as your rabbit. Rabbits are grazes, which means they eat grass for long periods of time. To keep the digestive system of your rabbit healthy, they need hay and/or fresh grass. Do not feed your rabbit mower clippings.
Besides the hay and/or grass, the daily diet of a rabbit should consist of approximately 2 cups (about 10% of their diet) of mixed fresh green vegetables and herbs. These can be vegetables and herbs like broccoli, bell pepper, kale, basil, carrot tops, cilantro, tarragon, dill, watercress, parsley, rosemary, oregano, celery, courgette, lettuce and cabbage. Foods you can feed in small amounts (as treats) are apples and carrots. These foods are too high in sugar to feed in big amounts.
The commercial rabbit pellets and nuggets you often find in pet stores should only be a small portion of your rabbit’s daily menu (about 5%). Give 25g per kg of your rabbit’s weight. Make sure you don’t fill up the bowl as they may stop eating hay. Try and avoid feeding your rabbit the muesli they sell as rabbit food; it can cause teeth and digestive issues. Never change your rabbit’s diet suddenly, switching food should be done gradually, over a period of at least 2 weeks.
Make sure your rabbit always has fresh water available. Rabbits prefer to drink out of bowls, but if you decide to go for a drip feeder, you need to check it daily for blockage. Clean bowls and drip feeders frequently.
Foods your rabbit should not eat as it could make them sick or are toxic:
- Processed foods like
- Bread, crackers, cookies, pasta
- Raw potato
- Fruit seeds/pits
- Meat, egg, dairy
- Onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, chives
- Beans and peas
- Rhubarb, parsnip
- Iceberg lettuce
Almost all cages that are for sale for rabbits are way too small. The best way to keep your rabbit is free roaming in a bunny proofed room. If free roaming is not possible, consider putting off a large area with a puppy pen or get a bunny condo. The bare minimum size a rabbit’s living area should be, is 3 to 4 hops in either direction from one end to the other. Also, your rabbit needs to be able to stand upright with the ears up. A rabbit that cannot stand upright in its cage might develop spinal issues and deformities. If you’re keeping your rabbit in a cage, they need at least 4 hours a day out of the cage to exercise in a safe space. If using a cage, consider connecting a pen to it so your rabbit has more space to move around. Never keep your rabbit inside a cage or hutch with a wire floor as this is bad for their feet.
The cage and/or living space of your rabbit needs to be tidied daily and thoroughly cleaned weekly. When doing the daily tidying, remove any uneaten fresh foods. Clean the bowls/drip feeders and refill them with fresh food and water. Scoop the litter box and spot clean messes inside the litter box and within the enclosure. Change the litter of the litter box completely if needed. For the weekly deep clean, remove accessories like litter box, hiding spaces, and toys from the cage/living area, and wash them with soap and water. Remove and wash all fabric bedding from the cage and replace any bedding like hay. Clean and scrub the floor (and wire in case of a cage/pen). When cleaning don’t use dangerous chemicals. Wipe down the cage with hot water and use vinegar to help remove stubborn urine deposits.
Within their living area, provide the bunny with a litter box, hay feeder box, places to hide/sleep ,and food dishes. Make sure that their hiding/sleep places have a suitable nesting material like hay or straw. Besides this, provide your rabbit with enrichment. Enrichment is providing your pet rabbit with materials so they can carry out their natural behavior. Rabbits are social animals, so keep their living space close to where you spend your time.
As rabbits do not cope well with heat, most of the rabbits living in the UAE will spend most of their time indoors. In the winter, you could keep your rabbit part of the time outside in a secure area. Make sure predators, like stray cats, can’t reach your rabbit. Just like their living space, make sure their outside area has food and water, enrichment, and a space to retreat into that is safe, well ventilated, has soft bedding like hay, and is weatherproof. Your rabbit will love to forage and dig, so give them that opportunity.
Rabbits can get bored, so it is essential you provide them with enrichment. A bored rabbit will go and entertain themselves which often means destroying your property. A few easy things can be done to provide some basic enrichment.
First, set up the cage in an engaging way. Make several spaces to hide in, and create platforms in the living area of your rabbit. Provide them with toys which they can investigate, manipulate, and play with. Rotate toys around so they stay interesting. Besides the rabbit toys you can buy, you can add items like cardboard boxes and large pipes. Part of the natural behavior of rabbits is digging, so another thing you could use for enrichment is a digging box. Fill a cardboard box with topsoil, or add a sandpit where your rabbit can dig.
Secondly, food can be made engaging. Treats can be given in a treat ball and leafy greens can be hidden around the living space.
Last, interact and play with your rabbit. Did you know you can train them? Using force free and positive reward-based training, you can teach your rabbit simple tricks.
The basic setup requirements that a rabbit requires are more extensive than one might think for such a small pet. There is more information any (potential) rabbit owner should be aware about, which can be found in our article “Beginner’s Guide to Pet Rabbit Care – Behaviour, Health and Safety”. Did you know we also pet sit rabbits? Our rabbit sitters are knowledgeable about rabbit care and will love your rabbit like it’s their own. We can also help if you are looking to relocate your rabbit. Feel free to contact us for more information about our pet sitting and pet relocation service.