Preparing For Your Rabbit

Approximate Costs

When adopting a pair of rabbits from the Colorado House Rabbit Society, you can expect the following startup costs:

  • $100 adoption fees
  • $18 national membership fee
  • $50 approximately, for hay, litter, pellets, papaya tablets, etc
  • $20 for litter box, crocks, and hay rack
  • $25–$200 for a rabbit crate or housing, depending on what you can find at yard sales, classified ads, etc., or want to make

Housing

The cages sold for rabbits are usually horrors for the rabbits, having been designed for the convenience of breeders, not the good of rabbits. They are usually too small, especially in the vertical dimension, the doors are often not big enough to admit an adequate litter box, and the wire floors are hard on rabbits’ tender feet. If you do use a rabbit cage with a wire floor, put a resting board in to cover at least part of the wire.

You should expect to keep your rabbits in their own crate/condo whenever you are away or sleeping. The cage should be roomy, large enough for a litter box, food dishes, and toys, with enough left over for the rabbits to stretch to their full length (about twice as long as they are when their feet are under them). They should also be able to stretch full-length vertically, and have a shelf for them to jump up on.

A 12ā€œ to 36ā€œ shelf (depending on the size of the cage and the rabbits) made of untreated pine and running the width of the cage is an excellent way to increase the floor space and provide for some exercise while the rabbits are “at home.” This requires a fairly tall cage. If the shelf is narrower than the litter box is wide, the center of the shelf should be placed directly over the outer edge of the litter box. That way, if the rabbits attempt to jump to the shelf, but don’t jump high enough, catching it with only their front fee, they will swing under the shelf and drop onto their backs on the flat floor. Their backs won’t hit the edge of the litter-box, which could result in a broken back.

Wire dog crates with removable trays are excellent rabbit homes, as long as the spacing between the bars is small enough rabbits can’t put their heads through them.

Furnishings

A litter-box should be placed in a back corner of the cage. You may need to clip it to the side of the cage if the rabbits enjoy turning it over. The sides of some litter boxes are short enough that a rabbit, backing into the corner, may urinate over the side of the litter-box. This can be corrected by attaching two small sheets of Plexiglas to the sides of the cage at the corner formed by the Plexiglas and then, even if she urinates above the litter-box, it will run down the Plexiglas into the litter. For rabbits small enough to use them, dishpans such as Rubbermaid’s can be used as litter-boxes.

WARNING: Never use clay litter, clumping litter, corncob litter, pine chips, or cedar chips. The first three of these can block rabbits’ digestive systems and kill them if they munch on them. The latter two give off phenols which affect the liver in such a way that antibiotics don’t work. (The change is reversible if the chips are removed.) The safest litters for rabbits are the paper ones, such as Care Fresh and Yesterday’s News. Alfalfa and oat based litters will be nibbled by rabbits and can lead to obesity.

We recommend water be given in a crock rather than a bottle. Rabbits drink more water from a crock than they do from a water bottle, which is very desirable. However, some rabbits may get the water in a crock dirty, requiring it be changed more often. If a rabbit dribbles water under her chin when drinking from a crock, it may lead to a constantly wet dewlap resulting in a nasty infection. So if your rabbits have this problem, it is better to use a bottle. A heavy crock can also be used for vegetables, and a small crock for grain treats and fruit treats.

Various types of hayracks are available, but most of those sold in pet stores are too small to hold sufficient hay for a day. A small cardboard box can be used, but will have to be replaced as the rabbits chew on them. Small plastic boxes are also a possibility.

Running Space

Indoors, when your rabbits are litter-trained, and the area in which they are allowed has been rabbit-proofed, the rabbits may run around in that area. They do best on carpeted floors, but may learn to handle hardwood and tile.

Rabbits may be given an opportunity to run outdoors if you have a fenced yard, patio, porch, wire pen, etc., but an adult should be physically present with the rabbits at all times to keep them safe. Never take a rabbit onto grass which has been sprayed with insecticides. Unless you are certain of the treatment of parks and other people’s yards, you should keep your rabbits off of them.

A harness with a leash (never a collar) can be used to take a rabbit for a walk, but let the rabbit lead you. Don’t let the rabbit feel she is being trapped by the harness or she will panic and may hurt herself trying to get free. Gradually accustom her to gentle tugs until she learns to respond to them. And keep your rabbit away from bushes or anything else in which the leash could get caught!

There are dangers associated with taking rabbits outdoors. For example, they can ingest parasites by eating grass. As their caretaker, you must decide whether the risk is worth the benefit. To do this, you should discuss it with your veterinarian.

Toys

See the “House Rabbit Handbook” for additional toys.

Chewing toys:

  • pieces of untreated pine molding, 1-by-2’s, or 2-by-4’s, attached to the side of the cage so they don’t move (rabbits usually don’t care for pieces of wood that move around)
  • untreated pine shelves or hide-away boxes in the cage
  • branches of aspen, willow, or apple trees which haven’t been sprayed (the bark from some trees, such as those whose fruit has a pit, is toxic until completely dried, so be very careful to give your rabbits only non-toxic branches to chew on)
  • unglazed/unpainted baskets, paper plate holders, etc
  • wicker laundry baskets filled with hay make wonderful resting, eating, chewing spaces (put plastic under the hay because rabbits usually urinate in it)

Ripping toys

  • Many rabbits love ripping up newspaper, old phone books, etc. (the inks are safe) One pair of rabbits would work at a phone book until their entire crate was filled with rumpled pages. We could no longer see them, but we could hear them moving around and could see the paper quiver.

Adventure toys

  • Tunnels are a favorite of almost all rabbits. Cardboard forms, into which concrete is poured to make footers or pillars, make wonderful tunnels for rabbits. This can be obtained at most large hardware stores. After the rabbits are accustomed to the tunnel, you can add to the fun by stuffing it with wadded newspaper the rabbits have to dig out. These tunnels can also be put behind a couch to keep the rabbits from digging and chewing there.
  • Cardboard boxes can give rabbits hours of fun. Not only will they hop in and out, turn them over and hide under them, but they will create their own “mazes” by chewing holes in them. You might even start the maze by attaching boxes together, with holes between them, some completely enclosed, others with doors leading in and out, and some with only a hint of a hole which the rabbit will quickly complete.

Noisy toys

  • Rabbits enjoy things that make noise. Even a simple metal Mason jar ring will be picked up and thrown around. When this becomes boring, add a sleigh bell, attaching it with a notebook ring.
  • Empty a small hard steel juice can (aluminum cans are so soft rabbits’ teeth will bite through and the rabbit may be cut by the metal). Put some pebbles in the can and seal it with metallic tape. Bunnies love to throw these around.
  • A bell may be hung from a single strand of cotton string, so the rabbits can hit it with their noses (don’t use a loop of string – the bunny can get caught in it and even get hung)
  • Wire balls with bells in the center (cats play with them) are another toy rabbits enjoy throwing.
    Generally any noisy toy suitable for a parrot can be used for a rabbit, but not those for parakeets which are generally made of brittle plastic which can break and injure the rabbit. Some cat toys are made of soft materials which the rabbit could chew and ingest, so these should be avoided.
  • There are plastic balls, about six inches in diameter, with a bell inside, that rabbits seem to enjoy pushing around.

Miscellaneous toys

  • A mirror can be a delightful toy for some rabbits
  • Some rabbits will play with a towel, gathering it up in a wad, smoothing it out, playing peek-a-boo, etc. We specify a towel, because it is made of cotton and won’t hurt the rabbit if pieces of it are ingested. Synthetic fabrics are not digestable and therefore would harm your rabbit. Some rabbits will only urinate on a towel, so if your rabbit is one of these, don’t give them a towel for play
  • A small towel can also be hung by a corner from the top of the crate/condo. Some rabbits spend hours pushing these around, pulling on them, etc.
  • Hang a towel on the outside of one side of the rabbits’ crate/condo. They’ll spend hours trying to drag it in through the spaces between the wire.
  • I know of a rabbit who enjoyed running across carpet and leaping onto a piece of newspaper placed on hardwood adjacent to the carpet. After sliding across the hardwood, he scampered back to the carpet and waited for his people to put the piece of newspaper back in place.

Watch your furry little friends to see what interests them. I once had a mini-lop who loved to push a large crock of water with his head. The water was intended for the dogs and cats, but they didn’t seem to mind having to look for it when he pushed it to a new place. Of course, I minded, when I tripped over it!