Rabbits are one of the most—if not the most—misunderstood pets available today. Pet stores will sell you tiny cages and bags of low-quality food. Breeders will recommend wire-bottom cages and hutches, and some will even tell you rabbits don't need hay.
Don't listen to them.
Rabbit digestive systems are extremely delicate, so a proper, veterinarian-recommended diet is key. Cages and hutches are expensive and do not provide the space a rabbit needs, not to mention rabbits housed in anything with a wire bottom are prone to broken toes, sore hocks, and painful, permanent nerve damage in their feet. Do not ever use these.
Fortunately, the proper set up is FAR less expensive and will make a huge difference in your rabbit's happiness and lifespan.
Speaking of lifespan, did you know that a properly cared for house rabbit can live 10 years? Or longer? Be sure you're prepared for that.
Here's what we recommend for your new house rabbit:
Metal exercise pen (xpen). Sold at any pet store and many big box stores. These run anywhere from $30-$50, depending on the store and the pen's height. We recommend 36" for small rabbits and 42" for medium to large rabbits.
Litter box. A standard plastic cat box or longer under-the-bed plastic storage containers are great.
Pine pellets. We recommend Dry Den or Nature's Bedding pellets. Recycled paper bedding gets mushy, and pine shavings are bad for a small animal's respiratory system.
High-quality hay. A rabbit's diet should be at least 70-80% hay. 2nd cut timothy hay and green orchard grass are the best. Oat hay is a fun treat. Rabbits do not need alfalfa unless directed by your vet to treat an underlying condition.
High-quality pellets. Oxbow and Sherwood are the best brands. Stick with those and mind your serving sizes. Do NOT feed your rabbit the fiesta-style mixes with seeds and nuts. Those are terrible for your rabbit.
Fresh veggies and herbs. Leafy greens like romaine, bok choy, carrot tops, beet greens, and mustard greens. Herbs like cilantro, mint, fennel, and basil. Bell peppers, celery, pumpkin, and radishes. Avoid cabbage and broccoli (gas), and iceburg lettuce. Spinach, parsley, and kale only in moderation (high calcium content). Fresh or dried dandelions, clover, lavender, and roses are fun treats. Fresh blackberry stems and leaves (thorns and all) are a fantastic for preventing or treating tummy issues.
Water and food bowls. Rabbits drink considerably more from a bowl than a bottle. Any heavy crock-style bowls they can't tip over, or ones that attach to the side of their pen works.
Hay feeder. Most buns like to sit in and munch their hay, but in case you find them soiling it before they can snack, you'll need something to hold your hay. Make your own out of a small cardboard box, buy a hanging plastic bag holder from Amazon, or look for a nice wood holder many Etsy shops sell online. It's best to keep this in or above their litter box because rabbits poop while they eat.
Flooring. Rabbits tend to dig carpet, yet are usually scared to hop on smooth, hard floors because they slip, so we recommend something that protects your floors and their feet, while giving them traction. Whelping pads work well, and also help with accidents. Throw rugs and fleece are also great options.
Tunnels, hides, and toys. Rabbits love cat tunnels, cardboard boxes with doors cut into them, and pretty much anything they can hide in or run through. They also like to perch. A soft pad or plush cat/dog bed is great for snuggling. They love toys they can throw around. Apple sticks and properly prepared pinecones are great for chewing. Seagrass and wicker mats, balls, and toys are great for shredding and eating. A plastic treat ball you can fill with their daily pellets is a great way to keep them active and stimulated. Many of the toys sold for rabbits aren't actually good for them. Stick with Oxbow and Niteangel brands to start.
Treats. Oxbow treats are always the best bet. Even the pickiest rabbits love bamboo chews, so we recommend those as well. Fruit and sugary veggies like carrots should be given sparingly, and in small portions. The high sugar content isn't great for their stomachs.
We also recommend the following bunny emergency kit supplies:
Baby gas drops. Be sure to have a bottle of these on hand. Gas can kill a rabbit because they have no way to expel that excess air, which leads to pain and GI stasis. Contact us or a rabbit specialist at the first sign of discomfort in your rabbit for help identifying the problem and potentially treating it at home.
Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores. A small bag of the Apple-Banana flavor is a good thing to have on hand. This is key in pulling your rabbit out of stasis.
Rectal thermometer. Rabbits run at a warm 103°F. A cold rabbit is a sick, hurting, or severely stressed rabbit. If untreated, this often leads to GI stasis, which is deadly.
A note on temperament...
Rabbits are not an "easy" pet. No animal is, but unlike guinea pigs or many small animals, rabbits can be destructive, temperamental, and messy. They have opinions, just like humans, and are not afraid to express them. They're prey animals, so while some rabbits are great with hands-on family members and love snuggles, many prefer to be the ones calling the shots when it comes to affection. If you're looking for a pet for your young child to cuddle, a rabbit may not be right for you. But if you're looking for a fluffy family member who will take over your home and your heart (and treat you like the servants rabbits believe humans are...), we may have just the bunny for you!