Rabbits can make good house pets for those who understand what's involved in their care. They are smart, quiet & yet curious by nature, not to mention SOFT! Prior to committing yourself to caring for one, however, realize that they have a longer lifespan for an "exotic" pet - typically 7-10 years (though some have lived considerably longer). Did you know that there are 49 recognized rabbit breeds according to the American Rabbit Breeder's Association? How big your bunny will get depends on what kind you have with them ranging from just over 2 pounds to over 12 pounds.
Rabbits are designed to run (hop) and jump, and so they, therefore, need a considerable amount of exercise, and a rather large enclosure. The enclosure should allow for the adult to stand up on his back legs, and large enough for him to have a nice resting area, feeding area, and litter box. The floor can be solid or wire. The cage should be kept in a cool, well-ventilated area with the average temperature being 60F-70F. Avoid basements because they can be damp. (Many bunnies have been successfully caged outdoors - but they must be protected from the elements - rain, heat, cold & don't forget PREDATORS!) Be cautious of warm temperatures because when it reaches the mid to upper 80's, a bunny can have a fatal heat stroke!
It's very important for your bunny to get plenty of exercise - at least several hours of free roaming a day. (By free we mean room to run & explore but confined & supervised. Portable pens sold at pet stores are an easy way to accomplish this.) Ideally, provide a hiding area for the bunny as well. Litterbox training is relatively easy to do by confining your pet to a small area with the box initially - perhaps even putting some hay in there & some of the pet's droppings to encourage him. Use pelleted litter as opposed to kitty or corncob litter or wood shavings to minimize the likelihood of impaction should he decide to nibble on it! Speaking of which, because they like to chew - give them toys that are appropriate for chewing (dried untreated wood, unfinished straw baskets, empty paper towel rolls, premade toys from pet stores, etc.) & always supervise their playtimes.
Rabbits are herbivores and as such need a large amount of hay. Roughly 65% of the rabbit's diet should be grass hay such as timothy, oat, rye, barley or Bermuda. The most common is probably timothy, but it's ideal to feed your rabbit a variety & to have the hay available at all times. Also available at all times should be fresh water. Rabbits also should be fed "greens" such as romaine lettuce, red lettuce, celery, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, mustard greens, parsley, and water cress. Greens should constitute about 20% of the diet (about 1/3 cup per pound daily). Pelleted food is widely available but should never be the main source of nutrition as it is very high calorie, has minimal fiber, has minimal water content, and doesn't promote needed chewing activity. Limit pellets to 10% of the diet or about 1/8-1/4 cup daily). "Treats" should only comprise 5% of the diet but can include apple, blueberries, carrots, cherries, melons, pears, pineapple, cranberries, squash, cherries, peaches or the commercial treats sold in pet stores. Do not exceed 1 tablespoon per 2 pounds body weight in treat food daily. Avoid feeding beans, breads, cereals, chocolate, corn, nuts, oats, peas, & seeds like sunflower seeds. Although rabbits will get most of the nutrition they need straight from the foods you offer, it's important to know that they also produce some of their own as they are cecotropes. These droppings, which they consume as being excreted from the “bum”, are longer than the normal stool, coated in mucus and green in color. If you start seeing a lot of these in the cage because your bunny isn't eating them, a veterinary visit is worthwhile because the rabbit may not be feeling well.
We've all seen the magician pull the rabbit out of a hat by his ears - but please don't do that! The proper way to pick up your bunny is to always support the back legs, typically by scooping the pet up, because kicking these strong appendages could actually fracture the spine. Until you are completely comfortable with the technique & with the rabbit you're handling, always work near the floor or at a low level to minimize the impact of a fall or jump.
Unlike our more common pets (dogs & cats), bunnies don't require immunizations. However, regular veterinary visits are encouraged to keep an eye on your pet's weight, status of his/her teeth, general overall health, and to catch any issues early. During this time, spaying/neutering can be discussed. Performing either of these procedures at a relatively young age (after 4 months, but before bad behavior like spraying begins), may even prevent or at least decrease aggressiveness.
If your bunny isn't eating, this is cause for concern & serious monitoring should be taking place. In many instances, pain is involved. Don't hesitate to take your pet in for a veterinary visit if he stops eating - the sooner the better! Another common scenario is the rabbit with respiratory signs. Sneezing, coughing & excess tearing can be the result of a respiratory infection, environmental factors, or even dental disease. Regardless of the concern, early intervention is the key to a successful outcome!
American Rabbit Breeder’s Association - www.arba.net
House Rabbit Society - www.rabbit.org
Oxbow Animal Health - www.oxbowanimalhealth.com
Veterinary Partner - www.veterinarypartner.com