Pet Rabbits

Rabbits are mammals which belong to the Lagomorph order that also includes hares and pikas (Lagomorph means ‘hare-shaped’)

Overgrown incisors due to lack of chewing material

Rabbits are mammals which belong to the Lagomorph order that also includes hares and pikas (Lagomorph means ‘hare-shaped’). They are similar to rodents in that they have  incisor teeth that continually grow. The rabbit species widely kept as a pet is Oryctolagus cuniculus and within this species various breeds have been developed by enhancing different characteristics through selective breeding such as Dwarf rabbits, giant breed rabbits, lop-eared and long-haired varieties like Angora.

Description of the species and maintenance

In the wild the rabbit is a sociable and territorial animal, living in large  groups within complete burrow systems known as warrens that they have dug.

Rabbits rarely face danger when threatened but use their speed and agility to escape and dart down into their warren to escape harm. Within the group the rabbits have a  dominance hierarchy with the most dominant male having mating rights with the females. The rabbit is mostly nocturnal, nesting in the warrens throughout the day and emerging at dusk to forage for food until the morning. Rabbits are herbivores (plant eating) and  have a high reproduction rate. They have long ears, powerful hind legs with long feet and  a short, furry, upturned tail. The ideal temperature range for development is between 16-21 º C. If you keep them outdoors they must be protected from the elements, extreme temperatures and predators.

Optimal size of the cage would be 0.3 m2 per kilogram of body weight. Ideally made of galvanized steel. The size of the mesh for the floor should be 1 x 2.5cm, which allows the passage of feces into the tray and poses no risk of injury to the legs and paws.

As a general rule the cage should be at least four times the length of the fully grown rabbit when stretched out and high enough to allow the rabbit to stand on its hind legs without its ears touching the roof.

A padded area should be provided to allow a rest from the mesh. Rabbits tend to defecate in a corner of the cage, making this the ideal area for the litter box. Change the material of  the litter box about twice a week. Do not place absorbent material that can be eaten as   this can cause intestinal disorders.

Rabbits are playful and enjoy running and jumping and so will also need a safe exercise area with plenty of room that allows them to do this for one or two hours daily.

They need plenty of toys to chew to combat boredom: ideal materials are straw baskets, boxes or cardboard tubes, paper bags, hard plastic, wood, balls with bells inside … etc.


Rabbits should be fed a basic rabbit mix and ample hay (vital for their digestive system) daily along with fruit and vegetables or plants and flowers.

The best fodder we can give our rabbits is a good quality hay. A good hay is made up of a variety of plants, has a pleasant smell and is not moldy or discolored. The hay should be  placed in a special fence to enable the rabbits to forage. The concentrated food should be  given in small quantities so not to cause digestive problems.

This should be high-energy foods, rich in carbohydrates such as cereals. Never feed any amount greater than 10g per kg of weight of your pet per day and always crushed. There are also rabbit pellets available in stores. These are compressed food pellets designed to  meet a rabbit’s nutritional requirements. Never feed more than 40g per kg of this  mixture per day. Same as with other pets, a diet based only on this can be very  monotonous and therefore it should only be included as a component of the diet. Green  foods can constitute 45% of the diet but you should get your animal used to it gradually increasing the amount daily until you reach the desired quantity. NEVER suddenly  change the diet of your rabbit or suddenly introduce a new food. Green food can consist of clover (no more than 20% of green fodder), alfalfa, dandelion, carrots, pears and apples (peeled) … also herbs such as sage, thyme, rosemary or mint. Green food should never be  left in the cage for longer than three hours. Don’t forget that our little friends love to  crunch, they love branches… Birch, Beech, Alder, Poplar, Willow, Hazelnut, Apple and  Pear trees are all suitable. Let us never forget that any forage, branch or item that we use  in our animal feed must be free of pesticide residues, heavy metals or other hazardous substances. Always give them their food at room temperature, never cold.


Rabbits are very curious animals, actively exploring their environment and  especially during their first year of life will gnaw and dig wherever they can. Peak activity  hours occur at dawn and dusk and they often nap during the day.

Rabbits mark their  territory with colourless, odourless drops which are produced by glands on the chin. If  they are not neutered they may also mark their territory with urine and even faeces. Pay special attention when you let them loose in your home as they can get on furniture (long jump and even turn 180º in the air). They also like to pick up and throw small objects using their nose and mouth and love to chew. Two rabbits kept together create their own  hierarchy and bonds… even mutual groom. Sleeping in many cases closely together. A  rabbit may show dominance over any member of the family, although the way usual for  them, differs from that we normally know. The behaviour of a rabbit with cats, dogs and  ferrets differs in many cases. It is necessary to study the conditions under which they live  together to identify possible risks to the rabbit. In many cases (especially ferrets)  rabbits show a fear of the smell of these other pets making it impossible to cohabitate. Another aspect to consider is that rabbits although not outrageously noisy are able to vocalise. A low hum emitted by an intact male rabbit circling the owner may be a prelude  to an attempted intercourse with the owner’s foot. A rabbit satisfied with a petting session  can grind its teeth. However, the reluctance to grind teeth together can indicate  pain. When they are wounded or frightened they can emit a high-pitched sound, as well as  kick to warn of danger. The rabbit licks its front legs to wipe its face and ears and with  the tongue cleans all the hair that can mould every three months. Frequent brushing and  oral administration of a laxative (malt) during these periods may serve to prevent  he formation of fur balls.

Just as we teach dogs and cats we can teach desired behaviour to rabbits by awarding them with treats. Keep in mind that the character may alter with hormonal changes  during their season. It is possible that they show aggressiveness towards their owners and have an increase in destructiveness towards objects in the house. Males mark their  territory with greater intensity.

General data

  • Normal body temperature from the third  week of life: from 38.5 to 39.3 º C (40 º C)
  • Weight at birth: 30-80gsm.
  • Age at which they open their eyes: 10-14 days.
  • Weaning: 5-8 weeks
  • Life expectancy: (5) 8-10 (12) years
  • Adult weight: 1-10 kilos according to breed
  • Daily consumption of food grain: 50g/kg
  • Sexual maturity between 10-18 weeks
  • Gestation length: 31-35 days
  • Number of offspring per litter: 4-12 (15)
  • Number of litters per year: 3-10

This article was published in Costa Blanca News.

Autor: Juan Griñan

Juan Manuel Griñán es veterinario del Centro Veterinario JG desde 1988 y está especialmente formado en neurología, resonancia magnética, endoscopia, anestesia y cirugía, traumatología, y en medicina y cirugía de exóticos, en especial aves. contactar con Juan

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