A Beginners Guide to Keeping Pet Rabbits

Written by Lucy Marcham, Academy Trainer

Rabbits are adorable and absolutely brimming with personality. However, as cute as rabbits are, they also need a lot of attention, time and care. It’s important to do your research before diving into bunny ownership.

Rabbits Social Needs

Rabbits are remarkably social animals. In the wild they live within a loosely organised society in underground tunnels called a warren. Groups can vary in numbers from less than ten to hundreds of individuals! 

Pet rabbits should either be kept with a same-sex litter mate or a neutered rabbit of the opposite sex. If keeping a group, all rabbits must be neutered. Rabbits left alone without company, can become very depressed and ill.  They thrive with company so you should be prepared to take on a pair.

 Rabbits live in excess of 12 years, so certainly require a lot of consideration.


Rabbits will need a lot of space to play, run, dig and perform natural behaviour. It’s a well-known fact that a rabbit’s wild living area is about the size of 30 tennis courts!

It’s important to know that every hutch or indoor cage should be considered just a bedroom, somewhere simply for your bunnies to eat, drink and sleep. They need dedicated exercise space outside of this. It’s very crucial that they have space to be their active selves, they can become bored, frustrated and even unwell if they are not given the appropriate space.   

Any outside hutch or enclosure needs to be appropriately weather and predator-proof.

Indoor bunnies can live either free reign within a suitably bunny-proofed room or in a large pen/enclosure. Either let outside for exercise where appropriate or give access to a dedicated indoor exercise area every day.  

Rabbits need space to run around and explore. In order to create a safe space for your bunny and to protect your belongings, you will need to thoroughly bunny-proof the area –remember rabbits LOVE to chew!


Naturally, rabbits are herbivores. This means that their digestive system requires a fibre moving continuously through their system. Not only is hay essential for your bunny’s digestive health, but also for their teeth. Rabbits have hypsodont teeth, which means they will grow continuously. Providing good quality hay will help wear their teeth down appropriately.

An appropriate diet for a rabbit should consist of the following:

  • 1. 80-90% fresh high-quality dust-extracted hay. This should be given ad-lib and can be contained within an appropriate hay rack or holder. For extra enrichment and some fun stuff some into a treat ball or cardboard tube.
  • 2. A high-quality high fibre natural rabbit food. This will give your bunnies the vitamins and minerals they need to stay fit and healthy. Remember not to overdo the hard feed- often bunnies can be greedy.  An egg cup of pellets per rabbit is usually plenty.
  • 3. Appropriate fresh fruit and vegetables should be available daily. Encourage foraging and problem-solving behaviours by hiding these in hay and around their enclosure/ exercise space.
  • Enrichment & Wellbeing

    Rabbits are very intelligent and have the capacity to get bored very quickly. Not only do they need space to exercise, they also need mental stimulation.

    Providing your bunnies with various cardboard boxes, tunnels and puzzles will encourage them to investigate and chew. Try and get creative and give your bunnies something new and interesting to gnaw and play with regularly to prevent them from becoming bored. Try stuffing hay and a few treats in an empty egg carton, bunnies will take great delight in breaking it apart. 

    Bunnies will also need to dig. This is a natural behaviour, as they live within burrows in the wild. If you don’t provide rabbits with a dedicated dig area, they are likely to dig up something they shouldn’t…

    Give your bunnies a dig box filled with safe soil and/or a certain place for them to dig in the garden. 


    Rabbits are naturally very clean animals and can frequently be found grooming themselves. However, bunnies will still need a little help from their owners to keep their coats in tip-top shape.

    Rabbits can moult considerably and regular grooming with appropriate tools will help remove this excess fur. The general rule is to groom your rabbit at least once weekly, however long haired extra fluffy bunnies may need this done more regularly.

    Due to rabbits’ dedicated self-cleaning regimes, they (much like cats) can suffer from hairballs. However, unlike cats, they cannot regurgitate ingested hair to expel it from their system. So, it is very important to groom regularly, remove excess fur and ensure your bunnies have plenty of hay and fresh water to keep their system moving. Try also using a rabbit diet that contains added hairball support. 

    Alongside regular grooming and pampering sessions, you will also have to pay special close attention to your bunnies’ nails. Nail clipping is an important part of small animal ownership. If nails grow too long, they can cause discomfort, pain and often end up with a vet visit. Regular trimming will keep them healthy and filed down.

    House Bunnies and Toileting

    As bunnies are exceptionally clean creatures, they can often easily be toilet trained.

    Before you begin the process of litter training your rabbits,  it is important for them to learn where their core base territory is and that it belongs to them. So, give them time to settle into their enclosure and demonstrate confidence and comfort in using their litter tray.

    Normally popping a litter tray in the place where they normally toilet and putting some soiled litter into it gets the ball rolling. Always work to their preferences and move the litter tray if it doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

    Praise your bunnies each time you see them toilet in their litter tray with something they like such as a small piece of their favourite veg or treats. This will give them a positive association with using their tray to do their toileting business.

    Accidents may happen but don’t despair, simply pick up any poops and put them in the tray. By doing this you will reinforce where their toilet is. 

    Clicker Training

    Rabbits are naturally very intelligent animals that often find great enjoyment in learning and being rewarded for their actions by their owners. Teaching your rabbits using a clicker training method can be wonderful for building bonds with your bunnies. Not only is clicker training wonderful for strengthening your relationship, it can also be incredible in aiding husbandry. Getting your bunny to come when called, or even to lift a paw on command will certainly come in handy!

    For tips on clicker training, take a look at our clicker guide.

    Common Health Issues in Rabbits

    Flystrike – This unfortunately is fairly common; it is very distressing and can often be fatal. It is caused mainly in warmer months when flies lay their eggs either on any sore areas around the rabbit’s bottom or in their hutch. The eggs then develop into maggots that will eat away at the rabbit. You can help prevent flystrike by keeping the environment clean (always use a pet-safe disinfectant), removing any wet bedding, using appropriate preventative products and keeping your rabbit healthy, an overweight rabbit cannot groom itself efficiently. 

    Overgrown Teeth – A rabbit’s 28 teeth continuously grow, if the teeth are not ground down by gnawing and grinding hay etc. they can become overgrown and may need to be clipped by a vet.  Rabbits can also get fur caught around their teeth which you must remove. Always provide plenty of fresh hay and gnawing material. 

    Digestive Problems – A change of environment, over-handling and rapid changes to diet can cause problems. These disorders can be fatal, therefore if your rabbit stops eating or you noticed a bloated stomach or diarrhoea please contact your vet immediately

    Myxomatosis and VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) – Myxomatosis is caused by a virus spread by biting insects, and quickly leads to blindness, swellings around the genital areas, difficulty eating and death.  We recommend that you have your rabbit inoculated against these diseases.

    Rabbit Behaviour

    Remember rabbits are prey animals and pet bunny’s biology and behaviour are very similar to their wild counterpart. 

    To keep your rabbit healthy and happy you must provide an interesting, stable environment and an opportunity to exercise and interact regularly. Remember that wild rabbits have a territory equivalent to around 30 tennis courts and plenty of rabbit friends!

    If a rabbit is not given enough stimulation, behavioural problems can develop including depression, fur plucking, aggression, chewing bars, altered feeding and reluctance to drink and feed. 

    Rabbits become stressed very easily so always supervise children when handling the rabbit, as they need to be handled gently and calmly. 

    Helpful Rabbit Tips

    • • Always provide your rabbit with somewhere to hide
    • • Allow your rabbit to exercise out of the hutch and cage as regularly as possible
    • • Spend plenty of time with your rabbit, they are extremely intelligent and can even be clicker trained! The more time spent with your rabbit, the friendlier they will be. 
    • • Provide tunnels (cat tunnels provide a great option!) 
    • • Provide Gnaws, safe twigs and wicker
    • • Rabbits love to dig, a planter with compost will be thoroughly enjoyed
    • • Cardboard boxes filled with hay will provide great entertainment

    If you have any concerns about looking after your small animals or any other pets in your family, please do not hesitate to visit one of our Academy-trained staff in your local store.