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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Special Considerations for Rabbits

By Diane McClure, DVM, PhD, DACLAM, Veterinarian, Animal Resource Center Veterinary Services

If a rabbit is not picked up or held properly, its back can possibly break; therefore, rabbits may be more suitable as pets for older teens and adults, rather than young children.

Rabbits may be housed inside or out; however, rabbits are sensitive to heat. Hot, humid weather, along with poorly ventilated hutches or transport in poorly ventilated vehicles, may lead to heat stress and death. Prolonged exposure to temperatures above 80°F (26°C) may cause your rabbit to become sick. Domesticated rabbits have difficulty with temperatures below 50°F (15°C). Rabbits kept outdoors in climates with temperature extremes must be provided with a fairly large shelter that is heated in winter and cooled in summer. If the rabbit is kept inside, a fairly large cage must be provided when the rabbit cannot be supervised. In addition, extra care must be taken to provide an area in which the rabbit cannot chew on electrical wires, carpeting, or other inappropriate items when allowed to roam free.

Rabbits have a physical and psychological need to chew. Providing your rabbit with a variety of items to chew on will not only allow them to keep wearing down their constantly growing teeth, but will also help to keep them from getting bored. Cardboard, paper, straw, untreated wicker baskets, nonpoisonous pieces of wood, and pine cones are all good choices for chewing.

Rabbits frequently groom themselves. Like cats, they swallow loose hair, which then passes through their digestive tracts and comes out in their droppings. Unfortunately, an excessive amount of hair can lead to the development of hairballs that may block digestion or cause other medical problems. Rabbit owners should regularly brush their pets with a soft brush to help prevent this from occurring. Rabbits with long fur require daily grooming, while rabbits with short fur should be brushed at least twice a week. In addition, rabbits shed every 3 months. One shedding may be light and the next one heavy. During these times, extra care must be taken to brush the rabbit and remove excess hair from its hutch or cage to reduce the possibility of hairballs. During these shedding periods, you may notice some bald spots. These should fill in again after the shedding period is over. Shedding can last anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks, depending on the type of rabbit.

Some people are allergic to rabbits, most commonly those that are also allergic to cats. There is another allergy consideration. Rabbits require hay at all times and if you are allergic to hay, a rabbit may not be the best pet for you.

Many states have legal statutes that forbid selling, offering for sale, bartering or giving away baby rabbits that are less than 2 months old. For complete and accurate statutes regarding rabbits, you should contact your state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or a local animal shelter. Also, those living within city limits may want to contact their county health department to inquire about possible restrictions concerning the keeping of rabbits prior to acquiring a rabbit as a pet.