Handling a rabbit

Rabbits need to be handled very carefully. Most rabbits generally do not like to be lifted from the ground, and may struggle. They also have an exceptionally delicate skeletal structure and can be injured very easily if improperly handled or dropped.

A rabbit should never be picked up by her ears: she is not designed to support the weight of her body and picking her up like this hurts terribly and can cause damage. In addition, rabbits should not be lifted by the scruff of the neck. If the rear legs are not supported, she will struggle, kick out and most likely hurt her back. If you must pick up your rabbit by the scruff, be sure to quickly put a hand on her rump to keep her from struggling.

The best way to pick up a rabbit is to slide one hand underneath her chest, place the other hand firmly on the rump, and scoop toward your body. Hold the rabbit close to you in a firm grasp. Some rabbits may struggle even when they’re secure against a body. If your bunny does this, it sometimes helps to cover her eyes with your hand. Be prepared to squat quickly should she struggle violently or start to escape from your arms.

To put your rabbit back down on the floor, do a deep knee bend to get yourself as low as possible without tipping or tilting the bunny. Gently release her to the floor.

Safe Litters

Some common paper-based litters are: Yesterday’s News, Nature Fresh, PaPurr, Cat Country, CareFresh, EcoFresh and Bio-Flush. Woody Pet and Feline Pine are wood based litters that have had the aromatic oils removed that otherwise would cause respiratory problems. If these are unavailable, you can use plain newspaper, crosscut shredded paper (no staples) and/or hay (this will need more frequent cleaning).

Litter Box Basics

  • Spaying/neutering your bunny is the first step toward litter box success
  • Start with multiple boxes and reduce the number as your bunny’s habits improve
  • Try putting some hay in or over the litter box to encourage your bunny to spend time in it
  • Put boxes where your bunny tends to go (this may not be the same place you would choose!)
  • Many bunnies like to have two boxes—one to lounge in and one to potty in
  • Try different sizes and shapes of boxes to see which your bunny prefers
  • If your bunny goes near the box, try using one with higher sides or turn your high back litter box “backwards” to make him/her get all the way in
  • If your bunny is a digger, try putting a piece of coated hardware cloth over the litter to prevent scattering (give your bunny other options for digging—perhaps at playtime)
  • Do Not Use Pine or Cedar shavings, clay litter, or clumping litters
  • Do use non-aromatic, dust-free litters of recycled paper or stove pellets

Get a more in-depth look at litter box training in our Rabbit Care Guide.

Medical concerns for pet rabbits

Whenever you notice that your rabbit is not eating, urinating, defecating, or behaving normally, consult a veterinarian experienced in rabbit care. Rabbits seem to get ill suddenly and their health can deteriorate very rapidly without proper veterinary care. There are many diseases common to rabbits, all of which need to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. The purpose of this section is not to help diagnose illnesses on your own, but to illustrate signs and symptoms that indicate your bunny may be ill.

Some rabbits, especially Netherland Dwarfs or other rabbits bred for round shaped heads, often have maloccluded teeth. This is a condition in which the rabbit’s teeth do not line up properly and overgrow into “tusks.” This can happen either with the front teeth or the rear molars. These teeth will need to be clipped or filed periodically, or may need to be extracted altogether in some cases.

Sore Hocks is a condition in which the fur on the bottom of the rabbit’s feet is worn away. The exposed skin is subject to cracking, ulcerations, and infection. Rabbits with sore hocks need a soft, dry resting place at all times, and extra care should be taken to clean their litter boxes more frequently to help keep their feet dry.

Fleas, flies, mites and other pests may infest your bunny. If you note any small specks, dry flaky skin, or crusty material in your rabbit’s ears, contact your veterinarian.

Respiratory diseases are very common in rabbits. If you notice runny nose or eyes, labored breathing, mucous on the insides of the front paws (from the rabbit wiping his nose), or excessive sneezing or coughing, take your rabbit to a veterinarian immediately.