(c) Gryph- if you repost this article, please post with a link back to my website.
There are all sorts of fantastic resources under my Rabbit Resources tab for you to enjoy, but this is a great place to start if you've just brought home a new rabbit or are getting ready to bring home a new rabbit.
You'll find some overlap between this page and the pages specific to topics such as Nutrition and Feed. The point of this overlap is so that this page can act as a stand-alone page for those bringing home a new rabbit. If you sell rabbits, please feel free to direct people to this page when they purchase a new rabbit from you.
It's a good idea to have all the equipment you'll need ready before you bring your new rabbit home. Housing (hutch, cage, etc), food and food dish, water and water bottle or dish, bedding for the housing if necessary, and hay are all important things you should have in place and ready to go before you even bring your rabbit home. Now, if you impulsively bought a rabbit and are scrambling to prepare after the fact, don't fret. Take a deep breath. You've got this.
Age of Kits
The age of the rabbit is very important when deciding whether or not to buy it. Please, please, please do not purchase rabbits that are younger than 6 weeks old for dwarf breeds and 8 weeks old for larger breeds. In many places, it is illegal to sell rabbits younger than 8 weeks. In my state, unfortunately, it is not. Although some irresponsible 'breeders' will try to sell rabbits as young as 4 weeks old, they are not yet fully weaned at this age. When a rabbit is 4 weeks old, it is typically just starting to eat solid food, but still nursing. If it is forced away from its mother to eat entirely solid food, this can disrupt its digestive system and often lead to death. At 8 weeks old, it should be eating entirely solid food on its own, and ready to be taken from its mother.
Quarantine, Quarantine, Quarantine...
Did I mention quarantine? No, really. This is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING you will read in this article. If you take nothing else from it, please read this bit.
Every new rabbit should be completely and utterly quarantined from all other rabbits for a minimum of 30 days. This doesn't just mean in a separate cage or the other side of the room. This means, a whole different room, it's own cage or hutch, with walls separating them and hopefully doors. This means that the rabbit in quarantine gets fed and watered and handled LAST after every other rabbit is fed, watered and handled. This means you do not even come close to your existing rabbits until you have washed up and changed clothes. Rabbits can carry diseases that can be invisible like RHDV/RHDV2, Pasteurella, Bordetella, syphilis, and other icky things. Many of these will flare up when the rabbit is under stress even if the rabbit has exhibited no other symptoms prior. Please, please, please, always quarantine new rabbits for a minimum of 30 days. If your rabbit shows any indication of illness during that 30 days and it can be treated, then treat, and continue quarantine for an additional 30 days beyond any sign of symptoms.
You can learn more about excellent biosecurity protocols here.
Have a supply on hand of the food you plan to feed your rabbit. Don't use feed from a pet store, as it's likely to have a lot of unhealthy stuff in it. Choose a complete feed, often found at a livestock or feed store. Most of the time this feed is only available in a 40 or 50 lb bag. These feeds contain everything that your rabbit needs except water including salt and trace minerals.
It can be very, very dangerous to switch a rabbit to a new feed suddenly. Responsible breeders will send new rabbits home with transition food so you can switch your rabbit to its new food slowly. If your breeder did not send you with transition food, ask for it. If this isn't possible, then ask what feed they were feeding and see if you can purchase some so that you can transition your rabbit. Not transitioning feed risks enteritis, bloat, and GI stasis, all of which can kill your rabbit within days if not hours. Things like traveling in a vehicle, being handled by strangers, being in a new home and cage/hutch, and even drinking different water than it is used to will all add to your new rabbit's stress levels. Offering hay to your new rabbit is also a very good idea even if you don't usually feed hay, because hay can help keep gut motility going for your stressed out bun. If you don't plan to feed hay after the transition period, then you can usually find a small bag of hay at a pet store or a chain store that sells pet supplies.
The first night home, feed your rabbit only its old feed from the breeder and hay. After feeding, add a serving size of your new feed to the old feed and mix well. The next night, feed from this mix, then add another serving size of your new feed, and so on until it's only the new feed that the rabbit is eating.
Avoid offering treats and any food other than hay or pellets for a few weeks as your new rabbit settles in. Kits shouldn't be offered anything other than pellets or hay until they are 12 weeks old, as that is when their digestive system finishes developing. Once your rabbit is settled (and 12 weeks or older), you can start offering things like dandelions, plantain, blackberry leaves and other treats. Avoid offering too many carrots as they are high in sugar. Also avoid iceberg lettuce as it has zero nutritional value and can cause diarrhea.
If you don't have a fancy feed dish, then you can use any heavy glass or ceramic container. Avoid plastic, as your rabbit is likely to chew it.
Offer your rabbit fresh water at all times. Ask your rabbit's breeder if your new rabbit is used to drinking from a bottle or a crock/bowl. Rabbits that have never used a water bottle before can get confused, so offering both a bottle and a bowl until they get the hang of the bottle is important. Being well hydrated is very important, especially to a stressed out rabbit, and if a rabbit is not drinking then it is not eating. Be sure not to use a plastic crock or bowl, as your rabbit is liable to chew it. If using a plastic water bottle, mount it on the outside of the cage so that your rabbit cannot chew it.
Be sure your cage or hutch is an appropriate size for your new rabbit. The recommendations of the American Rabbit Breeders Association can be found here: https://www.arba.net/PDFs/CAW.pdf. These recommendations are meant to work in conjunction with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations.
If your rabbit is an indoor rabbit then be sure to have an appropriate indoor cage ready to go with bedding (no cedar- it can cause respiratory issues), food and water in a location free of drafts and direct sun. Be sure nothing can touch the cage walls, as your rabbit is guaranteed to chew anything it can reach or pull through the wire.
If your rabbit is an outdoor rabbit then be sure to have an appropriate cage or hutch ready to go with plenty of shelter from sun, wind, and the other elements. Direct sun can kill a rabbit in a matter of hours, and a wet rabbit risks hypothermia. Be sure nothing is touching the hutch or cage where a rabbit can possible reach it, as your rabbit is guaranteed to chew anything it can reach or pull through the wire.
If you are raising your rabbit in a colony setting, please consider quarantine it alone prior to introducing it to your colony, even if it will be the only rabbit in the colony at the time. A cage or hutch is much easier to sanitize than your floor or ground is.
It is generally not recommended to have 2 or more rabbits living together in the same cage. Rabbits are very territorial by nature, and are not the social animals that many mistakenly believe them to be. Fighting among rabbits often leads to serious injury or death. Therefore, it is important to keep any conflicts from occurring. Here are the specific scenarios for different combinations of rabbits living together:
Two bucks : two males living together will become territorial as they mature and will fight.
One buck and one doe: a pair of rabbits living together will result in continual mating. As the doe gets closer to her due date, she will become more territorial and aggressive towards the buck. The two may start fighting at this point. If the doe successfully has her litter, often the entire litter will be killed by the buck.
Two does: this combination will sometimes work, provided that the two were raised together and do in fact get along. Often this can be two sisters, or a mother and a daughter. It only works out about half of the time. If you choose to do this, be sure to watch for signs of conflict, as at any time they could turn on one another. If signs of conflict occur, you will need to permanently house the two separately. Also, if you are expecting a litter from one or both does living together, they should be housed separately to raise their litters.
Toys and Entertainment
Just like other pets, rabbits enjoy being entertained and playing with toys. Toilet paper tubes, wood branches and chunks (be careful about the kind of wood- not every wood is safe for rabbits to chew!), pine cones, cardboard, plastic cat balls, margarine or yogurt tubs, hay blocks, and even custom toys designed just for rabbits are all excellent toys to entertain your bun. Even just stuffing a toilet paper tube with hay to let your bun toss it around is great.
Give It Time
When you bring your rabbit home, give it at least a few days to rest without being handled more than absolutely necessary. Remember that this is a big, stressful adventure for your new friend, and some time to explore its new territory and settle in is very important. I know the temptation will be great, but resist adding stress to an already tense situation for your rabbit.
Once your rabbit settles in, give it plenty of attention. Rabbits usually enjoy being petted, although they don't usually enjoy being picked up. If you pick up your rabbit, don't pick it up by the scruff. Here is a great resource on safely picking up and carrying your rabbit (safer for you to avoid scratches and safer for your rabbit): http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Surgery/Restraint/Handling.htm. Once picked up, rabbits often enjoy being held. Generally, a rabbit will feel most secure when all four feet are touching something so holding it against your lap or your chest will make your rabbit feel more secure. If your rabbit is especially nervous, letting it hide its face in the crook of your elbow is useful.
Free Range Time
First of all, please let your rabbit complete quarantine before free ranging to avoid spreading any unwanted icks around.
If you are going to allow your new rabbit time to free range either in a house or in the yard, be sure it's in a secure place. Indoors be sure there is nothing a rabbit can chew on that's dangerous (because let's face it, it's gonna chew on everything) like electrical cords or small things it can choke on. Don't expect stairs to slow down your rabbit, and be sure doors and windows are well secured. Be cautious with other pets like cats and dogs, as they don't always know how to react with rabbits. Be especially cautious of young children. They often inadvertently play rough with rabbits, and rabbits are known to bite and scratch when threatened, not to mention that they are ridiculously delicate and can be injured very easily.
Outdoors, be sure your rabbit is secure. You'd be surprised what a rabbit can jump or, yes, even climb! Rabbits also dig, and they dig well, so expect a rabbit on the ground to do so. Be sure your rabbit is secure from other pets like dogs, and also from predators.
Keep a Close Eye
Make sure your new rabbit is eating and drinking, pooping and peeing. If it doesn’t seem to be drinking, try giving it bottled water and slowly transitioning it as you do with the feed. If you see red pee, do not panic. The saying goes, rabbits pee rainbows. It's especially normal for a rabbit transitioning to a new feed. Watch that your rabbit isn't sneezing, snotty, doesn't have goopy eyes, isn't favoring its ears, etc. These can all be signs of illness.
Questions and Concerns
A responsible breeder will be available even after you purchase your rabbit to answer questions and address concerns. If your breeder is not available or is not willing to help, please contact me and I will do what I can to help.