Basic Care: Rabbits


The domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) can be a fantastic and loving pet. When well kept, the average rabbit can live for up to 10 years or more! Typically, dwarf breeds live longer than giant breeds. Let us help you set your rabbit friend up for success at home!

The domestic rabbits are a crepuscular species, meaning that they are most active around sunrise and sunset so that might be when your rabbit wants to play. Many bunnies will adjust their schedule so that they are most active when you first wake-up and between your dinnertime and\ bedtime. It is important that your rabbit has a dedicated “bed-time” so as not to interfere with normal circadian rhythms. Studies have shown that rabbits with interrupted sleep cycles while dealing with illness have a poorer prognosis than rabbits that are allowed to have normal sleep cycles.

Most rabbits are gregarious animals meaning they enjoy the company of other rabbits. Typically, rabbits live a bonded pair. However, not all rabbits get along and some rabbits are best kept alone.

More information on pair bonding is coming soon!

While rabbits are typically regarded as a species that does not vocalize, rabbits actually have a variety of verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how they are feeling. For example, a happy rabbit may hum or jump and kick their back legs (referred to as a “binky” in layman’s terms). An angry rabbit my thump their hind feet or grunt. A rabbit in severe distress may even scream. If your rabbit screams while being handled, immediately put the rabbit down.

If your friends like your rabbit and want one of their own, recommend that they adopt a rabbit from a rescue.

Encephalitozoon cuniculi associated Phacoclastic Uveitis

E. cuniculi-associated phacoclastic uveitis is a recognized disease in rabbits, particularly dwarf rabbits. There is no sex predilection and the condition is often seen in younger rabbits. The lesion occurs after rupture of the lens capsule releases lens protein into the anterior chamber, which results in granulomatous uveitis; however, the posterior chamber usually remains unaffected. The mass originates at the lens capsule, and the inflammation is centered on the break in the capsule.

Osteoarthritis and Senior Rabbit Care

As rabbits age, it is common for them to develop conditions that make it challenging for them to go about day-to-day activities. Most commonly, rabbits will develop osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease making it difficult for them to ambulate and groom themselves. Osteoarthritis is a painful condition of the joints that results in inflammation and a decreased range of motion. Most affected joint spaces are the knees (stifles) and the area where the spine meets the pelvis (lumbosacral).

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2

Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease is caused by a Calicivirus.  Though multiple types of this virus have been identified, the serotype that has been seen in the most recent outbreaks here in the United States involves Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus serotype 2 (RHDV2). RHDV2 is a non-enveloped, single stranded RNA calicivirus that targets the liver and causes destruction of the cells within the liver leading to severe liver damage and dysfunction as well as problems with the animal’s ability to clot his/her blood.

Rabbit Diet Recommendations

A rabbit's digestive system is designed to digest hays, grasses, and fiber. Large amounts of sugary and starchy foods high in easy to digest carbohydrates can lead to serious medical problems. Grass hay is also essential in making sure the teeth in the back of their mouth don't become overgrown.

Encephalitozoonosis (E. cuniculi)

Encephalitozoon cuniculi (ECUN) is a microsporidium parasite related to fungi. Rabbits can either become infected while they develop within their mother's uterus or by either ingesting or inhaling spores passed in the urine or feces from rabbits already carrying the disease. Ingested spores pass through the walls of the intestine into the blood where they then travel to other areas of the body. In most rabbits,the disease spreads onward to the kidneys, eye and brain.

Wry Neck/Head Tilt in Rabbits

Rabbits sometimes develop a head tilt that gets progressively worse until they roll uncontrollably when they try to move.  This condition is commonly known as "wry neck".  There are many different diseases that can cause wry neck such as an ear infection, a parasite known as Encephalitozoon cunniculi (often just called E. cunniculi or encephalitozoonosis), and others.  Depending on the cause, treatment is often quite successful if initiated early.  Sometimes the treatment arrests the underlying disease but the rabbit continues to have a head tilt.  Most of these learn how to live with their new view of the world and many gradually return to almost a normal posture.