Pet Care Sheet
Blue Back Bunnies
West Hartford, CT
Please text with any questions you may have throughout the life of your bunny.
Please know that well-cared-for bunnies can live 5-12 years, so this is a long-term commitment.
The easiest and most researched way of feeding rabbits is to use pelleted rabbit food. Use a feed with 16% protein. Avoid feed with colored pieces in it. Bunnies up to 6 months can be “free-fed”, this means feed them as much as they’ll eat. At six months of age, give them only ½ cup per day (either ½ cup once a day, or ¼ cup twice a day). It is optional to introduce greens and other fruits or veggies. Start at age 6 months, and add them one at a time to see if there are changes to the bunny’s poop. If there are no changes, it is a safe food for your bunny. The best foods in the summer are from an untreated lawn: dandelion leaves, plantain weed, and clover.
Timothy or orchard grass hay is best. Don’t feed alfalfa, it is too rich for adult rabbits, and it's already in their pellets. A big fistful of hay a day helps the bunny in three ways: wears down their teeth (which grow continuously); provides fiber; and keeps them from getting bored.
Bunnies need clean fresh water available at all times. My bunnies drink from crocks (bowls). Use a heavy-bottomed crock or one that attaches to the cage wall so the bunny can't tip it. If you want to use a water bottle, please provide a crock as well, until they get used to the bottle. (Be sure to check the bottle occasionally to make sure the ball isn’t stuck.) Wipe the bowl with a paper towel each day as you change the water.
Give your bunny a few plain Cheerios (about a teaspoon) each afternoon or evening (a little less for kits). This is a treat they love. If they don’t eat it by their next mealtime (sometimes they wait if they’re hot), then you need to closely monitor them to make sure they’re eating and drinking. Monitoring Cheerio intake is an easy way of noticing loss of appetite before it becomes a problem.
Outdoor hutches need an enclosed section so the bunny has protection from wind, and should be placed in a shady area in the summertime. Monitor closely in hot weather. Heatstroke can kill a bunny quickly. Wetting the bunny's ears and providing a frozen soda bottle for it to lie next to can help when temps rise. Do not bring a bunny in and out of air conditioning, it can cause the bunny to start molting. If the rabbit is in an outdoor building, provide screened windows and fans. Bunnies do not mind the cold as long as they have extra food, hay, and fresh water.
Indoor rabbits need a cage (2'x3') with an exercise pen attached. Wire cages (with removable trays) stay cleaner and do not damage Holland Lops' furry feet. Plastic-bottomed cages are okay, but are more slippery for an active bunny. Free-roaming is a possibility if you rabbit-proof the area (cover cords and other chewable items). Provide indoor fans if air conditioning is not available in hot temperatures.
Bunnies are easily litter-trained to pee and poop in a box, but will occasionally mark their territory outside the box with poo balls. Fortunately these consist of dry hay and are easily swept up. You can use any kind of deep pan with a litter material such as hay, shredded paper, or pelleted pine bedding (my favorite).
It is helpful for the bunny if there is a grate over the box to keep it from stepping in its own pee. Clean daily or as needed. Place the box where the rabbit already likes to pee. Put a pee-soaked paper towel in the bottom of the pan to train the rabbit to use the box. Boxes that hook on to the cage are less likely to be tossed around by your rabbit. (See blog post on my favorite litter box.)
Bunny poop and pee:
Normal poop and pee:
Normal pee can be yellow, orange, or reddish.
Normal poop balls are hard, round, and pea-sized.
Normal cecotropes are soft poops that look like a glossy blackberry.
Cecotropes are reingested by the bunny in the same way that cows chew their cud. They provide much-needed B-vitamins and other nutrients. But sometimes bunnies produce more than they need and you may find them in the litter box instead. This is normal.
Problems with poop:
For soft poop balls: feed bunny a few raw oats (not instant) to help firm them up.
For poop balls that become very small: feed Critical Care immediately, the bunny has digestive issues. (See "Gut Stasis")
For diarrhea: figure out what it may have recently eaten and avoid that food; feed hay only and contact vet if it does not resolve within a few hours
How to hold your bunny:
As prey animals, bunnies prefer to have their feet on the ground and feel safe. So however you pick up your rabbit, you want to make sure its feet are resting on your lap or chest, or you are holding it so snugly between your arm and your body that it feels secure. A nice thing to do is to sit or lie down and let it get comfortable enough to crawl onto you on its own.
When you pick up a baby bunny from above, grasp it firmly but gently behind the shoulder blades (front legs) with one hand, put the other hand under the rump, and bring the rabbit to you, so that all four feet are resting on your chest, and its head is under your chin. If it’s too big to be picked up with one hand, use both hands to grab it securely around the chest, then bring it to your body and put one hand under the rump. To pick it up from a table, slide it with one forearm and hold it firmly against your belly, while you place your other arm under the rabbit’s feet. This hides its head in the crook of your elbow so it can’t see: this “football hold” is calming.
When you place your bunny back in its cage, put it in backwards, so it doesn't try to jump out of your arms. It can break a nail landing heavily on the cage floor.
Bunnies typically need no vaccinations. However, a disease from Europe, RHD (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease), was found in western and southwestern US states around the same time COVID started. RHD causes internal bleeding and is 90% fatal. To protect against it, don’t let your rabbit play with other pet rabbits (except yours). RHD can stay on clothes and shoes for a long time. You might want to make it a habit to not wear your shoes when you enter your rabbit’s habitat. There are vaccines in Europe but they are not yet common in the USA . Ask your vet if you are interested. The vaccine costs around $180 and includes a microchip. (Pieper Memorial Vet in Middletown offers vaccines: 860.347.8387)
Spaying your doe or neutering your buck is not a necessity unless there are behaviors you would like to stop. Rabbits can become hormonal as early as three months. From 3 to 6 months is the teenage stage, when unwanted behaviors may appear. If at 6 to 7 months, the rabbit is still showing these behaviors (for example: bucks spraying their urine, incessant mounting, aggression in does), you may consider fixing your rabbit. Just keep in mind that surgery is risky for rabbits (especially for females), so be sure to find a rabbit-savvy (exotic) vet who has had extensive experience spaying/neutering rabbits to help you weigh the pros and cons.
If you plan on having more than one rabbit but do not want to breed them, they must both be fixed. If not, they will mate or fight.
Trim every six weeks or so. Front feet have four toes plus a dew claw (“thumb”). Back feet have four toes. You can put your bunny on its back on a towel in your lap, with its tail facing you. Wrap it snugly with the towel so that only the paw being clipped is out. Hold it snugly between your legs, with its head higher than its rump. Clip the nails with a cat nail clipper and don’t clip past the dark part. This is called the “quick” and it is the place that the blood comes down to. If you clip through it, it will bleed. Use some cornstarch or flour to stop the bleeding if it happens. It hurts them if you cut the quick. For bunnies with dark nails, use a flashlight to see the quick better. It may take two people. You can also try to clip nails while holding the bunny in the crook of one arm. Check online videos for both methods. If you are nervous, you can always ask your vet to do it, but that may get expensive. It’s worth learning how.
Bunnies should be brushed as needed, depending on how much they're shedding. Two or more times a year (spring and fall at least) they molt and grow new fur. At these times, they may need to be brushed daily. If they're not molting, you may not need to brush for several weeks. Do not brush their tummies, they don’t like it, but their back and sides only. Feed more pineapple at this time as they’re ingesting more fur as they groom themselves. I like the Small Pet Select Hair Buster, but you can also use a slicker brush. Never bathe your bunny. Wipe dirty bums with a baby wipe or rinse with a little luke-warm water if necessary. Dry thoroughly.
Some people like to have their bunny run on the grass if it has no weed killer on it. Unfortunately, this can allow unwanted parasites and tics to get on your bunny. If you’d like your bunny to be outside, ask your vet about deworming medicine. Well-known breeder Dyan Murphy prepares a section of lawn with Ortho Bug-B-Gone before allowing her bunnies to roam. Fleas from dogs or cats can migrate to bunnies. Ear mites can be a cause of persistent scratching of the ears. Fur mites can be an annoyance as well (they can also come in with the hay). Fly strike occurs when a fly lays its eggs on the wet bunny bottom; the maggots enter the skin: another reason to keep wire instead of solid-bottom floors--the bunnies stay dry! Please note that most of these problems are avoidable by keeping your bunny indoors, and by making sure the habitat stays clean. Ask your vet about treatments.
If you put your bunny flat on its back, it can go into a trance and seem like it’s dead. It’s controversial whether this harmful or not. It may be a defense mechanism that they go into when they’re being attacked by a predator, sort of like playing dead. It may be draining to go in and out of a trance, so it should only be done by a vet for a procedure, or for another urgent reason.
Bunnies enjoy toys, especially if they are in their cage for extended periods. Good toys are balls made of willow or straw that they can push around their cage, or toys with bells in them. Plastic baby toys are a good choice, they can be hung within reach of your bunny to move them. There are also chew toys available that bunnies enjoy, made of wood, straw, or sticks (willow or apple, usually). You can also make your own toys using toilet paper tubes: stuff them with hay for more fun! Bunnies like cardboard boxes of any size, and paper grocery bags. They will hide in them, dig, and tear them to pieces. They love tunnels too. You can buy a pop-up tunnel, or you can make your own out of a large oatmeal container. There are many ideas you can find online for bunny toys.
Bunnies are very food-motivated. If you’d like to train your bunny to do tricks, you can buy a clicker (or use a clicking pen or your own vocal cords) and make a clicking noise every time you give it a little snack (like a ¼ cheerio). Slowly you can try to get it to stand on its feet. When it stands up, make your click, and give it the snack immediately. Eventually it will learn that a snack is coming for that particular action. Look on YouTube for videos. It’s lots of fun!
How to act around a bunny:
Bunnies are prey animals. As such, they freeze or run when they sense danger. Sudden movements scare them. Be sure your bunny sees or hears you coming so you don’t scare it. They also like to hear you talk and will get used to your voice and smell. They like to be rubbed on their foreheads but not on their tummies. Don’t worry, your bunny will let you know what it likes and doesn’t like.
Bunnies love affection. They know when someone loves them or not. If you are kind to your bunny with a kind voice and gentle actions, your bunny will feel safe and respond to you. Never hit your bunny. If your bunny tries to nip you, say “Ow!” or “No!” and firmly but gently push its head/nose to the ground for a few seconds. Sometimes a kit will nip because it’s been in your lap too long and it needs to go to the bathroom. Put it back in its cage after ten minutes or so, to let it do its thing, then hold it again.
Be careful if your bunny is roaming free in places with other people. It can and will get under your feet. And oddly enough, it will STAY THERE even if you try to nudge it away. For a prey animal, this is hard to understand, but they are very resistant to being nudged from their spots! And they can run quickly right under your feet, so be very careful when they’re free-roaming.
Don’t play with your bunny as you would with a dog or cat. Those are predator animals who enjoy chasing and toying with their prey. Occasionally if you are gentle a bunny may like to play chase, but take your cues from the bunny, and never play in an aggressive or teasing way like you might with a dog.
If your bunny stomps its foot loudly, it means it is afraid and giving a warning to others of danger, or it is annoyed and wants something to stop (for instance, a person bugging him too much, or a smell or noise that is bothering him).
Your bunny might turn its back to you. Yes, it is ignoring you. But you can usually win it back with a food treat.
How to bond with a bunny:
Only let your bunny be in its cage or your lap for the first week or
two after coming to your home. This will allow it to get used to going in its litter box, and it will
bond with you. If you let it in an exercise pen or free roam too soon, its curiosity will overcome
its desire to bond with you. To get it used to sitting with you, take it out of the cage and sit with
the bunny in your lap or on your chest and stroke it (head and side of jaw are favorite spots) for
5-10 minutes. Do this many times a day for a week. If it wriggles, hold it firmly until it relaxes.
What you want to get is a relaxed bunny that is not scared of sitting with you. When you put it
back in the cage, give it a Cheerio or two as a treat for being a good bunny. This way the bunny
will learn that sitting with you is safe and becomes a part of its routine. Do not expect this to
happen naturally. After a couple of weeks you can decrease the number of times you hold your
bunny, so that eventually you can hold your bunny as little as twice a day and it will still enjoy
It is possible to have a single bunny in a home; usually they will bond to their main caregiver. It is possible they can bond with a dog or cat, just use caution, and supervise meetings. They can also bond with another bunny, if introduced at a young age. But it doesn’t always work. They all have their unique personalities!
If your bunny licks you, it is kissing you. If your bunny rubs its chin on you, it is claiming you as its own.