House rabbit

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A house rabbit eating parsley

A house rabbit is a pet domestic rabbit kept for companionship that lives inside its owner's home. House rabbits can be trained to use a litter box and can live as long as eight to twelve years when properly cared for.[1] In 1988, the House Rabbit Society was founded in the United States as an educational and activist organization with the general philosophy that domestic rabbits should be neutered or spayed and live in human housing".[2]


Keeping a rabbit as a house companion was popularised by Sandy Crook in her 1981 book Your French Lop.[3] In 1983, Crook was a featured lecturer to the 35,000 attendees at the American Family Pet Show in Anaheim, California where she presented her personal experiences of living with her indoor rabbit as evidence of a human-rabbit bond.[4] Throughout the 1980s it became more common to litter-box train a rabbit indoors. The house rabbit movement took off with the publication of Marinell Harriman's House Rabbit Handbook in 1985, and the subsequent founding of House Rabbit Society in 1988.[5][6]

Sources of house rabbits[edit]

There are many humane societies, animal shelters, and rescue groups, that have rabbits available for adoption. Typically, animal shelters charge the smallest fee. House rabbits are often purchased from pet stores, private breeders, and fanciers. House rabbits may be acquired as either housebroken or not housebroken.

Rabbits are often spayed or neutered for health and behavior benefits or to reduce the chance of unwanted offspring.[7] Starting at adolescence, rabbits that are not spayed or neutered may begin displaying territorial marking, which can frustrate efforts to litter train as well as damage household items.[8]


A house rabbit sharing an apple with its owner

Rabbits are social animals whose welfare benefits from being housed with other rabbits;[9] however, house rabbits can live alone if enough attention is paid to them by the owner. Bonding rabbits can be a long and difficult process, so it is important to be patient and understand that every rabbit has its own personality. [10]

Some house rabbit keepers teach their animals to follow voice commands such as coming when called by name.[11]

Many house rabbits have successfully cohabited with the family dog or cat. Leaving dogs and cats alone with rabbits has been dangerous in some cases, as animals with aggressive predatory instincts or overenthusiastic play can lead to the dog or cat attacking the rabbit spontaneously. The choice to gradually introduce the different species is usually made with caution and after consideration of known temperaments of the animals involved.[12][13]

Rabbits have been successfully housed with guinea pigs;[14] however, there are risks in doing so that may make the practice inadvisable. Guinea pigs are susceptible to respiratory disease from bacteria that rabbits carry. Additionally, rabbits may harm small rodents sharing their territory.[15]

House rabbit care[edit]

A multi-level condo offers a house rabbit a degree of hopping space and variety even when not free in the house.
These two house rabbits share a litter box originally intended for cats.

House rabbits may be kept in wire or wooden cages or, because of the space limitations of a cage, allowed to run free, sometimes limited to an exercise pen or designated area of the house.[16] Housing with wire floor can cause sore hocks, thus housing with solid floors is preferred.[17] House rabbits can be trained to use litter boxes or litter trays, but litter training can be quite challenging with unspayed or unneutered rabbits due to their hormones.[18]

Access to unlimited amounts of hay is essential and should constitute approximately 80% of the rabbit's diet.[19] Adult house rabbits should receive grass hay, while young and growing rabbits can receive alfalfa hay.[20] Pellets made from hay may supplement a house rabbit's diet, constituting a small portion of their overall diet.[21] This differs from commercial rabbits, where pellets often account for a much larger portion of the diet.[22] In addition to hay rabbits also need fresh leafy greens and vegetables daily to get adequate vitamins and minerals.[23] Fresh water should always be available, either in a water bottle or bowl.[24]

Living indoors shelters a rabbit from outdoor dangers such as predators, weather, and pesticides, but steps should be taken to "rabbit-proof" an indoor rabbit's living area.[25] To prevent electrocution, house rabbit owners can hide electrical cords or cover them with flexible clear tubing. Rabbits' ingestion of papers, fabric, and carpet may cause life-threatening gastrointestinal blockages, and their chewing may damage their owners' possessions and homes when proper precautions are not taken.[26] House rabbits need to have regular mental stimulation and physical exercise to be healthy.[27]

Physiological and behavioral responses to humanly induced tonic immobility (abbreviated TI, sometimes termed "trancing") have been found to be indicative of a fear-motivated stress state, confirming that the promotion of TI to try to increase a bond between rabbits and their owners—thinking the rabbits enjoy it—is misplaced; however some researchers conclude that inducing TI in rabbits is appropriate for certain procedures as it holds less risk than anesthesia.[28]

In most regions, house rabbits do not require vaccination; however, vaccines are prophylactic against myxomatosis and rabbit hemorrhagic disease where these vaccines are legally permitted.[29] While tularemia is a zoonotic disease of concern, there is no vaccine currently available - instead good hygiene is the best preventative.[30] In the United States these diseases are extremely rare or nonexistent; however, they are reportable diseases which all pet owners should be aware of. Cases of rabbit hemorrhagic disease (VHD) in the United States are reported periodically.[31]

House rabbit organizations and veterinarians recommend that house rabbits be neutered or spayed by a rabbit-savvy veterinarian.[32] Health advantages of neutering and spaying include a reduced risk of ovarian and uterine cancer and endometritis in females.[33][34] Neutering and spaying house rabbits also reduces territorial marking in males and aggression toward other rabbits.[35] The risks associated with spaying a rabbit include infection of the surgical site and death from anesthesia.[36]

A rabbit cannot be declawed. Lacking pads on the bottoms of its feet, a rabbit requires its claws for balance. Removing its claws will render it unable to stand. Rabbits with access to rough surfaces will naturally keep their claws worn down to a certain extent when running, but most pet rabbits normally require their claws to be clipped regularly.[37] House rabbits may need regular brushing, especially if they are of a long-haired variety. Due to the rabbit's biological incapability to vomit, removing excess fur prevents intestinal blocking and fatal choking that can be caused by hair ingested during self-grooming.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Basic Rabbit Facts, House Rabbit Society, retrieved 2 December 2009 
  2. ^ House Rabbit Society Philosophy, House Rabbit Society, retrieved 11 September 2011 
  3. ^ Crook, Sandy. "Your French Lop". 1981, p. 4.
  4. ^ Crook, Sandy. "Lop Rabbits as Pets. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1986, p. 8.
  5. ^ Harriman, Marinell. House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit (Alameda: Drollery Press, 1985).
  6. ^ "House Rabbit Society". House Rabbit Society. 
  7. ^ Pavia 2003, p. 123.
  8. ^ Litter Training, House Rabbit Society, retrieved 10 January 2008 
  9. ^ Chu, Ling-ru; Garner, Joseph P.; Mench, Joy A., "A behavioral comparison of New Zealand White rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) housed individually or in pairs in conventional laboratory cages", Applied Animal Behavior Science 85 (1): 121–139, retrieved 18 December 2010 
  10. ^ "Love Match: A Guide to Bonding Your Rabbits". 
  11. ^ Pavia 2003, p. 166.
  12. ^ Shapiro, Amy, Cats and Rabbits, House Rabbit Society, retrieved 4 January 2008 
  13. ^ Shapiro, Amy, When Fido Met Thumper (Dogs and Rabbits), House Rabbit Society, retrieved 4 January 2008 
  14. ^ Rubins, Suzanne, Guinea Pigs as Rabbit Buddies, House Rabbit Network, retrieved 10 June 2009 
  15. ^ Top Ten Questions asked about Rabbits, The Irish Blue Cross, retrieved 24 February 2010 
  16. ^ "Rabbit Housing Options". 
  17. ^ "Housing". House Rabbit Society. 
  18. ^ "Litter Training". House Rabbit Society. 
  19. ^ "What should I feed my pet rabbit?". 
  20. ^ "Rabbit Food - Hay and Pellets". 
  21. ^ "The Place of Pellets in a Rabbit's Diet". 
  22. ^ Feeding Your Rabbit, Three Little Ladies Rabbitry, retrieved 5 June 2009 
  23. ^ "Bunny Diet Basics". Dennis Hopper Bunny. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  24. ^ "General Rabbit Care". ASPCA. 
  25. ^ "Outdoor and Indoor Hazards". House Rabbit Society. 
  26. ^ FAQ: Chewing, House Rabbit Society, retrieved 25 February 2010 
  27. ^ Toys for Rabbits, I Love My House Rabbit, retrieved 5 March 2012 
  28. ^ McBride, Anne et al. (2006). "Trancing rabbits: Relaxed hypnosis or a state of fear?". Proceedings of the VDWE International Congress on Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare (VDWE International Congress on Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare): pp. 135–137. Retrieved 2 September 2013.  (downloadable .doc file). • Click here for PDF copy from
  29. ^ Pavia 2003, p. 182.
  30. ^ Society for General Microbiology (28 July 2008). Francisella Tularensis: Stopping A Biological Weapon. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 21 August 2011, from /releases/2008/07/080727224101.htm
  31. ^ Center for Food Security & Public Health Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Retrieved on 2008-02-06. 
  32. ^ "RABBIT HEALTH: Spay or Neuter my Rabbit?". 
  33. ^ Pavia 2003, pp. 195–199.
  34. ^ "FAQ: Spaying and Neutering". 
  35. ^ Spaying and Neutering, House Rabbit Society, retrieved 29 October 2007 
  36. ^ "Health Concerns". Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  37. ^ Cushman, Abi, Clipping Your Rabbit's Nails, My House Rabbit, retrieved 18 June 2007 
  38. ^ Grooming Your Rabbit, Three Little Ladies Rabbitry, retrieved 5 June 2009 
  • Pavia, Audrey (2003), Rabbits for Dummies, New York: Wiley, ISBN 0-7645-0861-X 
  • Harriman, Marinell (2005), House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit, Drollery Press, ISBN 978-0-940920-17-0 

External links[edit]