What Does a Dwarf Rabbit Need?
In the UK, the rabbit is the third most common animal to be handed in to rehoming centres, which indicates that a lot of people don’t think long enough before getting one. They are usually handed in because an owner or the owner’s child has got bored of them, or the rabbit got bigger than expected and wasn’t as easy to handle as when it was a cute baby bunny.
Crucially, many people don’t realise that rabbits can live 12 years or more and 6-10 years is usual, so they are not a short term pet. Because you’re reading this, you are giving yourself a head start and are more likely to come to a well-considered decision as to whether you can care for a dwarf rabbit properly at the moment. If you decide to get a dwarf rabbit, please consider re-homing one (or two) from a rescue centre.
First decide whether you want your rabbit to live indoors as a house rabbit or in an outbuilding or outdoors. Rabbits can be housetrained and keeping rabbits as house pets has become more popular, but they are hardy too so outside is fine provided there is a snug and dry bed area.
A dwarf rabbit's cage or hutch should be tall enough to allow it to sit up on its hind legs.
Indoor Rabbit Housing
Indoor rabbits are usually kept in a cage with a plastic base as this is easily cleaned. If the rabbit is going to spend at least 4 hours free to roam around the house each day; an indoor cage 4 times the rabbit’s body length and tall enough for it to sit up on its back legs, will be adequate. The British Rabbit Council's minimum cage or hutch length recommendation is that the cage should allow a rabbit to do at least 3 consecutive hops which works out at about 4 times the rabbit's length. The average length of a dwarf rabbit is 8 inches so this means a minimum cage size of 40inches long 20inches wide and 12 inches high to accommodate a dwarf rabbit sitting up on its haunches.
If your pet dwarf rabbit is going to spend 1 hour or less out of its accommodation each day, a larger cage or a run will be appreciated. However I have kept mine indoors on the floor of a 5ft indoor aviary with rubber matting to protect the floor.
Outdoor Dwarf Rabbit Housing
Outdoor rabbits tend to have to spend more time in their housing then indoor rabbits and because they are also exposed to the weather, more thought must go into providing a suitable house for them. The rabbit hutch (usually 3 or 4ft long) is the traditional outdoor rabbit house, but it’s not surprising that many people found that a rabbit in a hutch was a dull pet – there isn’t a lot for a rabbit to do in a hutch. If you choose a hutch it either needs to be large – 4ft long or 2 storied and or have a permanent run attached on some paving stones or hard standing. Then you might have a separate movable run which the rabbit can go into out on the grass or a secure area of garden for it to run around in sometimes.
I've found that a small shed, with an area sectioned off for rabbit supplies and an area for the rabbit with a pop hole out to an attached run, works very well. My setup is pictured below.
Rabbit Bedding - whether indoors or out you will need some wood shavings for the base of the rabbit's cage of hutch and straw and or hay for bedding and munching on. Most dwarf rabbits choose a corner of the cage to urinate and do most of their droppings in so you can put a plastic litter tray in that spot with shaving in to make cleaning out easier.
Cold Weather Tip
Only fill a water bottle ¾ full in cold weather, because water expands when it turns to ice and if the bottle is full and it freezes it might crack.
Your rabbit must have access to water either in a heavy bowl which it can’t tip up, or a pet water bottle. If the water bottle is freezing up in a cold spell have two water bottles so that one is inside defrosting and one is out with the rabbit. In freezing conditions swap the bottles at least twice a day.
Plants Which Are Harmful for Rabbits
Anenomes, bluebells, buttercup, Elder, feverfew, Ivy, lobelia, poppies, spurge, tomato leaves and most evergreen trees or shrubs.
Dwarf Rabbit Food
Traditional rabbit food is muesli like with grains, sweet corn, split peas and a ‘biscuit’ element. However rabbits can be selective eaters and may reject bits and not get the nutrition they need, so a pelleted food – although it seems dull to us, is ideal to give your rabbit the nutrients it needs.
Hay – rabbits need a high fibre diet, so good quality hay is essential to keep their digestive system in good shape. Chewing hay also helps wear their teeth down.
Greens – If your rabbit has access to grass it will enjoy munching on that, otherwise a small amount of cabbage, a few dandelion leaves, some chickweed or some broccoli will usually go down well. Dandelions in quantity can be a diuretic, so don’t be over generous with them.
Fruit and Root Veg – these should only form a tiny part of your rabbit’s diet and can be omitted altogether. A rabbit’s digestive system is made for a high fibre, low sugar diet so, despite Bugs Bunny’s well known carrot addiction, are not ideal for a rabbit.
Dwarf Rabbit Health
Vaccinations: There are two fatal diseases which your dwarf rabbit should be vaccinated against, particularly if living outside in a rural area; Myxomatosis which needs a booster vaccination once or twice a year depending on the level of Myxomatosis in your area and Viral Hemorrhagic Disease, aka VHD, which requires an annual booster.
Maggot infestations: especially in the summer you need to pick up your rabbit, turn it over and check its rear end for soiling. Any rabbit poo which gets stuck to its bottom is a magnet for bluebottle flies to lay eggs in. The maggots will hatch and start eating your rabbit and kill it in as little as two days.
Coprophagy (poo eating): not a disease, but a natural function - rabbits produce two kinds of poo, the black round pellets which you will see in the hutch and a soft, mucusy, moist pellet which it usually eats as it poos it out. This sounds gross but is an essential part of the digestive process for the rabbit allowing it to digest more protein from its diet by processing its food twice.
Keeping your Dwarf Rabbit Happy
With the possible exception of house rabbits, your pet rabbit will spend most of its time without your company. Rabbits are sociable animals and would really appreciate more company then you are able to give.
A rabbit’s ideal companion is another rabbit. As recently as 15 years ago, vets were wary of neutering rabbits because the anaesthetics available made anaesthetising rabbits a particularly risky process. Modern anaesthetics mean that neutering rabbits is now common practice and a male and female pair of neutered rabbits will usually get on very well together. The next best option is a pair of female rabbits who are also likely to be compatible especially if introduced when young. A pair of neutered males are more likely to fight with each other, although can sometimes be kept together successfully. I kept a couple of neutered males in a group of 10 females, in an 8ft by 24ft pen, and they all got on well. Two rabbits only need slightly more space than one rabbit and cost wise can even work out cheaper because you are more likely to buy supplies in bulk. For example, you could buy a proper bale of hay from an agricultural feed store, rather than lots of expensive tiny bales from a pet shop. As a comparison I can get a bale of hay for £4.00 and it would last one rabbit at least six months working out at £8.00/rabbit/year or £16 for two rabbits. A £2.00 pet shop bale lasts one rabbit 2 weeks working out at £48/rabbit/year.
Can Rabbits and Guinea pigs Live Together?
This can work, but not everyone would recommend it. It’s worth thinking about it from the guinea pig’s point of view. Although weight wise guinea pigs are a match for a dwarf rabbit, rabbits are more agile and has powerful hind legs made for kicking. Guinea pigs are quite fast but not agile and have rather feeble legs. They are easily damaged by a rabbit which is feeling grumpy or even by a startled friendly rabbit which runs over the guinea pig by mistake.
Toys for Dwarf Rabbits
Dwarf rabbits will enjoy some natural toys a branch or log to gnaw on for example. Ash, willow and apple are all safe woods for your rabbit. They are agile so will happily access platforms via ramps or even without ramps, if you have a large enough pen you could provide a digging box which some rabbits really enjoy making use of. Tunnels are popular with most rabbits, and it is easier to find tunnels which suit the size of dwarf rabbits than to find tunnels big enough for the giant rabbit breeds.
They will enjoy making use of a ball which dispenses food as they nudge it along or you could use other types of puzzle food dispensers. You can get them especially for rabbits or but I have also used ones designed for dogs. (There’s often little difference other than the packaging!) They may make use of other balls or toys which they can throw around – but don’t clutter the hutch too much with them.
Dwarf Rabbit Breeds
There are two breeds of rabbit small enough to be considered dwarf.
The Netherland Dwarf Rabbit - a compact rabbit, with short ears, weighing under 2 1/2lbs. It comes in a wide range of colours including; Himalayan, marten sable, black, white with blue eyes or albino (white) with pink eyes, agouti, tortoiseshell, chinchilla and orange.
The Polish rabbit - a finer boned rabbit then the Netherland dwarf with a slightly smaller head and narrower shoulders. It should weigh under 2 1/2lbs according to the British Rabbit Council's standards, but can weigh up to 3 1/2lbs under American Rabbit Breeders' standards. It is available in much the same range of colours as the Netherland Dwarf.
These are the two breeds which this article will concentrate on.
As interest in smaller animals have grown, rabbit breeders have actively sought to breed smaller versions of some of the traditional breeds such as the Rex rabbit and Dwarf lop (note that the dwarf in dwarf lop relates to ear size not body size. So the Miniature Rex and the Miniature Lop are now officially recognised breeds. However, they are larger then the Polish rabbit and Netherland Dwarf.
Miniature lop - Mini lops should weigh less ten 3 1/2lbs and have a short coat. There are two breeds with a longer coat the Miniature Lion Lop and the Miniature Cashmere Lop.
Miniature Rex and Miniature Broken Rex - should weigh around 4lbs. Rex rabbits have a luxurious, very short, velvet-like coat.
Miniature Satin - an ivory coloured rabbit with a glossy sheen to the coat. The mini satin should weigh around 4 1/2lbs.
Find Rabbit Rescues and Rabbit Breeders near you.
- Rabbits for Adoption - Search & Adopt a Rabbit
Search Rabbits - View pictures, and read profiles of Rabbits for adoption near you.
- Rabbit Rehome - Adopt an unwanted bunny from a rescue centre
- American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc.
American Rabbit Breeders Association. The ARBA is an organization dedicated to the promotion, development and improvement of the domestic rabbit and cavy. With over 23,000 members throughout the United States, Canada, and abroad.
- The BRC - Welcome to the Official website of The British Rabbit Council
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.