Do you have an indoor pet rabbit that you let out to play with every day?
Most rabbits eagerly hop downstairs to get to their play space and back upstairs to get their favorite treats.
Healthy rabbits can hop up and down stairs. But that does not mean that going up and down stairs is healthy for your rabbit.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about rabbits and stairs. We’ll start with the surprising facts about rabbits and climbing.
Then we will tell you about safety concerns for rabbits on stairs, how to keep rabbits off stairs, and what to do if your rabbit takes a tumble off the stairs. Then we will answer some frequently asked questions about rabbits and stairs.
Rabbits Love to Climb
If you have ever tried to keep rabbits out of your vegetable garden with a non-electrified fence, you probably have discovered that rabbits love to climb.
The first time your pet rabbit tries to go down stairs, as in the linked video, it will probably be hesitant.
Your rabbit will come up to the edge of a step, sniff at it, and back away. It will look for another way down. It may look up as if to say “Can’t you just carry me downstairs?:”
This may go on for several minutes.
If you patiently encourage your rabbit to start its journey, it will eventually move ever so cautiously to the first step.
The rabbit will probably look up at you as if to say, “What? I have to do this again?” In another minute or two, however, it will hop down to the next level.
Once rabbits learn that they can climb, they usually love to climb.
Once your rabbit has learned how to go up and down stairs, you will have to make sure that it does not apply those skills to escaping its pen or play area, exposing itself to danger.
You will need to make sure the rabbit fence is as tall as your rabbit is long.
If you have a dwarf bunny, a 2-foot (60 cm) fence or rabbit gate will be tall enough. To keep a Flemish Giant inside, however, you may need a fence that is 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall.
But you need to rabbit-proof your stairs before you let them use the stairs at all.
Also read: Why do Rabbits Dig at Your Clothes?
Rabbit-Proofing Your Stairs
Rabbits have fragile bones. They can suffer serious and sometimes even fatal injuries going up or down stairs.
Rabbits need traction to go up and down stairs safely.
A rabbit ordinarily won’t slip and fall on carpeted stairs. Polished wood, tile, and concrete may not give your rabbit enough traction to hop up and down stairs safely.
There needs to be some kind of solid barrier along the sides of the stairs.
A rabbit can slip between the ballisters (the poles at the sides of a staircase that hold up the handrail). Don’t let a rabbit on a staircase that doesn’t have protection on both sides.
It is also important to consider that your rabbit is safer on a short staircase than on a tall staircase.
Suppose worst comes to worst and your rabbit falls down the steps or off the side of the staircase.
For most rabbits, a fall of up to about three feet (about a meter) won’t result in serious injury. That is, unless your rabbit is a kit dropped by its mother or a dwarf-breed rabbit.
A rabbit can safely fall about as far as it can jump.
Hopping down two or three steps from your deck to your backyard or from one level of your home to another is generally safe. Going from the second floor of your house to the ground floor of your house requires safety precautions.
Of course, what protects your rabbit also protects your other pets as well as children and seniors in your home.
How Do You Keep Rabbits Off Stairs That Are Not Safe for Them?
The best way to keep rabbits off your stairs is the same method you use to keep toddlers and small children off your stairs:
Install a baby gate.
Make sure the gate is tall enough that your rabbit cannot jump over it. Jumping over the gate and onto the stairs can be disastrous.
Don’t leave a gap between the baby gate and the first step it protects.
Rabbits love to explore. They will be motivated to play on the gap between the baby gate and the first step if they can see there is a gap.
For the same reason, never allow rabbits on stairs that have pulled away from the floor. They are not safe for your rabbit, and they are not safe for you, either.
What to Do If Your Rabbit Falls Off or Down the Stairs
When a rabbit falls three feet (about a meter) or less, it usually will not be injured.
If your rabbit is one of the smaller breeds, such as a Dwarf Hotot, a Netherland Dwarf rabbit, a Mini Lop, a Miniature Lion Lop, a Plush Lop, a Mini Rex, or a Teddy Dwarf rabbit, you should keep an eye on it for several hours.
Monitor your rabbit for symptoms of pain and discomfort.
Because revealing injury makes rabbits vulnerable to predators, rabbits instinctively hide their pain. A rabbit in pain may hide under the furniture, or withdraw to a corner of its cage. It may be unusually lethargic.
Only rabbits in really severe pain will vocalize.
Loud grinding of the teeth indicates moderate pain. When a rabbit screams, it is in unbearable pain.
The best thing to do for a rabbit you have seen taking a fall that seems to be in pain is to take it to the veterinarian. Do not give your rabbit any kind of pain reliever intended for humans. These products can be fatal to rabbits.
Also read: Can Rabbits Fit Through Small Holes?
Special Considerations for Obese Rabbits
Increased Risk of Injury
In obese rabbits, there is an increased risk of injury when attempting to navigate stairs.
Their excess weight makes it harder for them to maintain their comfort and balance while exploring stairs, especially if the surface is slippery.
Falls can be more dangerous for these rabbits, as their added weight increases the impact and potential for pain.
Additionally, their fragile bones may be at greater risk of breaking due to the extra stress.
Exercise and Weight Management
Obese rabbits can benefit from regular exercise and weight management in order to reduce the risks associated with navigating stairs.
By losing weight, they are more likely to maintain their footing and avoid falls while exploring higher locations.
Some steps you can take to help your rabbit lose weight include:
- Providing a healthy diet, rich in hay and low in high-calorie treats
- Ensuring they have plenty of room to move around and explore, both in their living area and in a safe, supervised environment outside of their cage
- Keeping them active with toys, tunnels, and other activities that encourage physical movement
It’s important to remember that every rabbit is unique, and the best solution for your obese rabbit may vary depending on their individual needs.
Speak to a veterinarian for personalized advice on weight management and exercise for your rabbit.
Frequently Asked Questions About Rabbits and Stairs
Q. Can baby bunnies go up and down stairs?
A. A rabbit needs to be about four months old before you let it go up and down stairs. By that age, your rabbit has grown enough that its bones are not excessively fragile.
However, it’s better to wait until your bunny is six months old before it uses the stairs, because of the risk of hip dysplasia.
Hip dysplasia is a condition in which the cartilage around the hip joint is not fully formed, so femur slips out of the ball and socket joint.
This condition can be very painful for your rabbit. It becomes permanent. It’s worse if your young rabbit is on a high-protein, high-calcium alfalfa hay or alfalfa pellet diet.
Let your rabbit reach its full adult size before you have it going up and down stairs. Carry baby bunnies between levels of your house.
Q. Do rabbits ever get too old to go up and down stairs?
A. Any rabbit more than four years old may develop arthritis. Signs that your rabbit has arthritis include difficulty getting up and down stairs, straining to reach a food or water bowl, or staying in one place.
Rabbits that have arthritis still eat, drink, pee, and poop, but they may want to stay in one place to do those things. Because they spend less and less time outside their hutch or their cage, they become depressed.
The solution to this problem is to make sure your rabbit does not have to go up and down stairs or even a ramp to reach its food and water bowl, playspace, and litter box.
All of these problems are worse when your rabbit is overweight. Give your rabbit unlimited hay, but avoid high-sugar vegetables and fruit.
Q. Does going up and down stairs cause bumblefoot?
A. Bumblefoot, a condition for which the technical term is ulcerative pododermatitis, is an inflammation of the part of your rabbit’s hind legs that rests on the ground.
It’s a bacterial infection. The infection starts producing no more than a little redness and inflammation. If you don’t treat it, the leg can become covered with sores.
Going up and down stairs does not cause bumblefoot, but rabbits that have bumblefoot should not go up and down stairs. Keep the floors of their hutch and playspace clean, wash the foot with antibacterial soap, and ask your vet about antibiotic treatment.
Q. What can I do if my rabbit seems to be in pain after going up and down stairs?
A. Rabbits sometimes need ramps to move between different levels of their hutch or your home. This gives your rabbit a chance to recover.
Giving your rabbit some willow bark or a willow stick to chew on relieves pain in two different ways.
Rabbits chew things to distract themselves from pain. And the willow bark contains salicin, a compound similar to aspirin, which functions as a natural pain reliever.
You should give rabbits one willow stick at a time. Like aspirin, the salicin in willow bark can encourage bleeding if your rabbit suffers an additional injury.
Q. Do rabbits land on their feet?
A. When rabbits intentionally jump over an obstacle, they land on their feet. They will spread their legs, so the force of impact is not greater on one leg than all the others.
However, rabbits aren’t like cats. They do not have a righting instinct. They do not instinctively land on their feet when they fall.
A rabbit that falls off the stairs or falls when it is panicked may land on its neck or head. Even if it lands on its feet, it may damage its leg bones and spine.
Don’t assume your rabbit is uninjured just because it lands on its feet.
Q. If my rabbit can’t go up and down stairs, should they get no exercise at all?
A. All rabbits need exercise! Rabbits with arthritis still need play time, but they should not have to go up and down stairs or a ramp to get to their playspace.
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