Starting down the path to adopting a rabbit can be overwhelming. What kind of rabbit should I get? Am I the right person, and is my home the right kind of home, for a rabbit? We know you have lots of questions—don’t woory—we have lots of answers and advice.
Just like most babies of any species, baby bunnies chew on practically anything they can get their teeth on. There are two reasons for this: chewing helps build strong jaw muscles; chewing is how bunnies learn about their world.
Adult rabbits usually don’t chew as much as youngsters do, and when they do, they chew primarily because it is fun or because something tastes good, so young rabbits tend to be more destructive than adults.
Prior to puberty, most baby rabbits seem to be willing to let a person do almost anything with them, although they are, of course, high-energy creatures and refuse to be held for very long. Puberty hits between 2½ and 3½ months.
Males may seem “aggressively friendly,” seeking out anything that moves…and even things that don’t…to vent their sexual frustrations on. This is often misinterpreted as friendliness, but it can also result in the surprise of teeth and claws buried in flesh so the rabbit can hang on while giving the object of his affection “what for.”
Females may become very grumpy when puberty hits. We think of this as “bunny PMS.” Unfortunately, it tends to last until the female is spayed. Rabbits should be spayed or neutered as early as is feasible if they are to be house rabbits. This is for both behavioral and health reasons.
As teenagers, rabbits are highly energetic. Easily bored, they turn everything into an object of fun. Litter (and everything deposited in it) is thrown across the room as rabbits practice their digging skills. Towels, wood, and plastics are chewed up. Within hours, a rabbit can turn a neat, clean bunny space into a shambles.
Rabbits not only come in all shapes and sizes, but, more importantly, they come in all temperaments.
- There are rabbits who are very fearful of everything
- Rabbits who are fearful of people, but bold in exploring
- Rabbits who hate being picked up, but enjoy being petted
- Rabbits who beg to be petted
- Rabbits who beg to be picked up
- Rabbits who leap into human laps
- Rabbits who play practical jokes on people
Allergies, Dogs, and Children
Many people are allergic to rabbits, even if they aren’t allergic to other animals. Many animals are left at shelters because people don’t learn ahead of time whether anyone in the family is allergic to them. Please don’t contribute to this problem! Before getting any animal, find out if anyone in the home is allergic to him. In the case of rabbits, people may also be allergic to the hay, which is the most important part of their diet. You can determine your family’s allergic potential by visiting an allergist, or by spending time with rabbits.
Rabbits and well-trained dogs can live together (and rabbits and cats make great companions). Terriers and dachshunds often have strong instincts to kill small animals because they were originally bred for this purpose. Don’t risk the lives and well-being of rabbits by taking them into your home if you have dogs unless you have determined the dog is not a threat.
Rabbits are unsuitable as pets for young children:
- Children haven’t the size or physical dexterity to handle rabbits safely, nor have they the maturity to remember always to handle them properly. As a result, rabbits handled by young children often suffer injuries, the most common being a broken back.
- Most rabbits dislike being held after the age of two to four months.
- Children’s rapid movements may frighten them.
- Children may be bitterly disappointed when a bunny who accepted handling as a baby suddenly objects.
- Rabbits can and will inflict painful bites and scratches if they are frightened or forced to do something they don’t like.
- Rabbits are easily injured or killed by mishandling. Even adults must learn how to handle rabbits safely by always supporting the rump, above the tail, and young children should never be allowed to pick them up.
If you want a rabbit for the whole family, not just the children, and plan always to supervise children around the rabbits, it is better to get a large adult rabbit who has demonstrated he or she is willing to tolerate petting from children.
Never, under any circumstances, get living creatures on the basis that you will get rid of the animal if a child fails to care for them. No child can live up to the promise of taking care of animals for an indefinite period of time. It is cruel to the animal to be disposed of, as though her emotional pain when separated from those she has bonded to, is of no concern. If anything, this teaches a child you don’t take responsibility and that the child doesn’t have to, either. Such consequences should apply only to inanimate objects. (“We’ll get a book at the library, but if you don’t read it within two weeks, we’ll take it back and leave it.”) With living creatures, teach life-long commitment.
Be a role model to teach responsibility for living things to children. Say to a young child, “The rabbits are hungry. Let’s feed them.” Going with the parent makes it fun for children, especially when they are allowed to do more and more of the job themselves, with a parent helping, and praising their efforts, or commenting on how happy they have made the rabbits. With an older child, use a reminder if required (“The rabbits need their dinner now”) with some consequence (“You can’t eat supper until the rabbits have had theirs”); followed by a check to be sure the job has been done right.
One Rabbit or Two?
Rabbits are extremely social animals who need companions of their own kind – singles are very lonely. HRS recommends that rabbits have companionship of their own kind. Rabbits are most easily paired male-female, but they are very picky about mates since they bond deeply and for life. Female-female and male-male pairings are possible as well.
Rabbits must be altered to be good companion rabbits. Females who aren’t spayed may be cranky and hard to get along with, and have an 80% probability of developing uterine cancer by the age of five years. Males may spray and hump anything that moves. Spaying and neutering solve these problems, usually within days. Use only a veterinarian trained in the special techniques required for safe surgery on rabbits, and one who has a success rate of almost 100%.
Indoors or Outdoors?
It is as cruel to keep a rabbit in an outdoor hutch as it would be to keep a dog that way. Rabbits in hutches lack mental stimulation, which can cause them to become “furry vegetables,” living in a vegetative state not very different from being in a coma. These unfortunate rabbits usually receive very little affection, and may become psychotic leading people to label them as a “mean rabbit” – wouldn’t you become “vegetative” or “mean” in a similar situation?
If you want to keep your rabbit in a hutch, think about going out twice a day no matter what the weather, to give food and fresh water and getting nothing in return. Such rabbits become nothing but a chore for their people. Why would anyone choose to take on another chore with no benefit to themselves? People who keep rabbits in outdoor hutches usually end up asking a shelter or other people to take over their responsibilities. This is unfair to the rabbits and to the shelters, alike!
It is extremely dangerous to let rabbits run freely in a fenced yard. Rabbits who have done so safely for years almost always end up as tragedies. The excuse “But they love it so much!” is like saying, “My three-year old loves playing in the street, so in spite of the danger, I’ll let her. Even if she gets killed, she will have had a lot of fun.”
If rabbits must be kept outdoors, or if you really want them to have the pleasure of running around outside, they should have a chain-link run. Chicken wire does not protect from predators, which include cats, dogs, coyotes, fox, hawks, eagles, and raccoons (you may not see them, but they are literally everywhere). The chain-link should be buried a couple of feet to prevent rabbits digging out as well as preventing predators from digging in. The top of the run must be covered with chain-link or something strong. There must be at least one sturdy wooden box with a small entrance for rabbits to run into should they be frightened, so they won’t go into shock when a predator appears. In the winter, this box should be filled with straw to keep the rabbits warm.
It is far better to keep your rabbits in the house, preferably in a family room or wherever the family is most likely to be most of the time. The rabbits need a home of their own – we call them cages, crates or “rabbitats,” but the rabbits should feel this is a safe and pleasant place belonging to them. Rabbits are more easily litter-trained than cats and can gradually be given the run of the house if you follow the techniques found in articles about house rabbits on our website concerning litter and behavior training. Rabbits are easily trained to behave well in the house, but because they have a psychology quite different from dogs and cats, so you will need to learn the simple techniques needed to train them.
Rabbits make wonderful house companions! They are entertaining, affectionate, have unique personalities, and given time and patience, they become an integral part of the household.