Perks & Pitfalls of Rabbits: An Honest Guide

Are you thinking about a rabbit as a house pet? Are you wondering if rabbits are friendly? We’re so glad you’re researching rabbit care before making a decision. Perhaps you’ve heard a few of the myths about rabbits: they’re good starter pets, they’re great for children, or they are low-maintenance pets.

Caring for bunnies in the house involves a significant amount of time and thoughtful attention, as well as a heap of knowledge and patience. From their space requirements to their need for socialization and bunny-proofing, there’s more to these fluffy companions than meets the eye. Still interested? Read on to discover the many joys and frustrations of adding a rabbit to your home.

The Perks of Companion Rabbits

Here at Foundation, we love rabbits and believe they make phenomenal indoor companions. It’s like having a nature show taking place in your living room. If you enjoy observing and understanding the behaviors of another species, have ample time to spend at home, feel comfortable sitting or laying on the floor, and are not excessively particular about your furniture, you may be a genuine bunny person in the making. Here’s what’s to love about house rabbits.

Rabbits are social and intelligent

Rabbits are both social and intelligent creatures. They thrive on social interaction and can form strong bonds with their human caregivers and other rabbits. Rabbits are also highly intelligent. They can learn a variety of behaviors and commands, much like dogs and cats. With patience and positive reinforcement, rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, come when called, and perform tricks. They’re also skilled at navigating their environment and can remember complex pathways to their food, water, and resting spots. They enjoy long-term chewing and digging projects, as well as occasionally teasing other animal companions. They are so clever that they often outsmart even the most experienced bunny caregivers.

Rabbits are quiet

Rabbits are quiet companions, especially compared to dogs and cats. Bunnies don’t bark or meow, and while they can make some noises, such as gentle thumping, soft grunting, these sounds are very low in volume. Rabbits communicate more through body language than vocalizations, making them suitable for those who prefer a quieter companion. However, they can make noise by moving around in their enclosure, tossing their food bowl, digging, or chewing, so they’re not completely silent.

Rabbits can be litterbox trained

Rabbits naturally prefer cleanliness and usually choose a specific spot for their waste. By placing a litter box in their chosen spot, you can easily train your rabbit to use it, eliminating concerns about them making a mess throughout your home.

Just remember that spaying/neutering is a prerequisite for litter training. Unaltered rabbits will mark their territory by spraying urine and scattering droppings. Fortunately, if you adopt your bunny from a reputable rabbit rescue, they will already be spayed or neutered. If you end up with an unaltered rabbit, it’s a must to have them spayed/neutered by a rabbit savvy vet.

Rabbits are clean

Rabbits are exceptionally clean creatures. They don’t sweat, have dander, or have a noticeable body odor. As herbivores, their droppings are not strongly scented either. The only aspect of rabbits that may emit a noticeable odor is their urine, due to its high ammonia content. Daily litter box maintenance will keep odors to a minimum.

Rabbits are Naturally Soft-Hearted and inherently gentle

Rabbits, being prey animals, are inherently gentle. Initially timid, they warm up to friendly nudges for treats or pets once comfortable. Unlike dogs, they won’t leap on you, nor will they unexpectedly and randomly swipe in annoyance like some cats. Rabbits may act out if scared or cornered, yet aggression isn’t their go-to. Rabbits generally are kind and gentle creatures. Unfixed rabbits can get territorial, which is another reason to spay or neuter.

Rabbits live a long time

Surprisingly, pet rabbits can live between 7-and 14 years, although their lifespan can differ depending on the breed, if they are spayed/neutered, and (of course) kept indoors. Unlike other small animals, a well-cared-for bunny is likely to be your companion for a decade. Lucky you!

Rabbits are adorable and fun

Rabbits are not only adorable with their soft fur and twitching noses but also bring a lot of joy with their playful antics. They have a unique way of expressing happiness, such as performing joyful jumps and twists known as “binkies,” which can be incredibly entertaining to watch. They also do speedy loops around the room that we bunny people call “zoomies.” Their curiosity and playful nature can turn ordinary moments into delightful experiences as they explore their surroundings, interact with toys, and engage in games with their human companions. Watching a pair of rabbits explore, nibble, and hop around can provide endless amusement and comfort, making them wonderful pets for those who appreciate the subtle and endearing ways rabbits express their fun-loving personalities.

The Pitfalls

OK. You knew we’d eventually have to bring up the pitfalls. The negatives aren’t as much fun to talk about, but they are incredibly important to be clear about before deciding to make a 10-year commitment to a bunny housemate. Many people expect rabbit care to mirror that of other small animals such as hamsters or mice, only to find rabbits demand much more time, space, attention and responsibility.

Rabbits chew on everything. We really do mean EVERYTHING

Chewing is a completely normal, natural, and necessary activity for rabbits, and it’s also something they find highly enjoyable. According to rabbit researcher and behaviorist Margo DeMello, the number-one reason people give to shelters and rabbit rescue groups for surrendering a rabbits is destructiveness. “She needs things to climb on, crawl under, hop on and around, dig into, and chew on. Without outlets for these physical needs, she may become fat or depressed, or may create jumping, chewing, or crawling diversions with your furniture [and baseboards.]”

Rabbits are fastidious, but they can make a mess

While rabbits are known for meticulously grooming, their neatness doesn’t prevent them from making a mess, especially in a domestic setting. For instance, their love for chewing can lead to scattered bits of chewed items and hay around their living area. They will nibble on everything from furniture to electric cords if given the chance, and one chance is all it takes for that computer cable to get chomped in two.

Furthermore, while spayed/neuetered rabbits are easily litter-trained, they sometimes scatter their droppings outside their litter boxes, especially if they feel their territory is being threatened or if they’re not spayed or neutered. Their playful digging behavior can also result in bedding or litter being flung out of their enclosures, creating a mess around their living space.

During their energetic playtimes, rabbits doing those cute “zoomies” might knock over their food and water dishes, spreading contents across their enclosure. Additionally, their shedding fur, especially during molting seasons, can contribute to the mess, requiring frequent clean-ups to maintain a tidy environment.

Most rabbits don’t like to be picked up, cuddled, or held

Most rabbits naturally prefer to keep their feet on the ground and may not enjoy being picked up, cuddled, or held. This preference stems from their instincts as prey animals; in the wild, being lifted off the ground typically signals danger, such as being caught by a predator. Consequently, even domestic rabbits often retain this instinctual fear.

When lifted or held, rabbits can feel vulnerable and scared, leading to attempts to escape, which can sometimes result in injury to either the rabbit or the person holding them. Rabbits may kick powerfully with their hind legs, risking spinal injuries for themselves or scratches and bruises for humans.

However, this doesn’t mean rabbits aren’t affectionate. They can express their fondness for their human companions in more grounded ways. Rabbits may enjoy sitting beside you, gently nudging you with their nose, or even hopping onto your lap on their terms. They also show affection through licking, a sign of grooming and bonding in the rabbit world.

Rabbits and young children can be a challenge

Combining rabbits and young children in the same household can present unique challenges, primarily due to the natural behaviors and needs of both. Rabbits are delicate creatures that require gentle handling and a calm environment, while young children, in their exuberance and curiosity, might not always understand the subtleties of rabbit care and behavior.

For example, a child’s instinct to hug, squeeze, or chase a pet rabbit can be terrifying for the animal, potentially leading to stress, anxiety, or even injury for the rabbit. Rabbits have fragile bones, especially in their spines, and rough handling or an accidental drop can result in serious harm. Furthermore, rabbits communicate their discomfort and fear in subtle ways that young children might not recognize, such as freezing, thumping, or trying to flee, which could lead to misunderstandings and mishandling.

Moreover, the quiet and sometimes reserved nature of rabbits might not align with the expectations young children have of a pet, leading to disappointment or reduced interest in the rabbit’s well-being. Children might expect a rabbit to behave like a dog or cat, seeking constant interaction and play, while rabbits require a lot of quiet time and can be most active during dawn and dusk, which might not coincide with a child’s playtime.

Rabbits need much more space than you think

Rabbits require a surprising amount of space to live happily and healthily, far more than the small cages often marketed for them. They are active and curious animals, needing room to run, jump, and explore to maintain their physical and mental well-being.

For example, consider a rabbit named Luna, who lives in a small cage by herself most of the day. Luna may become restless, bored, and even depressed due to the lack of space to perform natural behaviors such as hopping and exploring. Over time, this confinement can lead to health issues like obesity, muscle weakness, and even gastrointestinal problems due to reduced physical activity.

In contrast, providing Luna with a large pen or a bunny-proofed room where she can freely move around (and perhaps have a companion) can make a significant difference in her quality of life. This space should allow Luna to fully stretch out, stand on her hind legs without touching the top, and perform at least three to four consecutive hops (3-4 times her body length). Additionally, enriching her environment with tunnels, hideouts, and toys can stimulate her mentally, keeping her engaged and content.

It’s hard to find a qualified rabbit vet

Finding a vet experienced in rabbit care can be surprisingly challenging. Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits are considered “exotic” pets in the veterinary community, which means not all veterinarians are trained or experienced in their specific healthcare needs. Rabbits have unique anatomies and physiological needs, requiring specialized knowledge for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Furthermore, spaying or neutering, which is highly recommended for health and behavioral reasons, is more complex in rabbits than in many other pets. The surgery requires a vet who is not only skilled in performing the procedure but also understands the specific anesthesia requirements and post-operative care of rabbits to ensure their safety and recovery.

Due to these specialized needs, rabbit caregivers need to seek out veterinary practices that explicitly state they treat “exotic” pets or those that have a vet on staff with a particular interest in rabbit medicine. This search can be time-consuming and sometimes requires traveling further distances to access the right care, underscoring the importance of researching and finding a qualified rabbit vet before health issues arise.

Exotics veterinary care is expensive

If you are lucky enough to find a rabbit-savvy vet, the next frustration is likely to be the cost. Veterinary care for rabbits, categorized under “exotics,” can be quite expensive. This is primarily due to the specialized training and equipment required to treat these unique animals.

An example of expensive rabbit vet costs can be seen in the treatment of gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, a common and potentially life-threatening condition in rabbits. GI stasis occurs when the digestive system slows down or stops completely, leading to a buildup of gas and potentially harmful bacteria. Symptoms can include a lack of appetite, reduced fecal output, and lethargy.

Treating GI stasis often requires an urgent visit to a veterinarian experienced with rabbits, which might include emergency fees if it occurs outside regular hours. Initial examination and diagnostics, including X-rays or ultrasound to assess the severity of the condition and to rule out blockages, can be costly. The rabbit may need to be hospitalized for critical care, including fluid therapy to prevent dehydration, pain management, and medications to stimulate gut motility, all of which add to the expense.

Overall, the costs for treating a condition like GI stasis in rabbits can quickly escalate into many hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the condition and the required treatments, highlighting the need for rabbit owners to be financially prepared for such emergencies.

Rabbits have complex and expensive dietary needs

Rabbits have specific dietary requirements that, while not inherently expensive at the base level, can become costly due to the need for variety and quality. Their diet primarily consists of hay, a variety of fresh leafy greens, a small amount of pellets, and fresh water. However, the complexity and cost come into play when ensuring the diet’s diversity and nutritional balance.

Hay, which should make up the majority of a rabbit’s diet, needs to be of high quality and available in unlimited quantities. Timothy, orchard, and brome hays are excellent choices, but depending on geographic location and availability, the cost of these hays can vary significantly. In most urban or suburban areas, high-quality hay might be harder to come by or more expensive, especially if it needs to be shipped.

Fresh vegetables are another crucial component of a rabbit’s diet, providing essential vitamins and minerals. However, rabbits require a variety of vegetables daily, which means a constant supply of fresh produce is necessary. This can become expensive, particularly if opting for organic produce or purchasing vegetables out of season when prices are higher.

Pellets, while only a small part of the diet, should be high in fiber and low in protein and fat. High-quality pellets are typically more expensive but essential for maintaining a rabbit’s health. Additionally, treats, which should be given sparingly, often consist of fruits or specialty rabbit treats, adding another cost.

A Few Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Out honest guide to the perks and pitfalls of house rabbits, it’s clear that these furry companions bring a unique mix of joy and responsibility. From their quiet, affectionate nature to their playful antics, rabbits make fascinating pets that can light up your home. But remember, they’re not just cute faces; they need space, care, and attention to thrive.

Ready to dive into rabbit ownership? It’s a rewarding journey filled with learning curves, from mastering litter training to understanding their dietary needs. Yes, there’ll be challenges, like bunny-proofing your home and finding the right vet, but the bond you’ll form with your rabbit is worth every effort.

So, if you’re up for the adventure and ready to commit to their well-being, a rabbit could be the perfect addition to your family. Get ready for a world of binkies, zoomies, and cuddles!

Further Reading

©Copyright Paige K Parsons. All Rights Reserved. Republished with the permission of the author.

  • Paige K Parsons

    Paige has been a house rabbit educator for over 25 years. Her education efforts began when she designed and created in 1994. She is currently a live concert photographer and previously was a user experience designer. She lives with her husband, Carl, and her two house rabbits, Moe and Mimzy.

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