Are you considering bringing home a pet rabbit? Rabbits can be intelligent and social companions, but they do require a person who's knowledgable about their needs. This guide can help get you up to speed on rabbit care, bunny behavior, and more.
Are rabbits a good pet?
Most bunnies truly enjoy human companionship. From watching TV at your side to playing with toys, pet bunnies will keep you amused with their engaging personalities.
Unfortunately, many rabbits don’t get to show this fun-loving side of themselves to humans. Often purchased at Easter for children, or on a whim because bunnies are cute, many rabbits are relegated to life in a small cage outdoors or in a garage, with minimal attention given to them. But with a little time, love, and proper care, rabbits can make wonderful, interactive pets.
Are rabbits good pets for kids?
If you have a hectic, noisy family life with kids, a rabbit might not thrive in your household. Rabbits prefer a quiet, calm environment.
Bunnies as pets can be fine for older children, but the children must be taught how to care for and handle bunnies properly. It’s not a good idea to get a pet rabbit for a young child or as a way to teach a child responsibility. Because the bone structure of rabbits is fragile, they can be seriously injured by mishandling. For that reason, an adult should always supervise when kids are interacting with pet bunnies.
Can you keep rabbits with other pets?
Bunnies are prey animals (rather than predators), so they prefer a calm environment. This means they might not ﬁt in well with a family that includes rowdy dogs and cats. With that said, some rabbits get along great with other pets — but only with constant supervision.
Cats, dogs, and rabbits sometimes become good friends. Contrary to expectations, the rabbit is often quite dominant over the cat. Careful control of your dog is necessary during early introductions, and you might not want to combine a rabbit with a dog who has any predatory instincts.
Adopting vs. buying a pet bunny
If you’re thinking about getting a pet rabbit, you’ve probably noticed that there are lots of bunnies for sale. But adoption is a much better option. There are rabbit rescue groups around the country that will help you select the right bunny for you.
Because rabbits are often purchased impulsively, many of them end up at rescue groups or in shelters when their people lose interest in them. If you adopt a rabbit, not only is it generally cheaper than buying, but you’ll also be saving the life of a deserving pet.
In addition, keep in mind that rabbits usually love the company of their own kind, so consider adopting a bonded pair of bunnies. To find a rabbit rescue group, visit the House Rabbit Society. You can also take a look at the adoptable rabbits available from Best Friends Animal Society.
Rabbit life span
Rabbits have a life span of around eight to 12 years. So if you plan to adopt a young rabbit, consider whether you can commit to caring for a bunny for that length of time. If not, think about adopting an older rabbit. Like many senior dogs and cats, older rabbits can still be active, but they are more settled. Even when they’re getting on in years, bunnies can enjoy the love of a family.
Many different breeds of bunnies are available for adoption from rescue groups, and there are also lots of mixed-breed rabbits available as well. At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, some of the most popular breeds that get adopted are lionhead, mini lop, mini rex, rex, lop, Dutch, English spot, and Hotot.
Rabbit care basics
Because rabbits are social animals, they require daily interaction and attention (which is why it's helpful to adopt a pair). They aren't happy languishing in a cage day after day. For several hours daily, they need time outside the cage to socialize, exercise, and explore. Also, to be comfortable with their people, they need frequent, gentle interaction.
Here are some key elements of rabbit care:
- Inside or outside: To control the temperature of the environment and to keep them safe from predators, rabbits should live inside. If allowed outside, rabbits must be in a predator-proof area and must be kept cool during hot weather. They must not be able to dig under fences, and they need to be protected from air attacks by birds and other predators.
- Cage or hutch: What sort of housing should pet rabbits have? Bunnies should be kept in a safe indoor rabbit cage (rather than a rabbit hutch outdoors). They also should be let out of their cage when you are home for exercise and socialization. Be sure to bunny-proof the space in which they're allowed to roam.
- Food: Rabbits have a fairly delicate digestive system. To obtain necessary nutrients, bunnies must be fed a varied diet — not just lettuce and carrots.
- Handling: Because bunnies are prey animals, it can be scary for them to be picked up and handled. So it's important to learn how to handle bunnies properly.
- Grooming: Another important aspect of rabbit care is grooming, which includes nail clipping. Because of their constant shedding, rabbits need to be brushed at least weekly to remove loose hair. Bunnies with longer fur, such as Angora and Lionhead rabbits, need brushing more often.
- Litter box training: Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, but the process is slightly different from that for cats.
Rabbits are intelligent and curious, and consequently a bored house rabbit can be a destructive and unhappy one. Digging and chewing are among their favorite pastimes, so rabbits need plenty of toys — both inside and outside the cage — to keep them busy.
Bunnies can also benefit from other forms of enrichment, such as clicker training. Read the story of Bodie, a rabbit at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, to find out how clicker training can help enhance a bunny’s life.
Vet care and rabbit spay/neuter
As with any pet, bunnies need to see a veterinarian for regular checkups. Because a rabbit’s system and needs are much different from a cat’s or a dog’s, for example, you’ll need a vet who is familiar with rabbit care.
You can also do your own wellness checks on your rabbit in between vet visits. Learn about the signs of a healthy rabbit and potential signs of bunny sickness. Some potential health problems in rabbits are bacterial infections, abdominal stasis, hairballs, malocclusion (overgrown teeth), heatstroke, and parasites such as ear mites and ﬂeas.
Furthermore, even if you adopt just one rabbit, you’ll want to make sure the bunny is spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering not only help to prevent unplanned babies, but they also can reduce the risk of cancer and minimize undesirable behaviors, such as fighting and spraying.