Rabbits make great pets–as long as you do your research

Bunnies are cute! This is true. Many people consider them to be easy cage pets ready for your attention when you want to give it. A bunny can live this way, but it probably won’t be very happy. You don’t want an unhappy bunny, do you?

I’m here to help you reconsider what you know about domestic rabbits. Why am I credible though? I’ve kept a happy and healthy bunny for 5 years, since he was a wee 9-week-old. I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do with rabbits. Most of this is because I plunged myself into books and online resources. The rest was getting to know my bunny. His name is Maximilian. We usually just call him Bun, Ribbit, or Fluffy Baby. He has many more names…

Rabbits are not beginner level pets. I said it. They are also not good pets for young children. I know your 4-year-old loves bunnies and wants a fluffy friend but give them a toy bunny instead. Rabbits are fragile, easy to scare, and improperly handling them can lead to injury and death. You can prevent a tragic death like this by not purchasing that cute Easter bunny for your kids. Wait until they are old enough to learn how to gently handle an animal and as always you are the adult and you are fully responsible for your animal’s care, not your children.

I digress. Apart from my warnings let me tell you what a gift it is to have a rabbit. My rabbit does not like to be picked up but he is still a snuggle bunny. Maximilian will hop up to me and demand my attention with little boops on my ankles. I’ll sit down with him next to me and he’ll rest his little chin on my knee. He likes gentle scritches above the nose and behind the ears. He does this thing with his teeth slowly that’s kind of like the rabbit’s version of a cat’s purr. He nudges me when I stop petting. He loves to share banana treats. He will always beg for more sitting up on his back feet. Sometimes when he naps in the afternoon I’ll catch his fluffy little feet pitter-pattering in his dreams. When we get ready for bed at night he is so excited for his pellets that he honks loudly while running his bunny 500. He is one of my greatest joys.

Thinking about bringing a little joy to your home? Here are my suggestions for a first-time bunny owner.

Your space

Your home is your bunny’s home. Or it should be. Domestic rabbits belong in the house. The outside world is fraught with predators and poor weather conditions. It can also be terribly isolating.

A cage is a temporary home for a rabbit, not a permanent living space. They need plenty of space to run and jump and hide. They can’t do this in a 2 by 2. Kennels (or cages) are, however, excellent little home bases for the rabbit. Think of it as their bedroom. It should be their space where they feel safe. In their bedroom they need:

  • A litter box
  • A water bottle or dish
  • A hay rack or feeding bin
  • Toys
  • Something soft for their feet like a towel

The more time they spend in their kennel the more enrichment and space they need. Maximilian “goes to bed” every night in a medium sized (for dogs) kennel. He is an 8 pound bunny and his kennel is sized for dogs approximately 20-45 pounds. I put him up at night because he can be mischievous. He once got behind our refrigerator and tore open the water hose to the ice maker. Not a good night.

Consider letting your bunny have the run of a whole room or better yet your entire house or apartment. The more space they safely have access to the better. This means you must rabbit-proof your space (there are lots on great resources on this like The House Rabbit Society). Go with what is practical for you and your housemates. If you are bringing a bunny home for the first time confine her to one room so she doesn’t get too overwhelmed.

Your budget

Rabbits can cost a lot more than you think. I spent about $400 last year on vet visits and medicine alone. Maximilian had an ear problem and although it didn’t cause him much pain or harm from what I could tell it still needed to be addressed. It took a long time to sort it out and I even changed vet offices.

Rabbits do need to see the vet. They should go about once a year and as needed. When you bring home a new rabbit let them adjust to their new home and them take them to the vet for a wellness check-up. A simple online search should yield local results for vets with experience in rabbit care. Do not take your rabbit to a vet who doesn’t treat rabbits. They have unique bodies and a vet who treats cats and dogs is obviously educated but not appropriate. Did you know that rabbits are physically incapable of throwing up? They also cannot fart. How do you feel about that? I for one am pretty happy knowing this. Rabbit farts would be hilarious though.

Rabbits need to be spayed or neutered. They have a high rate of reproductive cancers and there are already SO MANY rabbits in shelters. As cute as they are, we don’t need to introduce more rabbits to the world and children can learn about the wonders of birth on YouTube on other sources.

Budget for:

  • A sturdy, good-sized kennel
  • Cleaning products for the kennel/litter trays (be very careful and do not use caustic chemicals!)
  • Yearly and emergency vet visits
  • Spaying/neutering costs (check your local pet shelter for low-cost options or get yourself a critter who is already snipped)
  • Lots of hay (try Chewy.com or your local pet store)
  • Simple, no-frill feed pellets for young rabbits (restrict pellet feed for rabbits older than about 6 months)
  • Enrichment toys (this can be super cheap thankfully)
  • Litter for the litter boxes (this one always gets me right in the wallet)

Your time

Most rabbits love attention. They can be like cats sometimes though. One day they barely acknowledge you and the next day how dare you not pet them? Ideally, rabbits will have friends who are other rabbits and not just goofy humans. My bun is an only bun and it would be difficult to introduce another rabbit into our household at this point. You are not a bad person for keeping one rabbit.

Do consider a pair if you can afford it and have the space. They can keep each other company while you are away. Be careful though. You can’t just go out and get two random rabbits, put them in the same cage, and expect them to get along. They are like people. Some don’t get along. If you are acquiring a bonded pair of rabbits then congrats! The hard work is already done for you. If not, do not despair. Keep your rabbits separate at first. Make sure they have their own “bedrooms” and litter boxes. They can get territorial. The best match is generally a spayed female rabbit and a neutered male rabbit.

As you might guess, since I have only one rabbit, I do not have experience in bonding. 101 Rabbits has an excellent video on this subject:

Your personality

There are many types of rabbits. When I was looking for my rabbit I picked Maximilian because he was the first rabbit who came back to sniff my hand after I picked him up and set him back down. I felt like he chose me.

Rabbits come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, and attitudes. Some have droopy ears (lops) and others, like Maximilian, have ears that point straight up:

Here he is!!!! The Bun, the Myth, the Legend, Maximilian with Santa Paws.

My point is that no two bunnies are exactly the same. Most are quite intelligent, especially with puzzles, and especially when treats are at stake. I find it easy to get along with rabbits. My rabbit naps all afternoon and when I get home he comes running to greet me when I call for him. If you’re seeking a non-traditional fluffy companion the rabbit is a good option. If you hate messes and cringe at the sight of a litter box, bunnies are probably not for you. That’s ok. Keep looking for your companion.

Funnily enough, I think rabbits consider themselves to be very tidy. They do seem to want everything to be in perfect order. To my dismay, Maximilian will topple over his potty on occasion and he thinks it’s great. I strongly disagree. But it’s hard to talk to a rabbit and even harder to discipline them. They don’t understand punishment and it’s not nice or helpful. It’s much better to reinforce good behavior by giving them something they like or petting them softly and saying kind words.

If you want a pet rabbit, go out and meet some bunnies. Get to know them a little. Give them a chance. Everybody has a personality and everybunny has one too.

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