Rabbits can make great pets, but they require a gentle touch, good knowledge of proper care and plenty of attention. Here’s what to consider before adopting a rabbit.
- Are you in it for the long haul? Healthy rabbits can live for more than 10 years, so a rabbit may be with your family for as long as a dog would and could require a similar amount of care and attention.
- Do you have children? Rabbits require safe, gentle handling and a quiet environment. As prey animals, they can be easily startled and stressed by the loud noises and fast, uncoordinated movements that are typical of excited children. Rough handling can lead to serious injuries like spinal fractures, and scared rabbits can deliver a painful bite to your child. You may need to wait until your kids are older before bringing a rabbit home.
- Where will you keep your rabbit? You'll need space for a fairly large cage, plus at least one room in your home that has been thoroughly rabbit-proofed. Outdoor hutches are only safe if predator-proof and in certain climates, and relegating a bunny to the basement or garage won’t give them the stimulation they need. Outdoor rabbits must be safely enclosed in the evening.
- Are you willing to do your research? The care and feeding of rabbits is often more complicated than people think. We encourage you to consult resources like the House Rabbit Society, or a current rabbit care manual, before adoption.
- Can you meet your bunny’s needs? You’ll need to:
- Tidy your rabbit's enclosure every day—and clean it thoroughly once a week. Many rabbits can be litter trained, but they produce a lot of waste.
- Provide fresh vegetables, which are part of a healthy rabbit diet, and an unlimited supply of hay.
- Give your rabbit at least an hour outside of their cage each day for play and exercise.
- Interact with your bunny regularly so they stay socialized and happy. (Note that rabbits generally sleep during the day and night and are most active at dusk and dawn.)
- Find a rabbit-savvy veterinarian for annual check-ups and emergencies.
Finally, consider the financial costs of caring for a rabbit. In addition to an adoption fee and ongoing veterinary costs, you’ll want the following items in your rabbit starter kit:
- Large cage or habitat, or supplies to build your own (the House Rabbit Society recommends at least 8 square feet, with more for exercising); wire floors on caging are not appropriate—they can injure a rabbit’s sensitive feet
- Water bowl or bottle
- Litterboxes and litter
- Chew toys
- Timothy hay (or other grass hay) for adults; alfalfa hay if under one year of age
- Timothy hay pellets
- Occasional fruit/treats
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Where to get a bunny
So you’ve decided a rabbit is the right pet for you—congratulations! But where should you get your new companion?
Just like dogs in puppy mills, rabbits are often kept in deplorable conditions when they're bred for pet stores to sell. Instead of buying a bunny, why not adopt?
To find rabbits at a local animal shelter or rescue, search online (try Petfinder.com). To locate a rescue group that specializes in rabbits, ask your animal shelter for recommendations or search online through the House Rabbit Society.
Benefits of adopting a bunny
Staff and volunteers at shelters and rescues keep bunnies socialized and healthy. Their hands-on experience will enable them to help you choose the right rabbit for you. They can also provide detailed information on bunny care and behavior and answer your questions.
If you already have a rabbit and are looking for a companion, some rescues will let them meet before adoption to ensure a good match.
Adoption fees vary, but the package may include a certificate for a free vet visit or a reduced cost spay or neuter surgery (if your bunny isn't already sterilized).
Buying a rabbit from a breeder
If you've looked at all the local animal shelters and rabbit rescue groups and still haven't found "The One,” you might be wondering how to identify and locate a reputable bunny breeder.
Unsuspecting consumers often buy animals from so-called backyard breeders (people who breed pets to make a little money on the side). Because these breeders aren’t knowledgeable about genetics and good breeding practices, their rabbits might have health or temperament problems that may not be discovered until years later. Also, you may be supporting a business that does not have the animals’ best interests in mind.
You can find reputable breeders by asking for referrals from your veterinarian or trusted friends, by contacting local breed clubs or by visiting rabbit shows.
Always visit the breeder before buying
Don't buy a rabbit without personally visiting where he or she was born and raised. Take the time now to find the right breeder and you'll thank yourself for the rest of your rabbit's life. While you're visiting rabbit breeders, look for these basics:
- The rabbits should appear happy and healthy.
- The breeder's home and the rabbits' area should be clean, well-maintained and well-lit.
- The breeder should have a strong relationship with a local veterinarian and should provide records and references about their rabbits' care.
- The breeder should be able to explain common genetic problems.
- The breeder should be able to provide references from other families who have purchased rabbits.
- The breeder should be willing to serve as a resource and answer questions for the rest of the rabbit's life.
- The breeder should be involved with local, state or national breed clubs.
- The breeder should provide a written contract with a health guarantee and encourage you to read and understand the contract fully before signing. This contract should not require you to visit a certain veterinarian.
- The breeder should be just as tough on you as you are with them. They should ask questions about your experiences with other rabbits and other pets and ask for a veterinary reference. They should not sell through pet stores or other third parties that don’t allow them to meet prospective adopters in person.
Bringing your bunny home
Animals like routines, and changing environments can stress them out. By preparing everything ahead of time, you can help ease the homecoming process for your new rabbit.
Here's a quick checklist for what to do before you bring home your bunny:
- Set up a “rabbitat” in a quiet, out-of-the-way area. Provide one or more litterboxes, rabbit-safe litter, water bowl or bottle and safe chew toys.
- Rabbit-proof any areas of your home to which your rabbit will have access (and always supervise them when they're not contained). You might want to use a metal puppy pen to create a safe and contained area.
- Tuck wires and cords out of sight.
- Remove toxic plants.
- Swap out things you don’t want your bunny to chew for rabbit-safe toys (grass mats, pieces of cardboard).
- Make sure other household pets cannot get into the rabbit area. Dogs and cats often do not mix well with rabbits!
- Ensure that outdoor areas your rabbit will be in are not treated with pesticides.
- Check with the shelter, rescue or foster home ahead of time to find out which types of hay and vegetables your rabbit really likes and have them on hand.
- Monitor your new rabbit companion closely for the quantity and character of stool production and appetite. A rabbit that is not eating is a medical emergency. Note: Rabbits produce soft stools in the middle of the night that they ingest for nutrients. If you are seeing these stools on their fur and in their cage it is abnormal, but don’t be alarmed if you see them eating them.
Try not to handle your rabbit too much during the first few days. You can start by sitting on the floor and letting them come to you. If you have other pets, let the newcomer get used to their new home before introducing everyone.
- Keep the environment as quiet as possible and make sure they have a place that is their sanctuary.
- If you already have one or more resident rabbits, keep your new rabbit separate from them until you can do introductions in a neutral location.
- If you're adopting multiple rabbits at once, keep an extra close eye on them. The stress from a change of venue can result in fights, even with rabbits who have been bonded for years.
Spay or neuter your rabbit. Rabbits that are sterilized live longer, make better companions, get along with others better, and do not produce unwanted litters.