So you’re thinking about getting a pet rabbit. After all, they’re cute, cuddly, and perfect for kids, right? Not so much. Rabbits aren’t easy pets, and there are a lot of complications to owning a rabbit. You should be aware of all of these things before you go out and get a new pet.
What should you know before adopting a rabbit? Owning a rabbit comes with special costs, limitations, care instructions, and lifestyle changes that you should be prepared for before adopting the animal.
It’s Better to Adopt Than Buy
Rabbits are common fare at pet stores, and can be bought pretty cheaply. If you want a pedigree rabbit, you may be tempted to go to a breeder and spend the extra cash for a particular breed or bloodline. However, there are tens or hundreds of rabbits at your local rescue that need to be adopted. These rabbits have been rescued from the wild or the streets, bad breeders, homes that couldn’t keep them, and many other places. Rabbit rescues typically have very limited resources and run off volunteers to keep them running. They need your help and support, and the rabbits there need your help as well. You can find rabbits of all ages, from kits to the elderly. These rabbits will have varied personalities, needs, and levels of training, so you have plenty of options to decide what rabbit will fit your lifestyle. Adopting a rabbit will not only help that rabbit find a better life, but it will help the rescue continue their work.
Rabbits Need to Be Spayed or Neutered
It’s very important to get your rabbit spayed or neutered. If you adopt your rabbit from a rescue, they may have already fixed it to help with adoption. If you get your rabbit from a breeder, it will likely be too young to get fixed yet and you will need to get it spayed or neutered yourself. While this process is fairly expensive, it will fix a number of behavioral issues as well as prevent unwanted breeding. Unfixed rabbits will exhibit behaviors such as:
- Fighting with other rabbits
- Spraying and urinating outside the litter box; both males and females will do this
- Showing mating and breeding behaviors when around other rabbits
- Marking and protecting “their” territory
Spaying or neutering will fix all of these behaviors except in rare cases. Spayed and neutered rabbits are also typically happier and healthier and will live longer.
Rabbits Live 10 or More Years
Rabbits are not a short-term pet. They shouldn’t be bought lightly as a gift for Easter or Christmas, as they live eight to twelve years if they are cared for properly. Some people are under the misconception that rabbits only live a few years like hamsters or other rodents, and will buy them as a pet for a child thinking that it won’t be a major commitment. However, rabbits require attention and maintenance regularly for the entire decade or so that they will live. You should only get a rabbit if you are sure you are in a situation where you can take care of an animal for that long.
Rabbits May Have Genetic Disorders
Just like any animal, rabbits have genetic disorders that can get passed down through poor or accidental breeding practices. Most people will not intentionally breed a rabbit with a genetic disorder, but in some cases people may be ignorant of them and think they are breeding a healthy rabbit. Examples of rabbit genetic disorders include:
- Genetic malocclusion
You may not know if your rabbit has a genetic disorder until later in its life when it begins to develop these health issues. Be prepared to spend extra time and money on a rabbit with a genetic disorder, as they usually need special care both at home and from a veterinarian. Older rabbits can also develop non-hereditary disorders such as arthritis, blindness, and deafness. If you aren’t prepared for those possibilities, you shouldn’t get a rabbit.
Kids and Rabbits Don’t Mix
Many people think that rabbits are a low-maintenance pet that’s cuddly and friendly, which would make them perfect for children. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rabbits need a lot of care and attention and have complex dietary needs. They’re also easily frightened, and the quick and clumsy movements of children may trigger their prey instincts. This means that even a child’s presence can cause stress and fear in the rabbit. Rabbits typically don’t like to be held or cuddled unless they are very close to the person, and sometimes not even then. Because they are prey animals, they don’t like the be trapped or touched by people who are much larger than them. Rabbits are best owned by adults with plenty of room in their house and few to no other pets. A busy household with kids and other pets is often going to cause anxiety problems in the rabbit due to the noise and the fear of predators. While you can make it work if you have other pets or children, you need to be careful to set boundaries and make it clear to the kids how to interact with the rabbit and what is okay and what’s not.
Rabbits Aren’t Outside Animals
You may think that because wild rabbits live outside, your rabbit can live outside too. After all, it must just be like letting a dog live outside in a yard, right? Not at all. Rabbits are very sensitive to temperature and can have heat stroke in temperatures as low as 80 degrees. They do slightly better in the cold, but will develop cold-related illnesses or die if left outside in temperatures below freezing. Rabbits will need large and sometimes complex hutches to replace the dens that wild rabbits live in so that they have shelter from the wind and weather. They won’t be able to forage for food on their own because domesticated rabbits are used to a different diet than wild rabbits. Not to mention the possible presence of predators such as dogs, hawks, and even cats. It’s much better and safer to keep your rabbit in your house where you can monitor it and maintain a consistent environment so your rabbit stays healthy.
You May Need to Litter Train Your Rabbit
Especially if you adopt or buy a younger rabbit, it may not know how to use a litter box and will attempt to use the bathroom all over its enclosure or your house. You will need to go through the process of litter training your rabbit just like you would litter train a cat or potty train a child. This is a process that can take days or weeks of training and will result in accidents around the house until your rabbit gets the hang of it. You should be prepared to go through with this process at least once but possibly more than once as some rabbits need to be retrained after a period of a few years. Different rabbits will take to the process at different speeds, and you may have to spend quite a while training your rabbit until it uses a litter box correctly.
Caring for Rabbits is Expensive
Rabbits need large enclosures, lots of toys and entertainment, as well as a fresh diet of grass, hay, vegetables, and occasionally fruits. All of this in addition to regular vet visits and any emergency or specialized visits on top of that can make caring for a rabbit very expensive. Spaying or neutering a rabbit can cost as much as $250, while regular vet visits can cost anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars depending on your area. Tooth trimming can also cost between $250-300, which some rabbits need done regularly. Not only that, but your rabbit will probably chew through many of your belongings such as laptop cords, clothing, and bags, all of which will need to be replaced. Be prepared to spend a decent chunk of change on your rabbit over its lifetime, and be prepared to spend time and energy as well.
Rabbits Need Specialized Care
The reason why rabbit vet visits cost so much is because not all vets are trained to take care of rabbits. You’ll need to find a specialist in your area or as close as possible to get the proper care for your rabbit. This includes checkups in addition to emergency visits. These vets usually know everything they need to take care of all your rabbit’s needs, but be careful not to get scammed. Even vets that are fully qualified to take care of rabbits will sometimes try to drive up prices because they are the only rabbit vet in the area or because they assume you don’t know the costs of the procedures. Always do research on the veterinarian and on the specifics of your visit before going in. This can save you a lot of trouble and money in the long run.
Rabbits Eat More Than Just Lettuce and Carrots
Despite what cartoons have told us, rabbits don’t live off a diet of fruits and vegetables. Instead, they eat large quantities of grass and hay to keep their digestive system moving at all times. This helps keep them healthy and flushes out any problems in their system. Rabbits should actually only eat about two cups of vegetables per 6 pounds the rabbit weighs a day, primarily dark leafy greens, and less than two tablespoons of fruit per 6 pounds every few days. It’s very important to provide enough hay for your rabbit; in fact, they should have unlimited access to it and you should make sure it doesn’t run out. Your rabbit will eat pretty much all day – it will even eat while using the bathroom! This is normal and won’t cause your rabbit to get overweight because of how low the calorie content in grass and hay is. On the other hand, if your rabbit eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, the high sugar and low fiber content will make them gain weight and have digestive issues.
Rabbits Shouldn’t Eat Pellets
Pellets are advertised by pet stores and companies as the proper food for your rabbit, but mature adult rabbits should eat few to no pellets depending on their diet. If you are providing enough grass and hay, you should be feeding your rabbit ¼ cup pellets or less per 6 pounds that your rabbit weighs a day. If your rabbit’s diet includes fruits and vegetables, you should be feeding them even less. Rabbits who eat primarily pellets rather than grass or hay will have digestive issues and become overweight due to the high concentration of calories and nutrients in pellets. Pellets are meant to be supplemental and not much else, and certainly shouldn’t be the core part of a rabbit’s diet. If fresh fruits and vegetables are available, these are much better than pellets and you can avoid them altogether.
Don’t Buy Treats
Even more important than not overfeeding pellets is not buying or feeding pet store treats such as yogurt drops. Yogurt is actually bad for rabbits because they can’t digest the dairy or the sugar in it, which can cause indigestion. Most rabbit treats have lots of added sugar and artificial ingredients, which can be bad for your rabbit’s health. It’s much better to buy organic fruits and vegetables and feed them to your rabbit in small amounts. Good alternatives to store bought treats include:
- Strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries
- Carrots, bell peppers, and broccoli
These options will be healthier and your rabbit will enjoy them more because fruits and vegetables are a natural part of a rabbit’s diet. Just make sure to feed in moderation as rabbits can still get bloated or sick due to being overfed fruits and vegetables.
Rabbits Are Social Animals
Your rabbit will need a lot of attention and interaction with you to be happy and healthy, including play time, treats, and quiet time in the same room. You should interact with your rabbit frequently and not put their enclosure in an out of the way place where you’ll never see them. If possible, you can let your rabbit free roam so that it’s able to spend time with you. However, even this may not be enough. Rabbits typically need more members of the same species to stay happy. Two rabbits are usually enough, but that doubles the cost and effort of what you may have thought you were getting into. However, for your rabbit to be truly happy it’s important to give it an adequate social group.
Not All Rabbits Are Friendly
Rabbits have a variety of personalities just like humans or any pet. Some rabbits may be friendly and enjoy sitting with their humans or even being held. However, some rabbits won’t like to be touched or held and may try to bite or otherwise fight back when you try. Some rabbits may be territorial and won’t let you near them or their enclosure. Some rabbits may even have a mix of traits and may allow some cuddling or closeness but not other behaviors. You should be prepared for your rabbit to have any personality so that you aren’t disappointed when they don’t turn out to be the stereotypically cuddly bunny.
Rabbits Are Easily Frightened
Rabbits are prey animals, which means they have a very strong aversion to anything that could possibly be a predator. This means that seemingly normal activities could scare or startle them. Some actions to avoid include:
- Moving too fast or too sharply
- Standing over them or reaching down at them
- Making loud noises
- Bringing large groups into the same room
- Chasing or following them
Once you know your rabbit you’ll know which of these things they can tolerate, or you can train them over time to get used to certain things. However, you should be prepared for your rabbit to be very frightened upon coming home for the first time and to be frightened of most new things.
Rabbits Can’t Travel
You shouldn’t get a rabbit if you travel or move often, or are planning to move in the near future. Rabbits do very badly with travel because they get stressed very easily and the enclosed space of a carrier combined with the strange scents and sounds will frighten them. Rabbits can develop health issues after travelling due to stress, so it’s best to avoid this whenever possible. This also goes for transporting your rabbit to the vet or to be boarded while you’re on vacation. Try to minimize the number of trips or make them as short as possible, and expect your rabbit to be unhappy for a little while after.
Rabbits Need Space
Rabbits can’t live in a small enclosure like most of the cages sold at pet stores. They need to have plenty of space, typically a minimum of 12 square feet. This can be in any dimensions, but you should try to have at least one side be 6 feet or longer. You can also try a tiered enclosure, with square footage on different levels and ways for your rabbit to get from one level to another. This is an appropriate amount of space for one or two rabbits, but any more will need even more space than that. On top of this, rabbits need to be let out of their enclosure frequently to free roam the house or yard while supervised. You should let your rabbit out at least once a day if possible, as even a large enclosure isn’t big enough for them to stay totally happy and healthy.
Rabbits Can Be Territorial
While territorial behaviors usually go away when a rabbit is spayed or neutered, they may still become defensive of their enclosure or certain areas of the house. You should be careful when entering or cleaning your rabbit’s cage, as it may get upset with you for changing things around. If a rabbit is spraying or getting territorial over a specific area, try spraying the area with white vinegar to get rid of their scent and discourage them from going back there.
Rabbits Are Very Active
Rabbits are very active animals and need a lot of exercise. Wild rabbits spend a lot of their time running and searching for food, and domesticated rabbits still have those instincts. Staying in an enclosure all day won’t get a rabbit the exercise it needs, and it may get overweight and unhealthy. Your rabbit needs to be able to run around the house or at least a large room once a day or more. If you are home and able to supervise it, you should let your rabbit out as much as possible so that it can run around and get the mental stimulation it needs from exploring. You should also expect to need to play with your rabbit to help burn energy and get it the exercise it needs.
Rabbits Get Bored Easily
Rabbits need a lot of stimulation from toys, exploration, and even dietary variety. Not getting this stimulation on a regular basis can result in your rabbit acting out in ways to get attention or self-soothe. Rabbits may chew on objects in their enclosures like litter boxes or beds. They may also try to chew on the wire or bars of their enclosure, which can injure their teeth. Bored rabbits outside of their cage may chew on wires or other objects, either to entertain themselves or as an attention-seeking behavior if they know they will get in trouble. Bored rabbits may grow lethargic or overeat because they are looking for stimulation. You should make sure you have enough entertainment for your rabbit both in and out of its enclosure.
Rabbits Chew and Tear
One of the main behaviors rabbits are known for is chewing. This isn’t a behavior that can be trained out of them the way that it can be trained out of a dog. A rabbit’s natural inclination is to chew because its teeth are constantly growing and need to be ground down. For the most part, they will chew on their food because of how frequently they need to eat. However, they also have the tendency to chew on just about anything else. No matter how many toys you provide them with, rabbits will still go for litter boxes, paneling, wires, papers, furniture, and anything else that’s available. They will just head for whatever is most interesting to them, and you’ll have a hard time stopping them. Be prepared to replace personal items unless you are incredibly careful or never let your rabbit out of its enclosure. Because it’s best for rabbits to have some time where they free roam, you’ll want to keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t chewing on anything dangerous or important.
Rabbits Love to Dig
Another behavior most rabbits naturally have is digging. Rabbits will try to dig in just about anything, including their litter boxes, carpet corners, and furniture upholstery. This may be prevented by providing your rabbit with other entertainment or dedicated places to dig, but for the most part it’s hard to stop them. Rabbits may dig in their litter boxes and scatter litter and droppings all over the floor, or they may chew into a piece of furniture and dig themselves a hole. Some of these situations can be prevented by properly rabbit-proofing your home, but others can’t. You should be prepared to clean up messes and damages due to digging.
Your House Needs to Be Rabbit-Proof
If you are going to have your rabbit out in your house, it’s very important to prepare the space before simply letting your rabbit into a room. You’ll want to make sure several things are taken care of before letting your rabbit out. For example:
- Hide or remove loose wires
- Block access under furniture
- Block off doors or closets
- Put away expensive items or electronics
- Move clothes, curtains, and bags out of reach
This is just the start of the long process of rabbit-proofing your home, and you’ll find more as you let your rabbit out and discover where its curiosity will lead it. You should be prepared to change the landscape of your whole home if necessary to keep your rabbit safe.
Your Rabbit May Wake You Up
Rabbits aren’t active during the day or the night; they’re actually active mostly at dusk and dawn. This pattern is called a crepuscular schedule, and can result in your rabbit waking you up very early or keeping you up very late. You should keep in mind your rabbit’s schedule when planning yours, especially when it comes to planning time together. If you work a regular job, it may be convenient for you to get up at the same time as your rabbit and then spend time with it in the evenings when you get home. However, if you work different hours such as second or third shift and you don’t want to be woken up every morning or evening by a wide-awake pet, a rabbit may not be the right one for you.
Don’t Bathe Your Rabbit
Rabbits should never be bathed, and the shock of the water and having wet fur can actually seriously harm them. Never use water when cleaning a rabbit; at most you should use a damp cloth to remove sticky fruit juice or other liquids. Instead, you should groom your rabbit at least every three days by brushing their fur and removing all the excess hair to prevent hairballs. If your rabbit allows you to, you should also look at their underside to check for droppings and urine secretions and clean out any debris such as hay or dirt. This is a habit you’ll need to practice regularly to make sure your rabbit is healthy and clean. It’s also good bonding time for the two of you, and the brushing will make rabbits who like being petted very happy.
Rabbits Poop A Lot
It’s not uncommon to see a rabbit produce a hundred or more pellets of poop in a day. Rabbits are constantly eating and their digestive system is constantly moving, which means they poop quite a bit. This doesn’t mean that rabbits can’t be litter trained or that they will poop everywhere; it just means that you should be prepared for regular litter box cleanings and the occasional accident if a rabbit is too far away from a litter box. You will probably need to clean your rabbit’s litter box every day to every two days in order to keep it clean. Rabbits may also poop as a form of marking territory, though this usually goes away with spaying or neutering.
Rabbits Eat Their Poop
It’s common and completely healthy for rabbits to eat their own poop. A rabbit’s digestive system works so quickly that it’s not able to absorb all the nutrients the first time around, so rabbits will take a softer than usual poop called a cecotrope. This piece of feces is meant to be eaten so that the rabbit can re-digest the food and absorb all the nutrients. The hard pellets you see during the day are the product of this second round of digestion, once all the nutrients have been absorbed. It may be gross, but it’s nothing to worry about. However, a rabbit shouldn’t be eating the poop of other animals.
How expensive is it to get a rabbit? Pet stores will charge up to $50 while rescues may charge as low as $20. Breeders may charge hundreds of dollars for rare rabbits.
Is a rabbit a good gift? Not unless you know the person is ready and able to care for a long-term pet with complex needs. Rabbits aren’t a minor commitment.
What kind of home is good for a rabbit? Rabbits need lots of bunny-proofed space with few other pets and children around.