Rabbit Care Basics
Rabbits are very active, social, and playful animals that will form a close bond with other rabbits and with people— if the environment is right. Believe it or not, rabbits have feelings, too! So, knowing what to expect from a pet rabbit is an important consideration before purchasing one for yourself or for someone else. Rabbits have the potential to be wonderful pets, but it’s important to consider the lifestyle and physical capabilities of a potential pet rabbit owner.
The ideal owner is an individual or family with the space and time to dedicate to an active pet that enjoys cuddling and playing and requires a little bit of maintenance. With gentle handling, rabbits are generally quite tame, playful, and entertaining to watch.
Rabbit Interaction & Behavior
Rabbits require a lot of interaction with their owners or other rabbits. Daily playtime and exercise outside of their cage is necessary. Consider putting an exercise pen in an open area. These are ideal because they provide plenty of exercise space without giving the rabbit the option of exploring potentially life-threatening areas of your home. However, when not being directly supervised, they should be in their cage or crate.
Rabbits need to chew, so owners should make sure lots of safe chew toys are always available and that wherever the rabbit is allowed to run is carefully rabbit-proofed. Be sure to look out for dangerous electrical wires and extension cords, as rabbits will usually be destructive if deprived of attention and appropriate toys. Rabbits also need to be spayed or neutered by an experienced veterinarian—this will minimize your rabbit’s behavioral problems and health risks.
Though rabbits are generally quiet pets, they’re not a good match for active young children who may not be careful enough when picking them up or playing with them. In fact, rabbits would often rather not be held. Rabbits do like to be stroked, though! Depending on the temperament of your children, the addition of a rabbit to your farm/household may or may not be a smart decision.
Rabbits are animals of prey, so housing them outdoors is generally not a good idea. It’s best to keep your rabbit indoors. Their cage or crate should be at least three to four feet long and ideally a plastic dog crate to accommodate their tender feet (rabbits do poorly in wire-bottomed cages) with:
- Plenty of toys, like small chew treats
- A shelf onto which your rabbit can hop to maintain leg strength
- Ceramic food and water bowls
- Litter box lined with newspaper, filled with pelleted sawdust litter or grass hay (expect to change the litter box frequently to minimize odor)
Rabbits thrive on diets based on hay (timothy, oat, or orchard grass; avoid alfalfa hay). Additionally, rabbits need green leafy vegetables like lettuces (not iceberg), herbs, watercress, carrot tops, cucumbers, and sprouts. Limited amounts of commercial rabbit pellets are fine, but avoid pellets with dried corn or nut ingredients.
One of most significant threats to a rabbit’s health is a blocked digestive system, so water is the key to keeping things moving along. Be sure your bunny has plenty of cool, clean, non-chlorinated water at all times.
Rabbits may not need to see a vet for maintenance, such as toenail clipping or treating mites and fleas. However, it’s a good idea to check in with a vet now and then.
There are so many different rabbit breeds to choose from: lionhead, rex, mini rex, lop, mini lop, Dutch, English spot, and hotot, to name just a few. Adult rabbits can grow to various sizes and weights: from two (2) to twenty (20) pounds, depending on the breed. Their life expectancy is 5-15 years.
Purchasing Your Rabbit
Rabbits are often impulsively bought as pets during the Easter season. Unfortunately, many of these bunnies are neglected or given up for adoption because the purchaser didn’t realize that bunnies require as much care and attention as a dog or puppy. Avoid the impulse!
Nearby shelters or rescue organizations often have wonderful pet rabbits who need a second chance to find their forever home. Older rabbits will typically bond with new owners quicker than younger rabbits, so be willing to adopt any age.