Thinking of adding a rabbit (or two!) to your family? Rabbits are the third most popular furry pet after cats and dogs. But with unique care needs and behaviours, they’re definitely not the same as cats or dogs! Here are 12 things to know before you bring a bunny home.
1. Rabbits are a long-term commitment
What’s the lifespan of a pet rabbit? Depending on the breed, your bunny could live up to 15 years. Commitment, patience and an appreciation for rabbit behaviour are important in becoming life-long friends with your new companion.
2. Rabbits should be a part of your family
Your rabbit should be kept indoors in an area of your home where people hang out — ideally in a large, enriched enclosure or with free run of an entire room. Your rabbit’s habitat must be big enough to fit food and water bowls, at least one litter box and at least one hideout, while still allowing him to take several hops in a row. The more space, the better!
Even though they’re sold as complete rabbit “starter kits,” most pet store cages are not a deal at all. For what you pay for them, they’re way too small to properly house a rabbit. You can easily make a large habitat from inexpensive materials. Two designs that cost about the same as an “extra large” pet store cage can be made from either a dog exercise pen or wire storage cubes. Either design provides at least three times the bunny space.
Larger cages give you a lot more room to decorate by adding toys and places to perch and hide. Rabbits are more active and playful when they’re given extra space. Not only do larger cages keep your rabbit happier and healthier, they also make your job a lot easier because they don’t get dirty as quickly.
Habitat bottoms should be solid, not mesh or wire, which can hurt rabbit feet. For bedding, use wood shavings such as aspen (not pine or cedar), recycled paper bedding (such as carefresh®) or a thick, clean blanket.
3. Pet rabbits behave a lot like wild rabbits
Two things are very important to both wild and pet rabbits: security and companionship.
- Security. Rabbits are a prey species. In the wild, they either freeze on the spot or run for cover when they’re frightened. As pets, they do the same. To feel secure, your rabbit needs a shelter she can retreat to, whether she’s in her enclosure or out free in a room.
- Companionship. In the wild, rabbits live in large groups. They keep watch over each other for predators, eat together and even groom each other. Consider adopting more than one rabbit so they can keep each other company when you’re not home.
4. Rabbits require daily exercise to stay healthy
Your pet will need at least four hours each day outside of a cage. You can let your rabbit hop freely around a room or use dog exercise pens to fence off a safe area for her to play. Be sure to “rabbit-proof” your home by moving household plants out of reach and blocking off access to electrical cords and other unsafe items.
5. Bunnies get bored too
It’s important to keep your rabbit entertained with puzzle feeders and items such as paper bags, phone books and hard plastic baby toys. To wear down his constantly growing teeth, you’ll need to give him things to gnaw on like grass mats and untreated willow or apple tree branches.
6. Rabbits have unique personalities
Some rabbits are shy and will take more time to relax and feel comfortable in your home. But once used to people, rabbits can make fun, affectionate pets.
7. Even rabbits need “hare” salons
Rabbits are great groomers, so they don’t need baths. But they do need brushing — especially long-haired rabbits — to prevent matting. Rabbits also need their nails trimmed every four to six weeks. Be careful, though: cutting nails too short can be painful and cause them to bleed.
8. Rabbits can’t live on carrots
Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. Grass hay should be the staple of your rabbit’s diet. Feed him a variety of grass hays such as Timothy hay, orchard grass and oat hay — as much as he wants. Hay helps with digestion. Avoid alfalfa, though. It’s too rich for most rabbits.
Also feed your rabbit plenty of fresh vegetables every day, especially leafy greens like kale, bok choy, parsley and romaine lettuce. Only feed fruits and carrots as a treat and in very small amounts. Introduce new foods gradually to avoid upsetting his digestive system.
Your rabbit can also have good quality, high fibre rabbit pellets. Rabbit pellets are a complete, balanced diet. Just don’t feed too many or you’ll end up with an overweight rabbit.
See the BC SPCA Rabbit Food Guide (PDF) for more details on feeding your rabbit.
9. Rabbits require maid service
Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box so they won’t make a mess in the house. Clean the litter box every day and the entire cage once a week. A large plastic cat litter pan works well, as long as your rabbit can fit completely inside. Make sure your rabbit has one in her cage and at least one to use during playtime. Keep the litter box topped with fresh Timothy hay to encourage her to use it.
10. Bunnies need doctors too
Spending time with your rabbit will show you how he normally looks and behaves. When you notice something unusual — like diarrhea or loss of appetite — take him to the veterinarian right away! Rabbits also need a vaccine to protect them from disease (PDF).
11. Rabbits prefer to stay on the ground
Despite a reputation for being cuddly, most rabbits don’t like to be picked up and held. If you try lifting a rabbit off the ground, they’ll often get scared and struggle to get away from you, kicking with their strong back legs. Not only can you be scratched in the process, the rabbit could also be seriously injured in their attempt to escape.
Instead of carrying your rabbit around, try playing with her on the floor, and letting her hop on and off your lap as she likes. If it’s necessary to pick up your rabbit, always use two hands: one under her hind end and the other around her chest. Hold her close to your chest so she feels more secure.
12. Rabbits can multiply!
At the end of just one year, a single unspayed rabbit could be responsible for as many as 450 baby bunnies. To help prevent pet overpopulation, all BC SPCA rabbits are spayed or neutered prior to adoption. Yours should be too! Spaying and neutering can make litter box training easier and keep your companion healthier.