While rabbits can be wonderful pets, they’re often acquired without much forethought or concern for their needs. The following information can help curious clients decide if a bunny is right for their family and provide the proper care these special animals need.
- Rabbits are often an impulse purchase made for young children, but in reality they are an 8- to 12-year commitment and better suited to adults or to families with older children. Research beforehand can help ensure that they are the right pet at the right time for a family.
- Rabbits have special health needs and require regular veterinary checks and wellness exams. Be prepared to refer clients to an exotic companion mammal specialist or, if one isn’t available in your area, to educate yourself about their needs.
- House rabbits should be spayed or neutered. Uterine cancer rates are high among female rabbits. If the cancer hasn’t metastasized, there’s a high curative rate, but if it has, which is common as rabbits age, the outlook is not good. Females can be spayed when they are six months old. Male rabbits can be neutered when 8 to 12 weeks old. Neutering can help to prevent potential hormone-related behaviors in bunnies. That’s important, because those behaviors are often a reason rabbits are relinquished to shelters. Clients should be prepared to seek the advice of a rabbit behavior expert in case their rabbit exhibits behaviors they don’t understand. Putting a house rabbit outdoors to fend for himself is a death sentence.
- Pet rabbits aren’t Bugs Bunny. People think rabbits like to eat carrots, and they’re right about that. However, carrots, apples, and other fruits high in sugar should be offered only as small occasional treats. A rabbit’s diet should consist of high-quality pellets and daily fresh hay (timothy hay, oat hay, and other grass hays). Access to fresh hay is essential to rabbit health. Note: rabbits can be great companions for vegetarians in search of a non-meat-eating pet.
- Rabbits are often purchased for young children, but the two aren’t a good match. Young children are hard-wired to hug, cuddle, pick up, and carry rabbits. “Rabbits are prey animals by nature; the only time they’re picked up is if they are about to be dinner,” says Anne Martin, executive director of the House Rabbit Society. “They’re usually very fearful of being held and snuggled. Adults and older children are better aware of rabbit body language and respond to what the rabbit is ‘saying.’”
- Rabbits don’t like being held, lifted up, or hugged. They may squirm when picked up, Martin says, and are easily injured if dropped.
- Rabbits are easy to litter box train. They need a litter box that is large enough to give them plenty of space to move around. Advise clients to fill the box with rabbit-safe litter and fresh hay.
- Rabbits are social and love having friends. Before bunny play dates are arranged, though, each bunny should be spayed or neutered and have a clean bill of health. Rabbits can be picky about who their friends are. Clients should place them side by side in cages at first to test compatibility.
- Bunnies prefer predictability and aren’t fond of turmoil. They need a place where they can retreat from commotion.
- Rabbits should live indoors. Rabbits kept outdoors are at risk from lawn herbicides and pesticides; predators, including neighborhood dogs; and inclement weather. They are happier, healthier, and safer living indoors.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.