Finding a Furry Friend; Bringing a Pet Rabbit into Your Life
A pet rabbit can bring great joy and companionship to their owners. In turn, they require our love and care to live full and healthy lives. It’s important any loving pet rabbit owner understands the requirements of bunnies and how to properly care for them.
There are so many options when it comes to finding the right bunny for your home. It pays to learn as much as you can so you can make an intelligent and informed decision. There are many different breeds, each with their own quirks and personalities. There are feeding requirements that are often misunderstood as well as common misconceptions about treats and diets. One example of this is that carrots are actually bad for rabbits.
So if you’re seriously considering adopting a furry friend, read on. We’ve compiled a complete and comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about keeping a pet rabbit. This is part 1: Choosing a Furry Friend.
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a pet rabbit. What breed? What do you need? How much attention do they need? What do they eat?(hint: carrots are actually bad for rabbits)
We’ll start with this..
A pet rabbit makes a great, cuddly companion for any household. They’re relatively easy to care for and much more intelligent than people give them credit. With proper care, pet rabbits live between 8 and 12 years. They’re a long term responsibility and should be treated as such.
If purchased young, they will be a part of your life for a good long while, you can always adopt an older rabbit if you are more inclined. Older rabbits always appreciate being adopted vs any alternatives. Also of note is that pet rabbits can’t be left on their own for long stretches of time. So if you’re going on vacation, having a pet-sitter or a neighbor check up on your bun is a must.
A domestic pet rabbit is a far cry from their wild counter part, and thus needs special attention in all aspects of their care. Rabbits require a quality, properly sized hutch to live in, whether indoors or out. They also have specific nutritional requirements, that are often misunderstood. Often times people buy hutches that are undersized and feed alfalfa to adult rabbits, who actually need timothy(unless pregnant).
Hutch Recommendation (clickable)Confidence 62″ Pet Rabbit Hutch
Extra Furry and XXLs
More specifically, different breeds have more specialized requirements. For example, angora rabbits need hair cuts, while larger rabbits, like the Flemish Giant need their nails trimmed and extra large everything (a Flemish Giant can grow larger than a small dog!).
Children and Bunnies
If you are purchasing a rabbit for a child, it’s key to understand that children under 10 should be supervised while caring for rabbits. Handling rabbits is more delicate than most people understand and it can be really easy to injure a bunny without meaning to. Before purchasing, talk to the child about what is required to take care of a rabbit in depth, if they are still eager, wait a couple of weeks to make sure it isn’t a phase. As I said, a pet rabbit can live between 8 and 12 years with proper care, so are a bit of a longer term thing than, say, a pet goldfish.
All pet rabbits need company daily, whether that is from you or another bunny. Rabbits socialized regularly with people are going to make much more interactive pets as they’ll grow more comfortable in your presence. Never put rabbits in with other small critters, like chinchillas and guinea pigs, which happens far too often. These are different species with totally different understandings of what’s socially appropriate.
Also supervise any time animals like dogs are around rabbits. Sometimes dogs are a bit rougher than they want to be with your pet rabbit, which can lead to injury.
Rabbits live much longer than their closest relative, the wild European Rabbit. While wild rabbits only live for 3 years, pet rabbits will live for 8-12 years.
Youth Comes but Once
If purchasing your pet rabbit at a young age(<7 months), make sure you are ready for this responsibility. Rabbits need love and attention and you have be be willing to provide this for them their entire lives. this can mean at 12 year commitment. When purchasing your rabbit, they will require alfalfa feed, but as they get older you should gradually change to timothy feed. We cover this and a lot more our a page dedicated to rabbit feed and nutrition.
Wisdom with Age
One alternative is adopting an older bunny(1Y+). Unfortunately some rabbits have to say goodbye to their old homes as their owners have to let them go. This is the perfect opportunity to provide the bunny with a new home. Often times you can get a hutch and some starter feed when adopting as well which helps a lot. Most rabbits you adopt are free, unless you visit an animal shelter, where they’l charge a little just to help cover their costs – which is totally fine in my book.
Rabbits have characteristic behavior. They are known to hop, skip and jump about merrily when happy. They need regular exercise which should be monitored in a fully fenced yard or a rabbit run can alternatively be used. If you rabbits house trained, they’ll play all about the house too.
Rabbits also rub their chins on things as a way of marking territory with scent. they might nip or bit you occasionally – either playfully or to tell you off. They also love to chew, so be sure to give them appropriate sticks, branches, treats and toys to chew. You might otherwise find them nibbling on furniture!
Rabbits like to mark territory with droppings too, so if you’re letting them run about your home – be prepared for this. They’re capable of getting up to all sorts of mischief and love to knock things over – so be wary.
Rabbits don’t really make good companions for other animals. Dogs are smart enough to learn boundaries with rabbits and they can get along fine. Cats aren’t typically interested in rabbits. But that’s where the line is drawn. Some people put rabbits in with chickens, but limited space may make chickens gang up on your pet rabbit.
Likewise, rabbits don’t blend well with guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats or other small mammals. While similar in size, all these creatures have different social structures and ‘languages’. like with people, this is a major barrier and can lead to confusion and unwarranted aggression and conflict. Instead, only house rabbits with other rabbits, and supervise any interaction.
Gender is another important consideration when choosing a pet rabbit. Female and Male rabbits exhibit different behaviors. You also shouldn’t mix genders if they aren’t neutered..for obvious reasons.
Males tend to be a bit more confident and can be a little aggressive. They also like to spray their environment to mark territory. This can result in yellow marks all around the hutch – they’ve got some range! Spaying, while controversial, can curb these behaviors and make them more passive and akin to female rabbits.
Female rabbits are typically better suited as pets. They tend to be more passive and warm up to peoples a bit more. Female rabbits will try to dig a fair bit, if they manage to build a burrow they may get a bit defensive and lunge at you to protect thier little burrow(even if its just a little divot in the ground). Spaying helps to curb this behavior too.
This is a touchy subject. Some people are strongly opposed, while some think this is a must. Whatever your stance, know that you bunny will be altered forever – for better or worse. This has advesr changes to behavior and can make rabbits a lot more tame an docile. Neutering also reduces the differences between male and female rabbits dramatically and they tend to be more uniform in their behavior patterns.
If you don’t plan on breeding your pet rabbit/s and don’t have opposing views to neutering, then there isn’t any reason to avoid neutering. Again a personal preference. We don’t neuter any of our bunnies, but often recommend most new pet owners do. We go into depth on breeding rabbits later in this series, but you can skip ahead by clicking here.
As a pet rabbit owner, you’ll be responsible for feeding, providing water for, protecting from weather and rodents, cleaning up, providing bedding and attention/entertainment and a lot more.
Alfalfa Pellet Recommendation (clickable)Ox Bow Bunny Essentials Young Rabbit Food
All pet rabbits require constant access to pellets and/or hay from an appropriate feeder. The feeder should be chew proof, off the ground, tip-proof and able to store plenty of feed. We personally use the 7″ Galvanized Rabbit Feeder from Little Giant.
Young rabbits have different nutritional requirements than adult and elderly rabbits. Young Rabbits need more protein and sugars than older rabbits, so a diet that consists of alfalfa hay or pellets is a must. Ideally, they should be eating both hay and pellets, but pellets are best if you can only have one.
Once rabbits reach 7 months of age, their diet changes from alfalfa to timothy hay, due to the slightly lower protein and much lower sugar and increased fiber. This promotes good adult health and prevents things like bad BMs and weight gain.
Rabbits also need a daily serving of fruit and vegetables.
I have a page dedicated to rabbit nutrition you can read by clicking here.
Water Bottle Recommendation (clickable)Lixit All-Weather Water Bottle
Water provided for your pet rabbit should be fresh and readily available. An open bowl will be peed and pooped in, which will lead to health issues. It could also be tipped, which can lead to rapid dehydration if left unattended. Imagine if your pet rabbits tipped their water just as you went away overnight!
To avoid this, it’s recommended you use a pet water bottle. Selecting a water bottle that’s free of BPA and has a metal nozzle is best. Plastic containing BPA is essentially toxic to drink from as it leaches into the water and causes weird hormonal shifts(which are never good).
Rabbits love to nibble on plastic, so mounting your water bottle on the outside on the hutch with the metal nozzle poking in will work well. Most pet water bottles are designed this way, but not all have the metal nozzle, so that’s something to keep an eye out for.
Affordable Hutch Recommendation (clickable)Trixie Small Rabbit Hutch
Your pet rabbit needs a safe place to sleep. We call these rabbit hutches. They are enclosed spaces that are either placed indoors or out, that provide a safe environment for your pet rabbit to eat, sleep and play. They need to be appropriately sized and strong enough to prevent rabbits escaping, or unwanted visitors breaking in.
Another key element is sizing. For every 8 pounds of rabbit, there should be 5 square feet of floor space. The hutch must be at least 24″ high, or as high as your rabbit stands upright, foot to ear.
Rabbit hutches also have privacy boxes(called retreats too) that act as a dark place you bunny can get away to. This is where they’ll most likely sleep. You need to add wood shavings to the privacy box so your bunny can make a cosy bed s well.
We’ve gone into depth on selecting a hutch here.
2-Story Hutch Recommendation (clickable)Tangkula 52” Rabbit Hutch
Rabbits are relatively tidy creatures, but despite this, they aren’t going to be picking up a dustpan and sweeping up after themselves. You’ll need to change their food, water and clean their hutch out on a regular basis. Cleaning up after them often means picking up some poop, and changing their bedding materials – it really doesn’t take long at all.
Fortunately most hutches have slide out trays built in. These catch all the poop and make it easy to dispose of. Simply slide the tray out ad dispose of the waste – we use ours for out garden. Rabbit waste is the only animal poop you can apply straight to your garden. Plants love it!
Wood Shaving Recommendation (clickable)Kaytee Aspen Bedding Bag
Rabbits need a layer of safe wood shavings about 1 inch thick n the bottom of their nesting box. This will need to be changed every 3-7 days. Some tidier rabbits can make this last longer though.
You can pick up shavings for free from places that work on timber, like sawmills or furniture shops. Otherwise the best alternative is to purchase some from your local pets tore or online. We try to get ours free, but when we cant, we use Kaytee Aspen Wood Shavings as a back up.
Rabbit Toy Recommendation (clickable)SunGrow Coconut Fiber Ball for Rabbits
All rabbits need love and care. You can play games with your rabbit such as rabbit bowling where you set a bunch of things up for your rabbit to knock down – they love doing mischievous things. This doesn’t mean you bowl your rabbit! They’ll do all the knocking over on their own.
For when you aren’t around, a toy or two help your pet rabbit stay engaged. We like to leave a woven grass ball in the hutch for them to play with. We bought a bunch of “Peter’s Woven Grass Balls” a while ago which last a good while. These can be a bit tough to get sometimes (click here to check availability) so our alternative is the SunGrow Coconut Fiber Ball. These are a favorite for our rabbits too.
Approximately 15% of people have allergies to the protein found in rabbit saliva or dander. These can cause itchy reactions in people including sneezing and coughing.
When rabbits groom themselves, they cover their hair with saliva, hence why allergies can manifest as you’re petting them. It isn’t the fur – its the saliva!
There are some things you can do to circumvent this, such as grooming or washing(not recommended) your rabbit. I’ll cover this in depth in a later article.
With all of the above in consideration, it’s time to start picking what kind of rabbit is going be be best suited for you. Some rabbits are really high energy, while others like the quiet life. Who you are matters just as much as who they are.
Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes. From the huge Flemish Giants weigh in at 13 Pounds to the tiny Netherland Dwarf who weights just 2 pounds. Choosing a breed that suits your lifestyle is probably the most important step.
It’s also important to note hwy you want to have a rabbit in the first place. Most people want pet rabbits, so choosing a rabbit with these attributes is ideal. Picking an albino breed like the New Zealand Red may not be a great choice as sunlight hurts their eyes so they should mostly stay indoors in a darkish room.
If you aren’t prepared to trim your rabbits fur in the warmer months, then choosing a long hared breed probably isn’t the best fit.
Hop on over to our rabbit breed directory to view all the breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association(ARBA). We also feature info about each rabbit type there and what they’re best suited for.
Remember to buy your rabbit from a reputable breeder. Often times breeders register with ARBA so you know their rabbits are from quality stock.
Not all good breeders have to be ARBA registered. A lot of people who breed pet rabbits are hobbiests who treat their bunnies with the utmost care. It pays to visit these people at their homes or breeding location to make sure everything is in order. You can often pick up a lot of advice from these passionate people (like me!).
If visiting a pet store, ask where they get their bunnies from. Sometimes they get them from rabbit mills which is a disgusting practice that shouldn’t be tolerated or supported. While not illegal, the breeding stock at these mills often mistreat their animals. If you do find something like this out, be sure to report them to ARBA.
You’ll want to have your hutch all set up before you bring your rabbit home. Setting up a hutch for the first time can take more time than you’d think. Remember that most hutches come flat packed and assembly is required, so attempting to do this all in one day may lead to a homeless(and very stressed) pet rabbit. Having a good amount of feed and the nesting box all set up will make for a smooth transition into their new life.
You’ll want to put your new rabbit into their hutch to let them acclimatize and spread their scent around. They’ll hop about rubbing their chin on things to stake claim to their new home. Once they’re adjusted, you can take them out to play with them and socialize with them. Start out simple by just petting them and playing simple games, like rolling a ball around with them. They may be shy and run away at first, so it pays to play in a confined space such as a small fenced area or in a room indoors.
This is just the beginning with your new pet rabbit. Expect many more years of joy and friendship with your furry little buddy.
It always pays to keep on learning. So be sure to continue reading on our rabbit starter series. Next up in our starter series is setting up a hutch. You check also check out some more specific guidance in our advice section.
Tags: Choosing a rabbit, Pet Rabbit, Rabbit Selection