A pet rabbit is a very popular pet and for good reason! They are cute and fluffy, small in size and most people think they are easy to look after. The perfect pet, surely? Well, maybe not as perfect as you might think!
Rabbits, like all pets, have very particular needs. It’s important before you buy a pet rabbit that you fully understand the level of care they will need.
This post will tell you some of the things you need to know about owning a bunny, so you can make an informed choice. They REALLY are wonderful pets, but you need to be prepared!
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The Perfect Pet Rabbit
When thinking about getting a pet rabbit you probably image sitting quietly on the sofa, watching TV with your long-eared friend calmly on your lap. Or maybe you picture your children running around the backyard (and getting away from electronic screens!) playing with their bunny buddy.
Both of these situations are possible, but only in very particular circumstances. Unfortunately, the fate for most pet bunnies is a life condemned to a hutch or cage that’s too small and rarely played with or given any attention.
This post isn’t meant to put you off of getting a pet rabbit, in fact, I think they are wonderful pets and make a great addition to most families (we have 2 of them!). But I want to make sure that people have realistic expectations when they bring their bunny home.
Things to Know BEFORE You Buy a Bunny
There are just so many myths and misconceptions about pet rabbits – time to set the record straight!
Most people don’t realize how long rabbits can live for. A well cared for bunny can live between 10 and 15 years! Yes… 15 years! That’s a long time!
When you get a new puppy you are prepared that the dog will be part of your life for 10+ years, but most people don’t consider the same thing about rabbits.
I got my first pet rabbits when I was 16 years old. In hindsight, it was a poor decision, but I was young, had my own money, and loved animals!
I will say that even at 16, I took good care of those two little fluffballs. I spent a lot of time with them and made sure they had everything they needed. But 2 years after getting them, I went off to college! I couldn’t take the bunnies with me, so my dutiful mother stepped in and cared for the bunnies for the next 8+ years!
Moral of the story… plan ahead!
Time & Attention
Pet rabbits are like any pet and require attention. Some pets need less attention and some need more. Rabbits aren’t the most demanding pet in the world, but they do require at least 45-60 minutes of your time a day!
Yes, you read that right! A minimum of an hour a day!
Rabbits are social animals (more on that later) and get very depressed when left alone all the time. They also need exercise and a chance to run around.
If you think about shutting a small child away in their bedroom all day and only occasionally letting them out to play with other people, you get a good comparison to a pet rabbit. It doesn’t matter how many toys you give them, there is no substitute for your time and attention!
Also, just the feeding, caring, and cleaning for a rabbit takes time. If they have a litter box ( yes, rabbits can be litter box trained!), you will need to clean it out at least every 2 or 3 days (rabbit pee smells… bad!).
Indoor vs. Outdoor
Where you are going to keep your rabbit should be your next consideration.
Historically rabbits have been kept in pens or hutches in the yard. After all, they are wild animals, surely they can survive just fine outside… errrr… not so much!
In mild climates where it doesn’t get too hot or too cold, then maybe keeping a bunny outside is a viable option (although you’re less likely to spend time with them if they are outside). But in most places, the winters are either too cold or the summers too hot for pet rabbits.
The key difference is that the wild rabbits live in deep borrows. They tunnel underground where they are protected from the heat and cold. Living in a hutch they don’t get the same level of protection.
In addition, there are a LOT of backyard predators that can grab your little fluff ball and kill it without you even knowing! Yikes!
Keeping an indoor pet rabbit is much more popular now, and I definitely recommend you do this if you decide to get a rabbit.
House rabbits are fun and it’s a much better environment for them. But there is a lot of factors to consider. You will need to bunny-proof your home – but just think of it like baby-proofing for a toddler!
Lots of Space
No matter where you decide to keep your pet rabbit, they will require a lot of space.
The Humane Society recommends that the rabbit’s cage is at least five times the size of the rabbit. Well, I think that guideline is ridiculous! I believe the minimum should be more like ten times the size of your bunny!
A rabbits cage should include the following:
- An area for food and water
- An area to play
- A potty area/litter box (a good rule of thumb for a litter box is twice the size of the bunny)
- An area to sleep and relax
All that requires a lot of space!
The cages that you can buy at a pet store are barely big enough to be a litter box. Please consider custom making an area for your bunny.
There’s a lot of different options as far as rabbit cages go, but you want to look for one that is multi-level (they like to jump!), has clear space for them to run around, and is very secure!
The wonderful enclosures below are great ways to give your bunny a lot of space and still be secure.
A sturdy playpen works really well too. Amazon has a lot to pick from. I like this one from Envenflo as it’s tall enough and strong enough to contain most rabbits.
For my daughter’s two rabbits, we converted her walk-in closet into a bunny room! It has a baby-gate across the door, so she can have them running around her room when she is home, and then keep them safely in their room while she’s out.
Not for Little Kids
Small mammals are traditional pets for small children. Well… that’s also a mistake!
I won’t go into other small mammals now (every few make good pets for small children!), and will just talk about pet rabbits and small children.
Rabbits are prey animals. That means other animals like to eat them! When a predator attacks a rabbit, it lifts the rabbit off the floor. So like most prey animals, rabbits dislike being picked up off the floor.
Some rabbits (especially if they are handled often from a young age) can get used to it, but they prefer to keep all four feet on the ground.
Children like to pick animals up! So if you do have a young kid, it’s important to explain that they need to get on the floor to play with their bunny and not pick it up.
Rabbits are also very skittish animals (again because they are prey animals) and the loud or sudden movement of children can scare them. Children can also be rough with small animals and a rabbit will bite if it feels threatened.
And lastly, no matter how much your child promises they will look after Miss Cottontail, they will eventually lose interest.
Yes, you can force your child to continue doing the rabbit chores, but they are unlikely to do a good job if their heart isn’t in it.
So when buying a bunny for a child, consider that YOU will be the one that will ultimately be responsible for it. Do you have the time and energy to care for your bunny for 10+ years?
One thing to remember with rabbits is that they are social animals. If they are alone a lot, they will be unhappy and stressed. It’s always better to keep bunnies in pairs or small groups.
However… you want to make sure if you get more than one rabbit that they are the same sex!! Otherwise, you will get a lot of baby bunnies very quickly!
If you already have a pet rabbit and are considering introducing a new one, then you need to be prepared to take it slow. It could take months for rabbits to get used to each other.
A pair of rabbits also much more likely to get along if they have been spayed or neutered.
I once had a house rabbit and decided to adopt a friend for her. I put their cages next to each other, so they could get used to the smell, sight, and sound of each other. After a week like that, I would put them in a neutral place (I used the bathroom) together and closely monitored them.
Well, the first time they were put together, the larger bunny attacked the smaller one and torn a massive wound on her belly! A few hundred dollars at the vet later and I took it EVEN slower with introducing them! It really is baby steps!
Rabbits are very territorial (hence why it’s difficult to introduce a new bunny) and can act a bit like dogs or cats and “mark” their territory.
It’s not unusual for a perfectly housetrained rabbit to pee on your sofa (or worse… you!) to mark their territory.
They will also leave their little round poop balls all over the house! Luckily these are dry and very easy to pick or vacuum up. No big mess to clean up, like if a dog or cat pooped everywhere!
Pet rabbits are easy to litter train as they naturally always go to the bathroom in the same place. Just put the litter box there and you’re good to go! However, when they are hormonal they will pee in other places to mark their territory. Rabbit urine has a very strong smell (like cat urine) and it is not pleasant when they start peeing all over your house.
The best way to deal with the territorial marking behavior (and other problems) is to get your rabbit spayed or neutered as soon as they are old enough (normally around 6 months).
There are a lot of inexpensive commercial pet rabbit foods available. Most grocery stores even sell it.
However, putting a bowl full of pellets in your rabbit’s cage is not enough. Even the “complete” nutritious pellets need supplementing.
You will want to supplement with a variety of fruits and veggies (not just carrots!). But the most important addition to your rabbit’s diet is hay.
Pet rabbits MUST have free access to clean, dry hay at all times. Without it, they will experience digestive problems but also very serious problems with their teeth.
You don’t need to go and buy a bale of hay from your local farm; pet stores sell compressed bags of hay that make it very convenient. You also want to make sure that you are buying Timothy or Meadow hay for your bunny. Alfalfa is a commonly available hay, but it is just too rich for a regular diet for your rabbit. It might be nice as a treat, but definitely not every day.
Finding a Vet
I talked above about the benefit of getting your pet rabbit spayed or neutered, if you decide to do this, then you will need to find a vet!
Rabbits are classed as “exotic” pets and not all vets are able to care for them. Rabbits have very particular needs (especially for surgery), so you really want to make sure your vet is fully trained and familiar with rabbit medical needs.
The cost of taking a rabbit to the vets is comparable with a cat or dog, and rabbits do need annual check-ups as well. So you definitely want to do your research and make sure you can find a knowledgeable vet as well as afford their medical care.
Pet Rabbits for the Win!
OK, so I know I’ve probably made it sound like it’s a bad idea to own a pet rabbit. But really it’s not! They do make wonderful pets, but people need to realize that they take the same level of commitment as a cat or dog.
After owning rabbits for over half my life, I can honestly say that all the work is totally worth it!