I wasn’t looking to get a rabbit. I’ve always been a cat person, ever since I can remember, but when I laid eyes on my brother’s new pet I fell fast and hard. She was fluffy, small, and the cutest thing I’d ever laid eyes on. Her panda markings only strengthened her adorable factor. In short, I never stood a chance.
That was several years ago. I relished the time I spent with his rabbit, her sweet bunny kisses and playful nudges with her nose, but still I wasn’t looking to get a rabbit. I’d seen all the work that went into it, and I honestly didn’t know if I had the time or energy to invest. But things changed, and one of the families whose pets I care for ended up taking in a rabbit they didn’t want. Over the course of a few months, I got to know that rabbit and tried to give him the attention I knew he wasn’t getting with three cute little dogs to vie with.
When the family admitted they were looking to find him a new home, I felt torn. I didn’t know if I could afford to take him in, but the thought of walking into their house one day and finding his pen and his things gone deeply saddened me. He was always eager to share a snack and flop on top of me to sleep while I read. He loved trying new things and would press his little body into my hand no matter where I pet him. Still, it took me a month of pep talking myself before I gave in. I texted my brother a photo of the two of us pleading, “Help. I love him.”
I wasn’t looking to get a rabbit. He burrowed his way into my heart anyway. Meet my bunny, Biscotti.
It’s easy to underestimate the amount of work that goes into caring for a rabbit. They’re often lumped into the same category as hamsters or mice, although their intelligence and behavior more greatly resembles a cat or a dog’s. Pet stores may have you think they can be great for children: just stick them in a small cage, feed them a snazzy feed mix, and take them out for convenient cuddling! But what they don’t tell you is that this way of thinking leads to unhappy children and depressed bunnies (according to the ASPCA, companion rabbits are the third most frequently euthanized animals at shelters, right behind cats and dogs). What you need to know about rabbits is that they need a lot of care, space, and entertainment, and they enjoy cuddles only on their terms. I can’t stress enough that owning a bunny is a very rewarding experience, but a rabbit is not low maintenance or a starter pet – they are a 10+ year commitment. But if you enjoy observing as much as handling animals and don’t find yourself overly upset at an animal’s natural tendencies, like chewing and digging, you may very well be a “rabbit person.”
If anyone in the household has hay allergies, rabbits will not be an acceptable addition to the family. Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. Interestingly enough, many people are allergic to rabbits even if they aren’t allergic to other animals. Biscotti had to leave his first home because his family didn’t learn ahead of time that the children in the household were allergic to him. If you are unsure whether this is the case for anyone in your home, it’s highly recommended that you either spend some time with rabbits by visiting a local shelter (to gauge whether or not any allergies are triggered) or see an allergist.
Are They Good for Kids?
Around Easter, pet stores and even businesses like Rural King are stocked with cute little bunnies. They seem like perfect, easy pets for kids but that is not always the case. Rabbits make wonderful pets in the right situation, but many children are too young to handle a rabbit appropriately. Rabbits are quite fragile and many do not respond well to being picked up and held because they are scared. They are easily frightened and may kick, struggle, bite and scratch, resulting in an injury to either your child or themselves.
It’s also important to remember that rabbits are prey animals and so, by nature, timid creatures. They may be frightened by loud noises or the normal playing and running around of children. While many rabbits are curious and enjoy interacting and playing (like puppies or kittens), that behavior is more likely to happen when you sit quietly by them and allow them to come to you. If you’re considering introducing a rabbit into your family, teach your child to respect that the bunny may like to play but sometimes may also just want to be left alone to eat or nap. Rabbits generally wake at dawn and remain active until about mid-morning, although evenings tend to be their most sociable, relaxed time, so consider this additional factor when deciding whether a rabbit is the right pet for you.
Indoor rabbits can live for over 10 years. After the novelty has worn off, children may lose interest in or find it burdensome to care for a pet that requires so much care and attention. Litter requires daily changing, food and water should be replenished daily, and nails need monthly trimming. Rabbits are easily bored and can get themselves into trouble if they don’t receive enough stimulation, exercise and playtime. In order to avoid an ignored and unwanted rabbit (and disappointed and resentful parents), it’s recommended that an adult be a rabbit’s primary caretaker. All of this should be taken into consideration when deciding whether a rabbit is a good match for your family.
At What Expense?
Do you remember begging your parents for one of those “free” kittens or puppies you’d see up for adoption? It’s easy to forget the future cost of what seems like a cheap pet in the present. Just like with any animal, rabbits come with added financial responsibility. Aside from initial adoption fees, housing and bunny proofing materials, a pet carrier and litter pan, hay rack, and food or water bowls (or bottle) you must consider ongoing expenses like food (hay, fresh produce, and pellets), litter, and vet bills. Rabbits are considered exotic pets and many veterinarians do not have experience with their care, so it’s necessary to find someone knowledgeable.
Even the short drive to my new home was very stressful…can I really live here forever?
Give Me Some Space
When you think of rabbits, you probably think of a rabbit hutch, but many of the cages sold in pet stores are much too small for rabbits who require room to stretch out and hop about. Those cute little legs were made for leaping, bounding, and happy hops! When considering whether a rabbit is the right pet for you, you should assess whether you have an available area for a fairly large cage, plus at least one room in your home (rabbit-proofed) or a fenced-in area or playpen outside (always monitor them when outside – predators can still get them!) for bunny to run and play.
If you’re intent on jet-setting around the world, rabbit ownership is likely not for you. Rabbits tend to feel stressed during travel or when in unfamiliar environments, so if you move around a lot you may wish to consider another pet. If you’re just going on vacation, it’d be perfectly fine to get a petsitter while you’re away.
Some Muss, Some Fuss
It’s amazing how little people know about rabbits! I’ve had many people ask me how I can stand the smell, but rabbits are generally clean animals. If they aren’t litterbox trained (which is usually easy – most rabbits already have a particular place they like to go!) they may poop frequently and all over, but rabbits groom themselves well (like a cat) and do not smell. Well, except for maybe what they’ve been eating. Biscotti currently smells floral, like rose petals and mint.
I’m cute but I will chew on everything you love.
They are messy: hay gets strewn about, fur gathers on the floor, and bedding, poo and food may be scattered so bunny areas should be tidied daily and more thoroughly cleaned once a week. If your bun is free-range in a room in your house, you may also have issues with chewed cords, carpeting, and furniture if your home isn’t properly bunny proofed. Just the other day Biscotti was sitting with me and got a few good nibbles into a pillowcase and a blanket before I caught onto him!
Another aspect to consider is that rabbits – especially longer-haired varieties – require regular brushing to remove loose fur. This is especially true when it is time for them to molt or shed. My brother and I measured the amount of fur from when his bunny blew her coat once, and in a single sitting we had filled an entire plastic Wal-Mart bag with fluff. The fur can and does get everywhere! If you aren’t okay with some mess, a rabbit may not be the pet for you.
Who Makes the Best Bunny Buddy?
There are dozens of recognized domestic rabbit breeds ranging from about 2 to 20 pounds and they vary in size, color, and fur, body, and ear types. For example, Biscotti is an albino lionhead and my brother’s bunny is also a lionhead but, unlike Biscotti, she is part angora. This gives her an extra cute, fluffy appearance.
Temperaments even within a single breed can vary greatly, and as for gender each one has hormone-driven behaviors. Regardless of gender, spaying and neutering is a necessity. This procedure not only reduces unwanted behaviors like spraying, but also protects female rabbits from uterine cancer (which occurs in more than 50 percent of mature rabbits).
As for age? Baby bunnies are cute, but mature and neutered or spayed rabbits greater than one year of age are often a better choice for a family pet. When all is said and done, though, the best way to find your perfect bunny bud is to set your preconceptions about size, breed and anything else aside and to meet with potential new friends long enough to get a feel for individual personality.
If you need quiet in your life, bunnies will not disappoint. You may need a small adjustment period to their late night or early morning foraging sounds, but in general rabbits don’t make a lot of noise. That’s not to say they are completely silent. Rabbits have a language all their own: grunts and oinks and happy little teeth purring sounds that are all too fun to learn about!
“So quiet,” I say, as Biscotti snores with the fervor and tiny hooting of a baby owl.
Generally speaking, rabbits have diverse personalities like humans do albeit there are a few traits that are nearly universal. Fearful prey animal instincts aside, a healthy, happy rabbit is naturally friendly and curious and wants to be a part of whatever’s going on. My brother’s rabbit will occasionally hop out of her pen in the family room to see what we’re doing, and she supervises him every time he cleans her litterbox and her house. Biscotti pokes his nose through his pen while I’m exercising on the floor to get a nose rub and hops up to me when he sees me and hears my voice. If I’m watching a show with my family, the bunnies have to sit with everyone so they don’t miss anything, and if they feel like they’re being ignored they’ll let us know by digging or giving us a gentle nose nudge. Rabbits don’t want to be stuck in the corner and forgotten. They want to be loved, and they want to be social.
You may not know that rabbits also love to play! Whether it’s towel scooting, rooting through a digging box, tossing toys around or simply knocking a stack of blocks over rabbits are charming and fun playmates. Prepare to laugh so hard you cry, because you never know what shenanigans they will get into next. But to reiterate: if you’re trying to decide whether a rabbit is the right pet for you, spend some time getting to know the bunny before taking it home. You want one whose personality will complement yours. Although he loves her, my brother was initially disappointed to find his rabbit was more reserved and disinterested in playing with toys. Given she was the first real experience we’d had with a bunny, we were both tickled to find that Biscotti is so playful.
Biscotti enjoys the little things in life. Like bunching up his fleece and pretending he’s a ghost.
Buy or Bye?
If you’ve assessed your situation, done your research, and come to the conclusion that a rabbit would be a great fit for your household (and that you can provide the proper care), please consider adopting a bunny from a rescue, adoption agency or shelter rather than purchasing one from a breeder or a pet store. Not only will you save the life of the bunny you adopt, but you will create a much needed space for another bunny who needs it. You’ll also find that the bunnies are more socialized and healthy, and that the hands-on experience of the staff with the rabbits will prove invaluable. They can help you choose the right bunny for you and provide more detailed information on bunny care and behavior, even after you’ve taken your new friend home.