Buns and I have been together since 1999. I remember when she was so tiny she could sit in the palm of my hand. Twelve years later, we’ve been through a lot, that rabbit and me.
She is two years shy of the Guinness Record for ‘World’s Oldest Rabbit’, and I have learned a lot about bunny parenthood in that time. When she was a baby, there was not a lot of information available about keeping a house rabbit, so I had to figure it all out as I went along.
Today, the rabbit is becoming a much more common house pet, so I aim to help others understand how to raise a happy and healthy house rabbit that will become an important member of the family.
Know What to Expect
Bunnies are so freaking adorable. Let’s all get one! Well, no. Actually, when I talk to anyone who is considering getting a pet rabbit, I always try first to talk them out of it. If I had known 12 years ago what I know now, I never would have chosen this as a house pet.
This is not to say that the rabbit-human relationship isn’t awesome, but raising one is an incredible amount of work. Many people get pet rabbits without fully considering the consequences.
When they realize how difficult it is, they release the rabbit outside (reprehensible!) or they just have it euthanized. So, here are a few things to keep in mind before you take the ‘hop’ and pick up your first pet rabbit.
- Rabbits chew and dig!
- Rabbits need fresh food and water daily.
- Rabbits can be aggressive.
- Rabbits shed like crazy in the warmer months.
- Litter or cage training can be difficult.
- Many veterinarians will not even see a rabbit. You may have to find an exotic animal vet.
- Rabbits might not be the best pet choice for children.
If you can accept the drawbacks of bunny parenthood, you will also be opening yourself up to a world of affection, love, playfulness, and laughs. Please, read on.
Create a Rabbit Zone
- Your new rabbit will need space to play around.
- Young bunnies have tons of energy, and keeping them locked in a cage all day is really unfair.
- At the same time, you absolutely cannot just give a rabbit free reign of your house. Go ahead, try it! You’ll come home from work, and every wire in your house will be chewed, along with your favorite pair of jeans that you left on the floor. If you have carpet, it will be dug up and shredded to pieces.
- The best solution for a bunny habitat is a spare bedroom or nook without carpet. Since rabbits have trouble hopping around on tile or hardwood, put down a cheap rug instead. Doggie doors can be used to confine the rabbit to its area, and you can let it roam a bit under supervision.
- You can also keep an open cage for food and poops. These areas tend to get very messy. Rabbits tend to toss hay around playfully and poop where they eat.
The Rabbit Diet
Feeding your rabbit appropriately is the most important factor in keeping it healthy and long-living. There are many different theories about what the best diet is, but the key is balance.
- Each day, rabbits should have a mix of fresh leafy greens and certain vegetables, a moderate portion of pellets, and an unlimited amount of fresh timothy hay.
- In addition, your rabbit will need a bowl (not a bottle!) of fresh water. If you’re going on vacation, even for one night, please make sure you have someone stop by to feed and water the buns.
- Leafy greens and veggies should be wetted to keep buns well hydrated.
- Be careful: some vegetables are poisonous to rabbits, so it’s important to know which is which. Here is a handy shopping list of safe vegetables, which you can download for your mobile phone to have available while you’re at the store. You will also want to monitor the quantity of food given, based on your rabbits age and size.
- Pellets should be limited, but they are also an important source of fiber. I recommend Oxbow Rabbit Pellets. They are good quality, reasonably priced, and Buns really likes them.
- Hay is the most important component for digestion, and it should be available 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, the stuff you buy at PetSmart is stale and no good. Look for an online retailer who can provide you with fresh cut hay. I recommend BunnyBunchBoutique for a great selection of hays and treats. Stay away from alfalfa hays, as they are too high in calcium. Timothy hay is best, but mixing in some oat hay can be a nice treat too.
- Other treats should be given in moderation, and again, the pet store stuff is bad news. The best treats should be low in sugar, so stay away from those premade snack mixes. In human terms, those are like giving your rabbit a bag of candy.
- Fresh or dried apples, strawberries, other fruits, dandelions, marigolds, and rose petals are the best healthy snacks (try growing your own!), but only in moderation. Be sure to check the safe foods list before you try anything new.
Above all, you should listen to what your bunny is telling you about its diet. Take note of the food you’re providing, and document any changed behavior.
Also, try not to mix things up too frequently. If you want to try something new, work it into the meals slowly, so you can identify any problems early. Just like people, each bunny’s system is unique and sometimes sensitive. It’s up to the owner to determine what is working and what is not.
Chewing, Aggression, and Forming a Connection
Bunnies need to chew. Those two front fangs keep growing and growing, and it’s imperative to keep them honed down. There have been cases where rabbit teeth have become overgrown, and that can be very painful for your little bunny friend.
The best way to combat this is to keep the hay bowl filled. It took me years to figure this out, but if bunny has plenty of hay to chew on, it won’t be chewing on your book shelf. You can also find untreated wood chew toy snacks to fill the chewing urge.
Again, do not buy anything you find at PetSmart. If it’s artificially colored, it’s bad. You can find untreated wood snacks online that bunnies will enjoy eating and playing around with.
Speaking of playing, it is not uncommon for rabbits to be aggressive. They are a prey animal. Their instinct is survival. It’s important to spend quality time with your pet to let them know you’re not a threat.
Don’t be offended if your rabbit grunts or nips at you. It can take time to form a connection, but don’t give up. Show the rabbit that you are a friend.
Rabbit potty training can be a challenging feat. They tend to leave one or two piles of droppings at a time, and getting them to see the cage or litter box as their potty is not always easy.
- Have patience! Never hit your rabbit when it has an accident. This will only make things worse.
- Rabbits will respond better to a loud ‘No!’ sound than any physical action. Remember, they have those big sensitive ears, so they can detect a lot in the tone of your voice.
- Be sure to use organic or paper-based litter or even just hay. Wood chip or clay-based litter can cause digestive and urinary problems.
- Move the litter box to where the buns naturally wants to go, and reward it with a snack when it is successful.
- Don’t be alarmed if your bunny wants to hang out in the box for a while. Rabbits tend to spend a lot of time in their litter boxes, and this is good thing.
Find a Good Veterinarian
It’s best to find a veterinarian who you like before it’s time to take your bunny to the doctor. Call around, talk to the office staff, interview the doctor, and make sure they have experience with rabbits. They either know what they’re doing—or they don’t.
There is no in between. In a pinch, I’ve had to take Buns places where it turned out that I knew more about rabbits than they did, and believe me, that is a horrible feeling. So, take the time to find the right place. Remember, bunnies get scared very easily.
An office with a loud dog barking in the waiting room is likely going to cause unnecessary stress. It’s important to find a vet office where you both feel comfortable.