Likewise, rabbits can be a delight or a horror to the people who acquire them.
For both a rabbit and their person, what each will experience depends entirely on the person.
Irresponsible people don’t bother to:
- Learn whether anyone in the family is allergic to rabbits or hay before getting a rabbit
- Make a commitment for the life of the rabbit (which can be for 14 years or more)
- Learn what the needs of rabbits are, or work to meet those needs.
- Learn how to protect their own property from the natural chewing and digging behaviors of rabbits.
Responsible people don’t acquire a rabbit (i.e., make the rabbit dependent on them) unless they are able and willing to do these things for the rabbit.
Unfortunately, the majority of people who get rabbits do so before learning what they are getting themselves into. Baby bunnies are incredibly cute, and tend to inspire in us a “want” reaction. But when we are considering making any animal dependent on us, the only responsible attitude after that first reaction is, “Can I give this creature the life he or she deserves?”
That is the question that should be answered in the affirmative before making an animal dependent on us!
So whether you are thinking about getting rabbits as companion animals and want to learn what will be involved in caring for them, or have already acquired them, and now need to know what will be involved in caring for them, these articles can provide you with what you need to know.
Notice that this is a fairly substantial amount of material. It will take time to read all of it, but if you’re going to have rabbits, you really do need all of this information.
WHAT ARE RABBITS LIKE?
People often look for the cutest rabbit they can find. This is a mistake, because what they will experience is the rabbit’s temperament.
People often look for small rabbits, or a big rabbits, or medium sized rabbits. This is a mistake, because what they will experience is the rabbit’s temperament.
People may want a particular color of rabbit, or a particular breed of rabbit. This is a mistake, because what they will experience is the rabbits’ temperament.
And people often look for a baby bunny. This may be the biggest mistake of all, because it is difficult to know what a rabbit’s temperament will be until he or she is an adult.
For any medical treatment of a rabbit, use only a vet who specializes in exotics or rabbits (vets who don’t know rabbits will often inadvertently kill them, giving amoxicillin which cures the initial problem, but then causes death a week or two later, so they seldom even know that the rabbit died. You can get the names of a rabbit vets in your area by calling 303/469-3240 and requesting it or looking at our web-site, www.coloradohrs.org
Baby bunnies chew on practically anything they can get their teeth on. There are two reasons for this.
- Chewing helps build strong jaw muscles.
- Chewing is how bunnies learn about their world. (What does it feel like? How does in taste?)
Adult rabbits usually don’t chew as much as youngsters do, and when they do, they chew primarily because it is fun or because something tastes good.
So young rabbits tend to be more destructive than adults.
Prior to puberty, most baby rabbits seem to be willing to let a person do almost anything with them, although they are, of course, high energy creatures, and will refuse to be held for very long. Puberty hits around 3-1/2 months.
Males may seem “aggressively friendly,” seeking out anything that moves…and even things that don’t…to vent their sexual frustrations on. This is often misinterpreted as friendliness, but it can also result in the surprise of teeth and claws buried in flesh so the rabbit can “hang on” while giving the object of his affection “what for.”
Females may become very grumpy when puberty hits. I think of this as “Bunny PMS.” Unfortunately, it tends to last until the female is either spayed or bred.
Rabbits should be spayed or neutered as early as is feasible if they are to be house rabbits. This is for both behavioral and health reasons. Males can be neutered as soon as their testicles descend; females as soon after 3-1/2 months that they are big enough for the veterinarian to be able to do the surgery.
As teenagers, rabbits are highly energetic and have very definite ideas about what they want or don’t want people to do with them. Easily bored, they turn everything into an object of fun. Litter (and everything deposited in it) is thrown across the room as rabbits practice their digging skills. Fabrics, wood, and plastics are chewed up. Within minutes, a rabbit can turn a neat, clean bunny space into a shambles, and cover the area around their crate or pen with litter, pellets, and pills (droppings).
Rabbits not only come in all shapes and sizes, but, more importantly, they come in all temperaments.
There are rabbits who are very fearful of everything…
Rabbits who are fearful of people, but bold in exploring…
Rabbits who hate being picked up, but enjoy being petted…
Rabbits who beg to be petted…
Rabbits who leap into human laps…
Rabbits who play practical jokes on people.
In fact, if you can imagine a temperament of just about any kind, there is probably a rabbit somewhere with that temperament.
However, be aware that, with patience and the right techniques, even a very shy, fearful rabbit can become friendly with the people she or he has learned to trust.
Things to Consider before Getting Rabbits
- Some people are allergic to rabbits, even if they aren’t allergic to other animals, and many people are allergic to the hay that is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. Many animals are left at shelters because people didn’t learn ahead of time whether anyone in the family was allergic to them.Please don’t contribute to this problem! Before getting any animals, find out if anyone in the home is allergic to them.You can determine your family’s allergic potential by visiting an allergist, or by spending time with rabbits. The adoption procedure of Colorado House Rabbit Society includes having family members spend plenty of time with rabbits and hay.
Note: There are different kinds of grass hays suitable for adult rabbits, and some are far less allergenic than others. So if someone is allergic to timothy hay, for example, they may not be to orchard grass, or some other grass hay.
- Terriers, dachshunds, and hounds often have strong instincts to kill small animals, because they were originally bred for this purpose. Any individual dog of any breed may be likely to kill a rabbit. Please don’t risk the lives and well-being of rabbits by taking them into your home if you have dogs unless you have determined that the dog is not a threat. Sooner or later tragedy will strike, no matter how careful you are to keep the animals separate.
- Rabbits are not cuddly, passive creatures (few like to be picked up), but intelligent, curious, creative, affectionate, entertaining, and self-willed animals–you will be disappointed if you see them as “live, stuffed animals” that you can pick up and cuddle whenever it suits you. But you will be enthralled if you are willing to learn from them who and what they are and treat them accordingly. When they develop trust, they may gladly come, even leap into your lap, for petting and cuddling.
- Rabbits are absolutely unsuitable for young children for three reasons:
- Children haven’t the size or physical dexterity to handle rabbits safely, nor have they the maturity to remember always to handle them properly. As a result, rabbits handled by young children often suffer injuries, the most common being a broken back.
- Most rabbits, after puberty occurs, dislike being held. Children’s rapid movements and sudden squeals of excitement may frighten them. Children may be bitterly disappointed when a bunny who accepted handling for several weeks, suddenly objects to it, as a teenager. If you want rabbits for the whole family and plan always to supervise children around the rabbits, it is better to get big adult rabbits who have demonstrated that they are willing to tolerate petting from children.
- Rabbits can and will inflict painful bites and scratches if they are frightened or forced to do something they don’t like. Young children may be scratched or bitten by a terrified rabbit, struggling to feel secure and safe.
- Rabbits are easily injured or killed by mishandling. Even adults must learn how to handle rabbits safely by always supporting the rump, above the tail, and young children should never be allowed to pick them up. Never lift a rabbit by the ears–it is incredible, but some people actually do this–or by the scruff of the neck. Scoop the rabbit up with one hand under the rib cage and one around the rump, above the tail. (See “Basics of Bunny Handling and Behavior”)
- If adults or older children have rabbits, and young children are present, a padlock on the rabbits’ home should be used and the younger children allowed to pet the rabbits only with adult supervision. No child should be expected to stand up to peer pressure if friends insist on getting the rabbits out–the padlock takes care of the problem, protecting both the child and the rabbits. However, it is vital that the key to the padlock be easily accessed in the event of an emergency, such as a fire.
- Unless you are familiar with the pitfalls and problems of a rabbit’s first year, and are willing to take them on, it is better to get adult rabbits who are already spayed or neutered. Unlike dogs, there are no advantages to getting young rabbits (except they are especially cute), and many disadvantages: sudden changes in personality, extreme urges to chew and dig, your having to suffer the anxiety when the rabbits are spayed or neutered, not knowing the general health of the rabbit, etc.
- Rabbits can live 8-12 years or longer (we’ve known one to reach 17 years), but only with care that isn’t available from most books, pet stores, veterinarians, or breeders. These articles explain this care.
- Never, under any circumstances, get living creatures on the basis that you will “get rid of them” if a child fails to care for them. No child—not even a teen—can live up to the promise of taking care of animals for an indefinite period of time. It is cruel to animals to be “gotten rid of” as though their emotional pain, when separated from those they have bonded to, is of no concern. If anything, this teaches a child that you don’t take responsibility, and that the child doesn’t have to, either. Such consequences should apply only to inanimate objects. (“We’ll get a book at the library, but if you don’t read it within two weeks, we’ll take it back and leave it.”) With living creatures, teach life-long commitment.
- Be a role model to teach responsibility for living things to children. Say to a young child, “The rabbits are hungry. Let’s feed them.” Going with the parent makes it fun for children, especially when they are allowed to do more and more of the job themselves, with a parent helping, and praising their efforts, or commenting on how happy they have made the rabbits. With an older child, use a reminder if required (“The rabbits need their dinner now”) with some consequence (“You can’t eat supper until the rabbits have had theirs”), followed by a check to be sure the job has been done right.
- Rabbits are extremely social animals who need companions of their own kind–singles are very lonely. People usually don’t realize how lonely they are, because they’re so happy when their people show up. But when they’re alone, they’re miserable. Always pair or group rabbits. The male-female pairing is the most natural, but also the most complicated. When successful, it results in an emotionally deep bond, similar to that of married humans. However, rabbits are picky about mates, and pairing is best left to people who understand the process.Female-female pairing is a friendship, but since rabbits have a matriarchal society, both females must agree on which of them is to be “top bunny.” If both want this position, vicious fighting will occur, and the bonding won’t happen.Male-male pairing is the easiest—either the two like each other, or they don’t. However, if a real fight ever occurs between them, they will probably never be able to live together again.
- Rabbits can be difficult to sex, since males can hide both testicles and penis. It is especially difficult when they are young, since the testicles don’t descend until puberty and the penis may not be easily externalized. Pet stores, breeders, and even many veterinarians almost never get the sex of young rabbits right. Until spayed or neutered, rabbits must be separated from the age of three months until they are altered, to avoid the almost-certainty of a litter. YOU will have to deal with a litter if THEY made a mistake sexing your rabbits. (Actually, you will have to deal with two litters, since rabbits mate immediately after the first litter is delivered—so by the time you realize that you have a litter of babies, the female is already pregnant with the second litter. Of course, it is very hard on a little girl bunny to have one litter, and terribly hard on her to have two!)
- Rabbits must be altered to be good companion rabbits. Females who aren’t spayed may be cranky and hard to get along with, and have an 80% probability of developing uterine cancer by the age of five years. Males may spray urine on floors, walls, people—anything within range, and hump anything that moves or seems the right size. Spaying and neutering solve these problems usually within days. (Use only a veterinarian trained in the special techniques required for safe surgery on rabbits, and one who has a success rate of almost 100%.)
- For any medical treatment of a rabbit, use only a vet who specializes in exotics and rabbits (vets who don’t know rabbits will often inadvertently kill them, giving amoxicillin which cures the initial problem, but then causes death from severe diahrrea a day later, so they seldom even know that the rabbit died. You can get the names of a rabbit vets in your area by looking at our web-site, www.coloradohrs.org, and clicking on the “Vets” button at the top of the home page.
- It is as cruel to keep a rabbit in an outdoor hutch as it would be to keep a dog that way. They lack mental stimulation (which can cause them to become “furry vegetables,” living in a vegetative state not very different from being in a coma), usually receive very little affection, and may become psychotic (which people label as “mean rabbit”–wouldn’t you become vegetative or mean in a similar situation?)
- If you plan to keep a rabbit in a hutch anyway, think about going out twice a day, no matter what the weather, to give food and fresh water, getting nothing in return. Such rabbits become nothing but a chore for their people. Why would anyone choose to take on another chore with no benefit to themselves? People who keep rabbits in outdoor hutches usually end up asking a shelter or other people to take over their responsibilities. This is unfair to the rabbits and the shelters, alike!
- It is extremely dangerous to let rabbits run freely in a fenced yard. Rabbits who have done so safely for years almost always end up as tragedies. The excuse “But they love it so much!” is like saying, “My three-year old loves playing in the street, so in spite of the danger, I’ll let her. Even if she gets killed, she will have had a lot of fun.”
- If rabbits mustbe kept outdoors, or if you really want them to have the pleasure of running around outside, they should have a chain-link run (chicken wire will not protect them from predators, which include cats, dogs, coyotes, fox, raccoons (you may not see them, but they are literally everywhere, including downtown Denver and every suburb as well as the country), hawks, and eagles. The chain-link should be buried a couple of feet to prevent rabbits digging out as well as predators digging in and the top of the run must be covered with chain-link or something strong. There must be at least one sturdy wooden box with a small entrance for rabbits to run into should they be frightened, so they won’t go into shock when a predator appears. (In the winter, this box should be filled with straw to keep the rabbits warm. Even with this, a single rabbit may not survive the cold.)It is far better to keep your rabbits in the house, preferably in a family room, or wherever the family is most likely to be most of the time, where they may have a home of their own (a crate or pen, where they feel safe). Rabbits are easily litter trained, and can gradually be given the run of the house if you follow the techniques given in these articles.
- Rabbits are easily trained to use a litter box and to behave well in the house, but because they have a psychology quite different from dogs and cats, most people have to learn the simple techniques needed to train them.
- Rabbits make wonderful house companions. They are entertaining, affectionate, have unique personalities, may have a fine sense of humor, and given time and patience, will become an integral part of the household.