Traveling With Your Rabbit

by Nancy J. LaRoche  Copyright 2003 – All Rights Reserved  (May be copied for free distribution)

Most rabbits must travel at one time or another, perhaps only to a veterinarian, but possibly on an extended trip. Because it is a relatively infrequent event, traveling may stress rabbits to some extent. With a little forethought, you can minimize this stress. Traveling needn’t be an ordeal!

Short Car Trips  The most common trip your rabbits will make is a trip to the veterinarian, since they should have a yearly checkup even if they are never sick.

As with any activity, they are less stressed when they can be with their house (cage)-mate. Take them together in the same carrier. Even if one has a communicable infection, the other has almost certainly already been exposed. To separate them means increasing the stress of both risking the sick rabbit to be less able to fight the infection and perhaps causing the well rabbit to succumb to the illness. Better for them both to keep them together.

When traveling by car, rabbits should be in a carrier just large enough for them to stretch out comfortably. Put the carrier so it’s side faces the front of the car. In the event of a sudden stop where the rabbits are thrown forward or someone runs into you from behind so they are thrown backward, the force is distributed across the rabbits’ sides rather than being taken by their heads and necks. If the carrier is large enough for the rabbits to lie facing the side of the carrier, these forces could lead to a broken neck. And a smaller carrier tends to make them feel more secure – it’s a bit like being in a burrow.

If the carrier is placed on a seat, secure it with a seat-belt. It can also be placed on the back floor by pulling the front seat forward, putting the carrier in, and then moving the seat back so the carrier is held securely between the front and back seats. Another possibility is the floor in front of the passenger seat. Some parts of car floors can become quite warm which can just about bake a bunny! Even a folded towel will not protect your rabbits from this heat, so be cautious if you use the floor.

If your car doesn’t have air-conditioning, place a 2-liter plastic bottle (such as soft drinks come in), filled with water and frozen, in the carrier with the rabbits. You will need a wider carrier to accommodate the bottle. In which case, use an empty bottle when coolness isn’t needed, so the space is taken up and prevents the rabbits from turning to face the front of the car. If you can find something which fits the bottom of the carrier and can be frozen and covered with several layers of toweling, this problem can be avoided.

Finally, holding a rabbit in your lap in a car almost guarantees the rabbit’s injury or death in the event of an accident.

Remember cars become incredibly hot in a matter of a couple of minutes if the sun is shining or the weather is warm.Never leave rabbits in a car without a person remaining with them!

Longer Car Trips  Everything about short car trips applies to longer car trips, but more is required. Rabbits seldom eat or drink when in the car and some may not even urinate or drop pills. Do, however, take extra towels for the carrier and a plastic bag for soiled towels, in case they do urinate. You can offer a few vegetables when you stop for a break. Vegetables provide water, but don’t worry if they aren’t eaten. If your rabbits are leash-trained, you can let them hop around a bit at rest stops, but use a patch of grass, not the dog areas. However, many rabbits prefer to remain in the safety of their carriers, so don’t force this.

Take a throw-rug or towels, a litter box and litter, the rabbits’ regular food and hay, vegetables kept crisp in a cooler, and water from home. At your motel, spread the rug or towels on the floor of the bathroom, prepare a litter box, and set up your rabbits’ normal food and water. Brace the door of the carrier open so it can’t close, and go get your own dinner, letting the rabbits decide when they feel like coming out. Let them remain out for the night, confined to the bathroom where they can’t destroy anything.

When you reach your destination, set up your rabbits as nearly like home as possible, in a quiet, safe place. Let them get adjusted before introducing them to friends and family.

Finally, it is a good idea to take Probiocin or Bene-Bac (most rabbit veterinarians carry these) with you. If your furry friends don’t eat for 24-hours, give them a mouthful of one of these using a small syringe.

Traveling by Air  People are often terrified of flying their rabbits in “animal-cargo,” and with good reason. When the government began requiring airlines to make public the numbers of lost, injured, and dead animals traveling in animal-cargo, many airlines stopped carrying them at all. There are few airlines which will allow rabbits in the cabin. United is known for telling you that you can take them in the cabin, and then refusing to allow them there when you go to board. One of our members called United three different times to be certain she could take her rabbits with her in the cabin. Each time she was assured she could. But when she attempted to board with them, she was told she couldn’t take them and was then almost arrested because she argued about it. So…flier beware!

If you must fly your rabbits via Animal Cargo, use an airline-approved carrier, put in towels to soak up any urine, or use a grate if you have one that fits the carrier, and put a few leafy vegetables in the carrier. Parsely and slices of carrots are ideal. Chances are the rabbits will ignore them, but the vegetables will satisfy their thirst without spilling water in the carrier if they do get thirsty.

If at all possible, during hot weather, arrange the flight so the rabbits are loaded during the coolest times of day. Put labels on the carrier saying “Do not leave in sun!!” Once they are on-board, they will probably be fine, but they are sometimes left sitting on the tarmac prior to loading, risking heat-stroke if it is hot outside. This is not as likely to happen at their destination.

It is my opinion (I have no data to back this up) rabbits should not be given any sort of tranquilizer when flying. Rabbits feel safest when they can be alert to what’s happening around them. Tranquilizers, it seems to me, may cause rabbits to struggle against the effects, thereby stressing them more than if they can snuggle down in a carrier-cum-burrow where they can observe the world while feeling hidden from it.

Finally, be sure to get a Certificate of Health from a veterinarian a day or two before your trip.

Some airlines will allow animals to fly with you in the cabin if they are small enough for a carrier which can travel stored under the seat. However, many airlines still classify rabbits as livestock and will not allow them in the passenger compartment. Those which will, have strict policies. They must fit under your seat. No more than one animal is allowed per flight. (Presumably, two rabbits in one carrier would be acceptable, but verify this with your airline.) Because only one animal is allowed in the cabin per flight, you must make a reservation and there is a charge. If someone else has a reservation for an animal on the same flight, you will be turned down, so make your reservations early.

Above all, don’t take someone’s word for it that the airline allows animals on-board until you have a reservation and ticket for them!