Spring is springing. The weather is warming, and the flowers are blooming. The spark of new life is all around us. It’s that time of year when so many parents purchase a baby bunny and stick it in their kid’s Easter basket, having no real idea the kind of care and commitment having a domestic rabbit involves.
Sometimes, a family who adopts a bunny ends up abandoning the animal after learning they were wrong about pet bunnies being “easier” to handle than cats and dogs.
Rabbits deserve the very best care if you’re going to adopt one as a pet. They can live for up to 10 to 12 years. Some longer than that. And, contrary to popular belief, they are not cage animals.
I love animals in general, and the gentle rabbit in particular. And it’s all thanks to my husband, who made me a bun mom.
When I started dating him 11 years ago, my then-boyfriend owned the cutest rabbit, named Sammie. A Ductch bunny, Sammie was incredibly friendly and looked to be always ready for a formal affair with his dapper black-and-white coat. Sammie lived to be 13, and he had a good, long life. Since then, my husband and I have adopted two adorable rabbits together.
It’s an odd sort of thing, and I’m the only person I know in real life who has rabbits as domestic pets. But online, there is a big strong community of us. And we won’t stand to see bunnies cared for in the wrong way.
Here’s What You Need to Know
If you’re contemplating getting a pet rabbit this Easter, or, if you just want to know more about these kind, gentle vegans, here are some interesting facts about having pet rabbits.
1. They have to free roam
Though most pet stores would have you thinking differently when they try to sell you various accessories for your bun, rabbits aren’t actually supposed to be kept in cages. You know how wild rabbits love romping in the fields or frolicking through the forest? It’s the same for domestic buns.
Living in a small cage is a life of misery for a rabbit. They have glorious hind leg muscles, and they need to stretch, run, jump, and play. Just like a cat or a dog, a pet rabbit can’t live a healthy life in a cage. They need to have their own room or large pen in the home, or, they can be allowed to roam the entire house freely. (My buns have the run of the house except for two rooms, where we keep musical instruments and electronic equipment that we don’t want them to destroy by chewing).
Also, keeping them in a hutch or pen outside is a no-go, because they are more susceptible to hot and cold weather as well as neighborhood predators.
2. They need to be spayed/neutered
And it’s pretty expensive. It cost us $250 each for spaying/neutering. And the rabbits themselves cost $10 to adopt.
You have to find a rabbit-savvy vet, which isn’t always easy. (In the animal healthcare realm, rabbits are exotics.) Spaying/neutering a rabbit is so important because it eliminates the risk of reproductive cancers, which are relatively common for them. It also helps with hormonal habits such as mounting or territorial/aggressive behavior. Spaying/neutering also helps rabbits in their journey toward litter box training.
Speaking of litter boxes…
3. Buns are easily litter trained
Did you know rabbits can learn to use a litter box? I didn’t know that either. Not until I started researching rabbit care. It’s just not common knowledge. But with the rabbit community online, there are countless articles and YouTube videos available to show you the best tips and tricks for litter training your rabbit(s).
4. Unlike cats and dogs, they are full-on vegans
Rabbits eat mostly hay, dried hay pellets, and certain fruits, veggies, and herbs. They also really love oats. Our buns are obsessed with them. But oats are a treat and have to be given sparingly. The most important thing is hay, which should make up at least 80% of a rabbit’s diet.
5. They’re very social creatures
So, you probably want to get at least two. And keep in mind, if you have more than one rabbit, they need to form a bond with each other, which can take some time if they are fully grown. It took us about 3 months of keeping these two separated, with daily supervised visits, before they were bonded. Meaning, he stopped chasing and trying to mate with her.
Now, these two are inseparable. They snuggle and sleep together, and they lick (groom) each other daily. Truly a couple in love.
6. They don’t appreciate you dressing them up
This, among many other bunny tips, is something I learned from one of the very best YouTube channels around, Lennon the Bunny. Lennon’s mom, Lorelei, is both a talented musical artist as well as an advocate for buns. Her channel will teach you so much about how to better care for your rabbit. Including the fact that putting a sweater or cute accessory on them is something you should do sparingly, under strict supervision, and not for long periods of time. (Or, if they really don’t like it, not at all).
See exhibit A, where an adorable Zelda is simply humoring her mom for a quick photo shoot. The flower clip came out moments later — she made sure of that.
7. They chew on basically everything
Rabbits are like toddlers — and you’re going to need to bunny-proof your place. These very curious creatures get into everything. They will chew anything. You’ll want to remove any books from the bottom shelf, make sure they have no access to electrical cords (which can kill them), and even, in some cases, make adjustments in your home to protect your baseboards, doors, and corner walls.
Bunnies love to chew against resistance because their teeth never stop growing, and chewing helps to prevent overgrowth. Give them plenty of access to hay, chew toys, untreated wood, and cardboard, and they’ll love you forever.
8. If they go 12 hours without eating, they can suffer a fatal condition called GI stasis
Since rabbits are grazers, they need to be fed frequently throughout the day. If they go even 12 hours without food, it’s possible that they can start to suffer from a serious and painful digestive condition called GI Statis — which is potentially deadly. Again, they are gentle creatures. And they are also fragile. They need a lot of tender loving care.
9. They are meticulous groomers
If you think rabbits are dirty or might have a smell because they use a litter box, think again. Buns are meticulous groomers. You can see them constantly licking their coats and also their paws to clean their faces. It’s a habit you can catch multiple times throughout the day.
For All Your Hard Work, Your Bun Will Show Love in Unique Ways
Bunnies aren’t usually big fans of being held and cuddled. They don’t give affection constantly and unconditionally like many dogs (and a few friendly cats). They are the most aloof of pets.
The fact is, unlike cats or dogs, bunnies are prey animals, and they are just wired differently. That doesn’t mean they don’t show their humans tons of affection — they do. It just looks a bit different.
Bunnos are smart and have an instinct to run from danger. Their trust needs to be earned over time. When they get acclimated to the people in their world, they will show their loyalty and affection in unique ways.
For example, they may flop if they are totally comfortable and content around you. Flopping is when they fall (flop) to the side and land on the floor in a happy trance. If a rabbit does this in your presence, it’s a real honor. It means they trust you with their life and they are no longer think you’re going to eat them every second of the day.
Other acts of trust and affection are taking food from your hand, giving you a head-but, “chinning” you (rubbing the scent glands under their chin on you as a way to show you belong to them), or chattering their teeth. If I scratch behind my rabbits’ ears in just the right spot, they will make a soft chattering noise with their teeth. This is the equivalent of a cat purring.
Bunnies also show their happiness by binking. This is when they run and jump, giving their bottoms a little twist mid-air. It’s truly something to behold.
And finally, when a rabbit gives you the ultimate privilege of allowing you to hold them, you’re getting more love and affection than you can ever understand. My rabbits love, love, love when I pet them. They tolerate me holding them. This is the ultimate expression of their love and loyalty because they allow me to do it — even though it’s not their favorite activity, by far.
The work to care for a rabbit isn’t always easy. But the rewards, and the pure fluffy adorableness, make it all worthwhile.