Things to consider before getting a pet rabbit

  By: Dr. Debbie Hrynkiw, DVM
        Owner, Black Creek Animal Hospital, Acton, ON, Canada

  February 14, 2017


At my veterinary hospital, we regularly see pet rabbits and rabbits from Rabbit Rescue, a rescue organization serving southern Ontario. One of my favourite parts about seeing bunnies is helping people understand how to care for them so they can live happy and healthy lives. If you are thinking about adopting a pet rabbit, there are some things to consider first. Below, see some factors to help you decide whether a rabbit is the right pet for you.

Is a bunny a good fit for your family?

  • Bunnies require a lot of care. Their cages need to be cleaned daily, they need to be fed at least twice daily, and they require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Many bunnies do not like to be picked up.
  • Bunnies have delicate bones compared to their muscle mass, making careful handling to avoid bone fractures important.
  • If not held securely, bunnies can violently kick and break their back.
  • A bunny is a longterm commitment with a life span of approximately 9-10 years. Some live up to 12 years.
  • Bunnies are most active in the morning and evening hours.

If you have decided a pet bunny is right for you and your family, please read further to find more information on:

  1. Where to adopt from
  2. Housing pet rabbits
  3. Litter training pet rabbits
  4. Nutritional needs
  5. Grooming needs
  6. Veterinary care for pet rabbits

1. Where to adopt from?

  • There are many bunnies looking for homes. Sadly, many bunnies are dumped outside when they are no longer wanted. Domesticated rabbits do not survive well in the wild. 
  • It's important to be proactive when searching for a pet rabbit. The questions to ask the sources you're considering for a pet rabbit will be similar to those you would ask when getting a dog or cat. Please check out these dog and cat pages on questions to ask animal sources (e.g., breeder, animal shelters and rescues, pet stores, etc.). Asking these questions will help you make an informed decision about the animal source you're considering and give you a better understanding of the type of care they provide their animals.

2. Housing

  • A pet rabbit's house should be large enough for a litter box, an area for eating, and an area for sleep/play. The height of the cage should allow the bunny to comfortably stand up.
  • The cage bottom should be a solid surface as wires can cause sore and infected feet.
  • Large cages can be quite expensive but if you are crafty, great bunny condos can be inexpensively built using storage cubes.
  • Bunnies require a lot of exercise to promote gastrointestinal and urinary tract health.
    • Bunnies enjoy free time out of their cage but the house must be bunny proofed. Bunnies love to chew and dig. The most common household hazards to pet rabbits are poisonous plants and electrical wires.
    • An exercise pen can be a safe alternative to a bunny being free in the house.
  • Regular cleaning of the cage and litter box is very important; so the door of the cage needs to be large enough to easily remove the litter pan for cleaning.
  • Poor housing hygiene can cause issues with a bunny's respiratory tract and feet.

3. Litter training

  • Bunnies are usually easily litter trained.
  • They tend to urinate/defecate in the same location. If the litter pan is placed in this location with their hay close by, they will often jump in the litter to eat and then start using their litter box.
  • The litter material must be safe if ingested. Recycled newspaper pellets or a soft recycled paper material are good options. You can get both of these from pet stores.
  • If a bunny is not spayed or neutered, litter training can be difficult.

4. Nutrition

  • Diet is one of the most important factors in a pet rabbit's health.
  • The main portion of a bunny's diet should be hay. They need hay to keep their teeth and intestinal tract healthy.
  • Only a small portion of the diet should be pellets. Muesli-type pellets should be avoided.
    • The rule of thumb is 1/4 cup of pellets for a 5 lb bunny. If a bunny fills up on pellets, they tend to eat less hay, which is so important for their overall health. Make sure your rabbit is eating plenty of hay!
  • A bunny should eat a variety of greens daily. About 2 cups should be fed.
  • Only feed a very small amount of sugary treats 2-3 times weekly. Remember the size of the bunny in comparison to the treat size.
    • A pet rabbit eating one full carrot is like us eating a party-size pizza! Yes, carrots are considered a sugary treat.

5. Grooming

  • Bunnies shed their fur at certain times of the year. This is called moulting. Brushing can help with the shedding.
  • Some long-haired bunnies, like Angoras, need intensive brushing to keep their fur mat-free.
  • Regular nail trims are needed. Every bunny is different; how often they need their nails trimmed depends on the surface they run on. Most pet rabbits require trims every 3-6 weeks.
  • Long nails can cause discomfort and have the risk of becoming caught on objects.

6. Veterinary care

  • All bunnies should be spayed or neutered.
    • Cancer of the reproductive tract is common
    • Spaying/neutering usually makes bunnies more calm, less aggressive, and will help with litter training.
  • Bunnies require regular check ups by a veterinarian to detect health issues early.
  • Bunnies will often hide their illnesses because they are prey animals. Once you see signs of illness, they need to be seen by a veterinarian right away.

Good websites to visit for bunny information or if you are looking to adopt a bunny include:

House Rabbit Society
Rabbit Rescue

 

 
Quensenberry, K.E., and Carpenter, J.W. (2012). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 157-192.