Okay, so you’ve decided you want to get a pet rabbit, maybe you’ve even decided what kind of rabbit you want. What’s next? Well, owning a rabbit is tons of fun, but it also takes dedication, financial resources, and the right equipment. Once you’re sure you can offer the love and support needed to care for a rabbit, you have the time to offer these things and are willing to offer them for the duration of the rabbit’s life, you have the financial resources you need to buy necessary items such as food, toys, bedding, etc…, and you have the financial resources to afford veterinary check ups, shots, and emergency care, then you’re ready to get your bunny and take him home.
First, before bringing your bunny home, you’ll need a hutch for him. A bunny hutch is a large cage, sometimes it is off the ground, sometimes it sits on the ground. If you have another animal that might bother the bunny, having one that is a good deal off the ground might be a good idea. If your rabbit is the only pet, you can take your pick. The best hutches are those that have a nice meshy bottom that the feces and urine can slip through into a underneath pan that you can pull out for easy cleaning. The additional benefit of this sort of hutch is that your rabbit won’t be standing and possibly laying in his own feces. If you get a hutch without this meshy bottom, you’ll have to clean the cage everyday to make sure your rabbit doesn’t get sick from having the feces laying around in his house. Otherwise, three times a week is generally enough. Cleaning with a hutch like this also shouldn’t take long. You just pull out the pan, dump it, wash it, and disinfect it.
However, with a mesh bottom cage it is important to keep your bunny’s precious little feet in mind. Constantly walking on that surface can cause sores on the feet. Provide an area where there is a blanket, or flat surface to walk on and rest on. This will help so that your rabbit isn’t constantly walking on the wire bottom of the cage. It’s also important to note that a rabbit isn’t a cage animal, meaning they aren’t the kind of pet you can just keep in a cage and look at. You need to interact with your bunny in the same way you would with a dog or cat, and they need to have ample time to stretch, run around, and play with you outside of the cage. However, we will discuss this later. For now, back to buying a cage.
When choosing a cage or hutch, you’ll need to take into consideration the size of your bunny. Not just the size they are as a baby, but the size they will grow to. You can always buy a new and bigger hutch as the rabbit grows, and your bunny will grow fairly quickly. Whatever you choose to do, keep in mind that what ever you buy should be big enough for your bunny to stretch out in. Relaxing rabbits like to outstretch their back legs and front legs. They look like little logs, and with their legs straightened they can be quite long. So don’t buy anything too small for them to do this, it will be extremely uncomfortable. Also, remember to clean all bedding with a thorough washing, and spray a flea and tick killing agent on bedding to make sure that your pet stays parasite free. You can buy pet safe parasite riding agents at a pet store or your veterinarian’s office.
Next, choosing food. Rabbits eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grass, and hay. While shopping you can buy fresh greens for your rabbit, but don’t give too many as it can cause diarrhea. Seek out the help of a rabbit feeding guide for specifics. For now, you’ll need a bag of dry food. You’ll have a wide variety of choices as far as food brands go, but it basically comes down to two things. Pellets, or pellets and other ingredients. If you buy a mix bag, be sure there are no peanuts, or corn in it. Also be sure there aren’t too many rabbit “crackers or cookies” things like these cause excessive diarrhea and gas in rabbits if eaten too much. Be sure your rabbit is eating more pellets than extra goodies. You’ll also want to pick up a bag of Timothy Hay. This can be eaten any time by your bunny, it is extremely healthy and encourages a healthy digestive tract. For a baby bunny, give alfalfa too, however, as they get older give them less and less until you wean them off it. Alfalfa is too strong for older bunnies as they don’t need that kind of nutrition anymore. Your veterinarian can give you more information about bunny nutrition, as can the bunny book you should purchase.
Treat time! Every bunny loves a good treat. Try to choose healthy treats without too much sugar. Again, no peanuts or corn should be present. Pet stores sell bags of dried fruit like apples, raisins, cranberries, banana, coconut, and the like. Rabbits love these and they are cut nice and small for use in moderation. Never over-treat as it is severely detrimental to your rabbit’s health, but treating is a good way to bond and encourage good behavior from your rabbit. Other treats include rabbit granola bars, break these up and give in moderation. I like to let my rabbit take a bite off the bar. He loves it and it is super cute! Treats like yogurt drops should be used extremely sparingly, rabbits don’t need all that sugar. A better treat would be a fresh strawberry, carrot, or something like that. Encourage health while treating. Treating should be fun for both you and your pet, but make sure you’re not giving your bunny something that will ultimately harm them.
There are a number of ways to play with your bunny, one way to do that is with toys. Your bunny would love having toys both outside the cage and inside the cage. Some of the best cage toys are those that hang on the side of the cage. There are things like salt wheels which are actually for rabbit health, but can be quite entertaining. The salt wheel will help to keep your rabbit’s teeth from over growing, satisfy their need for sodium, and provide a bit of entertainment. Other great toys are wooden blocks, sticks, or shaped wood that your bunny can chew on. They must have something to chew on to keep their teeth in check. Rabbits will chew on just about anything that is wooden, including your home, so distracting them with chew toys can be a good way to keep your home away from a bored little bunny.
Other toys are things the rabbit can carry around, throw around (yes, bunnies love to pick things up with their mouth and toss them around), and roll around. The only thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want anything the rabbit can eat that they shouldn’t. Rabbits, like other small animals are at high risk for small items getting caught in their intestines. Rabbits will try and eat just about anything, so you have to keep non-eatable things out of reach.
At home grooming products aren’t necessary as you can take your bunny to the vet. However, it’s always good to have a soft bristle bunny brush to brush off excess hair, especially during summer and spring when rabbits tend to shed their winter coats. Rabbits also enjoy a good brushing, think of it as a little bunny massage, so it’s a good way to spend a little bonding time with your rabbit, clean them up, and get them used to being pet and handled. Additionally, some people like to wash their bunnies, if you want to do this, use specially formulated shampoos. You can get these from a pet store or your veterinarian. My rabbit does a great job of staying clean, so I don’t wash him. If your bunny is outside it may be necessary, mine stays inside all the time, so you may want to take this into consideration.
Your rabbit will need his nails cut every now and again. The exact times vary with each animal. You can do this yourself with a claw clipper, or take your pet to the vet to do it. If you do it yourself, be sure to read up on the technique as there are blood vessels in the claws that need to be avoided.
Another task you’ll need to perform before getting your bunny, and this is a rather big one, is to rabbit proof your home. This means covering any and all holes the rabbit can get into. Lining wall corners with a thick plastic lining so that the rabbit cannot bite them, eliminating dangerous substances and plants around the house, and blocking off places you don’t want the bunny to go. In some houses this is easy, in others it can be hard. It also depends on if you’re going to let your bunny run around the entire house, or just in a one room. I allow my rabbit free range of the entire house, he only uses his cage as a litter box and a place to get food and water. Otherwise he roams the house like a cat. This is a result of good training and socialization, so don’t try it with a new bunny. A new bunny needs in and out of cage time before they can roam the house cage free. Train your bunny in desirable behaviors with rewarding with praise and treats, and socialize him through attention and holding.
This brings me to the next section. Spending time with your bunny. You need to let him out to play everyday, and you need to be there with him. Don’t just open the cage door, physically take him out, hold him, stroke him, give him a kiss if you want (mine loves kisses now and will even lick me if I give him a kiss!) After you’ve held him for a bit, let him down to run around. Keep an eye on him, give him toys and interact with him with the toys. Play with him, pet him, all the things you’d do with a dog that you want to be tame, unafraid, and friendly. Your bunny may be frightened at first, but he’ll come to know, trust, and love you. Reward litter box usage with treats and praise to encourage further use. This will also help with bunny socialization. When you’re done playing, put him back in the cage and give him a loving pat. Treat him if he goes in on his own, and sometimes they will when they get tired and know its time to go back in for a bit. Soon, your bunny will associate his cage with a litter box and a secure place to hide, find food, and find water. At this point, you can let your bunny run around the house. Be sure to put a couple more litter boxes around, and use the same material as the liter in the cage so they know the smell. Just remember, even if your bunny roams the house, take the time to play with him, and hold him to encourage continued socialization and friendliness.
One thing to note is that rabbits will often give objects a little nip just to see what it is. They aren’t being hostile and aren’t always trying to eat the object. Rabbits just do this as a means of feeling out what an object is. Additionally, a needy or extremely attention hungry bunny might also give you a little nip on the foot to let you know they want to play, want to be held, or want attention. While this isn’t exactly desirable, the nip doesn’t hurt. You can discourage this behavior by saying no and withholding attention and rewarding positive means of getting attention like licking or waiting at your feet. Never yell or hit your bunny, ever.
While this is a basic guide to having a rabbit in the house, it is a good place to start and a good introduction on how to care for your bunny. Remember that, like a dog or cat, they’ll need veterinary check-ups and initial shots. You should also have them fixed, especially boys since they spray a lot before they are fixed. Having a bunny that sprays everything isn’t fun, so right after getting your bunny, have them vaccinated and fixed. Preparing for your rabbit before you get it is a good way to help your bunny feel comfortable with their new home, and with you.
**Special dedication to my bunny and my sister who helped me to make him the cuddly, spoiled little fuzzy he is.