Deciding on a Rabbit

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Getting a pet should never be an impulse decision. That being said, there are many reasons to consider a rabbit as a pet, and many reasons you might not want one. We will try to do our best to give you an idea what you will be getting into with the possession of a rabbit.

Is a rabbit right for you?

Rabbits can make excellent house pets due to their cleanliness, the ease of litter training, and the lack of vocal sounds. They are fascinating to watch and can become quite affectionate when you gain their trust. If you are a working professional, rabbits are a great pet because they will usually be sleeping during the day and become active after you get home around the evening. However, rabbits are not the most low-maintenance pets and actually have quite a few needs, and these are important to consider before you have a rabbit join your household.

  • When properly taken care of, rabbits can live to an average of 8 or more years. A rabbit will be around when your child grows up and goes to college. Rabbits are not a disposable pet. If you would like a short-lived pet for at most 3-4 years, a rabbit is not the pet for you. Rabbits will also develop a deep bond with their main caretaker. Be prepared to have a place for your bun if you plan on getting married, move, have a child, or a new pet.
  • Regardless of breed or sex, rabbits have their own distinct personalities. There are no temperament traits that have been selectively bred, so any breed of rabbit can have the personality you are looking for. There may be trends such as smaller breeds tending to be more mischievous and active while larger breeds tending to be more docile and easy-going, but this is not set in stone by any means. Sociability is easily influenced by the amount of time the rabbit interacts with humans. The more humans play with the bunny, the more sociable the bunny will be.
  • Rabbits are high maintenance and require daily care. Most pets, in fact, also need daily care, but rabbits are much more sensitive to changes than the average pet. It takes a daily commitment to make sure a rabbit is in good health, has unlimited hay and water, and a clean cage. As a prey animal, rabbits hide obvious signs of discomfort until it's too late. Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is not an unusual occurrence with rabbits, where their digestive system shuts down and stops their ability to eat until medical attention is given. A rabbit with GI stasis can easily succumb quickly without immediate care. Rabbits will also need regular grooming and be brushed at least once a week depending on breed to make sure that they do not ingest too much hair when grooming themselves. They will need their teeth to be checked annually by a vet to make sure that they are not overgrown due to insufficient chewing or genetic malocclusion. Also, rabbit nails will also need clipping every 6-8 weeks to make sure they do not get caught in materials and get torn out or broken. Rabbits are social animals, and do not do well in isolation.
  • Rabbits require daily exercise. A small cage is not suitable 24/7 housing for a rabbit. Rabbits love to run and need the space to do so. A constantly caged rabbit will result in a rabbit that is depressed and antisocial. On the bright side, a single apartment room with enough floor space to run and hop is enough for a rabbit to exercise in.
  • Rabbits are herbivores. Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits cannot consume most human food. The scraps from the dinner table cannot be fed. A diet for an adult bun consists of hay, pellets, and uncooked raw vegetables. You will need to be prepared as most of these are not easily available at any supermarket.
  • There are start-up and continual costs to owning a rabbit. Essential startup costs include purchasing and setting up proper housing, bunny-proofing materials, and grooming items. Continual costs include hay, pellets, vegetables, litter for their litter box, and toys. Expect to spend around $200 for initial costs and $20+ per month for a single rabbit. Spaying and neutering your rabbit if you bought it as a baby bunny will cost anywhere from $50-300+ depending on availability of low-cost clinics and location. Yearly vaccinations are not needed unless you live in certain areas, but we recommend visiting a veterinarian for a yearly health checkup regardless. Take a look at our Getting Started article to understand what you will be getting into with a bun.
  • Rabbits require specialized veterinarians for proper medical care. Vet care is usually more expensive for a rabbit than a cat or dog because they are classified as exotics. You need to find a proper rabbit-savvy vet to take care of your rabbit. We would suggest that you first look and see if you have any rabbit-savvy vets in your area before you obtain a rabbit. It will not help anyone if the closest rabbit-savvy vet is over an hour away when you have a medical emergency.
  • Rabbits can be very messy. While rabbits are relatively easy to litter train, you may still get poop pellets around their cage not in their litter box. Additionally, they produce a lot of poop and pee all day and will need their litter boxes changed often. If they are not spayed or neutered once they reach sexual maturity, rabbits may lose their litter habits and begin pooping and spraying (peeing on walls and other objects) everywhere to mark their territory. When you own a house rabbit, expect hay to be tracked everywhere as well as general fur flying around the room. If you like to keep a meticulous house, you will need to vacuum and clean multiple times a day.
  • Rabbits can be difficult to handle. Unless they have been well-handled when growing up as a baby, rabbits in general do not like to be picked up and can break their back when trying to get away. Consequently, a rabbit will not be well suited to children who like cuddling or holding their pet. Rabbits like it best when people get down to their level on the floor to pet and play with them.
  • Rabbits can be destructive. Natural instincts of a rabbit are to chew and dig. As a result, if you do not properly bunny-proof a location to which a rabbit will have access, you may find your furniture and carpet destroyed and cords chewed up. Toys will need to be provided to redirect their natural behavior to proper objects. You cannot train a rabbit to never dig and chew. If you have roommates or a family, you will need to instruct them to keep things out of a bunny's reach and off the floor. If a rabbit destroys something left in his reach, it is not his fault, since to him, everything is fair game. A humorous yet realistic discussion of the extent that house rabbit owners will reorganize their home for a rabbit can be seen here. Additionally, if your rabbit is not fixed once he reaches sexual maturity, he may become more aggressive and destructive than before.
  • Some people may be allergic to rabbits or their hay. While many people that are allergic to cats and/or dogs are not allergic to rabbits, they may be allergic to hay, an essential part of a rabbit's diet. Find out before you get your rabbit if this is the case with your family or roommates, and determine if this will be an issue for your rabbit ownership.
  • Rabbits can multiply fast. On this wiki, we do not condone intentional breeding for the common house rabbit owner. However, if you purchase two unfixed rabbits of unknown sexes and keep them together, you can easily have a large baby rabbit problem. Females can have litters of 2-10 babies as early as 2.5 months, and males can reach sexual maturity at ~3.5 months. Mothers can also be impregnated immediately after the birth of a litter. As a result, if you obtain two unfixed rabbits, you will need to keep them separate until at least one is fixed or be absolutely sure that they are both of the same sex. Rabbits are easily mis-sexed especially as babies.

If you cannot afford or are not willing to take your pet to the veterinarian when sick, please reconsider pet ownership. These animals are like children, and it is very irresponsible to refuse to take them to the doctor (veterinarian) when they show signs of illness. Wait until you are in a financial position to properly provide medical care when needed to own a pet.

Some links to read for more information have been listed below to help you decide whether a rabbit is right for you.

Here are some relevant videos you can watch.

Baby Rabbit vs. Adult Rabbit

For a first time bunny owner, we would recommend adopting an adult bunny from a rescue or shelter. Getting a baby rabbit does not necessarily enhance the human-rabbit bond. Baby rabbits are also very destructive, active, and playful while older rabbits tend to be more mellow and cuddly. Personality and affection level can drastically change in a rabbit in the first year of his growth. Rabbits reach puberty around 2.5 to 4 months of age and will become very territorial and generally lose all previously training until altered. If you have bonded baby bunnies, chances are that their bond will break at around this time. After adolescence and spaying or neutering, rabbits will be much more amenable to permanent training.

If you buy a rabbit without knowing its parents, you have no idea how large it will get. All baby rabbits are small when they are young, and a seller can easily lie about a rabbit's age. True healthy and consistent dwarfs require careful breeding.

Additionally, baby rabbits are notoriously hard to sex. Rabbits bought from a backyard breeder, pet store, or an accidental litter will most likely be mis-sexed regardless of claim of experience. If you have more than one unfixed rabbit, you may end up with babies unexpectedly if they interact with each other. It only takes once as rabbits are induced ovulators, and females can have litters as early as 2.5 months. Mothers can also be impregnated immediately after the birth of a litter. If you have two baby rabbits, keep them separate until both have been fixed.

If the rabbit will be living with a child, baby bunnies are also a poor choice. Rabbits are physically delicate animals and cannot be easily held, which children tend to love to do. See Rabbits and Children for more information.

Adult rabbits have many more pros over babies for rabbit owners. If you adopt from a rescue or shelter, you can easily choose what sort of personality and size you wish in a rabbit. You can easily figure out which bunnies are more cuddly than others. Also, rabbits reach their full growth at around 1 year. You do not want to end up with a ginormous rabbit unexpectedly if you were not prepared with extensive breed information on the baby bun.

One may think that getting an adult rabbit from a shelter or rescue is much more expensive than getting one from a flea market, pet store, or breeder for ~$5 vs. the $25-$80+ for one at the shelter. However, considering that baby rabbits will need to be spayed and neutered as an adult, especially female rabbits as they have a high 50-80% incident rate of reproductive cancers if intact by the age of 4,[1] and the procedure itself costs anywhere from $50-$300+ depending on location, you will ultimately save much more money adopting an altered rabbit from a shelter or rescue than buying a cheap rabbit.

Also, a rabbit adopted from a rescue or shelter will usually already be fixed and micro-chipped and most likely litter trained and well socialized by the time he joins your family. The workers at the location or the foster parents can provide you much more information about an adult rabbit than a baby bun. If you are worried that their age will mean less time spent with you, remember that indoor house rabbits can have a life expectancy of anywhere from 8 to 12 or more years. 3 years is not that much in the lifetime of a house rabbit.

The House Rabbit Society lists the following as good traits for a person who should get a baby rabbit:[2]

  • has lots of time, a house that can stand to be chewed, and a stable residence
  • expects accidents when baby forgets where the litterbox is
  • is patient and doesn't scream on discovering the new shoes have been nibbled
  • doesn't go away for a long time and leave a hyper baby locked up in a cage
  • knows the cute baby may grow into a rather large rabbit and may have a different personality as an adult
  • understands that when bunny matures, there will need to be a neuter/spay appointment and isn't fazed when cute baby sprays urine on the walls. S/he knows that neutering will stop the problem.

Some links to read for more information about the pros and cons of getting a baby rabbit have been listed below.

Which breed?

Rabbits have individual unique personalities, unrelated to breed. If you are looking for a certain temperament, your best bet would be to visit some local shelters and rescues and talk to volunteers to find a bunny that's right for you. However, if you are set on a certain "look" to your rabbit, take a look at our Breeds article and the links below.

Some links to read for more information have been listed below.

One or More Bunnies?

While you may not decide to get two rabbits at first, if your first rabbit has been fixed, you may consider bonding another rabbit with him for social companionship if you are not at home often. The wild European rabbits that domestic rabbits are descended from are very sociable and live in warrens.

Some links to read for more information on owning multiple rabbits have been listed below.

Fostering

Before we go into details about where to get a pet rabbit from, fostering is a great alternative to buying or adopting a rabbit if you just want to see if a rabbit is the right pet for you. Fostering is also a good option for people who know they will be moving soon but would like a pet rabbit in the meantime. Most of the rabbits in foster programs will be happy and healthy, but rescues will occasionally have buns that will need a personal gentle touch to socialize them before up for general adoption. As a foster home, you will be helping with severe overcrowding at local animal shelters and giving the rabbits another chance at a good home.

Typical reasons for fostering include the following:[3]

  • Spaying and Neutering - Rabbits that have been recently spayed or neutered will need to be fostered for several weeks before looking for a new home.
  • Socialization - Foster care allows rabbits that have been neglected without much human contact to have more attention and help in overcoming their fear of humans.
  • Medical Care - Rabbits that come in with medical problems need treatment before they can be rehomed.
  • Overcrowding - When a rescue center does not have enough room, foster homes provide temporary housing for rabbits until space frees up after adopted rabbits.
  • Pregnancy & Babies - Foster homes provide a quieter environment for a recovering mother and her babies along with special attention.

The rescue center will be able to match you up with rabbits that fit the environment and care you can provide. Depending on the rescue center, you will be provided with training, equipment, and medical care assistance.

To find fostering opportunities, look at local animal shelters and rabbit rescues. Check out our Adoption Listings page to find local animal shelters and rabbit rescues.

Some links to read for more information have been listed below.

Where to Get a Rabbit

There are many options to find a rabbit - pet stores, classified ads, shelters, rescues, breeders, and more. Here we will go more in detail as to the pros and cons of each.

Pet Stores

Please do not purchase a rabbit from a pet store unless it is actually an adoption through a local rescue/shelter program. A similar source in a rural area is a feed store. Pet stores are always out to make a profit and will often have mistreated, inbred, unhealthy rabbits for sale. To elongate their cuteness, baby bunnies will typically be weaned (removed from mother) too early, which can lead to behavior and health problems.

As Cheryl Kucsera writes, [4]

Before and during the Easter season, consumer interest in baby bunnies is at its peak. In order to exploit this demand, many rabbit breeders will schedule the breeding of their rabbits so that extra litters of baby bunnies will be available at this time.

In pet store terms, baby bunnies don't have a long "shelf life." This is because they grow so very quickly. Therefore, in order to meet pet stores' desires for the "cutest" baby bunnies, some breeders may supply bunnies who are too young (under 8 weeks of age). I was told of one breeder/petmiller who supplied baby bunnies to local pet stores. Every few weeks, when he would drop off a new "shipment" of baby bunnies, he would pick up any that hadn't sold from his previous shipment. According to him, if the bunnies hadn't been purchased at that point, they never would be. So, he took them back to his home where they ended up in his freezer. He said it was more "humane" for them to end up on his plate than to languish in a cage in the pet store!

Additionally, many employees will often have little or no experience with the proper care of rabbits. You will be better off getting a rabbit anywhere but a pet store. If you must buy a pet, visit your local responsible and knowledgeable rabbit breeder. However, we would urge you to consider visiting local shelters and rescues first before going to a breeder to buy a pet. If you have any questions, the place where you obtained your rabbit from should be an excellent reliable resource.

This article from the Wisconsin House Rabbit Society is a terrific read as to why you should not purchase any rabbits or even supplies from a pet store that has them available. As Kathleen Wilsbach writes:

When you “rescue” a suffering rabbit by buying him, you are rewarding someone for causing his suffering and condemning many more to the same fate, this is no solution.

Every time you pay a pet store or breeder for a rabbit, you are rewarding them for what they are doing, and condemning more rabbits to the same fate.

And if you have room in your home and heart for another rabbit, buying instead of adopting denies a home to one of our local shelter rabbits. Refusing to purchase them causes sellers to experience a loss, leaving them to purchase fewer rabbits, thereby causing the breeder to produce fewer. If no one ever bought a rabbit from a pet store, pet stores would stop carrying them, and breeders would stop breeding them to be sold in pet stores. Buying is condemning more as yet unborn rabbits to the same horrible treatment and fate, and it rewards cruel treatment with your money.

It may seem unbearably harsh to leave pet store rabbits to their fate, but you will be helping out many more rabbits in the long run. Please do not patronize stores that have rabbits for sale.

However, to be realistic, if you do end up getting a pet store bun, do your best to make sure that it is healthy before taking it home. Make sure that the rabbits are at least 6 weeks, preferably 8 weeks of age before leaving their mother because the mother's milk affords protection against E. coli and other bacteria until the baby's own immune system can handle them.[5] Young rabbits should be lively, well-fed and plump, and have a fine sheen to the fur. If they have rough, dull fur or are thin or pot bellied, the animals are sick -- typical symptoms of bloat and coccidiosis.[6]

If you decide to be a Good Samaritan and purchase a sick or undernourished rabbit, be prepared to see a veterinarian immediately and a long, uphill battle for survival and ultimately good health. Chances are that you probably cannot trust any advice given to you by a pet store employee, so please take a read through our Getting Started page and its links on proper care.

Some links to read for more information on pet store rabbits have been listed below.

Animal Shelter

A shelter or a rescue is the best location to get a rabbit, unless you were looking for a baby of a specific breed and no nearby shelters have any available at that moment. By adopting from a shelter, you will be saving a rabbit from possible euthanasia and giving it a second chance at a forever home. Most of these rabbits will be abandoned pets either surrendered or found on the streets wandering lost. Occasionally, rabbits may be pregnant upon reaching the shelter, and the shelter will have young rabbits up for adoption once they are weaned and fixed.

Shelter employees will most likely be very experienced in the care of rabbits if they have rabbits available. Often, local rabbit rescue members will volunteer to take care of the buns. You can find many young, adult, and bonded rabbits at shelters. Employees can inform you about the personalities of each rabbit before you decide to adopt. Adult rabbits will usually come fixed and microchipped while still having a low adoption fee, typically $20-50. That can provide you a savings of over $300 once you include the costs of microchipping and spaying and neutering a baby bunny yourself.

Check out our Adoption Listings page to find shelters near you with rabbits.

Some more links to read for more information on adopting from an animal shelter have been listed below.

Rabbit Rescue

A rabbit rescue will provide similar features as an animal shelter but will most definitely be educated in the proper care of rabbits. Rabbit rescues will take in abandoned or sick rabbits from shelters. Rabbits at a rescue will be well handled and socialized by foster parents, and any health issues should be fairly well covered. Many foster homes will also acclimate the rabbits to children and other pets. Most rabbits will be litter trained by volunteers as they come in.

However, due to the non-profit nature, adoption fees will be higher than a shelter to cover medical and spaying and neutering costs. A rabbit rescue will often also have much more stringent requirements and will interview much more extensively than at a shelter. Many rabbit rescues require that the bunnies be housed only indoors. In the case that you may not be able to take care of your rabbit due to circumstances, rabbit rescues would be more than willing to take their buns back at no cost. In fact, in some rescue adoption contracts, you may be required to.

The Colorado House Rabbit Society states these advantages to adopting from them:[7]

  • We help you determine whether rabbits are a good choice for your situation and help you avoid mistakes in bringing rabbits into your home.
  • We teach you how to care for your rabbits, how to identify symptoms requiring veterinary care before they become serious, and we put you in contact with a good rabbit veterinarian in your area. It is essential you understand most veterinarians are not able to safely treat rabbits - rabbits are "exotics" from a medical point of view, and they require veterinatians who have taken specialized training in treating them correctly.
  • We are committed to helping you solve any problems which may come up as long as you have your rabbits.
  • We offer a "911" service to our adopters should you have an emergency when your vet isn't available, or to help you determine if you need to see a veterinarian.
  • We have a greater variety of rabbits to choose from than you will find almost anywhere in the state.

Check out our Adoption Listings page to find local rabbit rescues.

Some links to read for more information on adopting from a rabbit rescue have been listed below.

Individual

If you are unable to find any nearby shelters and rescues and would still like to adopt a rabbit and not resort to pet stores and breeders, you can probably find an individual nearby to adopt a rabbit from with a little effort. Check out local listings in classified ads, vet offices, shelters, or rescues, and online on sites like Craigslist and Kijiji. See Rehoming Your Rabbit for some ideas where to look for ads.

However, be careful that you do not support a backyard breeder accidentally. These people will advertise baby bunnies that were bred just to make money and have no care for the future welfare of the animals they brought into this world.

Some links to read for more information on adopting from an individual have been listed below.

Breeder

We would advise that you take a look at animal shelters and rabbit rescues first for a rabbit that would suit your preferences, especially if they are all full. However, some people may be set in stone on a baby of a specific breed or color for whatever reason, and a breeder would be the best option for this scenario if a suitable rabbit is not available in nearby shelters and rescues at the moment. If you have the patience, we would still recommend that you wait and keep an eye out for all those local shelters and rescues to see if one that meets your criteria comes through the system. Chances are, eventually there will be.

If you decide on a breeder, please choose and buy responsibly. Do not patronize backyard breeders who breed their rabbits to make money or any old stall at the flea market to purchase a rabbit. Look for breeders that show rabbits or are a part of 4-H and FFA and win titles. Responsible breeders will not advertise their pets in the newspaper or on Craigslist. These breeders will be much more knowledgeable in proper rabbit care, and their rabbits will most likely be in good health with good temperament. If possible, try to visit the environment where the rabbits are raised.

A responsible rabbit breeder...[8][9][10][11]

  • Will not contribute to the abandoned rabbit problem by abandoning rabbits in the wild or dumping excess stock in shelters and rescues. Breeders should have a "take back" policy for every rabbit they sell, whether for show, breeding, or as a pet.
  • Will not overbreed rabbits. Overbreeding is defined as producing more animals than responsible outlets for culls can be found. Suitable outlets for culls include pets, show/breeding stock, and other commercial uses. Does should be allowed to rest for at least three weeks after the previous litter is properly weaned at eight weeks before being mated again.[12]
  • Will put the health and welfare of their animals first. Health problems will be treated as soon as possible and treatment includes euthanasia. Rabbits will not be allowed to suffer.
  • Good husbandry practices as accepted by the American Rabbit Breeders Association and/or the Rabbit Education Society will be followed. Rabbits should have clean cages, an ample supply of food, hay, and water, and have a healthy appearance with clear, dry eyes and nose, healthy looking coat, and a bright, alert, and inquisitive attitude.
  • Only sells rabbits that are properly weaned and not too young to leave the rabbitry. At the minimum, this should be 6 weeks of age, 8 weeks as best. Rabbits taken from their mother too soon may suffer both physically and psychologically. Ask if the rabbit you adopt can remain with its mother until it is eight weeks old, even if this is not the breeder's normal policy.
  • Will breed to ensure genetic abnormalities are not perpetuated and that only healthy rabbits conforming to the ARBA breed standards are produced.
  • Will educate every rabbit buyer and provide written care instructions and be a lifelong contact for purchasers. The breeder will help you make smart decisions about whether you're ready to take on a rabbit right now.
  • Will be honest and reputable.

As stated before, if you decide to take this route, please buy responsibly. Similar to pet store considerations, check to make sure your rabbit is healthy and at least 8 weeks of age before leaving their mother because the mother's milk affords protection against E. coli and other bacteria until the baby's own immune system can handle them.[5] If the housing situation of the mother and kits does not look good, do not buy and assume that the rabbits are not well cared for and go elsewhere. Dirty hutches can be a massive breeding ground for diseases, and there is a good chance that your new bunny will be infected. Young rabbits should be lively, well-fed and plump, and have a fine sheen to the fur. If they have rough, dull fur or are thin or pot bellied, the animals are sick -- typical symptoms of bloat and coccidiosis.

A helpful blurb from the user Crochetniac on Reddit:[13]
Do a LOT of research before you go to a breeder! If they're certified you can typically trust them, if they're on craigslist you'll need to do some detective work. Ask to meet at their house or where they keep their rabbits, if their bunnies are in small cages, kept outdoors, or all kept together, it's best to avoid them. Your rabbit should also be at least 8 weeks before you get it, look up how big your rabbit should be at that age to make sure you don't take them home too early. Some breeders will also be keeping their rabbits in a bunny mill situation, rabbits are pregnant for 4 weeks, and once they give birth they can get pregnant immediately, as in same day. Basically, the momma rabbit will be giving birth to her 3rd litter when her first little should barely be done weaning, which will send the poor gal to an early grave so that some selfish bastard can make a few extra bucks. Don't go to someone who sells their rabbits for snake food, you want a bunny with a good genes to ensure they're healthy as they get older. If the rabbits are skittish, don't buy them. Breeders will tell you that "all baby bunnies are like that" but in reality it just means they aren't held enough. I've had my rabbits for almost 2 years (got them as adults) and they've had a few litters, and every bunny that has gone into a new home could be picked up without kicking. My adult rabbits aren't like that because the previous owners didn't hold them enough and they weren't held enough as kits, they've made a lot of progress but getting picked up and set down they still can get a little freaked out. My 3rd rabbit came from one of their litters, you can pick her up like you would a small dog (fingers/hands under her front legs) and she'll just let her back legs dangle. Getting a rabbit that can easily be held at 8 weeks will save you a LOT of frustration.

See Also

References

  1. British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Policy Statement on the Neutering of Rabbits
  2. House Rabbit Society, Myths About Baby Rabbits
  3. Rabbit Rehome, Fostering Rabbits
  4. PetStoreAbuse.com, The Rabbit Breeding and Raising Process
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dana Krempels, Ph.D., The Mystery of Rabbit Poop
  6. Lucia Vriends-Parent, The New Rabbit Handbook, p. 15.
  7. Colorado House Rabbit Society, Advantages to Adopting from the Colorado House Rabbit Society
  8. Rabbit Education Society, The Rabbit Education Society 2005 edition
  9. Colorado House Rabbit Society, Good and Bad Rabbit Breeders
  10. Connie Isbell, Audrey Pavia, Rabbits for Dummies
  11. Kathy Smith, Breeders and Pet Stores
  12. Lucia Vriends-Parent, The New Rabbit Handbook, p. 17.
  13. Reddit.com, To all new and future rabbit owners, here's the manual! (Experienced owners please feel free to post!)