Rabbits as Pets

Are rabbits good pets?

We all know rabbits can hop, but most people don’t realize what else they can do … or how much fun they can be. Most bunnies truly enjoy human companionship. From watching TV at your side to playing with toys, bunnies will keep you amused with their engaging personalities.

Unfortunately, many rabbits don’t get to show this fun-loving side of themselves to humans. Often purchased at Easter for children, or on a whim because bunnies are cute, many rabbits are relegated to life in a small cage outdoors or in a garage, with minimal attention given to them. But with just a little time, love and proper care, bunnies can make wonderful, interactive pets.

Are rabbits good pets for kids?

If you have a hectic, noisy family life, a rabbit may not thrive in your household, since rabbits prefer a quiet, calm environment. Bunnies as pets can be fine for older children, but they must be taught how to care for and handle bunnies properly. It’s not a good idea to get a rabbit as a pet for a young child or as a way to teach a child responsibility. Because the bone structure of rabbits is fragile, they can be seriously injured by mishandling. For that reason, an adult should always supervise when kids are interacting with pet bunnies.

Adopting vs. buying a rabbit

If you’re thinking about getting a rabbit as a pet, you’ve probably noticed that there are lots of bunnies for sale. But adoption is a much better option. There are rabbit rescue groups around the country that will help you select just the right bunny for you. As mentioned above, rabbits are often purchased impulsively, which means that many of them end up at rescue groups or in shelters when their people lose interest in them. If you adopt a rabbit, not only is it generally cheaper than buying, you’ll be saving the life of a deserving pet.

In addition, keep in mind that rabbits usually love the company of their own kind, so consider adopting a bonded pair of bunnies. To find a rabbit rescue group, visit the website of the House Rabbit Society. You can also take a look at the adoptable rabbits available at Best Friends.

Rabbit breeds

Many different breeds of bunnies are available for adoption from rescue groups, and there are also lots of mixed-breed rabbits available as well. At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, some of the most popular breeds that get adopted are lionhead, mini lop, mini rex, rex, lop, Dutch, English spot and Hotot.

Rabbit life span

Rabbits have a life expectancy of 8 to 12 years, so if you plan to adopt a young rabbit, consider whether you can commit to caring for a bunny for that length of time. If not, you may want to think about adopting an older rabbit. Like many senior dogs and cats, older rabbits can still be active, but they are more settled. Even when they’re getting on in years, bunnies can enjoy the love of a family.

Rabbit care

Because rabbits are social animals, they require daily interaction and attention. They aren’t happy languishing in a cage day after day. For several hours daily, they need time outside the cage, to socialize, exercise and explore. To be comfortable with their people, they need frequent, gentle interaction.

In addition, rabbits love the company of other rabbits. If you’re considering adopting a bunny, think about getting a bonded pair so that they can hang out together.

Here’s a brief bunny care guide:

  • Cage or hutch: What sort of housing should pet rabbits have? Bunnies should be kept in a safe, confined, indoor rabbit cage rather than a rabbit hutch located outdoors. For more details, see “Rabbit Proofing Your House” and “Rabbit Housing.”
  • Food: Rabbits have a fairly delicate digestive system. To obtain necessary nutrients, they must be fed a varied diet — not just lettuce and carrots. For more information, see “Rabbit Diet.”
  • Handling: Because bunnies are prey animals, it can be scary for them to be picked up and handled. To learn how to handle bunnies properly, read “How to Handle a Rabbit.”
  • Grooming: Another important aspect of rabbit care is grooming, which includes nail-clipping. Because of their constant shedding, rabbits need to be brushed at least weekly to remove loose hair. Bunnies with longer fur, such as angora and Lionhead rabbits, need brushing more often. See “Rabbit Grooming” for more details.
  • Litter box training: Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, but the process is slightly different than that for cats. To find out more, see “Litter Box Training for Rabbits.”

Inside or outside?

To control the temperature of the environment and to keep them safe from predators, rabbits should live inside. If kept outside, rabbits must be in a predator-proof area and must be kept cool during the hot weather. They must not be able to dig under fences and they need to be protected from air attacks by birds and other predators.

Rabbit behavior

Rabbits are intelligent and curious, and consequently a bored rabbit house pet can be a destructive and unhappy one. Digging and chewing are among their favorite pastimes, so whether a rabbit is inside a cage or out, he needs plenty of toys to keep busy. For more details about what sort of things make good bunny toys, see “DIY Rabbit Toys.”

Bunnies can also benefit from other forms of enrichment, such as clicker training. Read the story of Bodie, a rabbit at the Sanctuary, to find out how clicker training can help enhance a bunny’s life.

For a quick guide to some basic bunny behaviors, see “Rabbit Behavior.”

Rabbits and other pets

Bunnies are prey animals (rather than predators), so they prefer a gentle, quiet environment, which means they may not fit in well with a family that includes rowdy dogs and cats. With that said, some rabbits get along great with other pets — but only with constant supervision. Cats, dogs and rabbits sometimes become good friends. Contrary to expectations, the rabbit is often quite dominant over the cat. Careful control of your dog is necessary, of course, during early introductions, and you might not want to combine a rabbit with a dog who has any predatory instincts.

Spaying or neutering

Even if you adopt just one rabbit, you’ll want to make sure the bunny is spayed or neutered. Read “Spaying or Neutering a Rabbit” to find out why.

Vet care

As with any family pet, bunnies need to see a veterinarian for regular checkups. Because a rabbit’s system and needs are much different than a cat’s or a dog’s, you’ll need a vet who is familiar with rabbit care. Some potential health problems are bacterial infections, abdominal stasis, hairballs, malocclusion (overgrown teeth), heatstroke, and parasites such as ear mites and fleas. To find a vet who’s experienced in treating rabbits, visit the House Rabbit Society.

You can also do your own wellness checks on your rabbit in between vet visits. For more details, see “Rabbit Health Check.” You can also read more about rabbit health issues in this resource.

For more information

Investing some time in learning about rabbit care and behavior is the best thing you can do before introducing a rabbit into your household. Besides reading the other resources in this section of Best Friends’ website, you might want to go to the House Rabbit Society’s website, which contains lots of information about living with and caring for pet rabbits.