Rabbits are pretty much the cutest thing. With their iconic ears, their hoppy legs and twitchy noses, it’s understandable that plenty of people would want one as a pet.
But as with any pet, bringing a rabbit home requires preparation and knowlege about what you’re getting into. This is especially true for rabbits. Most of us know what to expect when we get a cat or a dog, more or less, but caring for a rabbit isn’t something we just know. This could explain why rabbits are the third most surrendered animals to shelters, according to PETA.
Armed with some knowledge, however, you can be prepared to care for a rabbit — or, well, rabbits, but more on that in a moment.
1. Rabbits can live for 10 to 12 years. This may be the most important thing to know when it comes to rabbits since they require a sizable degree of daily and weekly care over the course of their lives. Given how long they live, it’s a good bit of work that’s more than just feeding and picking up after their poop. It’s an especially big commitment if a rabbit is given to a child as a pet and then that child goes off to college and now that rabbit is the parent or guardian’s responsibility. And speaking of children …
2. Rabbits aren’t great pets for kids. Yes, every kid would love a hoppy little bunny to call their own, but the rabbit may be less thrilled with a small kid as their primary caretaker. Rabbits are prey animals, as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) notes, and as such, they’re easily startled by loud noises and lurching movements. Picking up rabbits is also a no-go as it may make them think they’ve been grabbed by a predator. The HSUS strongly advises that parents or guardians wait until kids are older before the family adopts a rabbit.
3. Rabbits like being with other rabbits. Rabbits are social animals that rely on one another to survive in the wild. A rabbit by itself must be alert at all times for potential predators, but if there’s another rabbit about, that spreads the responsibility around. And since rabbits only speak rabbit, it helps them feel immensely more safe if there’s another rabbit about. Related to this, spaying and neutering your rabbit is a good call if you’re going to have two rabbits, but it’s generally smart even if you’re going to stick to one rabbit.
4. Rabbits need exercise and the room for it. PedMD recommends a solid four hours of exercise a day for rabbits, which basically means that leaving them cooped up in a cage all day isn’t the best idea. Exercise for rabbits, like for humans, helps with overall health, including digestion, and mental health, and why wouldn’t you want a happy rabbit? If you have the space, a whole room just for your rabbit is probably a great idea, as it gives them plenty of room to run to and fro. If you don’t have the space, then the cage or container holding your rabbit needs to be five times the size of the rabbit at minimum, according to the HSUS, and this includes on a vertical level so the rabbit can stand up on its hind legs without bumping its head. Multi-tiered containers are also recommended. The rabbit’s area will need to be spruced up every day and cleaned once a week.
5. Be prepared to rabbit-proof your home. If you don’t have the space for a dedicated rabbit room or a large cage, giving your rabbit free rein of the living area may be your only option, and that means preparing the rest of the home. Rabbits’ teeth never stop growing, so they love chewing on everything, including furniture and cables. Plastic tubing around cables will take care of that chew temptation, or taping the wires up and out of the rabbit’s reach will also work. As for wood furniture or baseboards, Best Friends Animal Society recommends wood or plastic coverings, cardboard barriers around chair legs or chewing deterrent sprays, like Grannick’s Bitter Apple. Also helpful? Making sure your rabbit has plenty of safe and chew-friendly toys as alternatives.
6. Rabbits need more than just carrots (and, in fact, they shouldn’t get a lot of carrots). The common conception is that rabbits will just nosh on vegetables all day long, and some might want to do that, but providing your rabbit with a varied but healthy diet is important. Hay or grass should make up the bulk of their diet, according to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF), with fresh vegetables providing a smaller portion of their intake. These vegetables can include kale, broccoli, romaine lettuce and parsley. Small bits of fresh carrot, apple and pineapple are treats that should be given only once or twice a week. (Yes, pineapple. It can help with their digestion.)
7. Rabbits require unique medical care. Like with any pets, you need to be aware of your rabbit’s overall well-being, but rabbits have their own needs. As such, rabbits also have their own specialized vets, according to PETA, and they can be more expensive than your run-of-the-mill veterinarian. The RSPCA recommends annual vet visits to check their teeth, to test for parasites and get vaccinations.
8. Rabbits keep their own time. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they typically sleep during the day and the night. So when are they awake? Dusk and dawn! While this is great for evening cuddles on the sofa, it may not be the best thing while you’re trying to sleep … especially if they have free run of the house, like this guy: