We have all heard the phrase ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. Have you ever heard
this one, though:
‘A bunny is for life, not just for Easter’?
We asked rabbit expert and Bunny Bonding Coach Fiona Murphy to outline the key considerations if you are thinking of getting a rabbit.
In the New Year, every year, a lot of dogs are dumped in rescues and pounds, or worse, the side of the road, once the novelty has worn off. They have grown out of that cute puppy phase, and the amount of work and time they require becomes apparent.
Similarly, after Easter, a lot of rabbits are dumped too. The cute fluffy Easter bunnies can quickly turn into hormonal chew machines, and the amount of poop can be staggering (most bunnies produce 200-300 poops a day!). These days a lot of pet shops hold off on selling bunnies at Easter, but not all have any conscience about it, and I have more than once had a phone call from someone whose child was bought a real-life rabbit by a relative or friend, without any discussion in advance with the parents!
That said, perhaps you have decided the timing is right for a new family member, regardless of the time of year. Rabbits are great company, good for your mental health and provide you with one of the best reasons to get up in the morning! If you go into rabbit ownership with your eyes open and fully committing to their needs for their entire lifetime, you’ll never regret your decision to welcome a bunny into your home and life.
But what do you need to know before you make this commitment? Check out my list of 10 things you need to consider!
Is the time right for you to get a rabbit? It takes time to settle any new pet into your home and bond with them. This is especially true if you’re bringing an eight-week-old baby rabbit home or you’re taking in a rescue rabbit whose past you know nothing about.
Bear in mind also that if you’re going to neuter the rabbit when old enough which is when their hormones kick in at about four to six months, at that stage they need a bit of TLC and keeping an eye on them for one to two weeks after neutering. Females should always be neutered to avoid the very high chance of reproductive cancers, and males may need to be done if they have hormonal behaviours. If you have two bunnies or are going to get a second, they should both be neutered regardless of gender to avoid fallouts.
So the timing must be right for you – sometimes waiting six months or a year can make all the difference!
The most basic practical care of a rabbit is:
- Litter change each day
So this takes between 15-30 minutes a day – however, the reality is much more than that!
A rabbit cannot be left to sit in the cage or hutch all day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They’ll die of loneliness and boredom and their muscles can waste away if they’re stuck in a hutch all the time with not enough time out to exercise.
They need enrichment. They need to be let out to play, stretch and binky (when they leap and twist in the air because they are happy!) for several hours a day. This play needs to be either supervised or in a bunny-proof area as they are inclined to chew, dig and scratch as this is their natural behaviour.
Although you may get the rabbit ‘for the kids’, the ultimate responsibility lands on you as the adult. You also need to factor in time for basic grooming, for example, nail clipping every four to six weeks (tricky to do yourself, but faster, and it might take half an hour or an hour to take them to a groomer or vet to have them done). If they are fluffy or long-haired they may need grooming several times a week.
As I mentioned in the previous point, rabbits are inclined to chew, scratch and even dig. Stories of chewed laptop wires, phone chargers and appliance cables are common, as are damaged skirting boards and furniture legs. I even heard of one demolition job on the back of the couch which was going on for several months before the owner discovered it (and it was a rented house!).
I always say ~ life is never boring with rabbits! One thing I just love about them!
This can be very expensive for rabbits – they need very specialised vet care as not all vets are rabbit savvy. Here in Ireland anyway, they don’t learn an awful lot about rabbits in the normal vet course and they have to undertake extra courses if that’s what they want to specialise in. As a lot of vets don’t see that many rabbits daily, then it isn’t always practical for them to do so.
I would always advise that you get a vet that is used to handling rabbits on a day-to-day basis, as most vets can do basic rabbit care but if it is more complicated, you are better with a rabbit savvy specialist. They naturally charge more for their special skill, and even seemingly straightforward issues can run into hundreds of euros/pounds/dollars. As a basic, they need annual vaccinations (depending on where you live), and the cost of neutering especially females can be high too.
Please note that rabbits, being prey animals, are good at hiding when they aren’t well. It can be serious when they get sick. In particular, because their gut needs to be constantly moving, not eating or pooping for a few hours can quickly become life-threatening.
It’s important that you learn the signs, as well as the normal behaviour of the individual rabbit, and have access to a vet who will pick up on the signs and act promptly.
How many rabbits should I get?
A lot of people are told by their vet or the pet shop that they should buy rabbits in pairs. While it IS lovely to see rabbits in pairs grooming and cuddling, the reality of having two rabbits is not that straightforward. There is a process that you have to go through to get rabbits to be friends, called bonding, as they are naturally territorial. Even if you purchase two rabbits together as babies from the very start, it’s possible they’ll fall out as soon as the hormones kick in (regardless of gender) when they reach about four to six months. This can sometimes be before they are even old enough to be neutered!
The best way to keep them together, and happily living together is to neuter both rabbits regardless of the sex.
I am, however, of the opinion that one rabbit can live very happily on its own, as long as he or she lives in the house, and has lots of time and attention from the family. They can become really humanised, become part of the family and live very happily inside the house.
But if you’re going to keep your rabbit in a hutch down the garden, or you are gone a lot of the day, then they will absolutely need the company.
The best solution, in that case, is to adopt an already neutered and bonded pair from a rescue.
The next best thing to that is to get a pair of female babies. But be aware there is still a risk they will fall out as the hormones kick in (although it is much less of a risk than with a male pair). Of course, there is no pregnancy risk like a male / female pair!
Or alternatively, (and probably better again since the chances of mis-sexing as babies are high!) get one rabbit, wait until he/ she is neutered then adopt a second rabbit that is already neutered and bond the two of them. But please do your research about how much work this process is first and seek expert help if you are unsure!
Rabbits need a lot of space and the more they’re going to be enclosed, the bigger the space they need. For example, if you’re out at work all day, and they’re also going to be shut in at night, they need a very big space – the best option is a puppy pen set up within the house so you need to allow the space for that:
Around 8 square feet for one rabbit plus 24 square feet to exercise in, indoors or outdoors
However, they don’t need a garden and can be litter trained just like a cat, so they make an ideal apartment or small house pet!
- The actual buying or adopting of your rabbit
- Medical care including neutering, vaccines and emergency care
- Set up costs such as puppy pen, outdoor run, food and water bowls / bottles, litter trays and possibly protective floor covering
- The weekly cost of caring for them ~ food, hay, litter, disinfectant/ cleaning products, bedding
- Holiday care when you’re away
- Extra toys and treats you might want to provide for them
The fact they aren’t always cuddly!
Most rabbits don’t like to be picked up, but they can and should be trained to get used to it. This is because it is necessary to do a regular health check, and if they get sick they invariably need oral medications which can be a right game getting down them when they ARE used to being picked up and held, never mind when they aren’t!
There is a process to working through this with them though which, although it takes a lot of time and patience and baby steps, can be very successful even with rabbits who have had a bad background or no early handling. A lot of bunnies do actually like a cuddle once they feel secure up in your arms, but some don’t, so it is important to bear this in mind before getting one – they often aren’t a cuddly pet.
Some of them absolutely are, and either way, they can make amazing bonds with their humans, but it does depend on the individual rabbit and the time taken to bond with them. I often hear from my bunny boarding customers that they didn’t realise how much they would fall in love with them, even if the relationship is very much on the rabbit’s terms!
Rabbits can live 8-10 years and sometimes more! How old will your child be at that stage, if that is who you are getting the rabbit for? What will their lifestyle be like at that point, will they be away in college or working abroad? What will happen to the rabbit then? Or if you are a teenager getting a rabbit, will you be able to take him/her with you when you move out?
The same as any pet, you should, if at all possible, be prepared to keep them for the duration of their lifetime, it isn’t fair on them to be pushed from pillar to post. They get attached to their owners and used to their surroundings and their routine and don’t like change.
It can also be quite hard to find a new home for a rabbit, especially an older one, and sadly some people who want to ‘adopt’ a rabbit can have ulterior motives (over-breeding, snake food or dog bait) so it takes a lot of care to find a suitable adoptive home.
Of course, life happens and things change, but do try and avoid it by thinking ahead for the next 8 or 10 years and where your life might be then as far as possible before committing.
Who will look after your rabbit while you go on holiday? There aren’t as many bunny boarding places around as there are kennels and catteries, and the good ones book up well in advance so you need to be organised.
As mentioned above, they are good at hiding when they aren’t well (as they are prey animals) and it can be so serious when they get sick. In particular, not eating / not pooping for a few hours can quickly turn life-threatening, so you need to know they are with someone who will pick up the signs and act promptly if you are away.
If rabbits are for you
Just like any pet, if you do the research first, and are ready for the commitment, you won’t have any regrets, and a bunny will reward you with a lifetime of companionship, fun and maybe even cuddles!
There is a lot more information on all these points and more – see below.
An Easter Bunny – look at how herbs and homeopathy helped rabbits
Fiona Murphy has been a bunny and guinea pig slave for over 30 years! She is the owner of The Rabbit Rooms Small Animal Boarding in Dublin and cares for hundreds of small furries every year. Her services include:
- Holiday boarding
- Ireland’s only bunny bonding service
Her experience means she gets asked a lot of questions about rabbit and guinea pig care from pet parents of the furry guests that stay with her and through the Facebook groups she moderates.
Knowing there is a lot of misinformation out there, Fiona is passionate about empowering pet parents to be the best carers they can be by giving them the most correct and up-to-date information. She also uses her experience to run online classes and write e-books that can be accessed at any time.
If you’d like to know more about any aspect of bunny care, check out Fiona’s classes, courses and Ebooks on www.fionaspetacademy.ie or for Bunny Bonding help check out The Bunny Bonding Coach. You can also join her Happy Bunny Club to gain confidence in rabbit care and develop a closer relationship with them. She also does one-to-one consultations.
FaceBook links are as follows:
For bonding help
For boarding and grooming in and around Dublin
Please note that most integrative vets tend to follow minimal vaccination protocols. In the case of rabbits, this would be Myxomatosis, Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease (R(V)HD) and a strain of R(V)HD – R(V)HD2 – all of which are often fatal and cause intense suffering to rabbits. An integrative vet could be consulted for advice on complementary support for the rabbit. See our Find CAM on how to go about this.
Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information.
The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website