What You Should Know About Adopting a Pet Rabbit

Fluffy bunny faces with twitchy noses are adorable, but adopting a pet rabbit requires serious consideration. Before hopping into a long commitment with one of these endearing but sensitive creatures, educate yourself. Rabbits need much more care, space and attention than many realize. From choosing an ideal rabbit for your home to housing setup, bonding, litter training, proper diet and veterinary needs, there are steps you must take to create a happy home for rabbits. If prepared for the responsibility, a pet bunny can become a delightful companion for years to come. This comprehensive guide covers everything you should know before and after adopting your new fuzzy friend.

What to consider before adopting a rabbit

Before adopting a pet rabbit, make sure you thoroughly research the commitment involved. Rabbits require a lot of time, space, attention and care. Their average lifespan is 8-12 years, so this is a long-term pet. Rabbits are prey animals by nature and tend to be timid and easily frightened. They require patience to bond with and earn their trust. Rabbits are very social animals and need companionship. If you work long hours or travel often, a pair of rabbits may be a better fit than a single rabbit. Consider if you can provide a large enough living space for exercise and enrichment. Rabbits also have specialized veterinary needs. Make sure you find an exotic vet before adopting. Overall, ensure you can make the time commitment to properly care for a rabbit.

The lifespan of a rabbit

On average, the lifespan of a domesticated pet rabbit is 8-12 years. Some breeds and larger rabbits may have shorter life spans around 5-8 years. Smaller rabbits and dwarfs can live even longer, sometimes up to 15 years. With proper diet, housing, and veterinary care, rabbits can live a long and healthy life as a companion pet. Like cats and dogs, rabbits are a long commitment when adopting. Make sure you are prepared to care for them into their senior years, which start around 5 years old. The oldest rabbit on record lived to 18 years old. Monitor your rabbit's health with annual vet checks to help maximize their lifespan. Providing good nutrition through unlimited timothy hay, limited pellets, and fresh vegetables is key. Regular exercise through free roaming also supports longevity.

How much care do rabbits need?

Rabbits require a considerable amount of daily care and attention. At minimum, rabbits need:

  • A large habitat or enclosure, preferably allowing free roam of a rabbit-proofed room

  • 1-2 hours per day of supervised playtime and social interaction

  • Unlimited access to timothy hay 24/7

  • Fresh vegetables and limited pellets daily

  • Litter box cleaning at least 1-2 times per day

  • Brushing and health checks a few times per week

  • Nail trimming every 4-6 weeks

  • Annual vet checkups and any medical care as needed

  • Rabbit-savvy vet care for illnesses, which rabbits are prone to

  • Mental stimulation through toys, activities, and bonding

  • Monitoring of temperature and housing conditions

Rabbits are very active and inquisitive pets. Leaving them alone in a cage all day is not sufficient. Rabbits thrive on companionship and activity. Be sure you can devote several hours a day to properly caring for a rabbit before adoption.

Rabbits usually aren’t the best pets for children

Rabbits often do not make good pets for young children. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Rabbits are prey animals and tend to be timid, fragile, and easily stressed. Loud noises and rough handling will frighten them.

  • They have delicate bones and can be injured if mishandled or dropped.

  • Most rabbits do not like to be held or cuddled. They prefer having four feet on the ground.

  • They are prone to dental problems, GI issues, and respiratory infections if not cared for properly.

  • Children often don't understand proper diet, housing, and gentle handling.

  • Rabbits require supervision when interacting with kids. Bunny chasing games can cause health issues.

  • Parents end up being the primary caretakers for rabbit pets.

Rabbits can make good pets for older children and teens who understand their proper care and can be gentle and patient. Supervising younger kids around rabbits is a must. An adult should be the primary caretaker responsible for a child's rabbit.

Rabbit's need a lot of socialization and exercise

Socialization and exercise are very important to a rabbit's health and happiness. Here are some key ways to meet their needs:

  • Rabbits should have at least 2-4 hours per day of supervised playtime outside their enclosure. This allows binkying, running, and exploring.

  • Bunny-proof a room or area of your home to provide a safe space for exercise. Supervise to prevent chewing hazards.

  • Set up engaging activities like tunnels, boxes, toys, and treat puzzles to encourage activity.

  • Bond with your rabbit through grooming, lap time, games, and training. Spend time petting and interacting daily.

  • Always supervise play sessions – don't leave rabbits unmonitored to prevent injuries or accidents.

  • Pair rabbits whenever possible so they have a compatible partner. Rabbits rely on companionship from their own kind.

  • Provide enrichment like cardboard tubes, willow balls, untreated wood blocks etc for mental stimulation. Rotate toys to keep it interesting.

  • Take rabbits outdoors on leash walks or to safe grassy areas under supervision for variety.

Ensuring your rabbit gets sufficient daily exercise and social time will lead to better health and behavior outcomes long-term. An active, engaged rabbit is a happy rabbit.

What to expect from the adoption process

The rabbit adoption process is similar to adopting a cat or dog. Here's what you can generally expect:

  • Fill out an adoption application with your information, housing situation, lifestyle and history with pets.

  • Meet the rabbit(s) you're interested in and interact to see if you bond. Shelters want to ensure a good personality match.

  • Shelter staff will ask you questions about your plans for caring for the rabbit to ensure you can properly provide for them.

  • If approved, you'll complete adoption paperwork and pay the adoption fee, typically $50-$100.

  • You may need to have supplies like a carrier, enclosure and litter box ready at home before adopting.

  • The shelter will share medical history and care instructions like diet and litter training progress.

  • Follow up vet exams with an exotic pet vet will be needed within a few days to a week.

  • Expect the initial adjustment period to take 1-2 months as your new rabbit settles in. Patience and space are needed as they get comfortable.

  • The shelter staff will be a great resource if any issues come up and to answer questions.

The adoption process aims to set you and your new rabbit companion up for success. Being prepared for the commitment will help the transition go smoothly.

Where to find animal shelters that have rabbits

Many animal shelters that take in dogs and cats will also accept surrendered pet rabbits. Here are some options to find adoptable rabbits in your area:

  • Search sites like Petfinder.com, AdoptaPet.com and RescueMe.org for local rabbit rescues and shelter listings.

  • Look for municipal animal shelters and humane societies nearby that have rabbit adoption programs.

  • Search for dedicated "house rabbit societies" or rabbit rescues in your state or region. These take in only rabbits from owners who can no longer care for them.

  • Check the House Rabbit Society website for their state-by-state listing of rabbitrescues and shelters. This is the main nationwide rabbit rescue organization.

  • Look on Facebook for rabbit rescues and adopters in your area that may list adoptable rabbits.

  • Ask any local exotics vets if they work with area rescues and have rabbit adoption referral information.

With some searching online, you should be able to find an organization that does rabbit adoptions near you. Working with a shelter or rescue ensures you get a vetted rabbit ready for a new home.

Meeting the rabbit

When meeting potential rabbits for adoption, give yourself plenty of time and take it slowly when interacting with each rabbit. Sit on the floor to seem less intimidating. Gently offer treats and pets to see if the rabbit is comfortable with you. Look for signs of curiosity and friendliness, and also signs of fear like freezing, thumping, running away. Don't force interaction. Let the rabbit approach you and sniff if ready. If possible, meet rabbits multiple times. Ask the shelter about their personalities and history. A reserved rabbit may open up more with time and patience. An instant connection isn't always needed – trust can be built once adopted. Avoid overly excited, stressed or nippy rabbits if young children will be around. Find the best temperament fit for your home.

The adoption application and interview

When applying to adopt a rabbit from a shelter or rescue group, you'll likely need to complete an adoption application and interview. This allows the organization to screen potential adopters and ensure rabbits go to good homes. Here are some things to expect:

  • Questions covering your background, lifestyle, housing, experience with pets, and plans for caring for the rabbit. Be thorough in your responses.

  • Asking for references and permission to do vet checks on existing pets. This verifies you provide proper care.

  • Possibly a site visit to ensure your home meets standards and is rabbit-proof.

  • Review of proper diet, housing, exercise, vet care etc. to confirm your rabbit knowledge. Ask questions if unsure about anything.

  • Matching you with appropriate rabbits based on circumstances. Seniors or special needs rabbits may have more specific requirements.

  • Processing adoption fee payment and paperwork. This is typically $50-$100.

  • Follow up call or email later to see how the rabbit is settling in. Shelters want adoptions to stick.

The application process may seem rigorous, but it's for the good of the rabbits. Be patient and work with the shelter so you both feel it's an ideal home match.

Spaying and neutering

Nearly all rabbits adopted from shelters and rescues will be spayed or neutered before going home with you. This is extremely important for rabbits for these reasons:

  • Reduces hormones that can cause territorial behaviors like lunging, biting, spraying, and litter box issues. Greatly improves litter training success.

  • Eliminates the urges to mate which stresses bonded pairs. Means less fighting.

  • Removes the ability to reproduce of course. Rabbits reproduce rapidly.

  • Females especially are prone to uterine cancer if not spayed. This is a common killer of unfixed rabbits.

  • Generally leads to better behavior, use of litter box, and easier bonding with spay/neuter.

  • Procedure has risks so work only with an experienced exotic vet.

The adoption fee you pay helps cover the cost of spay/neuter surgeries the rescue performs. This is a major benefit of adopting from a shelter verses buying elsewhere. The rabbits are returned to you happier, healthier and ready to settle in.

Your rabbit may take a while to warm up to you

Don't be surprised or discouraged if your newly adopted rabbit is shy, fearful, or avoids you initially. It's completely normal for rabbits to take weeks or even months to warm up to their new human caretakers and surroundings. Some things you can do to help them acclimate:

  • Give them their own quiet private enclosure as a safe haven while they adjust. Don't force contact.

  • Sit calmly near their enclosure and talk/read to them softly so they become comfortable with your presence.

  • Avoid loud noises, other pets, or lots of handling at first. Take things slowly.

  • Learn their likes – favorite foods, toys, treats and use these to build trust through positive associations.

  • Start hand feeding favorite greens and hay to help overcome fear of humans.

  • Join them on the floor for playtime rather than picking them up. Let them explore you at their own pace.

  • Pair newly adopted rabbits with a bonded rabbit friend if possible. This provides security.

  • Use routines for feeding, playtime, litter box cleaning so they learn the house rules.

With time, patience and persistence, even the most wary rabbit will eventually understand your home is safe and learn to seek your companionship. Gaining their trust is very rewarding.

How to set up your home for success with a new rabbit

Bringing home an adopted rabbit? Here are some tips to properly set up your house for their comfort and safety:

Keep your rabbit indoors

Despite myths, rabbits are indoor animals and should not live solely outside. Reasons to keep rabbits indoors:

  • Temperature control – rabbits cannot regulate their body heat and are prone to heat stroke above 85°F.

  • Protection from predators like dogs, coyotes, hawks which can easily injure an outdoor rabbit.

  • Security from dangers like cars, lawn mowers, garden chemicals, plants that are toxic to rabbits etc.

  • Socialization – rabbits will become more friendly, playful, and bonded when living indoors with you.

  • House training – rabbits can be litter trained when kept inside. Outdoor rabbits will go to the bathroom everywhere.

  • Health monitoring – indoor rabbits' food and poop can be monitored, health issues detected early.

  • Cleanliness – outdoor rabbits attract fleas, ticks, and flies. Indoor rabbits stay cleaner.

While rabbits need exercise and space, their enclosure and play areas should always be safely inside the home for health and safety. Outdoor pens may be used for short periods under supervision.

Get a large enclosure

Rabbits need plenty of room so choose or build an enclosure that allows them to hop 3-4 times in either direction. The minimum size for one rabbit is generally 4' x 2'. Larger is always better. Options are large dog crates, puppy exercise pens, custom built hutches or a section of a room with baby gates. Ensure the enclosure has proper ventilation and no drafts. Line the flooring with Timothy hay bedding or soft blankets. Add hideouts, litter boxes, chew toys and food bowls. Letting them have free roam of a rabbit proofed room is ideal when home.

Rabbit proofing

To allow your rabbit access to a room (best option), properly rabbit proof it first:

  • Block access to unsafe areas like kitchen, stairs, and balconies with baby gates.

  • Remove or prevent access to electrical and phone wires which can be chewed.

  • Move houseplants to high shelves. Many common plants are toxic to rabbits if eaten.

  • Secure loose carpets and rugs which can cause injury if pulled on.

  • Pick up small objects that could be chewed and swallowed.

  • Place leather furniture or avoid rooms with baseboards and trim rabbits may chew.

  • Consider cord covers on lamp, appliance cords. Supervise to redirect chewing.

Check at rabbit level for any safety hazards. Set up engaging toys around the room to distract from inappropriate chewing. Make the space enticing yet safe for free play.

Learn about a healthy rabbit diet

The core diet for rabbits should be:

  • Unlimited hay – Timothy hay provides fiber needed to keep the GI tract functioning properly. Alfalfa hay is too high in protein and calcium for adult rabbits except as a treat.

  • 1/4 cup plain pellets per 5 lbs body weight daily – Pellets provide balanced nutrition. Limit amounts to encourage hay eating.

  • 1 packed cup fresh leafy greens per 2 lbs body weight – Greens provide vitamins and hydration. Introduce new veggies slowly.

  • Fresh clean water always available – Rabbits tend to drink more when water is changed daily. Use a tipped bowl they can't knock over. Avoid water bottles.

Avoid unhealthy treats like yogurt drops, seeds, nuts, fruits and sugary processed treats. These can lead to obesity, diarrhea, and dental issues over time. Stick to the basic healthy diet described above.

Rabbits need chew toys

Rabbits love to chew and must have outlets for this natural behavior.Provide healthy alternatives:

  • Untreated wicker, straw or grass mats and balls made for rabbit chewing.

  • Non-toxic wood blocks, like untreated applewood. Supervise to avoid swallowing wood pieces.

  • Cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, paper bags (no plastic handles). These can be shredded for fun.

  • Twigs and sticks from nontoxic trees for Gnawing. Apple and willow are favorites.

  • Pinecones, loofahs and baby safe rattles make interesting objects to toss and chew.

Rotate new chew toys in and out to maintain novelty and appeal. Having a variety prevents boredom and provides mental stimulation they crave. Avoid any toys not made specifically for rabbit chewing.

Litter training a rabbit

Rabbits can be reliably litter trained with patience, consistency and a few key steps:

  • Get a large cat style litter box. Avoid covered boxes. Fill with paper or wood pellet litter, or unscented recycled paper pellets sold for rabbits.

  • Place box in preferred toilet corner. Rabbits tend to choose a particular spot. Add a box here.

  • If no chosen spot, place box where hay is eaten so they can nibble while using it.

  • Clean accidents immediately with vinegar and water. Use natural enzymatic cleaners to remove odors rabbits may return to.

  • Add soiled paper or droppings to litter box so scent attracts them.

  • Be consistent with litter and box location. Drastic changes can confuse them.

  • Give a small treat when they use box properly to reinforce.

  • Spay/neuter makes litter habits more reliable. Intact rabbits mark territory.

With positive reinforcement, most rabbits aim to please their owners and happily use the provided toilet.

Finding a rabbit veterinarian

It's essential to locate an experienced rabbit-savvy exotic vet before adopting a rabbit. Here's how to find one:

  • Get a recommendation from the rabbit rescue organization or local shelters that work with vets.

  • Search listings on the House Rabbit Society website for rabbit vet listings by state.

  • Contact your local House Rabbit Society chapter for vet recommendations in your area.

  • Ask other rabbit owners in your community and check reviews to find vets knowledgeable about rabbits.

  • Verify the vet has experience specifically with rabbits, not just cats and dogs. Rabbits have unique health needs.

  • Ensure they provide services rabbits routinely need like sp

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