Thinking of welcoming an adorable, floppy-eared rabbit into your home? Before you hop to it, there are some crucial factors to consider. Rabbits may look soft and cuddly, but they have some surprising truths that many first-time owners aren’t aware of. From specialized medical care to unique communication styles, rabbits have needs very different from more common pets like cats and dogs. Don’t be misled by stores marketing them as “starter” pets – rabbits are complex creatures requiring research and preparation for a happy, lifelong bond. Read on to discover the 20 most important things to know before adopting your new fuzzy friend! This essential guide will help ensure a loving, healthy relationship with your future bunny.
1. Rabbits need a lot of space
Rabbits are active animals that need a lot of room to hop around and exercise. The minimum recommended enclosure size for a rabbit is 4 feet by 2 feet, but larger is always better. Rabbits that are confined to small cages will likely develop health and behavioral issues. Giving your rabbit free roam of a rabbit-proofed room or the whole house is ideal. Be sure to rabbit-proof by blocking off unsafe areas and removing hazards. Provide your bunny with toys, tunnels, boxes, and platforms to enrich their environment. The more space you can provide, the happier your rabbit will be.
2. Rabbits need a lot of attention
Rabbits are very social animals that crave companionship and interaction. They require at least 2-3 hours per day of playtime and bonding with their owners. Make sure to pet, groom, and play with your rabbit daily. Rabbits that are frequently left alone may become depressed or destructive. Adopt your rabbit a friend if you cannot devote enough one-on-one time. Rabbits do best in pairs. Monitor pairs for aggressive behavior such as chasing and mounting. Bonding rabbits takes time and patience. Rabbits that have a friend will be much happier and healthier.
3. Rabbits shed a lot
All rabbits shed heavily for a few days every 3 months as their thick winter coat is replaced by a lighter summer coat. During this molting period you can expect to find tufts of fur around their enclosure. Long-haired rabbit breeds require daily brushing to control shedding and prevent wool block gastrointestinal issues. Use a rubber brush designed for rabbits to collect loose hair. Vacuum and sweep the area around your rabbit's habitat daily to manage the mess. Cover furniture and carpets near your rabbit's space if the shedding is unmanageable. The good news is that regular brushing and habitat cleaning will help control the shedding.
4. Rabbit hay is not easy to clean
An essential part of a rabbit's diet is fresh timothy or orchard grass hay, which provides fiber and helps wear down constantly growing teeth. Hay is vital for your bunny's digestive health but it can make a mess around their enclosure. Rabbits will kick and scatter their hay while eating. Stray pieces also escape through cage bars. The tiny hay bits can be difficult to sweep and vacuum. Placing your rabbit's habitat on an easy to clean surface like tile or linoleum helps manage the mess. You can also consider using a grooming Vac to vacuum stray hay. Providing your rabbit with the hay they need while keeping their space clean will take some trial and error.
5. Rabbits can suddenly get very sick
Rabbits are prey animals that tend to hide illness very well. This means that seemingly healthy rabbits can take a sudden turn for the worse. Anything from dental disease to cancer can rapidly progress in rabbits once symptoms start showing. It is essential to handle your rabbit frequently and inspect their body for any lumps, bumps, or signs of pain. Contact an exotic vet immediately if you notice lethargy, appetite changes, or other red flags. Establish a relationship with a qualified rabbit vet before bringing one home. Rabbits require specialized medical care. Be prepared for unexpected vet bills by having an emergency fund available. Early intervention greatly improves a rabbit's chances of recovery.
6. Rabbits thump very loudly
Rabbits communicate by thumping their powerful hind legs on the ground. This creates a surprisingly loud thud that can startle owners. Thumping is a sign your rabbit is distressed, angry, or warning you to back off. Try to identify what triggers the thumping and avoid it in the future. Sometimes thumping happens for no clear reason as a reaction to a strange sound or smell. Get your rabbit used to loud noises and chaos gradually so thumping episodes are less frequent. While thumping is perfectly normal rabbit behavior, excessive or unexplained thumping warrants a call to the vet to rule out pain.
7. Rabbits are bigger than you think
Many first time rabbit owners are surprised by how large rabbits can grow. While breeds like dwarfs stay small, medium and giant breeds reach 6-10+ pounds. Make sure you are prepared to house and handle a large bunny before adopting. Giant breeds require at least 8 square feet of cage space plus exercise time. Litter boxes also need to be sizable to fit large bunnies. Big rabbits can be difficult for children to safely handle. Males can become quite territorial and aggressive during hormonal surges. Think twice before taking home that adorable baby Flemish Giant from the pet store! An adult sized enclosure and budget for a big bunny are musts.
8. Rabbit poop tells you a lot about their health
A healthy rabbit produces dozens of round, brown, dry fecal pellets each day. Their poop can give you valuable insight into whether your bunny is sick. Diarrhea, mushy poop, misshapen poop, or a reduction in droppings all signify an intestinal issue. Constipation is dangerous for rabbits and requires prompt vet attention. Be aware of your rabbit's normal pooping habits so you can identify when something is off. Collect soiled bedding daily so you don't miss health issues. Make note of poop quantity, size, shape, odor, and color. Healthy rabbit poop means a healthy rabbit.
9. Rabbits have a specialized diet
It is essential to feed your rabbit a balanced diet of primarily hay, leafy greens, and a small amount of pellets. Stick to rabbit-specific feeds and do not offer muesli style foods with nuts, seeds, and sugary mixes. These will lead to obesity and health problems in rabbits. Introduce new veggies slowly to avoid digestive upset. Limit fruits due to the high sugar content. Do not make drastic diet changes as rabbits have sensitive GI systems. Research proper rabbit nutrition or consult an exotic vet to ensure your bunny's needs are met. Diet is directly linked to your rabbit's quality and longevity of life.
10. Rabbits can get uterine cancer
Unspayed female rabbits have a very high risk of developing uterine cancer by age 5. Spaying eliminates this risk entirely and is essential for female health. Neutering males also reduces unwanted behaviors and territories marking. Altered rabbits are happier, healthier pets all around. Schedule your rabbit's spay or neuter at around 4-6 months old for the safest surgery and recovery. Reputable rescues adopt out already fixed rabbits. If adopting an unfixed bunny, schedule the surgery ASAP. Never attempt to breed rabbits unless you are an expert. Backyard breeding often ends tragically.
11. Rabbits are destructive pets
Rabbits love to chew and dig, which often leads to damage. Protect valuables like furniture, carpet, baseboards, and electrical cords from your rabbit. Provide acceptable outlets for these natural behaviors like cardboard boxes, untreated wood blocks, and digging areas filled with paper or straw. Even with redirection, you will likely suffer some destruction, especially while your rabbit is young. Patience and early training are key to curbing destruction. Setting up a designated rabbit zone helps limit access to vulnerable household items during their active hours. Destruction is frustrating but part of owning active, inquisitive rabbits.
12. Rabbits are slow to trust people
Having a friendly, cuddly rabbit takes a lot of time and work. Rabbits are naturally wary of people and unfamiliar environments. Sit near your rabbit's enclosure and offer treats to build positive associations with you. Avoid sudden movements and loud noises that may frighten them. Once your rabbit is comfortable being handled, hold and pet them for short sessions, gradually increasing over time. Expect the bonding process to take weeks or months before your rabbit relaxes fully in your presence. Go at their pace and never force interactions. Trust cannot be rushed with prey animals like rabbits. Let your rabbit decide when they feel safe with you.
13. Rabbits are not cuddly pets
Rabbits are often marketed as great "starter" pets for children, but they are not naturally cuddly or snuggly. While some bunnies enjoy being petted, they mostly prefer playing on their own terms. Rabbits should not be constantly held or handled. Excessive restriction stresses them out. Set realistic expectations that rabbits are not soft teddy bears. Instead appreciate your rabbit's funny, quirky personality. As prey animals, rabbits will likely never enjoy vulnerable positions like being on their backs in your arms. Love and enjoy your rabbit for their true nature as an active, independent pet.
14. Don’t trust pet store marketing
Rabbits are complex, 10 year commitment pets, but stores market them as "easy" starter animals and sell inadequate starter kits. Do not trust this misleading marketing. Very little of what the pet store tells you about rabbit care is accurate. Always do thorough research from credible rabbit-experienced sources. Stores provide false information to make sales. The tiny cages they sell lead to suffering and health issues. Resist impulse buys and educate yourself before adopting. No rabbit should be an Easter surprise either. Advocate for better marketing and care standards if stores won't reform voluntarily.
15. Rabbits are safer indoors
Outdoor hutches were once the norm for rabbit housing but are now strongly discouraged. Outdoor rabbits are vulnerable to extreme temperatures, predators, insects, and illness. Inside house rabbits live longer, healthier lives. If you decide to house your rabbit outside, protect them from the elements in a sturdy hutch and bring them in during adverse weather. Even then, outdoor rabbits need significant indoor playtime and interaction daily. An outdoor hutch should be viewed as just their sleeping space. Wherever you keep them, focus on rabbit-proofing hazards and providing ample space to thrive safely.
16. Rabbits keep themselves clean
Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits take care of their own hygiene needs most of the time. Rabbits meticulously groom themselves similar to cats. There is no need to bathe your rabbit. Not only is bathing incredibly stressful for them, but it removes their beneficial skin oils. Spot clean soiled fur with a damp cloth if needed. Trim nails every 4-6 weeks to prevent injury from scratches during grooming. Check inside their ears weekly and gently wipe away any waxy buildup. Beyond that, admire your rabbit's natural cleaning routine while brushing them during shedding seasons.
17. Dental problems are common in rabbits
A rabbit's teeth grow constantly, requiring daily chewing to wear them down. Without this wear, their teeth will overgrow causing immense pain, appetite loss, and even death. Provide unlimited grass hay at all times and a variety of safe wooden chews. Shop bought treats do not replace raw gnawing. Monitor your rabbit's teeth weekly for any overgrowth or misalignment. Be prepared to make vet visits for tooth trimming if needed. Molar spurs and incisor issues are prevalent in rabbits yet preventable with proper diet and early intervention. Know the signs of dental disease to protect your bunny.
18. Rabbits are intelligent animals
Rabbits are inquisitive, social animals capable of learning cues, tricks, and litter box habits. Provide your rabbit with puzzles, toys, and activities to engage their agile mind. Rotate their supplies frequently to prevent boredom. Train your rabbit using positive reinforcement like treats and praise. Clicker training is highly effective for rabbits. You will be delighted by how clever your rabbit is when given mental stimulation. Channel their energy into a fun trick repertoire. Just be prepared for a rabbit more intelligent and stubborn than you anticipated!
19. Expect your rabbit to live longer than you think
Pet rabbits often live 8-12 years, sometimes longer. Make sure you are ready for this long term commitment. Dwarf breeds tend to have the longest lifespans. Neutering adds years by preventing reproductive cancers. Indoor housing also allows rabbits to reach their full expected lifespan. Be cautious adopting senior and special needs rabbits who may have higher veterinary costs. Budget for pet insurance and an emergency fund as your rabbit ages. Give your companion rabbit the best nutrition and preventative care to enjoy their golden years together.
20. Rabbit body language is unique
Learn to "speak rabbit" by studying their communication style. Useful things to know are: tooth grinding means contentment, circling your feet is a sign of affection, laying flat out signals trust, thumping warns of fear, and nudging with chins marks territory. Pay close attention to their unique ear, tail, and foot signals. Understand common behaviors like binkying joy hops, chinning objects, and digging/scratching. Building fluency in your rabbit's nonverbal language will help strengthen your bond and meet their needs. As prey animals, rabbits say a lot through body language versus vocalizations. Become fluent in your rabbit's cues.
Those are 20 of the most important things to know before bringing home your first rabbit. There are many misconceptions and myths about proper rabbit care among new owners. Always put your rabbit's wellbeing first by doing thorough research beforehand from experienced sources. The long term commitment, space requirements, vet costs, and other responsibilities are so important to consider before adopting on impulse. While rabbits take more specialized care and patience than some pets, they repay you with years of quirky companionship. Learn their language, understand their sensitivities, and you will be richly rewarded by sharing your life with these charming creatures.