A surprising number of pet house rabbits live with fear every day because their families, though they may love their rabbits, just don’t understand their needs. Rabbits are sensitive creatures as well as prey animals, and they easily can suffer without their families knowing it or understanding why. Living with fear day to day is never something that we want for our pets, and it’s clearly not a healthy way to live.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way for our bunny friends. Here are eight rabbit facts from Anne Martin, executive director of the House Rabbit Society and director of Rabbit Center in Richmond, California, and Mary Cotter, interim president and longtime board member of the National House Rabbit Society.
- “People think rabbits like to eat carrots, and they’re right about that. However, carrots should never, ever be fed exclusively,” says Cotter. “Pet rabbits aren’t Bugs Bunny.” The proper primary diet should be hay and some pellets.
- “Keep rabbits indoors only; it’s very difficult to set up a safe outdoor environment for rabbits,” Cotter says. “Products we use to kill weeds or to grow grass, predators, even weather are all potential problems. Rabbits live longer, healthier lives living indoors only.” Also, rabbits in yards can escape, and those “escapees” rarely survive unless they’re found quickly.
- Uterine cancer rates are high among rabbits. If the cancer doesn’t metastasize there’s a high curative rate, but as rabbits age it’s more likely that cancer will metastasize, a probable death sentence. Females can be spayed when they are approximately six months old. Male rabbits can be neutered as early as eight to 12 weeks. “By neutering, potential hormone-related behavior problems can be avoided,” says Martin. “That’s important because these behavior problems are often a reason for people giving up their rabbits to shelters.”
- If your rabbit has a behavior issue, seek help from a rabbit expert. Just letting a house rabbit outdoors to fend for himself is a likely death sentence. Even if the rabbit survives predators and cars, he will likely starve to death.
- Rabbits can learn to use a litter box. “Get a litter that’s rabbit safe, and a litter box that a rabbit can get excited about and you’re in good shape,” Cotter says. So, what kinds of boxes excite rabbits? One that is large enough so the rabbit has plenty of elbowroom. Fill the box with a rabbit-friendly litter and add hay.
- “Rabbits are social and love having friends,” says Martin. “Assuming a rabbit is spayed/neutered so you don’t end up with more bunnies than you can handle and there’s an appropriate introduction, you’ll have a happier rabbit if the rabbit approves of the new bunny friend. Allow for speed dating first, placing the bunnies side by side in cages at the start to test compatibility. Rabbits are picky about who their friends are. Don’t just push two strangers together.”
- “Bunnies prefer predictability,” Cotter says. “And little kids are rarely predictable. Rabbits generally don’t like noise or commotion caused by small children. And they don’t at all like being held off the ground or hugged. “Rabbits may squirm when picked up, and if they’re dropped they can easily be injured.”
- If you don’t have a rabbit yet, do your homework. “Making an impulsive purchase of a rabbit for Easter is never suggested,” says Cotter. “People may be unaware that rabbits can easily live 8 to 12 years with proper veterinary care. Impulsive purchases of pets — without understanding what’s really involved — is never a good idea.”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.