I am sorry to say that most people get their first rabbit either one of two ways… They either get one on an “impulse” where they see a cute bunny that five minutes before they did not know that they wanted… OR they find a discarded bunny whom someone else had gotten impulsively and when it did not work out, they set him “free” somewhere.
If you are not one of these two types of people, you will not need to read this article. Kudos to you for being a loving responsible pet owner. IF you fit into one of these two categories, please read this article BEFORE it is too late.
The first thing a responsible rabbit owner does before they get their first rabbit is study a little bit about them. You will never learn the things you need to know about having a pet rabbit by the “seat of your pants”. Almost nothing that you learned growing up with dogs and cats is applicable and caring for rabbits is not intuitive. A smart person will take some time to learn a little bit about lagomorphs before they decide to adopt one, to see exactly what they are getting into.
I cannot tell you how many people do not do this and it is a formula for failure, especially if you are considering having the rabbit live indoors with you and your family (which is a must!). One of the first things you will learn, if you do your homework, is that your rabbit’s area will need to be “bunny-proofed”. This means that you will need to remove, block or cover anything that your rabbit can chew on in the area you plan to let him live. Not only must you bunny-proof his living area, but anyplace that he will run and get his exercise.
All toxic and dangerous items will need to be found and removed, such as houseplants (most are poisonous to rabbits and they will eat them) and places cleaned with household cleaners. There is a complete art to “bunny-proofing” and I will not do this whole article about the subject. Part of becoming a “bunny parent” is to learn how to do it and perfect it in your home. It is a trial and error thing for people who are new to rabbits, because your rabbit will find every flaw or weakness in your system. It will happen, so be prepared for it when you first start out with a new bun.
Notice I said ADOPT your first rabbit. There is really never a good reason to go out and buy a pet rabbit. Not when there are literally thousands of rabbits who will be euthanized this year because no one wants them any longer. Almost every breed of rabbit is available to be adopted and if the one you want is not, then your local rescue, humane society or house rabbit society will help you in finding a homeless rabbit that is suitable for you.
You will also need to learn how to feed your rabbit and rabbit pellets are not the answer. Pellets were designed for farmers to get rabbits fat quickly, so they could be sold for food. They are not a good food for pets whom you want to live 10-12 years and if you feed them exclusively to your pet, he will most likely only live half of that time.
Most of us do the only things we know, when we get our first rabbit. The way that most people first learned about rabbits was seeing them in a backyard hutch eating only pellets, so it is understandable that people do the same thing when they get their first rabbit. I did.
Nothing could be farther from what pet rabbits really need and you are basically sentencing your pet to a lonely frustrated existence. His health will eventually deteriorate and he will almost always die a premature death under these conditions.
Even if you are bunny smart and decide to keep your rabbit inside, one thing that almost everyone fails to do is to locate your future rabbit’s veterinarian before getting one. If your new bunny is not already spayed or neutered, you will want to have this done immediately. Rabbits who are not spayed/neutered are not very good pets. It is smart to check around and have chosen a vet prior to bringing home your rabbit.
Rabbits who suddenly find themselves in a new environment will typically become stressed. Stress in rabbits can bring on a whole host of health problems and it is not uncommon for a healthy bunny to suddenly display symptoms of being sick after getting a new home. He may also have parasites, such as fleas or lice and it is usually a good idea to have your new bunny checked out by a rabbit specialist ASAP after bringing him home.
Some areas are lucky to have a large selection of rabbit specialists to chose from. Other areas it may be a long drive to reach one. You should know this before you get your pet and be aware that you should not take your pet bunny to a regular dog or cat vet. If you are having trouble finding the right kind of vet, contact your local chapter of the House Rabbit Society or rabbit rescue and they will guide you to the proper vets in your area.
Do not get a rabbit because your six year old daughter wants one. Getting a pet rabbit for your children is never a good idea. First off, the one who is ultimately going to be responsible for feeding, cleaning up after and paying the vet bills is you. No six year old is capable of these things, in reality. You are deluding yourself if you think that your child will always act responsibly with a fragile pet rabbit at that age. I think that most children need to be seven or eight years old before they simply understand how fragile a bunny is. The bottom line is that rabbits are not a good “kid’s pet”, contrary to the popular myth.
Another facet of bunnies for kids, is that when your eight year old gets a rabbit, he is going to live until he/she is at least eighteen years old. Somewhere along the way, their interests will dramatically change (cars, dating, sports, etc.) and so just like adopting a pet dog, you must plan for your new pet, looking ten plus years down the road. I tell parents that their eight year old will probably be married with children before a new pet bunny passes away. This puts it into proper perspective for most.
There is a lot to learn about rabbits, if you are new to having them. There are whole books about the subject, such as my new book “The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits”. Many people find failure when they first get a rabbit, but there are many ways to avoid it. Most important is doing your homework and finding out whether a rabbit is really for you and your family BEFORE you bring one home. Unfortunately, this is most often not the case, hence the thousands of stray and feral rabbits hopping around (how many of us get our first rabbits).
I will end by saying THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE TO ABANDON A PET RABBIT. If you decide that a rabbit is not for you, you must relinquish him at a shelter or rescue. Do not set a defenseless prey animal, such as a bunny free to experience a horrible death at the hands of some predator. Please, do the right thing and let him find a new home with someone who truly wants him.
The Bunny Guy