What You Should Know About Adopting a Pet Rabbit

How to adopt a rabbit

Other than cats and dogs, rabbits are the most common animal that is surrendered to animal shelters. There are many, many rabbits in the adoption and foster care system that are looking for loving new homes. As someone who volunteers with rabbits and other small animals at my local animal shelter, I love seeing these sweet bunnies find their forever homes.

When choosing to adopt a rabbit, you’ll want to first meet your rabbit and learn about their personality from the staff and volunteers at the animal shelter. Most shelters will also have an application and interview process where they make sure you have information about rabbit care and the health history of your new bunny.

While rabbits are rising in popularity as pets, they are still not all that common. That means that they tend to have a longer stay in the shelter system than cats and dogs. I often see the same rabbits for a number of months before they finally find a family to go home with, so I am always excited to hear when people are interested in adopting a rabbit.

Adopting a rabbit can be an incredibly rewarding experience. However, impulse purchasing a rabbit is not likely to end well. Rabbits require a lot of specialized care for their diet, exercise, and socialization needs. I’m here to give you the information you need to determine whether a rabbit is the right pet for you. I’ll also give you some information about what to expect from the adoption process, so you can be ready to bring a new bunny home.

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What to consider before adopting a rabbit

Rabbits are really great and amazing pets to add to your household, but that doesn’t mean they are for everyone. Contrary to popular belief, rabbits don’t do well if they are left alone to sit in a cage all day. To successfully include a rabbit in your home, you’ll need to consider your lifestyle and the amount of care and attention you’ll be able to give your pet.

The average rabbit lifespan is about 10 years!

The lifespan of a rabbit

First, it’s important to know that rabbits are typically much longer-lived than you might think. While the actual lifespan of a rabbit can vary based on breed, living conditions, and whether or not they’ve been neutered, the average lifespan of domestic indoor rabbits is generally around 10 years. 

This long life is actually a plus for many of us rabbit caretakers because it means we’ll be able to spend many happy years with our pets. However, it is something to take into consideration when you bring a bunny home. If you don’t think you’ll be able to commit to caring for a pet for 10 years, then a rabbit may not be the best choice at the moment.

How much care do rabbits need?

Most people who are unfamiliar with rabbit care will tend to think of them as easy beginner pets to take care of. This is simply not true. In general, pet rabbits will require more responsibility than a pet cat. They don’t require as much care as dogs since you don’t need to take them on walks every day, but because of their specialized needs, rabbits are a high-maintenance pet.

What types of care do rabbits need? You’ll need to rabbit-proof areas of your home to keep your rabbit out of trouble. Rabbits also have a very sensitive digestive system, so you’ll need to learn about how to keep your rabbit on a healthy diet. It’s not as easy as giving your rabbit dry pellets every day.

Rabbits also have unique health concerns that you’ll need to be aware of. For example, they have teeth that constantly grow, so your rabbit will have to be given chew toys to prevent overgrown teeth. They also have a tendency to hide signs of illness, meaning you’ll need to pay attention to subtle signs in your rabbit’s behavior so you can get them to the vet when they are sick.

I absolutely believe rabbits are worth all the trouble they can put you through, but it’s also best to know what you’re getting yourself into before bringing a rabbit home.

Don't pick up your rabbit
Most rabbits don’t like to be held, so you shouldn’t pick them up all the time.

Rabbits usually aren’t the best pets for children

If you are reading this while planning to get a rabbit for a child in your family, then it may be best to hold off until your child is a little older. Rabbits aren’t the best pets for most young children. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Rabbits hate being held. Most children will want to hold and cuddle with a pet rabbit, but this is likely to make your rabbit afraid. They also might accidentally injure a child as they struggle to escape.
  • Rabbits get scared easily. Loud noises and fast movements can end up frightening a rabbit. If your children tend to be loud and rowdy, then they are likely to stress out a pet rabbit.
  • Rabbits are fragile. If held incorrectly, rabbits can easily become injured. Their backs are relatively weak and need to be supported at all times.
  • Rabbits need specialized care. As I mentioned earlier, rabbits are a lot of responsibility and they are usually more work than a young child will be able to take on.

If you want to bring a rabbit into the household while you have young children, then you need to understand that no matter how responsible your child is, you are the one who needs to take responsibility for the rabbit’s care. If your child is begging you to get a rabbit but you are not able to supervise their care, then it is best to wait until you are able to take some responsibility before adopting a rabbit.

Rabbit’s need a lot of socialization and exercise

Much like dogs, rabbits will also need a lot of exercise and attention. Rabbits were born to run, which means they need a lot of time and space to exercise every day. This means they’ll need a large enclosure and supervised time outside of their home base to run around and be curious, active bunnies.

Rabbits also require a lot of socialization and attention. Pet rabbits come from a species that live together in groups. This means that rabbits have social needs and can easily become depressed if they aren’t getting enough interaction. Unless you are getting two rabbits at once, you are going to have to give your rabbit a lot of attention on a daily basis to make sure they stay happy and mentally healthy. 

What to expect from the adoption process

I wish adopting a rabbit could be an easy straightforward process. I think that would help more rescue rabbits find new homes. Sometimes all the steps from finding shelters that have rabbits, to meeting with the bunny, and going through the application process can be enough to discourage potential new rabbit caretakers. I hope this will help you get started at finding a rabbit to adopt and help you be prepared for the whole process.

Shelters will often even have young rabbits available from accidental litters of unwanted baby bunnies.

Where to find animal shelters that have rabbits

Many animal shelters and rescue organizations will only have cats and dogs up for adoption. This can make the first step of finding rabbits to adopt much more difficult than it should be. Despite that, there are many, many shelters that do take in a wide variety of other animals.

The first place to look is on the websites of any local animal shelters. They will often have all available animals listed on their website to help potential adopters find their new pets. If your local shelter is owned by the state or local municipality, they are more likely to have a wide variety of animals for adoption. There are often laws for these publicly owned shelters to take in any type of animal from the community, regardless of the species.

You can also use online resources to help you. Many rescue organizations will list their available animals on places such as Petfinder.com, where it is a lot easier to search for animals based on species. If you are living in the US, you may also be able to find available rabbits through the House Rabbit Society. They are the number one association in the United States for rabbit rescue and education.

petting a rabbit
Be patient and wait to start petting a rabbit until they approach you.

Meeting the rabbit

After you find a place where rabbits are available for adoption, you’ll want to go and meet the rabbit. This is a chance for you to get an idea of the rabbit’s personality so that you can see if they’ll be a good fit for your lifestyle. You can see how shy the rabbit is if they have any tendency toward aggression, or how active (and likely to get into mischief) they are.

Remember, it’s not all about what the rabbit looks like. Many rabbits that end up in the shelter system have come from negligent homes. They often have dirt and urine stains on their fur and may have a more disheveled appearance. This doesn’t mean they are a dirty rabbit. Over time, the stained fur will shed off and a new shiny coat will grow now that they are well taken care of.

When meeting a rabbit for such a short amount of time, it’s impossible to get a complete idea of their personality. You’ll also want to ask the staff, volunteers, or foster parents about their experiences with the rabbit. This is often the best source of information you can get about your potential new pet.

For example, as a volunteer, I am able to tell potential adopters that a rabbit who is shy at first will be an absolute lovebug once you sit with them for five minutes. You’ll also be able to get information on which rabbits have already been litter trained and even what kind of treats are their favorites.

The adoption application and interview 

The process for adopting a pet rabbit will be different depending on where you go. Some places make it easier than others to bring a rabbit home, but almost all animal shelters and rescue organizations will have some sort of application process that you’ll need to go through.

The organizations that I have worked with try to make the process easy for potential adopters. They have the philosophy that people want the best for their pets and will take good care of their rabbits if they are given the information and resources that they need. For these organizations, there is a simple interview process where they give you information about rabbit care, resources for help that are available in the community, and the history of the specific animal you are adopting.

Other organizations have different models for adopting animals. These rescue centers focus on making sure the animal is going to a caring and responsible home. They may ask for photos of the enclosure you intend to keep your rabbit in, to make sure you have the proper supplies. Some may even insist on a home visit to ensure you have everything set up for success. 

Many organizations will also check into any prior pet history. They’ll ask for the contact information of your veterinarian so the rescue can confirm that you’ve taken good care of pets in the past. You’ll want to check the application procedures of whatever organization you are getting your rabbit from so that you can be prepared with any information that you need.

Adoption fees

Most organizations will have a small adoption fee as part of their adoption procedures. This fee helps to cover the expenses of the animals while they are living in the shelter. It also helps to cover the cost of any spaying and neutering surgery or other medical expenses.

Usually, this fee is very small, especially for small animals like rabbits. When I brought my last rabbit home, the fee was only $35, and I wouldn’t expect it to be more than about $50 from your average animal shelter.

Spaying and neutering

It is very important for rabbits to be spayed or neutered. This can prevent a number of behavioral issues and some severe health problems. The good news is that many animal shelters and rescue organizations will have already neutered the animals that they are adopting out. This will save you a lot of money since you won’t have to pay for the surgery yourself.

It’s important to ask to make sure that your shelter spays and neuters their rabbits though. Many shelters that don’t specialize in rabbits won’t be able to perform this procedure, so you will need to consider it into your expenses when adopting a rabbit.

gentle rabbits
Once your rabbit trusts you, you’ll find they are very social pets and enjoy spending time with you.

Your rabbit may take a while to warm up to you

It’s also important to remember that when you first bring your rabbit home, they will almost always take a while to warm up to you and the new place. Don’t be discouraged if you bring your new bunny home only to find that they hide and run away from you. If you give your rabbit time and patience, they’ll eventually come out of their shell and bond with you.

If you’re looking to speed up the process a little bit, you can check out the technique I use to gain the trust of shy rabbits. I use these steps to befriend the many rabbits who I come across in the shelter environment. Simply sitting quietly with your rabbit and offering them treats can go a long way toward gaining their trust.

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

When you adopt a rabbit, you’ll also want to make sure you set your home up for success. You’ll want to make sure your rabbit can be comfortable, happy, and safe. This means you’ll need to know what supplies are best for your rabbit, including their food, toys, litter training, and rabbit proofing items.

Keep your rabbit indoors

It’s very important that you set up an indoor enclosure for your rabbit in order to keep them safe. While rabbits were traditionally kept outside in a hutch, that is no longer a recommended practice for rabbit caretakers. Outdoors comes with many dangers for small rabbits:

  • Predators: The sights, sounds, and smells of dogs, foxes, hawks, and other predators can be extremely scary and stressful to rabbits kept outside. Sometimes these other animals are even able to get into the hutch and harm the rabbit.
  • Parasites: Mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and other insects can cause a number of different diseases (some deadly) among rabbits.
  • Extreme weather: Rabbits can easily get heatstroke in hot temperatures above 80ºF, especially if they are sitting in direct sunlight. Temperatures below freezing can also have severe consequences for rabbits.
rabbit playpen
I use a rabbit exercise pen as their enclosure. It gives my rabbit a lot of space and it’s easy to clean!

Get a large enclosure

Rabbits need space to move around and sprawl out in their home base. They should have an enclosure that is at least 3-4 times their full length. It should also be at least 1-2 times the width of the rabbit and be tall enough for your rabbit to stand up on their hind legs. The typical rabbit cages that you’ll find advertised in pet stores are just too small for your rabbit’s needs.

I always recommend getting a rabbit exercise pen as their enclosure instead of a traditional rabbit cage or hutch. This is a gate with an open top that can be easily set up in your home. It will give the rabbit much more space than a typical rabbit cage and it’s cheaper too! The part that I like best about it is that it’s also pretty easy to clean. I can just fold up the gates and move them aside while I vacuum my rabbit’s area. 

The only downside that I’ve found to having an ex-pen as an enclosure is that you’ll probably want to add some kind of mat or area rug underneath to keep your rabbit from digging into the carpet. (Check it out here)

Rabbit proofing

Just like you need to child-proof a house when you have a baby, you’ll need to rabbit-proof your house when you bring home a bunny. This is both to keep your rabbit out of any dangerous places and to keep your rabbit from destroying your home.

The most important objects to rabbit proof are any wires your rabbit might have access to. Rabbits are known for snipping any wire they come across with their strong incisor teeth. This can make many electrical appliances completely unusable, but even more dangerous, it can cause a rabbit to be electrocuted. You should either completely remove the wires from your rabbit’s reach or cover them with split loom wire covers.

The other areas that are often targeted by rabbits are carpets and baseboards. Rabbits are known to dig into corners of carpeted areas and chew on wooden baseboards. You’ll need to use mats, area rugs, fencing, and plain old cardboard boxes to keep your rabbit from getting to these areas. Check out more tips for rabbit proofing your home here.

rabbit hay toy
You can get fun toys for your rabbit where you hide treats in a pile of hay. This will encourage your rabbit to munch on hay until they can get to the yummy treat.

Learn about a healthy rabbit diet

Giving your rabbit a healthy diet is one of the most important parts of rabbit care. They can have a pretty sensitive and finicky digestive system. You’ll need to make sure they stay on a balanced diet and keep track of how much you give them as treats.

The majority of your rabbit’s diet should be hay. A grass-based hay (such as timothy hay) should be given to rabbits in an unlimited amount. You want them to be munching on hay throughout the day, so make sure they never run out.

Fresh leafy greens are also an important part of a balanced rabbit diet. For most rabbits, you’ll want to give your rabbit about 1-2 cups of leafy greens per day. But of course, if you have a larger rabbit, they can have more!

Rabbit pellets, their dry food, should only make up a small amount of your rabbit’s daily diet. They should only have about 1 Tablespoon of pellets per pound that they weigh. Some caretakers even choose to keep their rabbits on a completely pellet-free diet. You can learn more about that in my article “Do Rabbits NEED Pellets in their Daily Diet?

Treats, which include carrots, should only be given to rabbits sparingly. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great as treats, but they have a lot of sugar and starch in them, so they’re not great for a rabbit’s sensitive digestion. Find out more about common rabbit diet myths and how to avoid falling for them.

Rabbits need chew toys

Chew toys are very important for rabbits because they can help a rabbit stay mentally healthy while also keeping their teeth from overgrowing. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to find chew toys that your rabbit will actually want to play with. Every rabbit has their own likes and dislikes, so it can take a little bit of experimentation to find the toys for your new bunny.

One of the places that I get toys for my rabbits is at an online store called Small Pet Select. They have a lot of different types of natural, healthy toys for rabbits and they are a source that I really trust to have high-quality products. When I’m looking for new toys for my rabbit, I get a sampling of their available toys. This way, my rabbits can choose the ones they like best and I’ll know which toys to get them next time.. (and if you use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout, you can get 15% off your first order!)

You can also make some cheap DIY toys for your rabbit. There is almost an infinite number of fun toys you can make with some simple materials you can find around your home (such as cardboard toilet paper tubes). Check out some easy DIY toys with this step-by-step tutorial.

rabbit in a litter box next to a hay feeder
Tip: Moving the hay near the box can encourage your rabbit to use the litter box more.

Litter training a rabbit

Many rabbits that you bring home from a shelter have already been litter trained. However, this is not always the case. You might have to take some time to teach your rabbit potty manners. This will require some basic supplies:

  • A few cat litter boxes and a scooper. Rabbits are more likely to have good litter box habits with a large litter box that they can fit inside. Opt for uncovered cat litter boxes instead of the small corner litter boxes marketed for small animals.
  • Paper-based litter. Clay litter is bad for the rabbit respiratory system and may clump up in their stomach. Instead, you’ll want to get a paper litter. I use Small Pet Select litter because it also does a good job of controlling the rabbit urine smell.
  • Newspaper. A pile of old newspaper will help you transfer your rabbit’s urine into the litter box to teach them to only go in the box.
  • A pet-safe cleaner. You’ll probably have to clean up a lot of accidents, so getting a pet safe all purpose cleaner will come in handy.

Litter training a rabbit is usually relatively easy, especially if they have already been spayed or neutered. But sometimes older rabbits who have never been litter trained will have difficulty learning. I have an article with the step-by-step technique for litter training a rabbit as well as some troubleshooting tips to help convince those stubborn rabbits to use their litter box.

Finding a rabbit veterinarian

Rabbit anatomy and health are very different from cats and dogs. For this reason, you’ll need to find a veterinarian that specializes in rabbits. These veterinarians may be listed as Small Animal Veterinarians or Exotic Animal Veterinarians. If you need help finding a veterinarian in your area, check out my resources page where I have links to some rabbit care resources in the US and the UK.

Once you find a veterinarian, you’ll want to make sure you bring your rabbit in for an initial check-up. This will help to check for any health problems that may have arisen from your rabbit’s previous life and give you a chance to get a baseline for your rabbit’s general health.

Afterward, you’ll want to make a visit to the vet every year for an annual checkup to help make sure your rabbit stays in good health. It’s also good to have a relationship with a veterinarian, so you can have their office on call if you ever do run into an emergency situation.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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