I am autistic and throughout my life rabbits have been one of the best, positive influences on my mental health. My family first got rabbits when I was seven years old, and I’ve continued to care for rabbits as pets and as a shelter volunteer even into adulthood. My rabbits have brought me deep levels of companionship, and they keep me calm and overall a lot happier.
I suppose it’s well known that autistic people, like myself, often have an affinity for animals. If you (or your child) are looking for a pet they can really relate to, rabbits are a great choice.
Rabbits are good pets for autistic people because they are quiet and they like to stick to a schedule just as much as we do. Rabbits are also social animals who love human companionship, but they are not so pushy as to require our attention all day long.
Rabbits also tend to be quite shy and withdrawn until they get to know you. Then you can see their true personality shine. While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I can definitely relate to this, and I believe this shared experience helps me connect with rabbits more deeply than other animals. Maybe it will be the same for you.
Why rabbits are great companions if you are autistic
Rabbits are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. They are highly social animals that can learn to live with humans as companions (similar to the way cats and dogs live as companion pets rather than cage pets). Rabbits can show a variety of emotions, and they can learn to understand people and our feelings too. For someone like me, who often struggles to connect with other people, caring for rabbits has given me a chance to bond with another being that I can really understand and connect with.
These are some reasons that rabbits can be excellent pets for autistic people:
- Rabbits are quiet pets. Rabbits are excellent pets for anyone who can get overwhelmed by too much noise. They don’t have any loud vocalizations (like barking or meowing). Rabbits can thump when they are feeling distressed, but that’s not something that should happen all the time. You also need to give them a large enough enclosure so that they don’t rattle the cage bars all night long.
- Rabbits love sticking to a schedule. Rabbits are happiest when their days are predictable (just like me!). This means if you feed, clean, exercise, and socialize with your rabbit at the same time every day, your rabbit will feel more comfortable and safer with you.
- Most rabbits enjoy being petted (and they’re really soft!). Most rabbits don’t like being held, but they’ll be happy to sit next to you while you pet them for hours. Stroking a soft rabbit is a very pleasant, tactile activity, especially when you can see that the rabbit enjoys it.
- Rabbits are social, but not too pushy. Rabbits are social animals. They love interacting with people once they have learned to trust you, but they also enjoy spending time laying around or playing on their own. They don’t require any social energy to be around, but you can still have a social relationship with them.
- Rabbits also don’t like eye contact. Like most other prey animals, rabbits prefer it when you don’t look them in the eye. It makes them feel threatened. In fact, this is advice that I commonly give people when interacting with rabbits at the animal shelter where I volunteer. If you look away and even turn your back to the rabbit, they will be much more likely to trust you and come up to you.
- Rabbits can be free roam around like cats and dogs. You can treat rabbits like companion pets who hop around your home wherever they want. This gives you more of a chance to socialize and connect with your rabbit all day long. Just be sure that everything is rabbit-proofed and your rabbit is litter trained before you allow them free roam.
- Rabbits have adorable personalities. Rabbits tend to be quite shy when you first bring them home. However, if you give them a little patience, you’ll find that they have an amazing personality that they’re just waiting to show. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? Personally, I think rabbits are great pets for autistic people because they are actually very similar to us.
Why rabbits might NOT be the best companion for you
As much as I love rabbits and believe that they have been a major part of keeping me from shutting down on difficult days, rabbits are not the right pet for everyone. If you’re like me and you’re a shy and quiet person, rabbits are great pets who can match the quiet energy of your home. However, to state the obvious, not everyone who is autistic is like me. If you prefer a pet who’s more active, is low maintenance, or you value cleanliness in your home, then you may want to reconsider getting a pet rabbit.
- Rabbits are high-maintenance pets. There is a misconception that rabbits are beginner pets when they require almost as much work as caring for a dog. Rabbits need to be fed a specialized diet, given enough space and attention, and taken to regular vet appointments. You need to consider the amount of work and time that goes into caring for a rabbit before you bring one home.
- Rabbits are pretty messy (shedding, hay, and poop everywhere). If you like everything to be clean in your home, a rabbit is not for you. Rabbits aren’t smelly, but they are very good at making a mess. Rabbits shed like a fur tornado, and you’ll find hay everywhere (a rabbit’s main food source). It’s also common to find little rabbit poops scattered about occasionally, even if your rabbit has been litter trained.
- Rabbits can lash out if they feel threatened. While most of the time rabbits are quite gentle, they also have claws and teeth. If a rabbit feels cornered or if they feel you are encroaching on their territory, it is possible the rabbit will try to scratch or bite. You will have to get to know your rabbit and their personality to be sure they don’t get aggressive. (getting a rabbit spayed or neutered will also help with aggressive behavior)
- Rabbits get sick easily. Most of the time rabbits are a calming presence and stress relief, however, they can also cause a spike in anxiety when they get sick. The problem is that when rabbits get sick, their condition can potentially go downhill very quickly. Whenever they get sick, rabbits need to be brought to the vet as soon as possible so they can recover before their condition gets worse.
- Rabbits are not very cuddly. Rabbits love to be pet, but they usually hate being held or hugged. While there are certainly exceptions to this rule, most of the time you will lose the trust of your rabbit if you try to hold or hug them all the time.
Rabbits and autistic children
As a general rule, I don’t recommend rabbits as pets for kids unless the child is very calm and respectful towards animals. This goes for all kids, not just autistic children. This doesn’t mean that rabbits can be in a home with children, but the parents or adults should always take responsibility for the welfare of any pets. The rabbit should be treated as a family pet and not given directly to the child.
It’s perfectly okay to allow kids to help in caring for a family rabbit. They can help in feeding and cleaning the habitat. You should also be sure your child is supervised whenever they are interacting with the rabbit until you can trust their behavior to be gentle and respectful toward the rabbit. This is to prevent injury to both parties since rabbits can be easily injured if mishandled, but they also have claws and teeth that they can use if they feel too scared or overstimulated.
In general, larger rabbits tend to have calmer personalities and are more easygoing, but you can also ask the staff at your local animal shelter which rabbits are known for being more friendly and docile and which ones have more aggressive tendencies.
Once they are able to socialize and form a bond, pet rabbits can be a great comfort to autistic children. Most rabbits love to be petted and will sit next to someone for long stretches of time.