To the general public, rabbits are often thought of as easy beginner pets. It’s common for people to expect to care for a rabbit the same way they care for a gerbil or hamster, only to find themselves completely overwhelmed when they finally bring a rabbit home. In fact, a common reason that rabbits are surrendered to the animal shelter where I volunteer is that they are just too much work. Their rabbit was not the easy pet they expected.
Rabbits are high maintenance pets who require a specialized diet, a lot of time for exercise, and daily health checks. Rabbits also have destructive habits, such as chewing on wires, and you will need to take the time to fully rabbit proof your home before leaving a rabbit unsupervised.
Whether a rabbit is high or low maintenance really depends on the personality of your rabbit and the amount of experience you have with rabbit care. Someone who has had rabbits as pets for years will have a solid routine in place to make caring for their rabbits a lot easier. However, if you’re new to rabbit care, I can almost guarantee that a pet rabbit is a lot more difficult to take care of than you expect.
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Are rabbits high maintenance pets?
I consider rabbits to be high maintenance pets. However, since high and low maintenance are subjective terms and have different meanings for different people, I find it most useful to compare the care of rabbits to other common house pets. This will give you the best idea of what to expect when you get a pet rabbit.
On the most basic and level, you can expect rabbit care to fall somewhere in-between that of a cat and a dog. They do not need to be brought out for daily walks like dogs do, and they don’t require a lot of training to help them behave around people. Rabbits can be litter trained, but the process is a little more difficult than for cats, and rabbits have chewing and digging behaviors that can make them more destructive around the home than cats.
Compared to other small animals, such as hamsters and gerbils, rabbits are a lot of work. Rabbits require more space in their enclosure, more time for exercise, more attention, and even a more specialized diet. Compared to these other small animals, rabbits are very high maintenance. However, if you are used to taking care of horses, then I’m sure a rabbit will be a walk in the park for you.
Rabbit proofing your home
Rabbits have some natural instincts that can be pretty destructive toward your home. They like to chew on anything and everything. As burrowers, rabbits also have the instinct to dig into the flooring, making them prone to destroy carpets and scratch up wood flooring. While there are some cats who like to scratch up furniture with their claws, it’s usually a lot easier to prepare a home for a new cat than it is for a new rabbit.
To prevent rabbits from being destructive around the home, you need to take the time to rabbit proof. To do this you’ll need to think of your rabbit like a little toddler and go through your home to make sure anything dangerous is out of your rabbits reach and cover up areas where your rabbit will potentially be destructive. Special attention will need to be made for any exposed wires (rabbits like to chew on these), and the corners of rooms. To learn more about how to rabbit proof your home, check out my rabbit proofing 101 article.
Generally once you have taken the time to rabbit proof your home for your rabbit, the setup won’t need much maintenance on the day-to-day level. However, rabbits can be tricky and find ways to get into things you never thought they could reach, so there will always need to be some level of vigilance to make sure your rabbit can’t use their destructive habits in your home.
Toys for rabbits
Just because you are preventing your rabbit from being destructive in your home doesn’t mean that their digging and chewing instincts go away. In fact, rabbits need to have objects to chew on. Their teeth grow continuously (kind of like fingernails), and chew toys help keep rabbit teeth from overgrowing.
Give your rabbit lots of toys to choose from so that they can keep their teeth trim without needing to chew on your furniture or baseboards. My rabbits favorite toys come from an online shop called Small Pet Select that specializes in high quality hay and toys for small animals. I recommend a variety of their available toys so you can figure out which toys your rabbit likes to play with most, since some rabbits can be pretty picky about their favorite toys.
Cleaning up after rabbits
While rabbits don’t smell much, they can end up making quite a mess. They’ll get hay everywhere and they may leave droppings and urine stains to mark their territory. Something that no one will tell you before you get a rabbit is that they poop a lot! Rabbits might as well be little poop machines. Even if your rabbit is litter trained, you’ll inevitably find their poop in places it should be. The only good news I have here is that rabbit poop does not spread diseases and is the least gross kind of animal poop I’ve ever dealt with.
If you don’t mind a small mess in your house, especially around the hay trough, you may only need to do a thorough cleaning of the rabbit area every couple of weeks. However, if you prefer to have a squeaky clean home, there will be daily maintenance involved.
The work it takes to clean a rabbit enclosure largely depends on your rabbit’s cleanliness habits and the type of enclosure you have. I have found the traditional cages that are marketed towards rabbits are not usually the easiest to clean. To fully clean them, you need to almost take the cage apart completely. These may require more weekly maintenance than an ex-pen, which is my preferred type of enclosure for rabbits.
For these pet exercise pen enclosures, all you need to do is move the gate aside, sweep up the larger pieces of hay and run the vacuum. It’s more work than a cat, but it doesn’t have to be an incredibly high maintenance part of rabbit care unless your rabbit is not litter trained.
Litter training rabbits
Rabbits can be litter trained, but it often takes a little more work and patience than it does for cats. While most rabbits are clean enough to choose specific spots to do their business, convincing them to use the litter box can take some convincing. Rabbits who have not been spayed or neutered are especially difficult to litter train.
However in the long term, rabbits who are good about using their litter boxes will be a lot easier to take care of and require less maintenance than a rabbit who has not been litter trained. To litter train a rabbit, you’ll want to start them in a small space and supervise them while they are learning, making sure to place litter boxes in any place that your rabbit starts to use as a bathroom. For more information on how to litter train your rabbit, check out this article.
The rabbit diet
The rabbit digestion is very sensitive, so they need a specialized diet to keep their system in balance. You cannot simply give your rabbit a bowl of dry food every day and expect them to be healthy long term. Instead that is likely to lead to obesity, tooth problems, and serious digestive illnesses. In fact, keeping your rabbit on a healthy diet may be the most high maintenance part of having pet rabbits.
The most important part of a rabbit diet is hay. They should have an unlimited supply of timothy hay available for them to munch on all day long. The high fiber of this hay is necessary to keep your rabbit’s digestion moving and healthy. Hay also plays a major role in keeping a rabbit’s teeth healthy.
Rabbits should also receive 1-2 cups of fresh leafy greens on a daily basis. These greens give rabbits the nutrients they need to stay healthy and they encourage better hydration. Rabbits only need about ¼ cup to ½ cup of dry food pellets every day. This will seem like a very small amount if you’re used to giving your rabbit a whole bowl of pellets, but it’s much healthier for your rabbit to fill up on hay than on pellets.
Treats, including carrots, should only be given in moderation. These sweet fruits and vegetables have a high sugar and starch content. In high amounts they can cause an imbalance in your rabbits gut and cause them to be more susceptible to illnesses, such as GI Stasis.
For more details on how to give your rabbit a healthy diet, visit Rabbit Diet 101.
Exercise for rabbits
While rabbits don’t need to be taken for daily walks, they do need a lot of exercise. By nature, rabbits are active creatures. To remain happy, they will need time and space outside of their enclosure to zoom around the room. Rabbits who do not get enough exercise run the risk of falling into a depression.
The problem is that rabbits are like sprinters and not long distance runners. When they exercise they tend to explore and hop around for maybe half an hour and then rest for a while before hopping around again. This means you’ll need to give them long stretches of time to make sure they get enough exercise. You will need to spend a lot of time at home with your rabbit to supervise them during exercise time unless you take the time to free roam your rabbit.
When rabbits get sick
One of the most difficult parts of rabbit care is being able to detect when a rabbit is sick. As prey animals, rabbits have the instinct to hide any symptoms of illness. In the wild this would prevent them from being picked of by a predator, but as pets this means it’s difficult to know that a rabbit is sick until they are very sick and in need of immediate care. Subtle signs such as a change in energy levels and a change in the size of their poop can be symptoms of much larger illnesses.
I count this as part of what makes rabbits high maintenance pets because it requires daily observation of your rabbit’s behaviors. You need to always be checking on your rabbit and looking out for any lack of energy or lack of appetite so that you can take action fast to get your rabbit emergency care.
You also will have more of a struggle going away for vacation. Since a rabbit’s condition can go downhill very quickly, any pet sitter that you get will need to be familiar with rabbit behavior so they can know what symptoms to look out for. They won’t be able to wait until you get home from vacation.
In addition, rabbits shouldn’t be brought to just any vet. Rabbit anatomy is very different from cats and dogs, so they need to see specialized veterinarians that have experience with rabbit medicine. This can make their vet care more expensive, despite being smaller animals.
Rabbits are also very social creatures. Just like humans, they have a need for social interaction. Without this attention, rabbits are likely to become bored and depressed over time. This means that you will need to take the time to interact with your rabbit every day. In general rabbits are not quite as socially needy as pet dogs tend to be. However, they do require a fair amount of attention.
If you have two or more rabbits, this is not an issue you need worry about. The rabbits will be able to keep each other company, so there is no extra work you need to do to keep your rabbit happy and healthy. Of course, you’ll probably want to spend a lot of time with your rabbits anyway!
Rabbits are not the easiest pets to handle. They are not the cuddly pets that people expect and will often scratch and bite while trying to escape your arms. This can make it difficult to clip your rabbit’s nails and give them health checks when necessary. It also means that rabbits are typically not great pets for young children who will expect to be able to hold and cuddle with their pet.
It’s also important to note that rabbits have a more delicate body structure than cats and dogs. They have very strong hind legs with a relatively weak back. This means that if you hold them incorrectly, the rabbit can kick out their back and become paralyzed. Always make sure the front and back of a rabbit is supported when you hold them to prevent this.
Lifespan of a rabbit
Many people who are unfamiliar with rabbits don’t realize just how long a rabbit can live. The expected lifespan of pet rabbits is somewhere between 8-12 years, depending on the breed. While this lifespan does not necessarily mean that the rabbit care is high maintenance, it’s definitely something to consider when you decide on a pet rabbit. These pets are a long term commitment.
Many rabbits will also require more specialized care as they age. Elderly rabbits often go blind, or require daily arthritis medication. Some rabbits will even become paralyzed in their hind legs when they get old, making them a lot more high maintenance than a younger rabbit. In these cases you may need to help them keep their fur groomed and their bottom clean from urine stains and rabbit poo.
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