Why Rabbits Are (usually) Not Good Classroom Pets

Rabbits in the classroom

There is a misconception that rabbits are low-maintenance, ‘beginner’ pets for kids. Unfortunately, you’ll learn very quickly that this is not the case. Rabbits need to be litter trained, have the habitat cleaned daily, need many hours of exercise and have a specialized diet that they need to follow. They also tend to be timid toward people until they’ve learned to trust which can make them quite the opposite of a cuddly classroom pet.

In general, I do not recommend keeping a rabbit as a classroom pet. Rabbits should not be kept in small cages, and they are easily scared by loud sounds and fast movements. Rabbits also require a lot of care and a specialized, balanced diet that might be difficult to maintain in a classroom setting.

That being said, I’m not necessarily against rabbits coming to classrooms as visitors. Rabbits with calm demeanors can be great with kids as long as it’s kept within a supervised setting. However, you should always have an understanding of your rabbit’s personality and the personality of the children in your class before bringing the rabbit in. I also don’t recommend keeping rabbits at school full-time.

Important: This post contains affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

Rabbits need a lot of space

There is a misconception that rabbits are small pets that are supposed to be kept in cages. In reality, rabbits can be a lot bigger than most people expect and they need a lot of space to roam around. Rabbits are very active animals that need space to hop and zoom around. A small rabbit cage just isn’t good enough.

Instead, it’s best to treat rabbits as free roam pets, similar to a cat or dog. This way they can get as much exercise as they need. If the rabbit needs to be kept in some kind of enclosure, a large exercise pen is a much better option for rabbits. This will give the rabbit 16 square feet of space. They will still need several hours outside of the pen for more exercise, but that is an acceptable space to have as a home base.

rabbit cowering from shadows
Avoid crowding or cornering your rabbit, they can be easily overwhelmed when they are surrounded by people.

Rabbits are scared easily

You also need to consider how the rabbit would feel in a classroom setting. Most rabbits are quite timid. They will get scared and stressed out whenever there is too much noise around. Even well-behaved children can inadvertently scare rabbits by being loud, especially if there are a couple of dozen kids in the same room. 

Rabbits also tend to be frightened by quick or sudden movements. Kids running and jumping around or moving too quickly toward the rabbit can cause the bunny to feel scared and run away or cower.

biting while putting bowl down
Rabbits that are aggressive because of territorial instincts will often bite when you reach into the enclosure to feed them.

Rabbits can bite and scratch

Rabbits are not always gentle animals. They may look cute and cuddly, but rabbits have strong jaws, teeth, and claws. Rabbits will use these to defend themselves if they feel afraid, cornered, or if their territory is being invaded.

Kids that adamantly want to play with the rabbit when the rabbit doesn’t want to be bothered, may find themselves being scratched or bitten. This is usually the last resort for rabbits to tell people to go away, but if the kids haven’t learned to respect the rabbit’s space and wishes, they can get hurt. Most of the time, rabbit bites and scratches are not serious (they don’t get easily infected, like bites from cats or dogs), but they can still hurt a lot. It could end up being a traumatic experience for both the rabbit and the child.

Rabbits are easily injured

Rabbits are also a little more delicate than many other types of small animals. This is because their back is quite weak compared to the strength of their powerful hind legs. If rabbits are handled incorrectly, they can throw out their back and become paralyzed in their back half.

Depending on the type of children in the classroom, there is also the chance that the kids will try to pull on the rabbit’s large ears, hind feet, or puffy tail. Pulling too hard on any of these areas can easily result in injury to the rabbit, so there needs to be a lot of supervision whenever children are interacting with the rabbit.

Rabbits can’t have too many treats

Kids love to give treats to classroom pets. This is because treats will get the pet to come out of hiding. Rabbits will love this too… right up until they get sick.

Rabbits have a very sensitive digestive system. They should only be getting 1 or two treats in a day, not nearly enough for every kid to have a chance to give one to the rabbit. Most of their diet should be Timothy hay with only a small amount of dry food pellets and a handful or two of leafy greens.

A rabbit who eats too many treats (carrots are treats for rabbits) and not enough hay, will inevitably develop an unbalanced digestive system. This could lead to a multitude of illnesses, but the most common is GI Stasis, which is when their digestion slows down and eventually stops completely. If the rabbit doesn’t get help, this is very often a fatal condition.

Rabbits can be a little messy

While some rabbits will take to the litter box right away, others have a difficult time with litter training. This means there is a good chance that their poo will spread throughout their enclosure. While I think rabbit poop is probably the least-gross type, it’s still poop and the kids in the class might not want it around all the time. Rabbit hay also has a tendency to get everywhere and requires constant cleaning. 

Rabbits cannot be left alone for the weekend

I do not recommend leaving rabbits in a school classroom full-time. This is especially the case over the weekend. Rabbits should not be left alone for more than 24 hours. Not only does this deprive the rabbit of their social needs (rabbits are social creatures who can bond with people that they trust), but there is also a chance the rabbit can get sick and pass away in a short period of time.

The problem with rabbits is not that they get sick easily. Instead, it’s that rabbits hide their illnesses until they can’t anymore. This means the illness is already pretty serious by the time you notice the symptoms. For many illnesses, the rabbit will start showing obvious symptoms and then pass away within a 24-hour period. If you leave your rabbit alone for the weekend, you may not even realize they are sick, but come in on Monday morning to find they are already gone.

Rabbits should not be left in high temperatures

Because rabbits have dense fur coats, they have trouble regulating their temperature when it gets hot. Rabbits have an increased risk of developing heat stroke in temperatures above 80ºF. If you know your school or classroom runs on the warm side, bring in a thermometer to see how hot it actually gets, so that you don’t risk the rabbit’s health.

It’s been several years now since I’ve been in a school setting, so maybe a lot of buildings have been updated with a central cooling system. But I bring this up because my dad is a teacher in a public school that still does not have air conditioning. 

Many buildings will also turn any central cooling systems off overnight to save on the electricity bill. Depending on where the rabbit is kept and whether windows are left open, this could lead to the rabbit overheating at night too. Overall, even if a rabbit is brought into a classroom for a visit, I don’t recommend leaving them overnight.

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.

Kids may be allergic to rabbits or hay

You always need to consider whether or not the children in the classroom have allergies before bringing a pet in. Rabbit allergies are not as common as cats and dogs, but it’s still possible for kids to be allergic to them. 

However, an allergy to the rabbit itself is usually not the culprit. Instead, it’s allergies to hay, the rabbit’s main food source. Timothy hay is basically just dried grass, so anyone who has seasonal grass allergies might find themselves having an allergic reaction whenever they are around the rabbit.

gentle rabbits
Some rabbits are more gentle and love being around people.

When is it okay to have a rabbit in the classroom?

While I don’t recommend keeping a rabbit in a school as a classroom pet, I think there are circumstances where it’s okay for a rabbit to come in as a class visitor. However, I think it’s important to respect the personality of your rabbit and be realistic about the behavior of the kids in the class before deciding to bring a rabbit into the classroom. Ultimately, it’s important for you or other adults to take responsibility for the rabbit and their well-being.

1. When your rabbit has a gentle personality. 

As I mentioned earlier, most rabbits are quite timid and would be terrified in a classroom setting. However, some rabbits are a lot more gentle and happy to get a lot of attention, even from a room of strangers. Know the rabbit’s personality before bringing them into the classroom so that you can be sure they won’t be too stressed out and won’t try to lash out if kids want to pet them.

As a general rule, larger rabbits (about 10 pounds or more) tend to have these calmer personalities. They might also be better in a classroom setting because their large size makes these rabbits more difficult for kids to injure.

children with a therapy rabbit
Some rabbits are trained to be calm and friendly around people so they can be used for therapy with children.

2. When you have a well-behaved class of children

Some children have the natural instinct to respect animals and their boundaries, while other kids are quite rough with animals and will not take the rabbit’s feelings into consideration at all. You need to know what kind of kids you have in your class before you risk bringing in a rabbit. No one wants to have to rush a rabbit to the vet because of a broken limb, and no you don’t want to risk a rabbit biting or scratching a child who just won’t leave them alone either.

3. When the children can be closely supervised

Even well-behaved children should be closely supervised whenever they interact with a classroom rabbit. You will, presumably, have a better understanding of rabbit body language than the kids will. So, you’ll be able to pick up signs that the rabbit is uncomfortable and end an interaction before anything intensifies. You can also prevent any children from pulling on the rabbit’s ears or feet and accidentally causing injury. 

4. When you can set up a large pen for the rabbit

If a rabbit is going to stay in the classroom for a day, they need a place to stay. I recommend setting up a large exercise pen for the rabbit with a drop cloth or sheet underneath so the rabbit can’t make too much of a mess. You also want to make sure the rabbit has everything they need for the day, including their litter box, food, water, and a place to hide (such as a cardboard box).

5. When the children are helpers

It’s okay to allow children to help feed and care for a classroom rabbit who’s visiting for the day. However, as the adult in the situation, you need to take ultimate responsibility for the welfare of the rabbit. You should supervise and ensure that the rabbit is being cared for properly.

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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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