Many people get rabbits for Easter every year only to find that they are more work than expected. Not only are they super active animals, but they also have sensitive digestion and some destructive tendencies. You might quickly start to feel overwhelmed caring for your new rabbit.
A pet rabbit requires a specialized diet and an ample amount of space to live and exercise. You will also need to give your new Easter bunny a lot of attention. By nature, rabbits are very social creatures who become depressed and destructive if left alone all the time.
Even though rabbits are a lot to care for, they are still excellent pets. If you take the time to befriend your rabbit, you can have a companion pet. In fact, rabbits can be a part of the family in the same way that cats and dogs are.
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How to care for a rabbit
Rabbits are not low maintenance pets. While they’re not as difficult to care for as a horse, for example, but you should expect to give them about the same amount of care that a pet dog requires. For more detailed information on each of these categories, check out my in-depth article on beginner rabbit care.
Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits can’t be given a bowl of dry food every day and expect to remain healthy. In fact, dry food pellets should only take up a small portion of a rabbit’s daily diet. Rabbits have a very sensitive digestive system, so if their diet isn’t correct, they have a high chance of getting ill.
The main parts of a rabbit diet include:
- Hay: Hay should make up the majority of your rabbit’s daily food. Timothy hay, in particular, is great for rabbits because of the high fiber content. If you’re looking for a place to find high-quality hay for your rabbit, I recommend an online store called Small Pet Select. Rabbits go through a lot of hay, so I like to get a large box so it can last me a while. (Use the code ‘BUNNYLADY’ at checkout to get 15% off your first order)
- Fresh greens: Rabbits also need 1-2 cups of fresh leafy greens daily. Plants such as parsley, cilantro, kale, arugula, etc., are good options for your rabbit. Give them multiple options to help them get various vitamins and nutrients in their diet.
- Pellets: Rabbits only need about ¼ cup of pellets every day. It’s a small amount that they’ll probably gobble up very quickly, leaving an empty bowl. That’s okay; they’ll still have all that hay to eat! If you’re looking for a healthy brand of pellets, I recommend Oxbow pellets. They are a well-respected company for small animal care, and you can even find their products in most pet stores.
- Water: You’ll want to give your rabbit water in a bowl instead of a bottle. This is a more natural way for rabbits to drink and promotes better hydration.
Treats should only be given to rabbits in minimal amounts. Fruits and vegetables such as carrots, strawberries, bananas, bell peppers, etc., are delicious for rabbits. However, too many will cause an unbalanced gut, so stick to only about 1 tablespoon worth of treats per day.
Rabbits need a lot more space than you might expect. Their enclosure should be large enough for the rabbit to hop three times across the length. It should also be wide enough for your rabbit to lay down along the length and tall enough for your rabbit to stand up without hitting their head. For an average-sized 5 pound rabbit, you will want a space that is at least 8 square feet.
Instead of getting a small cage that’s marketed toward rabbits, I recommend using a pet playpen as your rabbit’s enclosure. Not only is this larger, but it’s also easier to clean and cheaper than most other options. Check out the current price on Amazon.
Rabbits are incredibly social animals. They come from a species that live among large family groups in tunnels underground. While rabbits are skittish to begin with, they will learn to love all the attention you can give them with a bit of patience.
Once they warm up to you, they will love spending all day by your side, just like a companion animal. Without enough daily interaction, rabbits run the risk of becoming bored and depressed. These rabbits are more likely to be destructive around the home or develop health problems related to depression.
Pet rabbits are very good at getting into trouble. Just like you would need to child-proof your home when you have a toddler running around, you need to take the time to rabbit-proof your home for your new bunny. Learn why it’s best to keep rabbits as indoor pets.
The main areas you need to focus on are:
- Covering wires: Rabbits like to snip through wires with their strong teeth. Keep the wires out of your rabbit’s reach, or cover them with split loom wire tubing to keep your rabbit and wires safe.
- Covering carpeted flooring: Many rabbits, especially females, like to dig into carpeted floors. Cover corners and problem areas with cheap area rugs or plastic mats to prevent your rabbit from destroying your carpet.
- Covering baseboards: Baseboards and furniture legs are often targeted as chew toys for rabbits because they are right at your rabbit’s level. Cover them with fencing or cat scratcher mats to prevent your rabbit from chewing on them.
- Keeping your rabbit away from dangerous objects: Make sure any space heaters, fans, houseplants, and other objects are moved out of your rabbit’s reach.
The rabbit lifespan
Many people believe that rabbits will only live a few years, but a well cared for house rabbit can actually live for an average of 8-12 years. That’s a long commitment, so make sure you’re ready to take care of your rabbit for their entire lifespan.
This includes caring for them during their terrible twos when they’ll have a lot of extra energy and destructive habits. Then looking after your rabbit as they age, caring for common problems such as blindness and arthritis.
Spay or neuter
It’s vital to get your rabbit spayed or neutered as soon as possible. This will prevent potentially fatal health issues that are common in rabbits who have not been altered. Female rabbits, in particular, have an incredibly high chance of developing uterine cancer if they have not been spayed. It’s best to get the surgery done before they are 2 years old to reduce the chances of developing cancer.
Getting your rabbit fixed also tends to help with many behavioral problems that begin as rabbits reach maturity. They’ll get aggressive and start spraying urine around the home to claim their territory. Schedule an appointment with a rabbit veterinarian to get your bunny fixed and fix these behavior problems.
Children and rabbits
Believe it or not, rabbits are not great pets for children. They are usually not very cuddly, especially after their baby days are over, which can be difficult for children to understand. Rabbits also have a delicate bone structure and are easily injured if they are mishandled. On the other end of that, rabbits also have strong jaws and sharp nails that can harm a child if they are left unsupervised.
This is not to say that children and rabbits absolutely should not mix. I think rabbits can make great family pets. However, as the adult, you need to take on the responsibility of caring for the pet rabbit and supervising interactions between children and rabbits.
What if you can’t keep your rabbit?
It’s always best to research a new pet before ever bringing them home. This way, you’ll be better prepared for the challenges that come with caring for your new rabbit. However, sometimes things just don’t work out, and you need to make some hard decisions.
In the months after Easter, it’s not uncommon for people to realize they were not prepared for a pet rabbit. The spur of the moment purchase of a rabbit was a lot more work than you initially realized, and now you cannot keep your rabbit.
Find an animal shelter for your rabbit
If you cannot find a responsible family member or friend to give your rabbit to, you should always try to find an animal shelter where you can surrender your rabbit. As someone who regularly volunteers with rabbits at my local rescue center, I can tell you it is often the most responsible decision you can make. If you can’t care for your rabbit or no longer have financial stability, it is much better to give your Easter bunny a chance to find a home with a new family.
Not all rescue centers will accept rabbits, so it’s best to call before heading to a shelter. You can also make an appointment, so the staff will know you are coming and be better prepared to take care of you and your bunny.
Why you should never abandon a rabbit outside
Domestic rabbits should never be ‘set free’ outside. Pet rabbits have been bred for generations to have stunted reactions to fear and stimuli. They no longer have the instinct to run away from predators and protect themselves if left out in the wild. Check out my article on rabbit survival skills to learn more about why it’s wrong to abandon a rabbit outdoors.
Besides, in many countries, states, and local municipalities, it is illegal to abandon a domestic animal in the wild. It is considered an animal cruelty offense. The laws vary depending on where you live, but the act of abandoning a rabbit into the streets or the wild can be charged as anything from a misdemeanor to a felony.
- Carneiro, Miguel, et. al. “Rabbit genome analysis reveals a polygenic basis for phenotypic change during domestication.” Science. August 29, 2014. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/345/6200/1074.full.
- Daly, Natasha. “Here’s why Easter Is bad for bunnies.” National Geographic. April 2017. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/rabbits-easter-animal-welfare-pets-rescue-bunnies.
- “Researchers Observe Striking Differences Between Brains of Wild, Domestic Rabbits.” Texas A&M University. June 26, 2018. https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/press-releases/researchers-observe-striking-differences-between-brains-of-wild-domesticated-rabbits/