As far as pets go, rabbits are actually a very environmentally friendly choice. They are naturally vegans, not eating any meat or dairy, which automatically reduces their carbon footprint on the world. But that doesn’t mean pet rabbits can’t have any negative consequences on the environment.
The way that you feed your rabbit, give them toys, and take care of their litter box all affect the impact your rabbit has on the environment. By switching to more local options you can reduce the carbon footprint of your rabbit and make sure you have an environmentally friendly pet.
Depending on your living situation, some of these tips may not be achievable at the moment. For example, it’s hard to start your own rabbit garden when you don’t even have a yard. The point is not to be perfect and reduce your rabbit’s carbon footprint to absolute zero. Instead, it’s to make whatever small changes you can to do a little better today than you did yesterday.
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1. Rabbit poop is great fertilizer
Believe it or not, rabbit poop can be a great fertilizer for your garden. These little ‘cocoa puffs’ are nutrient dense, containing trace amounts of many different minerals that keep your soil healthy and your plants growing. Unlike cat and dog feces, rabbit poop and urine do not carry any diseases that are harmful towards humans, making them perfectly safe to use even on a food or herb garden.
You can either spread the rabbit poops directly onto your garden or compost them first to make a nutrient dense mulch. In fact, all the contents of your rabbit’s litter box can be composted. Both the paper-based litter and hay in your rabbit’s litter box can break down in a compost bin to make rich soil for your garden.
Unfortunately because many pets are known to have leavings that can spread disease, many commercial and government composting facilities will not accept any kind of animal poop. In most cases you will only be able to compost your rabbit’s poops if you have your own personal bin and garden at home.
2. Source your rabbit’s food locally
The process of manufacturing, packaging, and shipping rabbit food and toy products uses a lot of energy, creating a significant carbon footprint before the products ever get to your doorway. In addition, most rabbit food and toy products are wrapped in plastic packaging that is difficult to reuse or recycle.
Instead of going to the pet store to get your rabbit’s hay, you can look for a local farmer who is willing to sell you some bales of hay. Forming this relationship with those who are growing locally will allow you to get the freshest hay for your rabbit, support your local economy, and reduce the carbon footprint of your pet rabbit.
Similarly, purchasing your rabbit’s fresh leafy greens from a local farmer’s market instead of a grocery store chain can reduce the amount of energy needed to get the food to your door. Instead of buying greens that have traveled for hundreds of miles before finding a spot of the shelf of a grocery store, you can buy fresh greens from your local farmer’s market and support your local economy.
3. Grow your own rabbit food garden
Growing your rabbit’s leafy greens in your own garden can be a way to reduce your rabbit’s carbon footprint even more. No need to get into your car and spend the gas it takes to get to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Instead you can go straight to your back yard, giving your rabbit the freshest possible greens straight from your garden.
Of course, this is likely not possible all year round. In most places it’s hard to grow enough fresh greens to keep up with your rabbit’s appetite through the winter. Even sometimes in the summer it might be difficult to grow enough greens for your bunny. But you may be able to grow some of your rabbit’s food in the backyard, while supplementing it with food from local farmers.
If you don’t have a yard, you can still grow many herbs in planter boxes that you keep in your windows. You probably won’t be able to grow enough to keep your rabbit completely satisfied, but even if you’re just growing a little bit, you are reducing the carbon footprint of your pet rabbit.
4. Get your rabbit spayed or neutered
Compared to other common household pets, rabbits are very environmentally friendly… until they have babies. Rabbits can reproduce very quickly. They can potentially have litters of up to 14 baby bunnies 12 times a year!
There have been instances of domestic rabbits who have been abandoned outside, only to reproduce and wreak havoc on the local ecosystem. They reproduce so quickly that they deplete the vegetation growing in their environment and compete with the local wildlife for resources. Even if you would never abandon a pet rabbit outside (it’s actually illegal in most states and countries), baby rabbits can easily end up crowding in animal shelters, making it harder for adult rabbits to be adopted.
Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered is also good for their health. Female rabbits, in particular, have a very high chance of developing uterine cancer if they are left unspayed. In addition to protecting the environment from the overpopulation of rabbits, getting them spayed and neutered will allow them to live a long and healthy life.
5. Food scraps for rabbits
All those carrot tops, strawberry leaves and other leafy food scraps can easily become your rabbit’s dinner instead of making their way into the trash. This is another way you can supplement your rabbit’s daily leafy greens and save money in the process.
Not all food scraps are safe for rabbits. For example, anything in the onion family is not safe for rabbits to eat. Likewise tomato and potato leaves are mildly poisonous to rabbits and should be avoided. But the leafy parts of foods like broccoli, celery, strawberries, and carrots are very healthy for rabbits. Also, if you’ve ever had to get a whole bunch of something like cilantro only to use a small tablespoon in a recipe, the rest of the bunch doesn’t have to go to waste. It makes a very yummy and healthy meal for your rabbit
Other foods scraps are safe for rabbits to eat, but should only be given in small amounts. If you have a little bit of leftover fruit and vegetable cuttings, you can give small pieces to your rabbit as treats. But you’ll want to avoid giving them more than 1-2 Tablespoons in a day.
6. Cardboard recyclers
Rabbits love to dig into and chew on cardboard. All those leftover toilet paper tubes can easily be turned into fun toys for rabbits. Instead of immediately putting these into the trash or recycling, you can give your rabbit hours of cheap fun without worrying about buying toys with any extra packaging.
In addition, cardboard boxes are incredibly versatile. They can be used for anything from making a hiding house for your rabbit, to making a digging box, or even using them as a rabbit proofing tool. You can flatten them to use them as mats that keep your rabbit from digging into the carpet, or line them against the walls to prevent your rabbit from chewing on the baseboards.
7. Using nature as toys
Many of the best rabbit toys can actually be gathered from your backyard. Not only does this save you money on rabbit supplies, but it also reduces your rabbit’s carbon footprint by bypassing the energy intensive manufacturing, packaging and shipping processes that pet store rabbit toys go through.
What types of toys can you bring in from outside? Think branches and twigs, or even dried out pinecones. You’ll, of course, want to be sure that anything you bring in from outside has not been treated with any dangerous chemicals or pesticides. It’s also best to wash and fully dry any items you bring in from outside to avoid any hidden bugs or urine from wild animals.
8. Use a recycled paper litter
Instead of using a typical clay-based kitty litter, it’s a much more environmentally friendly idea to use a paper based litter. This is actually better for rabbit health too. The dust from clay based litters can cause respiratory inflammation in rabbits. They can also clump up in a rabbit’s stomach if your rabbit eats their litter (as many do). Whereas paper-based litters are actually safe for rabbits to ingest.
There are a number of different brands that are made up of recycled paper or newspaper. I like to get the Small Pet Select litter because it also does a pretty good job at controlling any odor that comes from my rabbit’s urine and it’s one of the only brands that doesn’t add baking soda to the litter.
9. Buy in bulk
Whenever possible you’ll want to purchase your rabbit supplies in bulk. When products are packaged in bulk they end up using less plastic and requiring less energy to manufacture. It also means you’ll be making less frequent trips to the pet store, or getting less frequent shipments to your home, so the amount of gas used in car trips is also reduced.
While you can’t buy fresh leafy greens for rabbits in bulk, hay and pellets can stay fresh for long periods of time. You can buy enough for two to three months at a time without worrying that they will go bad in the bag.
10. Make your own cleaning products
Most cleaning products use dangerous chemicals that are not good for rabbits to breathe or ingest. Since rabbits tend to chew and lick many surfaces, this means that it’s important to use cleaning products that are safe for rabbits.
Luckily it’s both easy to make your own cleaning products and it’s much better for the environment. You won’t need to go through nearly as many plastic bottles, and you won’t be contributing to the dangerous chemical runoff that is contaminating our groundwater, rivers, lakes and oceans.
A pet safe cleaner can be made by combining equal parts white vinegar with water. Pour these into a spray bottle, shake it up, and use it as an all purpose cleaner. You can reduce the amount of plastic you use by buying a large bottle of vinegar and using it to replenish the pet-safe cleaner when you’re running low. If you want to mask the strong vinegar scent, you can also add in some drops of essential oil. Citrus, lavender, and mint oils are safe to use around rabbits.