Many people are hesitant to adopt from an animal shelter because it’s common to believe that rescue rabbits are dirty, sick, or otherwise unwanted. As someone who volunteers with rescue rabbits, I can assert that this is simply not true.
Rabbits end up in the shelter system for a wide variety of reasons, and they are often healthier and cleaner than rabbits you will find in a pet store or even some breeders.
However, it’s still important to ask questions when adopting a rabbit so that you can find a bunny who will fit into your lifestyle. Whether you are adopting your rabbit from an animal rescue center or a breeder, these are some important questions you should ask about your new rabbit. The answer to these questions can help you transition your rabbit to your new home and be prepared for some known problems. They will also help you make the correct decision for which rabbit to bring home, so you don’t bring an aggressive rabbit into a home with young children.
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1. What type of food is the rabbit eating?
One of the most important questions you can ask when bringing home a rabbit is what kind of food they are eating. This is because rabbits have a sensitive digestive system that can easily become unbalanced by a sudden change in their diet. You want to keep them on a diet that is as close to what they are used to as you can. If you need to change their diet to a healthier option, you can make the change slowly over a couple of weeks to avoid causing a digestive disruption. Learn more about how to give your rabbit a healthy diet.
If at all possible, it’s ideal if you can bring a week’s worth home of the current brand of pellets your rabbit is eating. This way you can take the week to transition your rabbit to whatever brand of pellets you can get for them (I recommend Oxbow Garden Select pellets as a healthy option). Ask the shelter or breeder if you can have some of their regular pellets to help with the transition.
2. Is the rabbit litter trained?
Whether the rabbit in question is already litter trained or they still need to work on it, you’ll want to know ahead because you’ll need to approach the first couple of weeks of rabbit care differently. Rabbits who are litter trained are typically easier to transition to a new home since they are less likely to make a mess. This doesn’t mean you should never adopt a rabbit who hasn’t been litter trained, of course. You’ll just need to be ready to be prepared to litter train your new rabbit before you can allow them more freedom around your home. Learn more about how to litter train a rabbit.
It is important to note that many rabbits who are litter trained may temporarily lose their good potty habits when they are first brought to a new place. They may feel the need to claim their new territory by spreading their scent around. This means that even if your rabbit is already litter trained, you’ll still want to watch them closely and be prepared to clean up any accidents.
3. What kind of personality does the rabbit have? Do they have a bite history?
Just like cats, dogs, and any other type of pet, rabbits can have a wide range of personalities. Some rabbits are shy, while others act more like puppy dogs; some rabbits like to be the boss, while others don’t mind chilling out with you. The staff and volunteers at animal shelters are able to learn a lot about the personality of the animals in our care. We can help you find the rabbit that best fits your lifestyle instead of just relying on appearances and first impressions.
It’s also important to ask about a rabbit’s bite history or aggressive tendencies. While uncommon, some rabbits can lash out when they get scared or feel that their territory is being invaded. For example, we recently had a rabbit in the shelter who would try to bite whenever we tried to clean out her enclosure. If you live with young children or are new to rabbit care, these may not be the best choices for you.
4. Approximately how old is the rabbit?
Knowing the age of your rabbit can help make sure you provide the right kind of care. If the rabbit is younger than 6 months, they have slightly different dietary requirements. Similarly, as rabbits age, you may need to make adjustments to their care to make sure they stay healthy and comfortable. Knowing their age can also be helpful for your veterinarian, who will have a better understanding of common health problems to look out for as your rabbit ages.
Don’t be surprised, however, if the rescue center does not know the age of your rabbit. Many times rabbits in the shelter have been found abandoned outside and brought in. They don’t always have the previous owner available to let them know how old the rabbit is. In these cases, the best the shelter staff can do is an estimate. If you don’t know the age of your rabbit, you can make a basic guess, but it’s impossible to know for sure after the rabbit is an adult.
5. Does the rabbit have any experience with children?
Rabbits and children do not always get along. If you have young children, it might be better to get a different type of pet who is less fragile and less able to hurt your child. Most rabbits get nervous around people who don’t respect their personal space and boundaries, and some of these rabbits will lash out by attacking with their claws and teeth.
Sometimes, however, shelter staff will know of especially gentle rabbits who have lived with children in the past. While I would never recommend getting a rabbit for a child, having one of these calm, friendly rabbits as a family pet can be a great way to teach a child how to respect animals.
6. Has the rabbit lived with other pets?
Some rabbits can get along with other household pets. Since most domestic rabbits are larger than wild rabbits, cats can end up being friendly with rabbits and living harmoniously. However, sometimes the smell of other animals, especially predators, is enough to make rabbits anxious.
There are a lot of considerations to make before bringing a rabbit into a home with predator animals. One aspect that can make a big difference is whether or not the rabbit has had experience with other pets in the past. Rabbits who have shared a home with other pets are less likely to be fearful and stressed out when you bring them home.
7. Are there any health concerns you should be aware of?
Most rescue centers have a file on all of the animals that come through the system. They are given a health checkup before they become available to the public to make sure that they are healthy and don’t have any serious or contagious diseases. If the rabbit was surrendered by someone who has access to their health history, there may even be further documentation about health concerns before the rabbit entered the shelter.
When you adopt a rabbit, the shelter should give you access to this information. In the places I’ve volunteered, it is an automatic part of the adoption process to talk about any health concerns. If it’s not something that’s brought up, it’s best to ask about it so you can be prepared for any extra work and cost it would take to care for your new pet.
8. Has the rabbit been spayed or neutered?
Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered is a very important step for rabbit care. It can solve many common behavioral problems and prevent serious health conditions. However this procedure can be expensive, typically ranging from $200-$600. You’ll want to ask if your new rabbit has already been fixed or not to know whether this will be an extra expense to prepare for.
One of the benefits of adopting from a rescue center is that many shelters will have the rabbit spayed or neutered before you even meet them. However, some don’t have the medical professionals available to make this offer, and some animals may be too young to be spayed or neutered. It’s important to ask about their status, and never just assume that the animal has already been fixed.
9. Are there any rabbit veterinarians in the area?
If you are new to pet rabbits, you may still need to find an appropriate veterinarian for your rabbit. Rabbit health is very different from cats and dogs, so you need to find a specialized veterinarian to care for your rabbit. Many times the shelter you adopt from will have a relationship with veterinarians in the area that you can go to for your rabbit, so it never hurts to ask.
If the shelter cannot help in this area, or they only know veterinarians for cats and dogs, you can begin your search with the House Rabbit Society. They have a vet listing by state to help you find an appropriate veterinarian in your area. If you are located in the UK, the Rabbit Welfare Association has a vet listing for you to check out.
10. What is your rehoming policy?
While we all hope that when you bring a rabbit home it will be forever, we also know that sometimes it just doesn’t work out. You may be allergic to rabbits and not realize until after you bring your rabbit home. Or maybe a rabbit contracts a health condition and you are unable to afford their care. While unfortunate, there are scenarios that would make it difficult to continue caring for a pet.
A responsible rescue center also understands this. The shelters that I’ve worked at want to make sure animals have the best chance of finding a good home and they will always take the animals back if for some reason you cannot care for them anymore. This can prevent a rabbit from being sent to an unprepared friend or relative, or worse, being abandoned outside. It’s important to know the shelter’s rehoming policy so that you can make a responsible decision if you ever have to surrender your rabbit.
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