Rabbits are so cute and fluffy, with their big ears and the twitching noses. And from what you’ve heard, rabbits are gentle and easy to take care of, right? Maybe a bunny would be a good first pet for your child.
Rabbits are not good pets for young children. They have a skittish nature and can be aggressive toward children who want to cuddle with their pet. Rabbits are also more difficult to care for than people expect. Instead it’s better to have a rabbit as a family pet. Children can be helpers while they learn to respect the small animal’s boundaries.
Rabbits are actually very high maintenance pets. They require a lot of attention and space, and have very specific dietary needs. At the same time, bunnies are not nearly as cuddly as people think. They usually hate being held and won’t be afraid to use their claws and teeth to get away from your grip. Rabbits require as much upkeep as a dog does, and most children are not ready for that kind of responsibility.
Why rabbits are not a great pet for children
While a responsible teenager would likely be able to take great care of a rabbit, it is a lot of responsibility to expect of a younger child. Rabbits are a lot of work. Their litter boxes need to be cleaned out every day (and you need to litter train them), and their sensitive digestive system means they need a very specific and consistent diet. Rabbits should not be treated like a child’s toy that can easily be forgotten.
Rabbits don’t like to be held
Rabbits are also not cuddly animals. They are prey animals, which means rabbits have survived by being quick to run away and hide from large predators, so they don’t get eaten. While domestic rabbits were bred to be friendlier than their wild ancestors, they still have the instinct to run away and hide when they sense danger.
This means that rabbits like to have their feet on the ground at all times. If they are being held, they can no longer run away, and they don’t feel safe. They may struggle to get out of the child’s grip, potentially injuring them in the process.
The next time a child goes to pick up the rabbit, they will remember and run away or lash out. If the child does not understand the rabbit’s body language, they can easily get injured by being scratched or bitten by the rabbit.
Young children may treat a child like a beloved stuffed toy rather than a living creature. Rabbits have a delicate bone structure and can easily be injured by a child who squeezes too hard or picks them up in an inappropriate way.
Rabbits have a sensitive digestion
Rabbits have extremely sensitive digestive systems and can easily suffer from a poor or inconsistent diet. They need to have a constant, unlimited supply of timothy hay, and daily fresh leafy greens. Too many pellets or sugary treats can cause the rabbit to become obese and have many health complications.
Or worse, if a child forgets to feed the rabbit one day, it could be a fatal mistake within a 24 hour time period. A rabbit’s health depends on their digestive system working continuously. They need to be munching throughout the day. If they don’t eat, their digestive tract will stop and they may enter GI stasis. If they are not brought to an emergency vet in time, this is likely to be fatal.
It’s difficult to tell when rabbits are sick
Because rabbits are prey animals, they will hide their symptoms when they get sick. This is a defense mechanism because in the wild, a predator is more likely to go after an animal that is showing signs of weakness.
As rabbit caretakers, this means we need to pay close attention to our rabbit’s habits and body language. We want to pick up on any signs of illness early. But these changes in rabbit behavior are so subtle, that you wouldn’t expect a child to pick up on them.
The child would need to be on a constant lookout for how much the rabbit is eating and pooping, and how much energy they have on a daily basis. It’s just too much responsibility to expect a child to take on.
Rabbits dislike fast movements and loud sounds
Rabbits can also be very skittish. They get scared and dislike loud sounds and fast movements. Unfortunately, children are often the source of many of these sounds. Many children are naturally very loud and active. These children are generally not well suited to rabbit ownership. Their natural child behavior can be a great source of anxiety and stress in the rabbit.
Rabbits need a lot of space and attention
Rabbits also need a lot of space and exercise time. They are not the cage animals that we are led to believe. Rabbits that are left in a cage all day will get bored and depressed. They will become more destructive during the short periods of time they are let out to exercise, or they will become sick and stressed.
The better option: Rabbits as family pets
As an adult in the family, you need to take primary responsibility for any family rabbits. This means when you bring a rabbit home, you need to be willing to take care of the rabbit for their whole lifespan, which could reach 10 years or more.
In my days volunteering at the animal shelter, I see a number of rabbits who are in poor condition because they were given to a child and not properly cared for. They often have dirty and matted fur all along their bottom because the cages were never cleaned. The rabbits were forced to sit in filth and developed urine scald and skin rashes from the unclean conditions, and their muscles are often underdeveloped because of the lack of exercise.
There was one very sad case where the bunny was severely underweight. The child kept forgetting to feed the bunny, and his parents never checked to make sure the rabbit was being cared for. Fortunately, that sweet bunny did eventually make a full recovery. But it is times like these that convince me that adults need to take responsibility and be the primary caretakers for any animals in the home.
If you or another adult in the family cannot take care of a rabbit with your busy schedules, then you should not get a rabbit. However, if you have the time and patience, and are willing to learn about the basic care a rabbit needs, they can be a wonderful addition to your family.
Kids are helpers
Rather than being primary caretakers of pet rabbits, children should be helpers. If they show that they will be responsible, the parents can allow them to help take care of the rabbit. For example, you can allow the child to help clean out the litter box every day. Or they can be the one to give the rabbit their pellets in the morning.
As long as you, the adult, are being the primary caretaker for the pet rabbit, it’s okay to let the kid help out. But remember, it’s your responsibility to check every day and make sure your child has performed their task. If they forgot, then it is your responsibility to make sure the rabbit gets taken care of.
Larger breed of rabbits
Larger breeds of rabbits, those that are 8 pounds or more, are often better for families with small children. These rabbits tend to be more calm and gentle, and less fearful than many of the tiny dwarf rabbit breeds. Larger rabbits also tend to have a more sturdy bone structure. It is less likely that a child will try to pick up and squeeze a large rabbit, making injury less common.
Teaching children to respect rabbits
Having a rabbit as a family pet will give you the opportunity to teach your child how to respect small animals. Since the child will be interacting with the rabbit while there are adults supervising, you can easily show them how to gently pet the rabbit and interact with them on the floor, instead of picking them up.
You can also teach your child how to understand basic rabbit body language. The child can learn not to chase a rabbit when the go away, and to stop doing something when the rabbit is scared. You can also teach the child to know when a rabbit is happy or relaxed, so they can behave in positive ways and learn to live in harmony with the rabbit.
More family socialization
Rabbits are social creatures, so it’s good when they have more time to spend with the family. If they are kept in the family area as pets, they are more likely to get a lot of socialization. The rabbit won’t be solely relying on the attention of a child, who might already be getting bored of their new pet.
Do not set a pet rabbit free outside!
If you already got a rabbit for your child and are realizing the mistake, do not set the rabbit free outside. Domestic rabbits will not survive long in the wild. Instead if you cannot take care of the rabbit, you should find a local shelter or animal rescue that takes small animals. That way the rabbit will get the care they need while they wait for a new family to take them in.
How long do pet rabbits live?
The average life expectancy of a rabbit is around 10 years. This number can vary greatly depending on the breed, living conditions, and whether or not the rabbit has been spayed or neutered.
Should you get a pet rabbit spayed or neutered?
You should always get your pet rabbit spayed or neutered as soon as they reach adulthood. Unaltered rabbits will often have behavioral problems causing them to be more aggressive. In addition, rabbits that have not been fixed have a high chance of developing reproductive cancers.
- Howcast. “Are Rabbits Good Pets for Children? | Pet Rabbits.” Youtube. Commentary by Mary Cotter. December 2, 2013. www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZOvUKyeR6A.
- Mixon, Carolyn. “Children and Rabbits.” House Rabbit Society, July 10, 2011, rabbit.org/faq-children-and-rabbits.