What Makes Rabbits Good Pets?

what makes rabbits good pets?

I absolutely love rabbits! Since I’m allergic to both cats and dogs, I’ve chosen rabbits as my pet of choice instead. They are super smart little creatures with spunky and sweet personalities. While there are certainly some downsides to having a rabbit (more on that at the end of this article), as a whole they are excellent companions.

In general, rabbits are great pets for anyone who is willing to learn how to take care of them. Rabbits are social and can act as companions, the same way cats and dogs do. They can be trained, and they will typically live a long life compared to other small animal breeds.

That being said, you should always do some research about how to care for any kind of new pet you bring home. Rabbits are not beginner or kid-friendly pets, so you want to make sure you’re prepared to take care of them before you bring one (or two) home. Learn more about how to care for a rabbit (including diet, space requirements, bunny-proofing, etc.)

If you are ready to adopt a rabbit, don’t forget to check with your local animal shelter. Many rescue centers have rabbits (and other small animals) available for adoption in addition to cats and dogs. 

1. Rabbits are social

Just like cats and dogs, rabbits make great companion animals. They love attention and enjoy just hanging out with their people. Rabbits dance around our feet, groom us, beg for treats, sleep next to us, and enjoy our company.

In the wild, rabbits live with big family groups, called warrens. Among these groups, rabbits will have their best friends that they live and snuggle with. While rabbits can’t communicate quite as closely with humans as they do with each other, they are still quite sociable as they interact with us.

However, it can take a bit of time for rabbits to achieve this close relationship with humans. Rabbits are wholly prey animals, so they tend to have more timid and wary instincts. It can take a few weeks or months for rabbits to learn how to trust people. But if you give your rabbit the time, you’ll see that they do, in fact, make great companions.

sitting with a rabbit
Rabbits are very social with people and can make great companions.

2. Rabbits are quiet

If you live in an apartment, a rabbit may be a great choice for you. Unlike dogs with loud barks, rabbits rarely make any vocalizations at all, and most of the noises that they can make are incredibly soft and almost imperceptible. For quiet, introverted people like me, rabbits are an ideal pet since they more or less match my own energy levels and quiet lifestyle. 

The only loud noise that rabbits make is thumping. This is when rabbits slam their strong hind legs against the ground to create a loud thump sound. However, they typically only do this when they are scared or upset, so it’s not a common behavior for most rabbits. The sound will be quite loud on wooden floors, but on carpeted areas, thumping is unlikely to disturb the neighbors.

3. Rabbits are (mostly) clean

Did you know rabbits can be litter box trained? Rabbits prefer to keep their mess in one spot so they don’t have to sit or lay in their own filth. In fact, rabbits spend a lot of time during the day grooming themselves to keep their coats clean and shiny. 

They groom themselves after eating, before and after sleeping, and at just about any point in the day they feel their fur has been messed up. Rabbits like to stay as clean and smell-free as possible

That being said, some rabbits are quite stubborn about their litter training, and almost all rabbits will spread their hay everywhere, making a mess (their main food source). So, while rabbits are not smelly or dirty animals, there will be some mess you have to clean up.

classical conditioning
Using the classical conditioning technique you can train your rabbit to come if you say their name or another command word every time you give them a treat.

4. Rabbits can be trained

Rabbits are much smarter than people think. Not only can they be litter trained, like cats, but rabbits can also be trained to do tricks too. My favorite tricks to teach my rabbits include giving kisses, high-fives, and coming to me when I call their name.

You can even train rabbits to jump through agility courses and perform complex tricks like walking on their hind legs. Some rabbits are more trainable than others, but since most rabbits love sweet treats (like fruits and sweet vegetables), they can easily be encouraged and trained to do tricks.

Training and learning tricks are also excellent for bonding with your rabbit. As you train them, your rabbit will learn to trust you and see you as the giver of treats. It will also cause you to spend more close and quality time with your rabbit.

5. Rabbits are herbivores

At this point in time, I’m sure you’ve heard that eating less meat is overall better for the environment. If you have a pet cat or dog, you can’t avoid feeding them meat, it’s part of their healthy, natural, and necessary diet. However, you can choose another kind of pet that is a complete herbivore and only eats ‘rabbit food.’

A pet rabbit’s main diet staple is timothy hay. They eat a lot of hay, but it’s really just a type of long, high-fiber grass. Even rabbit pellets (which make up a smaller portion of a rabbit’s diet), are typically timothy-based.

The other foods that rabbits eat are mainly leafy green vegetables (think romaine lettuce, kale, and spring greens). They can have fresh fruits and veggies (like carrots and bell peppers) as treats, but those should be a very small part of a rabbit’s food intake.

rabbit sleeping positions
Rabbits mainly sleep on one of these three positions. They often sleep with their eyes open too.

6. Rabbits sleep during the day

If you are someone who goes to work or school during the day and spends time at home in the evening, then a rabbit’s sleep schedule might line up with the times of day that you are home. Rabbits are not nocturnal, but they are typically not awake in the middle of the day either. They are a category of animal known as crepuscular, which means they are most active around dawn and dusk in the morning and the evening.

This means your rabbit will be awake to spend time with you while you wake up and get ready in the morning. They’ll sleep while you’re away. Then around 5 or 6 in the evening, your rabbit will start to be active again and ready to socialize with you.

7. They can live 10 years or more

Most breeds of rabbits (and mixed rabbit non-breeds) will live an average of 8 to 12 years. This number has increased in the past few decades as rabbits have become known more as house pets than farm animals. 

Compared to many other small animals, this is a relatively long lifespan. You won’t get a young rabbit only to have to say goodbye a few short years later. They have a long time to grow with you and become a beloved companion.

The oldest rabbit that I’ve cared for lived for 13 years. I’ve also had other rabbits live longer than 10 years, and am increasingly hearing stories of house rabbits that live long and healthy lives. My personal belief is that as we have learned how to better care for rabbits and include them as part of our households over the past few decades, rabbits’ life spans have increased accordingly.

how to set up a rabbit enclosure diagram
When you first bring your rabbit home, you can use a large ex-pen to house your rabbit (learn why I recommend this), but eventually you may want to free roam your rabbit.

8. Rabbits don’t need to be kept in a cage

While it can be helpful to have a pen for a rabbit when you first bring them home (or if they are a troublemaker). Most rabbits can eventually be allowed free access to the home, or specific rooms in the home. 

This is great for rabbits because it means they won’t be feeling lonely, bored, and depressed by sitting in a cage all day, but it’s also great for us caretakers because the rabbit has more opportunity to interact and socialize with us.

Animals that are kept in cages tend to be more isolated from family dynamics. So, being able to free roam a rabbit means they can become a more integral part of the family.

9. Rabbits love being pet

If you’ve ever wanted to touch a soft, fluffy cloud, try petting a rabbit. Their fur is soft and thick, or velvety soft (in the case of Rex rabbits). A vast majority of rabbits I interact with will happily sit while I give them head scritches and a massage behind the ears and shoulders. 

When you pet a rabbit, you’ll notice they melt into the ground comfortably. Many will start gently grinding their teeth together. This is known as a rabbit purr. It’s a completely different mechanism from a cat’s purr, but it means the same thing, your rabbit is content and relaxed.

gentle rabbits
Rabbits are very gentle pets and enjoy spending time with you and being pet.

10. Rabbits are gentle

Rabbits are a type of prey animal. This prey status causes many rabbits to be quite timid, instinctively afraid of any predators (including humans). They do not have sharp teeth, since their mouths were made to chop up grass and greens. 

This doesn’t mean that aggressive rabbits don’t exist. I’ve had my fair share of rabbit bites while working with rescue rabbits (none were serious, though). However, rabbits are much more likely to respond to fear and anxiety by running away rather than trying to attack.  If you adopt a rabbit from an animal shelter, they can help you pick the most gentle rabbits that are available.

11. Rabbits have big personalities

Rabbits are incredibly silly animals. They like to zoom around the room and literally jump for joy (something called a binky). As you get to know your rabbit, you’ll start to read the adorable and spunky body language that your rabbit uses to express their individual personality.

As I’m writing this, one of my rabbits has crawled under a blanket and is playing underneath it (since rabbits are burrowers by nature and live in tunnels in the wild). My other rabbit keeps trying to hop on my lap and beg for treats.

Sometimes it takes a while for rabbits to come out of their shell after they’re first brought home. It may seem like they are constantly hiding or wary around people. Be patient with your rabbit. They are a prey animal and have the instinct to be very careful in new places and situations. Once your rabbit has become comfortable in their home and begun to trust you, you’ll see their personality start to shine.

What makes rabbits a bad choice for you?

Rabbits are great pets, but they’re not for everyone. In general, they tend to be pets that are ideal for a quiet or introverted lifestyle. They are also not great choices for families with young children because rabbits are delicate and tend to be highly stressed out in chaotic environments.

If the above list of positive rabbit attributes has you thinking of getting a cute little bunny, but you’re not sure yet, I’ve also included a simple list of the less positive bunny attributes for why you might not want to get a rabbit right now. Here are some of the reasons rabbits might not be the best pet for you:

  • You don’t have time to spend with your bunny. Since rabbits are such social creatures, they can get lonely and depressed if they’re left alone all the time. If you can’t spend time with your rabbit, you should wait until a time in your life when you can give them more attention (or consider getting two)
  • You’re frequently away from home. If you’re away on business trips or weekend getaways all the time, the rabbit left at home can get lonely and anxious. It’s also quite possible for rabbits to get sick in a short period of time, so you want to make sure someone is monitoring them at least every 24 hours.
  • You have children who are rambunctious or don’t know how to be gentle with animals. Rabbits have a delicate bone structure and don’t usually do well with kids. They can also scratch or try to bite people if the rabbit feels cornered.
  • You’re allergic to rabbits or to hay (grass allergy). It’s less common to be allergic to rabbits than cats or dogs, but hay allergies are quite common. If you’re not willing to take allergy medicine or put up with the allergy symptoms, a rabbit is probably not for you.
  • You haven’t done any research on how to care for rabbits. Always make sure you’re prepared to take care of a pet before you bring them home. Rabbits are higher maintenance than most people expect them to be, which leads to many, many rabbits being abandoned a few months after they are taken home. (learn more about in-depth rabbit care guidelines)
  • You want a cuddly pet. While rabbits love to be petted, most hate to be held. If you’re looking for a cute pet to pick up and hug whenever you want, a rabbit might not be the best choice.
  • Rabbits shed a lot. Rabbits have thick fur, and they go through some heavy molting seasons every year. It’s like a whirlwind of fur and it gets on everything.
  • Rabbits can be destructive. Rabbits have natural instincts to chew and dig. They tend to go after electrical cords, baseboards, and carpets in the corners of rooms. You can rabbit-proof your home as much as possible, but your rabbit is likely to destroy something and get into some kind of trouble regardless of how well you do.
  • Rabbits can get sick easily. Rabbits can get sick and also hide the symptoms of their illnesses. To catch signs early, you need to be able to watch your rabbit and look for subtle behaviors of illness. It’s a good idea to have a pet emergency fund available just in case.

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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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