Do Rabbits Make Good Pets: A guide for prospective rabbit owners
Deciding to get a pet rabbit is a big step that can either be an amazing experience or the worst experience. Rabbits do not make the best pets for everyone but are great for others. Thousands of pet rabbits are abandoned every year because people did not understand what they were buying or getting into.
The “cute factor” of rabbits or bunnies often causes people to make an impulse buy without completely thinking through the needs of their new pet. The purpose of this guide is to help you decide if a rabbit is right for you or your family and what is required to take care of your pet bunny. So yes, rabbits make good pets if they are the type of pet you want.
Lets explore every aspect of owning so you know what to expect and what not to expect.
The image above is of my current pet rabbit, Mr. Bunny. I have had pet rabbits, house rabbits to be exact for over 20 years at this point. My family has enjoyed all our rabbits and I can assure you they are magnificent little creatures. They all have their own personalities, habits, and different thought processes.
The first thing to consider when getting a pet rabbit is your expectations of having a pet rabbit or bunny. Reality may be different than what is in your mind or hopes.
- 1 Expectations of having a pet rabbit
- 2 What breed of rabbit makes the best pet?
- 3 Where to buy your rabbit
- 4 Do you want a caged rabbit or a house rabbit?
- 5 Rabbit proofing your house
- 6 Life expectancy of pet rabbits
- 7 Kids and Rabbits
- 8 Litter training your new pet rabbit
- 9 Neutering and spaying rabbits
- 10 Housing your new rabbit
- 11 What you will need for your rabbit
- 12 Diet; What your rabbit will need to eat
- 13 Safe handling; How to pick up your rabbit
- 14 Rabbit Behavior and Temperament
- 15 Exercise for your pet rabbit
- 16 Rabbits and other pets
- 17 About the Author
Expectations of having a pet rabbit
Rabbits are unique and have their quirks just like any other animal.
Here are some common expectations that people have of pet rabbits that may not be true.
- Expectation #1 – I would love to cuddle a rabbit. Some rabbits will allow you to hold and cuddle them while most will not tolerate this at all. Many rabbits do not like being held or confined. Most rabbits will require you to lay on the floor next to them in order to pet them and to be close. Keep in mind rabbits have very delicate backs/spines and can be accidentally injured if handled poorly.
- Expectation #2 – Rabbits like to play. Rabbits do play but not like a dog does. Do not expect your rabbit to play fetch or chase you around. Rabbits generally play with their own toys and chew on things like cardboard. They will run around your house doing the bunny 500, binkies and nose bonks.
- Expectation #3 – Rabbits are easy to care for – Not true, they require much more care and attention than a dog or cat. You must keep their litter box clean, provide fresh hay and pellets daily. Fresh vegetables are a must also need to be fed daily. This will require you to make special stops at grocery stores sometimes because vegetables do not last a long time. Contrary to popular belief carrots should not be fed to rabbits regularly. Rabbits require a special diet when compared to most other pets.
- Expectation #4 – Rabbits do not go to the vet – This is not true at all. Rabbits require a yearly checkup, particularly to keep an eye on their teeth. Your rabbit will also need his or her nails trimmed regularly. Not only does your rabbit need to see a vet yearly but you should also be aware that most vets will not see rabbits. You will need to find a veterinarian that specializes in rabbits. This may require you to travel a little bit.
- Expectation #5 – You can easily travel with rabbits – Some rabbits will travel ok, but many hate it and can get easily stressed. If a rabbit is overly stressed, they can become extremely sick with something called GI Stasis. This is when a rabbit’s digestive system shuts down causing death.
- Expectation #6 – A rabbit will get along with my other pets – Many YouTube videos show rabbits playing with cats and dogs. While this may work out at times other times it may not. Remember that rabbits are prey animals and may be seriously stressed out by living with another animal. Rabbits are also very territorial.
- Expectation #7 – My child will be so happy with a bunny – Young children are often let down when they find out that their new rabbit will not “play” with them or wear doll cloths. Rabbits are not a good choice for small children if you are wanting an “interactive” pet.
I have given you some realities of owning a pet rabbit that may seem negative but there are many positives.
- Rabbits are exceptionally clean animals. They are always grooming and taking care of themselves.
- They have incredibly unique behavior like rubbing their chin on things, nose bonking, thumping, side flops, binkying and running the “bunny 500.”
- They are smarter than you think they are. They will remind you when it is time for vegetable and when they desire you to pet them.
- Litter training a rabbit is not difficult, easier than most pets I will say.
- Rabbits are the definition of quiet. You will never hear a complaint from the neighbors about your rabbit.
- Their poop is firm balls. No mess if they happen to loose one on your floor.
- Rabbits are generally kind and loving when they are in the correct environment. They are also funny and cute as it gets.
- They like to be in the same room as you whether they are sleeping or just lounging around.
- After you and your rabbit are bonded that will follow you around and beg for attention somewhat like a dog.
- Rabbits love to be petted and talked to.
There are many more reasons to have a bunny than there is not to. My purpose is not scare you but to bring awareness to the fact that rabbits are not a “buy and forget” pet that should be locked up in a cage all day.
What breed of rabbit makes the best pet?
Well if this is not a loaded question. Rabbits are rabbits but there are differences in personalities depending on the breed. The ARB has an excellent page about all the recognized breeds of rabbits with links to breeders and other information.
Some of the most common breeds of pet rabbits include the following.
- Dutch – This breed is on of the most popular in the US.
- Holland Lop – In the top five of most popular rabbits.
- Jersey Wooly – Small and popular, maximum weight is 3.5 pounds
- Mini Lop – Gaining popularity
- Netherland Dwarf – A ridiculously small and popular rabbit
- Rex- One of the most popular rabbit breeds
Where to buy your rabbit
If you end up deciding that a rabbit is right for you then it will have to start shopping around for the perfect bun. It is hard to pick out which rabbit you want after only spending several minutes with him or her.
The best thing to do in my opinion is to adopt a rabbit from a rabbit rescue or shelter. There are so many rabbits out there that are abandoned it is crazy. Easter rolls around and parents buy rabbits for their kids and find out that a rabbit does not meet their expectations. They end up giving it to a shelter or worse, releasing it into the wild. Domesticated rabbits can not live in the wild.
Adopting a rabbit
There are hundreds of rabbit rescues in the united states that are more than willing to help you adopt the best rabbit for you and your family. Many rabbit rescues will even allow you to take your rabbit home for a trial run to see if that rabbit works for you. There are other places you can find rabbits up for adoption like Pet Finder.
If you are looking for a show rabbit or a rare breed, then you may want to look at rabbit breeders. There are several exceedingly rare breeds in the US as well as worldwide. I do not suggest going to a breeder though if you are looking for a family pet.
Do you want a caged rabbit or a house rabbit?
Something you need to put some thought into is how you are going to house your new pet rabbit. My opinion is that a house rabbit is best for you and your new bunny.
A house rabbit is defined as; A domesticated pet rabbit that is allowed to freely roam your house or a significant portion of your house.
The other option is to cage your rabbit for extended periods of time which is not fair to your rabbit. It also makes it hard for you to enjoy him or her. If you have no interest in having a house rabbit but still plan on getting a rabbit, I would have a large cage attached to an exceptionally large play area that is fenced in. This will allow your pet rabbit to exercise properly, play and be a rabbit.
If you decide to go the house rabbit route you are in for a real treat. After you have your rabbit potty trained and he or she can explore your house at will, you will get to see some interesting rabbit behavior. Before you let your rabbit loose make sure you have properly “rabbit proofed” your home.
Rabbit proofing your house
If you have a rabbit running around your house it is important to make sure that it is a safe environment for him or her. You will need to do this before you get your pet rabbit.
Electricity poses a deadly risk to pet rabbits. For some reason rabbits love to chew electrical cord, particularly the ones with the soft insulation on the outside. It is imperative that ALL electrical cords be covered with a rabbit guard or put up out of reach. I don’t think that anyone wants to find their rabbit with electrical burns on their face or a dead.
Here is is an example of an electrical cord guard.
Some rabbits will use stairs fine while others do not like them. You would think that stairs would be a hazard for your rabbit, but I can assure you that they are not.
Be careful that you do not have any house plants that your rabbit can get into. Many of our decorative plants are toxic to rabbit. I have a lengthy page dedicated to what foods are toxic to rabbits here if you need more information. Even flowers can be hazardous to your rabbit that have been treated with any type of chemical or even organic treatments.
There may be some areas of your hose that cannot be made rabbit safe or they may be areas that you do not want your rabbit for whatever reason. Baby gates work well for restricting your rabbits’ access. I have found that some rabbits do not like certain types of flooring like tile. They have a hard time getting traction on it and they slide.
Rabbits can squeeze through ridiculously small spaces; their body is mostly fur and compresses down a lot more than you think ever possible. If you think an area is to small for them to get into your probably wrong! This is fine as long there is nothing harmful in that area.
Another type of small space that is dangerous is pinch points. An example of this is a bed with one side almost pushed up against a wall. If the space is big enough for your rabbit to fall into but not pass all the way to the floor, they can become trapped.
You can see exactly what I mean in this info-graphic.
Furniture with moving parts
Rabbits love small “burrows”, like the underside of your favorite lazy boy. If you have a chair like a lazy boy where the leg rest folds out, you need incredibly careful. Those types of chairs have many moving parts in them that can crush, decapitate, or severely wound your rabbit if they happen to be under the chair when you put the leg rest up. Rocking chairs can also hurt your rabbit if they happen to get under the rocker at the wrong time.
Rabbits are incredibly quiet; they are often near you and you will have no idea that they are there. They are also extremely fast; I cannot tell you how many times one of my rabbits has surprised me by being somewhere I didn’t think they were.
Here is a video with some helpful rabbit proofing tips.
Life expectancy of pet rabbits
On average domesticated pet rabbits will live to be about 10 years old in the United States. Smaller breeds will live longer, up to 12 years old and larger breeds may only live to be 8 years old. Many factors affect how long pet rabbits live including diet, exercise, veterinarian care, nutrition, and environmental factors.
The Guinness Book of World Records states that Mick is the oldest rabbit in the world. As of February 9, 2019 Mick, turned 16 and is still going strong as far as I know. Mick hales from Berwyn, Illinois USA and is “gentle, sweet and mellow.” Congratulations to his owner, Liz Rench for doing a wonderful job raising and caring for her pet rabbit.
You can find in depth information about how long rabbits live here.
Kids and Rabbits
Many well-meaning parents get their child a rabbit for Easter or as a birthday present. In my opinion rabbits do not make the best pets for most young children. Rabbits do not like to be held and do not take kindly to children chasing them. They are not an overly interactive pet like a dog is.
If you, as the adult have an interest in rabbits and are willing to take care of it and have a child, I would urge you to seriously consider getting one. I would never expect a child to be able to properly care for a rabbit, but it can be a great experience if the adult is involved to supervise.
Litter training your new pet rabbit
If you decide that a rabbit will make a good pet for your family and think that having a house rabbit is the way to you will want to litter train your rabbit. This may sound like a lot of work, but you would be surprised as to how easy it is if you follow my step by step guide on litter training.
Rabbits are clean animals that instinctively want to potty in the same area to keep their “house” clean. I have litter trained all my house rabbits with great success. This is not to say that your rabbit may not shoot out a stray poop pellet here in there. The good thing is when this occasionally happens is that their poop is firm balls that can be easily picked up.
Here you can find my litter training guide.
Neutering and spaying rabbits
It is a must to either neuter or spay your new pet rabbit. Rabbits that are not fixed tend to spray urine and urinate in corners. Another advantage of spaying your rabbit is that it will increase how long they live and improve their attitude.
Having your rabbit spayed or neutered will also allow you to get another rabbit if you would like. Rabbits that are not fixed tend to fight and be very territorial. Before attempting to add another rabbit, you should first research how to bond rabbits.
One last point about spaying and neutering is that is rabbits are allowed to breed they can create a huge number of offspring.
There are already to many domestic rabbits waiting for adoption without adding to the problem.
Housing your new rabbit
Choosing a cage and litter box for your rabbit will be an important purchase. I use a large cage for my rabbit that I keep a pellet bowl and water bottle in. Next to the cage is a platter that I feed hay and vegetables on.
The cage is always open except in the rare instance that I need to lock up my rabbit. His cage is basically a large litter box. He knows to go there to potty, eat pellets and to drink water.
Here you can find a list of the best rabbit related products that I recommend.
What you will need for your rabbit
In addition to a cage you will need a water bottle (I do not recommend a water bowl), food bowl and possibly a litter pan. You can find my recommendations here.
- Water Bottles
- Water Bowls (not recommended)
- Litter Boxes
Diet; What your rabbit will need to eat
There are three main foods that rabbits should be fed every day. Proper diet is critical to having a healthy and happy rabbit. There are many commercially made rabbit foods on the market that are nothing but garbage. They may look good and be labeled as gourmet rabbit food, but they are often unbelievably bad for your rabbit’s health.
Lets first talk about the most critical part of a rabbits diet first, hay.
This is the most important part of your rabbits’ diet. It is critical that your rabbit has access to an unlimited quantity of fresh hay daily. There are numerous types of hay that your rabbit can have.
- Timothy Hay
- Orchard Grass
- Oat Hay
- Meadow Hay
*Please note that Alfalfa hay should never be fed to adult rabbits. It contains too much protein and calcium which will cause health problems for adult rabbits.
Timothy hay is usually noted as the best hay for rabbits, but some rabbits do not like to eat it. It is important to keep in mind that the best hay is the hay that your rabbit will eat the most of.
You may find these articles about hay helpful.
- The Best Hay for Rabbits
- Orchard Grass Hay
- Alfalfa Hay vs Timothy Hay
- What Cut of Hay is Best for Rabbits?
- Oat Hay for Rabbits
- Meadow Hay for Rabbits
There are about a million different kinds or brands of rabbit pellets have a post about the best rabbit pellets that you will find helpful. It is important that your rabbit’s pellets are hard in texture and timothy based. Never feed pellets that are soft, have corn added to the mix or other things like dried fruit.
The articles listed below contain a lot of information about rabbit pellets that you will find helpful.
- Best Rabbit Pellets
- Timothy Hay Based Pellets
- Alfalfa Pellets (For young/baby rabbits only)
- How Much Pellets to Feed?
- How to Store Rabbit Pellets
- Best Baby Rabbit Pellets
Vegetables for rabbits
Cartoons have always depicted rabbits as eating carrots. While rabbits do enjoy carrots, they are not something that they should eat regularly. Your rabbit should be eating a verity of fresh vegetation daily made up of mostly dark leafy greens.
Here you can find more information about vegetables for rabbits.
Rabbits should have access to fresh, clean water 24-7. I suggest using a water bottle rather than bowl since it is easy for water bowls to become contaminated.
Fruit is a favorite food that rabbits will go nuts for. It should only be fed in small amounts as a treat. What is a rabbit’s favorite fruit? Hands down bananas. You can find more information about feeding your rabbit fruit here.
There are a million treats that are labeled for rabbits that should never be fed to rabbits. Avoid anything that has nuts, seeds or sugary substances added to them. My posts on the best rabbit treats has a lot of information and recommendations. You can even make your own homemade rabbit treats.
Safe handling; How to pick up your rabbit
Countless rabbits are injured or killed year due to improper handling. Rabbits are fast and have extremely strong rear legs. When picking up your rabbit it is important to always support their rear feet. If a rabbit kicks hard while their legs are dangling in mid air it is possible for them to break their own back.
Most rabbits do not like to be held and become extremely nervous. They can easily jump out of your arms and cause injury to themselves. Keep a firm hold on them, remember their body is mostly fluff and they can wiggle out of your hands easily.
This article on how you should hold a rabbit has some great tips.
Rabbit Behavior and Temperament
What is the temperament and behavior of a rabbit? I would describe rabbits as kind, loyal, friendly, cute, and hilarious. If you give your rabbit what it needs, a healthy diet and plenty of room to roam about you will be rewarded with an amazing creature. Rabbits are so much more interesting than you could ever imagine. You will learn to read your rabbits body language quickly and learn his or her likes and dislikes.
Rabbits have their own “silent” language. A rabbit’s body language can tell you a lot about what your rabbit is thinking or wanting. Ear position, body position and sounds your rabbit makes all tell us something.
You can find a complete list of rabbit body language here.
Sleep and dreams
You can find more information about rabbits and sleep here.
Exercise for your pet rabbit
Your rabbit will need exercise regularly just as any other pet would require. If you decide that your rabbit will be a house rabbit, then there is no need to worry about exercise since your rabbit will have the run of your house.
If your rabbit is locked up for a significant portion of the day, then you need to provide a large play area for your rabbit. Even with the play area you should let your rabbit have the run of a bedroom sized area once a day for a couple hours.
Rabbits are made to hop, run, and jump. Allowing your rabbit significant exercise time will increase how long your rabbit lives and increase his or her happiness.
These articles may prove useful if you have exercise concern’s.
Rabbits and other pets
If you already have another pet, particularly a cat or dog it may not be a great Idea to get a rabbit. It is possible that your rabbit and other pet will get along though. There is no way to know this until you try it.
I believe that if you are going to try this it is important to have a back up plan that allows you to keep your current pet and rabbit. You could do this by keeping them separated in different rooms or whatever.
The best solution is to adopt a rabbit from a rescue that allows you to try out having your rabbit.
Please use extreme caution if you try to attempt this. Some cats and dogs will attack your rabbit and either wound it or kill it. This is a very real possibility and you must protect your rabbit. If either animal shows any aggression you should stop and not press the situation any further.
About the Author
My name is Vanessa and I love my buns. My current house rabbit is Mr. Bunny, he is a black and white Dutch that just turned 9 years old.
I believe that rabbits are a magnificent animal that make great pets for SOME people. My mission is to share what I have learned about rabbits over the past 20 years to improve the relationship between our pets and us. Please contact me or comment if you have any questions or comments.