[rabbits] Ten Things You MUST Know About Rabbits

Rabbit Care 102

So you went to the adoption center or pet store, fell in love with a little fluffy bunny, and you brought them home. Here’s what you need to know about the pet you just bought:

Rabbits eating in a rabbit hutch
Two of our rabbits eating. The red area is the remains of Banacek’s first hutch, and takes up 1/6 of their overall hutch size.

1. Rabbits are fibrevores. This means that they are herbivores (vegans) who eat grass. Cows are another example of a fibrevore. Your pet rabbit needs 24/7 access to hay, even if he has an outdoor run with grass. If he’s got no hay, he will get sick. Grass and hay are the ideal combination, but the water content in grass will give bunny diarrhea if he’s only getting the fresh stuff. They also like snuggling in hay – they prefer it to sawdust.

Rabbit digestion
It won’t look like a carrot when it comes out of the other end, and you shouldn’t feed them carrot tops either. I was trying to show continuous digestion, not the changes to the food that take place.

2. Rabbits have continuous digestion. This means they basically have a constant queue of food in their digestive system (see diagram). If they don’t have something to eat available to them 24/7, their digestive system goes to a standstill. This is called digestive stasis. Once they go into digestive stasis, it is very difficult to get their system to start again, and many rabbits die from this. Just to clarify, there’s no time limit on when it’s classed as stasis, but as a rule I would say if your bunny hasn’t eaten anything for six hours, they probably have stasis. Call a vet for advice.

Bunnies make a mess.
Top right is their bowl of water, left is their food bowl, surrounded by bunny nuggets.

3. Most rabbits don’t actually like water bottles. I previously had dogs, before I had rabbits, and I give all six of my rabbits a choice – I put a water bowl and a drinking bottle out. I have the space to do this because they are all housed in very large areas. Drinking bottles are now marketed as “safer” for small animals, but guess what? When they lived in the wild, they drank from ponds and puddles all the time and they never drowned!!!! Bottles were basically a lab-originated concept and aimed at rabbits kept in confinement with no quality of life. My rabbits all prefer their water bowls, none of them use the bottles even though three of them used a bottle for eight years before they came here. Yes, bowls can get full of hay and bunny fur, but you should be cleaning their food and water bowls (and/or bottle) every day anyway (or any pet’s bowls, for that matter). It’s good hygiene. Would you want to eat off the same plate for a week, or drink from the same cup for a week, without washing them? If so, perhaps you should consider NOT getting a pet until you’re mature enough to treat them right.

4. Rabbits make a mess. They aren’t like dogs, who leave dog mess everywhere for six months then become model citizens. Rabbits are generally highly litter trainable. The mess with rabbits is more general – their food ends up everywhere when they bury their faces in their bowls, their water can end up everywhere when they sit in it, their fur ends up everywhere (just like dogs and cats) and when you give them toys, they will probably destroy them. If they destroy the toys you bring them, don’t get upset. Did you buy the toy for them to enjoy, or to look pretty in Instagram bunny pics? You will notice that almost all of my photos and videos have some mess in them. There’s food on the floor, the occasional bunny poo (when they sleep they sometimes poo, so obviously when they don’t fall asleep in the litter tray their poo ends up on the floor, also around the litter tray sometimes, if the rabbits are sharing space, they will poo to mark their territory sometimes as well), bits of cardboard, stick and newspaper that they’ve nibbled… if you want a tidy house, you would have to spend your life following them round with a Dustbuster and constantly making your house devoid of signs of rabbits. If this is you, get a different pet. Don’t take away what is theirs just because you have an idealistic concept of what a house should look like, it’s not fair. If you did that to a child it would be cruelty. On the other hand, do keep it as hygienic as you can. I sweep up all the food/poo messes twice a day and vacuum every few days to keep it all fresh.

Fifer and Katie are marking the living room.
These rabbits like to make a mess!

5. Rabbits like to play. They don’t play how you expect them to though (unless you’ve watched far too many Youtube vids… then they probably do). They like to play chase and they like to play chew:

a) Playing “chew”: Rabbits explore everything with their mouths. To a rabbit, chewing things is the absolute most interesting thing ever, and they love to chew anything. It’s like their sixth sense – sense of chewy. Their teeth constantly grow and they need to nibble. Give them plenty of hay, cardboard boxes (some rabbits like Conflake-type boxes, others prefer the corrugated cardboard boxes, some like to go in the middle and chew shoeboxes), packing paper (never polystyrene or anything plastic coated), and perhaps a catalog or two. In the UK we have a store called Argos and it’s catalog is 2 inches thick. Bunnies love that. Also, this is a great use for any unwanted copies of fad books such as the Da Vinci Code or 50 Shades of Grey. Rabbits aren’t picky about the words, they just love to chew the corners off of books. I recently gave Banacek and Cleo a book called “Ancient Beluchistan” from the 1970s, that I got from a free book stand. It was cloth bound and had old yellowing pages, and they just pounced on it. Rabbits also like to chew their cardboard into projects, so if they do chew big holes in the cardboard boxes you’ve given them, it’s ok, they’re probably making it into a fortress so they can run around it a lot later. Leave them these chewed up boxes for as long as possible – they will get upset if you keep throwing their toys away every time they play with them.
b) Playing “chase”: Almost as important to rabbits as chewing is running. Rabbits love to practice this skill during “peacetime” (when their herd isn’t threatened) by playing chase. When you have one rabbit on their own, they will play chase with you. When you have more rabbits, they generally play chase with each other. This is because they’re faster and more maneuverable than you (sorry) so they get to practice their running away strategies more effectively. An important skill for you to learn is how to tell whether they’re enjoying a game of chase with you (or another rabbit), or whether they think you or the other rabbit is an actual predator and are panicking. There can be a fine line. I often augment chasing with cheerful talk, because it reassures the rabbit about where I am and what mood I’m in. Rabbits know your emotions by the sounds you make (how your voice changes) so keeping a cheerful narrative in a calm or loving voice keeps them knowing it’s a game. I like to say things like: “I’m chasing you! Chase chase chase the bunny! I’m gonna catch you and put you in a pie!” In a warm tone of voice so they keep enjoying themselves for longer. They will purposely stop at certain points to let you catch up. If I actually catch them, I never pick them up (they hate it). Instead, I stroke their nose very gently, or their back (but not the tail) and tell them what a good bunny they are. When they associate being chased by you with a positive outcome, they enjoy it more and will play for longer. One rabbit who I was babysitting for a friend took 2 days to understand the concept of play-chasing, then she loved running in circles, then she would get tired and lean on the wall to catch her breath. I started stroking her. She liked it so much, she just stood there for 20 minutes letting me stroke her. Her fur was a LOT softer when I gave her back at the end of two weeks.

grass hideaway
A toy that has been played with a LOT by four rabbits who all like to play chew. It’s still bunny safe because it’s made of 100% rivergrass. This was a good buy and has hours more fun left in it.

6. Rabbits have strong concepts of territory, privacy and (after a few weeks) entitlement. Decide right now which rooms you don’t want bunnies going in. Is there ant powder in the kitchen? Exposed wires in your bedroom? Are you going to clean these up and bunnyproof everything in the house, so they get all-areas-access? Or are you going to bunnyproof one or two rooms and let them spend most of their time there? In every house we’ve lived in, there have always been rooms that were off-limits to bunnies. This was usually for safety reasons – we couldn’t stop bunnies getting under the tumble dryer or kitchen units, for example – although there were other reasons too – Banacek seemed to think the entire bathroom was his litter tray (we suspect the previous tenants had missed the toilet a lot, and that Banacek was merely trying to claim this land for his herd), so once he was litter trained we gradually moved his actual litter tray to outside the bathroom (with the door kept closed) then to the top of the stairs, where it remained until we moved out. He hasn’t behaved like that in the new house, and only uses his litter tray unless he’s asleep.

Cleo is queen of the hay
Cleo has claimed this pile of hay as her territory. Banacek gets to nibble it as well, because he’s her partner. But no-one else. Excepting if they ask nicely.

7. Rabbits don’t separate your property from theirs. Rabbits assume that all property in their territory is communal; they would share their cardboard with you in an instant, and expect you to share your delicious hairdryer wire, shoes, bags, wicker storage baskets and decorative sticks etc. If you don’t want something to get chewed, put it out of bunny’s reach, and remember they stretch tall.

After the photo, Katie ate half of this box in retaliation to being left out by the other bunnies.
Banacek: “It’s the “NO FIFERS” club.”
Cleo: “No, it’s the “NO KATIES” club.”
Katie: “Why isn’t it the “NO BOYS” club?”
Fifer: “You’d still get left out somehow, Katie, let’s just play someplace else.”

8. Rabbits can use their environment and think sequentially when they want to. Here’s an example: I put a sunflower on a table where the rabbits couldn’t nibble it. When playing chase the bunny with Banacek, he went under the same table. I had to push the chair out to follow him. When he dug himself into another spot, I left him to it and went downstairs. Twenty minutes later, I thought I’d better check on him. I went upstairs and found him standing on the table, chewing the last sunflower leaf off the stalk. When I came towards him, he jumped straight down, I thought, “he knew he was doing wrong but he did it anyway.” When I told my OH about this, he said “he probably just got scared that you were stomping towards him, saying his name in a scary way, and ran away.” Bunnies get scared a lot. But how did the rabbit know there was a sunflower up there???

If only Avon sold boxes of hay...
Cleo’s sequential thinking goes as far as “can I get any more hay for any less effort?”

9. Bunnies get scared. A lot. Sometimes the silliest things will scare bunnies. Katie and Fifer are well known for panicking and stampeding when I move my feet after sitting still for a while. Their regular sitting spot is six feet away from my chair. Katie is especially skittish. I guess we will never know what happened to her before she came to live with us, but I have a feeling she got kicked more than once. Unfortunately, once they’re scared of something (especially if they have decided you were responsible for some reason) it’s near impossible to un-scare them. They will literally tear themselves apart or break their own legs to get away from a perceived danger. Think of rabbits as that really cool friend you have, who also has occasional anxiety attacks where nothing will calm them down. The best thing to do in this situation is leave them to it until they calm down. Then stroke their nose.

This is my phone background.
Katie asleep in a cupboard. When rabbits get scared, they hide in small, hard-to-reach places.

10. Rabbits need the security of their own place. Whether they’re an indoor or outdoor rabbit, they need somewhere to live. If you dislike those indoor cages, get an outdoor hutch from the pet store and put it in your living room. It’ll look like a piece of antique furniture. I did this with Katie and Fifer while we were settling them in – we knew they would probably live outside eventually, but for the time being, they were indoor bunnies, so we got them a 2 story hutch that was five feet wide and four feet tall. It was varnished and made of quality wood, and it looked really nice when it was in the house, and made the living room look a lot tidier than when we had Banacek’s metal indoor hutch in the living room. Don’t worry – they never spent more than nine hours a day closed into their hutch – they either were let out when we got out of bed, or they were put straight outside to their rabbit run which had a smaller hutch for shelter (we leave the door open on that one); the run afforded them much more play space. We have recently moved them into a large brick outhouse, their hutch has moved with them and we unscrewed and removed one of the hutch’s doors so they can always access all of their new space. Once rabbits are settled in a particular hutch, unless there’s a safety or welfare concern, it’s best to keep that hutch with them wherever they go. It’s their nest. Sebastian and Neville, our 100% outdoor bunnies (they hate indoors, they only get brought in if they’re ill and need round the clock care), had a smaller hutch that their previous owners had kept them in. They love this hutch, and while we wanted them to have a more warm, secure outdoor space due to them always being outside, we also wanted them to be able to call it home. We took the front off their old hutch and put it inside their new one – a large shed with hay insulation – so they have a lot more indoor space for those cold days when they don’t want to play out, and so they don’t have to make their old hutch damp or muddy if they’ve been out in the rain. They also have 24/7 outdoor access, as do Katie and Fifer now that they live out of the main house. The sense of security a rabbit gets from feeling like they own a particular place is very important to their well-being. Even if you never want to close your rabbits inside a hutch for the night, make sure they have a hutch that belongs irrefutably to them (you can take one or all of the doors off for them, if you like).

Banacek is a free range bunny
Our rabbits are free to roam the house and garden but they all have their own rabbit housing and they can always access it. All that cardboard?  That’s his toys.

Like rabbits?  Want to see a video of rabbits?  I’ve put together a video of two of our houserabbits doing cute stuff.  Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2UN06_oVtw

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How to make toys for your rabbits

Toymaking for Rabbits:

So I’ve been reading some other rabbit sites recently, mostly trying to find out whether there’s a law in the US governing hutch size, which is the topic of a separate article. What I have noticed is there is a definite hole in the bunny-site market for a good quality, well thought out article on toymaking.

Some people will be thinking to themselves “why does a rabbit need a toy?” You, my friend, need to read this article. Other people are looking for inspiration, which you will find here in buckets.

Rabbits need toys for several reasons. Primarily, rabbits have higher intelligence than many people think they have. If you compare the skull size of the average rabbit with that of a cat, you’ll notice they’re a similar size. Rabbits, in fact, have bigger brains than most kittens. Would you put a kitten in a box full of sawdust with no toys? I sincerely hope not. Rabbits need just as many stimuli and growth opportunities as larger pets. They need puzzles to solve, projects to work on, variety of environment and shared experience. What does this look like to the average rabbit owner? Toys, and someone to play with (that’s you).

rabbit hay box
Cleo is in a hay box – basically, cut the top out of a box and fill it half to two thirds with hay. Rabbit will climb inside to eat tasty hay and nibble box. Sometimes they will sleep in them.

Puzzles to solve:

Bunnies like thinking with their teeth. This means puzzles, such as:

1. A box with a hole that’s not quite big enough for them to run through quickly (get a box, seal off the top and bottom with duct tape, cut a hole in the front and another in the back that’s just the same width as bunny in hop mode – that’s about 30% narrower than his sitting down width. Bunny will chew the hole bigger). They can then solve this puzzle with their teeth.

2. A box that doesn’t quite sit in the natural environment is a puzzle they can drag around the room until it’s solved (get some shapes and sizes of boxes and just randomly scatter them in a corner. Bunny will either fall upon them and start rearranging, or occasionally nibble them, it’s a bit hit and miss).

3. A treat on a high platform is a puzzle they can solve by exploration and discovery (make it visible, accessible, but make it require some thought to get to, e.g. put it on a table with a dining chair in front of it).

4. A slinky with the base attached to something solid is a puzzle they might never solve (but you get hours of fun watching them try).

5. A tunnel with only one entrance and exit is a puzzle they can solve by chewing extra holes in the side to add multiple escape routes (get a long thin cardboard box, cut a hole at either end to make a tunnel, put it against a wall or piece of solid furniture; it sometimes takes time but eventually bunny will probably chew the entire wall-facing side out of the tunnel. We’ve seen this three times with three different rabbits and tunnels).

Rabbits just love puzzles, once they get the idea that they can interact with them. Puzzles are often incorporated into other toys, as a secondary purpose, as you can see with many of the examples above.

rabbit cardboard castle
This “large” box is a cardboard castle, there’s a hole in the back as well so rabbits can get in and out through different holes. Cleo can get in through the top hole, Banacek can’t, giving the toy different ways of playing for different sized rabbits.

Projects to work on:

Bunnies like projects – these are things they can work on over a longer period, having a nibble, then doing something else, coming back to it later that day, week or month. Pragmatic rabbits love projects like these:

1. A hay box with an overhanging edge of cardboard (get a box, fill with hay, make an entrance for rabbit if the top is too high. Avon delivery boxes are really good; paper ream boxes are a little too small). Remember to empty the hay every once in a while because bunnies often poo in hay.

2. A box filled with smaller cardboard boxes. Rabbits seem to prefer three dimensional cardboard to chew, although occasionally they will chew flat card. Banacek loves chewing labels from new clothes, and has been known on several occasions to chew around them in such a way as to turn the words on the labels into cryptic messages, such as “happy” “magical u” (was magical unicorn) “cheer” (was cheerios) and “millionaire” (was Millionaire’s shortbread). I think it happens because he goes with patterns that he finds pleasing in terms of light/dark balance (words, to those who can’t read, are after all just shapes), and I think these are projects he likes to work on, for example, magical unicorn was “magical uni” for quite a while before he eventually finished it. He also once chewed us a perfect triangle out of a square. I measured 60 degrees at each corner with a protractor.  Rabbits are way clever.

3. A large chunk of wood; make sure it’s clean and not infested with slug eggs or something equally horrible, then place it near a rabbit. If it’s tasty wood, they’ll be all over it in seconds (this extends to pieces of furniture so watch out for that antique pine cabinet your grammy left you) and it will take weeks or months to devour. Check which woods are safe for bunnies, and be sure which species of tree the wood chunk came from, to ensure you don’t accidentally poison your bunny with something deadly such as yew sap.

Fifer loves chewing sticks
Fifer’s outdoor run includes a large stick which he likes to chew on to wear down his teeth, which are permanently growing.

4. A wicker basket. This is a project any bunny would love, especially if there’s bits of wicker ends sticking out visibly. Make sure it’s not treated with anything that makes it taste bad – we got one from a charity shop that’s the only wicker basket our rabbits have ever not pounced on – a year later it’s still virtually pristine, we can only conclude it’s not very tasty. Usually, though, rabbits plus wicker = om nom nom.

5. A dig box made of packing materials. You know the masses of brown paper that Amazon insists on sending you every time you order something small that arrives in a large box? Take out the something small, and the delivery note, then give the box and the brown paper to the rabbits. They also love tissue type paper that comes as gift wrap. Avoid metallic colours or anything glittery or plastic backed – a sick bunny is a sad bunny.

Variety of environment:

I would love every bunny to have all the environments described here, but I know most will get one or two. It’s still worth knowing what’s there, in case you get an opportunity to treat your bunny to a new place:

Sebastian and Neville ponder the mysteries of the garden.
Sebastian and Neville love the garden. That’s a block of chewable wood in front of Neville, and a plastic rain shelter for when they want to hide.

1. The garden: This is far and away the absolute best rabbit environment for indoor or outdoor bunnies. Once they’re satisfied that it won’t try to kill them, they all love the garden. There’s so much to do out there, and you can make the garden environment even more fun with a few quick hacks. Put rabbit runs in grassy areas, away from any plants that might be toxic. Add a paving slab or two for the discerning sunbathing rabbit, or in case it rains so they can avoid the mud if they want to. Don’t forget to buy a second water bottle to attach to the run (or bowl to put in there) in case they get thirsty. Add a couple of sticks for nibbles, and a small area that’s sheltered from hot sun or cold rain, and it’s a perfect, compact outdoor play space that’ll all fit inside a standard run. But why stop there? There’s so many other things you can do with a rabbit garden over time that I’ll discuss them in a separate article closer to spring.

2. Carpeted flooring: Bunnies interact completely differently on carpeted flooring to any other environment. They love to lie out on it and sleep. I think they find it more comfortable than solid surfaces, although come summer, they tend to sleep on the metal bit in the doorways or on the tiles around the (utterly disused) hearth, or wooden platforms in their hutch, I think they’re regulating temperature by doing this. Carpet is the indoor rabbit’s racetrack of choice, because it offers the best friction without being uncomfortable on little paws, and they love running fast around the carpeted parts of the house. Do be careful with transitioning a rabbit from living predominantly outdoors to indoors – some of them don’t understand the difference between carpet and grass, and will dig and chew the floor. Training them out of this is part of acclimatizing them to indoor living, along with letting them gently adjust to the temperature.

3. Tiles: Bunnies love tiles when it’s hot. The cool ambient temperature of ceramic tiles are their preferred sleeping spot on hot days. If you’ve got no tiled areas in your house or in their hutch, consider laying a two foot square of tiles on some plywood or cardboard for bunnies to cool down. They’re also easy clean.

4. Platforms: Bunnies love to climb. Give them things to safely climb on and make it worthwhile for them to reach the summit. No-one wants to climb Mount Coffeetable if it’s got nothing on it except a dangerously slidy surface. Mount Cardboard Box is good as long as the top is sturdy enough to take rabbit’s weight – over time, they can start to get a bit crushed from over-use. McFries boxes from McDonald’s make excellent bunny platforms to enable them to reach higher places. If you plan platforms that bunnies ARE allowed to play on, they’re less likely to make the effort to get onto high places where there’s nothing interesting, and where you don’t want them to go.

5. Laminate flooring: It’s not most rabbits’ idea of a good time, they struggle to get a friction coefficient so their paws slide all over the place. But it can provide a good exercise and also teach them that there are many different surfaces in the world so they know how to carefully navigate slippery surfaces – possibly a good idea before they break a rib slipping on an icy puddle in winter. I wouldn’t make this their usual environment, or at least put them some rugs or lino down so they can move comfortably, but it’s an educational environment for the inquisitive rabbit.

Shared Experience

Bunnies are social creatures. In one study, female rabbits chose companionship over food or territory. They need interaction with others. Here’s some thoughts on firing their imagination with friends:

1. You’re their best friend. As a bunny owner, you are the best friend and companion they will ever have. You talk to them, take them places, feed them when they’re hungry, stroke them when they’re not moving, play with them by holding boxes so they can give them a good chew, fill up the hay when it gets low (don’t leave it until empty, they rarely polish it off due to a natural urge known as preservation of resources), play chase with them when they want to practise their moves, and provide mountain rescue for them when they’ve got themselves stuck on top of a bookcase or shelf. Take time to play with bunny, give them all the input and attention (and healthy boundaries) you would lavish on a child, and they will reward you by being your most loyal supporter.

Banacek waits for Jason to come home with carrots.
Before Banacek had a rabbit girlfriend, he spent hours each day sitting on the arm of Jason’s chair waiting for Jason to come home. Jason was his human BFF. His favourite cuddly toy bunny is in his hutch in the background

2. Get them a girlfriend or boyfriend. This needs proper thought, don’t just bung two rabbits in a hutch and leave. Rabbits are picky, like humans are, and won’t just bond with any old rabbit. They need to be introduced carefully in a way that doesn’t threaten either rabbit or their status or territory. For this reason, a neutered male and female often make the best pairings. Take it slow. Read up on it, the Houserabbit Society of America has the absolute best articles on introducing rabbits, and I don’t want to try and explain something that’s already been discussed very well by other people, because reinventing the wheel is not working smarter (although I intend to discuss how I bonded my own rabbits in a separate article, but mine seem to have all been the exceptions). Check the Houserabbit Society out.

3. Get them a different animal companion: People have had success pairing rabbits with small cats, guinea pigs, tortoises and even dogs (give them separate living quarters in every case). There is a huge huge huge (I can’t convey how huge this is) welfare issue if you shove two different species who have never met into a hutch together and lock the door, never to think about either animal again. Aside from that, I can’t see how you would manage mealtimes if the animals were housed together. Keep your cat in a cat place, your dog in a dog place, your bunny in a bunny place and your guinea pig in a guinea pig place, and let them have contact during supervised, managed playtimes. This is apparently a good option if you’ve got a rabbit who doesn’t get along with other rabbits – cats and rabbits have had good pairings. The main point is to do your research, gradually introduce the animals, be ready to separate them at the slightest, and make sure they’ve got their own places to go. Never, ever leave a rabbit unsupervised with a non-rabbit – there have been plenty of stories of rabbits and guinea pigs being left in hutches together and it always ends with dead guinea pigs. I could forsee this happening with the rabbit ending up seriously hurt if you left it alone with a dog, and with the cat, it could go either way depending on the temperament of the cat and the rabbit. Rabbits don’t often have the ability to make very loud noises to alert you to distress, so need housing separately to other pets. Train the dog or cat, make sure they’re tolerant, and make sure if you’ve got a cat or dog in the house that the rabbit gets regular vaccinations/boosters because the cat/dog could bring home RHV or Myxomatosis by contact with wild rabbits whilst walking or roaming.

4. Cuddly toys: If you can only have one rabbit, and don’t have as much time as you’d like (24/7 please) to adore your bunny and spend time with him, put some soft toys in their living space and around their hangouts. Banacek was an only rabbit for 18 months before we could get him a friend, and during that time he’s been given about four different cuddly toys, which he still looks after now. Sometimes we’ll see him positioning Squeakytoy (a 50p soft bodied dog toy) at the water bowl to drink. Sometimes he’s washing White Rabbit’s ears so they stay clean. Other times, he’s gone to sleep snuggled up to Brown Bunny. A little tinkle alerts us to the times he’s grooming Cat Ball (a baby toy) or Baby Bunny (another baby toy – Mothercare wanted us to know they’d replace it if it became damaged, then retracted this when we informed them it was for a rabbit). Check soft toys for safety when you buy them (this is why baby toys are the gold standard as far as I’m concerned, plus they’re usually more stimulating in the ways which rabbits are able to interact with toys) – button eyes, bits of edible plastic, etc are dealbreakers – and check them regularly for damage and remove/repair accordingly so they don’t ingest stuffing.

There are plenty of other ways you can make a fun and stimulating environment for your rabbit, to help avoid Bunny Brain Death: You’ve seen those rabbits in hutches that just sit there, not moving, not doing anything? Sometimes they gently rock back and forth for hours. I call it Bunny Brain Death, and I firmly believe it’s one of the reasons “outdoor” rabbits have traditionally had shorter lifespans than houserabbits.

Sebastian and Neville, our 100% outdoor rabbits, are kept well stocked with toys and interesting environments both in their hutch, shed and run (all of which they have 24/7 access to), and they are curious, interested rabbits who never just sit there. To summarize, make life interesting for your rabbit, and your rabbit will be interesting. Make your rabbit bored, and they will be boring. Unlike certain other “small” pets (c’mon, some rabbits are dog sized), they’re not stupid enough to repeat futile activities endlessly to amuse you.

Sebastian wonders if he is really the king of the castle or if it's all a social construct.
Our outdoor rabbits’ hutch is kept well-stocked with toys so they are mentally stimulated. Outdoor toys are changed more regularly. These ones were a variation on the indoor “cardboard castle” because a huge box wouldn’t fit in this hutch. Some of these toys were made from a Cookie Crisp box, others were made from corrugated cardboard and brown paper to give a variety of chewing texture.

[Rabbits] ” I can’t keep my rabbit any more ” What to do when Bunny has to go

“ I Can’t Keep My Rabbit Any More ”

What to do when you can’t look after your rabbit any more.

Fifer and Katie, unwanted rabbits.
These rabbits were unwanted by their previous owners. So we adopted them both separately.  Tired from pooing everywhere, they settle to a rousing episode of Clifford The Big Red Dog.

This is what nobody likes to talk about, but I think it’s important. Sometimes, we enter into things for the best of reasons. Right now, if you’re contemplating having to get rid of your rabbit, you’re probably feeling pretty bad, you don’t need a lecture on responsibility, some other website will do that instead. I don’t know you or why you’re getting rid of little Nibbles. The main thing is getting rid of your rabbit the responsible way. I am not discussing the decision making process behind getting rid of a rabbit, just what to do after that decision has been made. I know it can be difficult to think straight when you’re under the extreme stress of having to get rid of your beloved companion, but please read through this article and think it through before you do anything hasty.

Ways NOT to get rid of a rabbit:

“Releasing them” into the wild: This is a terrible idea. Rabbits that are kept as pets are as genetically different from wild rabbits as dogs are to wolves. They can’t survive on their own, and will die from either starvation, predator attack, wild rabbits attacking them or coldness. Drive a bit further and take them to an animal shelter, where they will have a chance at finding a new forever home.

Leaving them at the side of the road: Wild rabbits have no road sense, that’s why so many of them end up as roadkill. Pet rabbits don’t even know what a road is. If you leave them at the side of the road they may even get hit by a car before you pull away. Drive a bit further and take them to an animal shelter, trained staff will look after them and they’ll have a better chance of survival.

Killing them: Please don’t do it! This is not the way to get rid of a rabbit. Whatever they have done, whatever your circumstances, please don’t harm Nibbles. If you care nothing about the rabbit’s welfare, look at it for your own interests – don’t get an animal abuse charge, okay? Officials can and do find out about this very easily, it’s illegal to kill a pet rabbit, they can tell the difference between pet and wild rabbits, and if you get prosecuted you could face a whole host of penalties dependant on where you live. Take Nibbles to a vet or an animal shelter if you really must be rid of them at once and leave him in their care. There is absolutely nothing a rabbit can possibly have done to necessitate being killed, and I’m saying that having been savaged by rabbits more times than I can remember since I first got them. Rabbits are not dogs.

adopted bunnies in front of their cardboard castle
Fifer (left) was responsibly taken to an adoption centre. Katie (right) was dumped in a box on the doorstep of our vets. Now they are our cherished companions in their forever home.

The best ways to get rid of your rabbit:

Advertise as free to a good home: If you have some time (a week or two) before the rabbit must be gone, put an advert on the internet- google “buy rabbits” to see the best places to advertise your unwanted rabbit. To get rid faster, make him “free to a good home.” Give your rabbit to an adult, never a child, and if you’re never having rabbits again, give them the rabbit hutch, toys and feeding things as well, so the rabbit has as much stability as possible.

Take him to an adoption centre: If you don’t have time to rehome him yourself, for whatever reason, take him to an adoption centre. It might be worth phoning around to see which ones take rabbits so he doesn’t end up at a horse rehoming centre or something equally inappropriate. Adoption centre staff get all their animals from people who can’t have them any more, they are usually experienced and non-judgemental, although a few might be preachy due to caring a lot about the animals they rehome. Take it on the chin. Whatever your reasons for doing it, be assured in yourself that you are doing the right thing by getting rid of your pet responsibly.

Conclusion:

By doing the right thing, you will save yourself sleepless nights for years to come about what happened to little Nibbles. This is why advertising and meeting the new owners is the best way to get rid of a rabbit – additionally, adoption centre resources are often very stretched so they can’t always take new animals. However, if you can’t rehome him with someone, get him to an adoption centre instead. They are the best two options. Please, please don’t abandon your rabbit or harm him in any way. He is dependant on you to do the right thing.

Keeping your rabbits? Check out this awesome article to find out how I made a rabbit stroller for under $15.

[Rabbit 101] Getting a Rabbit

Rabbits 101: Getting A Rabbit

This is a post for people who want a rabbit, showing how to get a rabbit, where to get a rabbit, and how much rabbits cost, as well as where to put them and more.  It’s not intended to be a definitive discussion of rabbit welfare or the rabbit sales industry, but is intended for people who love the idea of having a hoppy bundle of fluff in their life.

I want a rabbit!

Are you an adult? Are you a responsible adult? Do you tidy your room/home regularly, wash up, vacuum etc? Will the addition of a mess-making critter who can crawl into the tiniest of holes cause you any problems with meeting your other responsibilities in life? Do you have time to give the rabbit all the love and attention he needs to lead a fulfilling life? Think about this carefully, take the time to introspect. Do lots of research after you finish this article. Make sure a rabbit is the right companion for you.

Rabbits are NOT good pets for children, they end up sad, lonely and unwanted as the children “outgrow” them, and unlike the Betsy Wetsy dolls, these are living things which can live up to 20 years: My aunt was 24 when her bunny, which she’d acquired at age 4, finally passed away in the 1970s; my sister in law’s childhood rabbit lived to be 17 in the 1990’s.  I can’t comment on the lives these rabbits led and I don’t condone giving rabbits to children.

Are you committing a lifetime of love and affection to your bunny, to love them no matter how your life changes over the coming two decades, for better or worse, to always put their needs first and to make sure that your home is their forever home? Children cannot make these sorts of decisions, to look after something for a period of time several times longer than they have been alive themselves, it’s unfair to blame them when you bought them a pet that you can’t be bothered to look after, as the adult, YOU are the responsible party.  They say “I want” you say “when you’re older.” Disappointment is part of growing up. Animal abuse charges don’t have to be.  If you get a rabbit and you have children, make Nibbles a whole family pet that everyone is involved with.

How do I buy a rabbit?

Generally, you walk into a pet sanctuary or pet store and say, “one rabbit please.” Unless you are trying to buy more than one rabbit (two are ideal), in which case you would change “one” for “many” to say “many rabbits please.” Specifying a number of rabbits helps the volunteer or shop assistant to match you up with the right new friend. Make sure you have met and handled your rabbit before agreeing to take them home.  Remember, just because two baby bunnies get along now, it doesn’t mean they still will when they’ve been neutered.  You will still have to work at building their relationship while hormones disperse.

Adoption centres will ask you lots of questions – more below. Some pet stores won’t let you handle the pets before purchase – it’s important to know whether that rabbit is just going to hate you every waking minute of its life, turning your happy idea of snuggly bunny fun into a rage-filled plethora of biting and scratching, stomping and ignoring. Don’t get a bunny who doesn’t like you. Yes, some bunnies take time to adjust, but if it tries to kill you straight away it’s not meant to be. Take Fifer, for example:

Fifer was an adoptable bunny. When I got Fifer, I asked if I could handle him, and the store manager gave me a Look, I wasn’t sure why, then he unlocked Fifer’s enclosure. He reached in to pull him out, Fifer stomped and ran away, the store manager didn’t back off, and dragged him out (his poor little claws were futilely raking across the sawdust and he was clearly distressed), they clearly had a grudge going on. Fifer started fighting, scratching, biting, wriggling, never stopping until he’d shown this man that he was a Free Bunny. I was dubious that Fifer would be a good addition to our herd. I asked if I could handle him. The second he passed to me, Fifer stopped struggling, snuffled my nose in greeting, and snuggled up for a very long cuddle – throughout the adoption process, Fifer was in my hands, pressed against my neck, just content to be still and to snuggle. The moral of the story? Sometimes a rabbit just loves you. Other times, they just hate you.

If a rabbit is attacking you, he doesn’t like something about either the situation or you. Try a different rabbit. Also, it might sound obvious, but if you’ve just been around your friend’s house, petting their dog, don’t go straight to get a rabbit. Rabbits are pre-disposed to fear the smell of dogs (this can be overcome if you want them to live together), and it won’t make a good first impression on a vulnerable prey animal to turn up smelling like one of their predators. It makes sense, really.

Where should I get a rabbit from?

PETA have a very hard-hitting advert from a few years ago. A “model family” brings home a brand new pedigree dog, they’re all petting and adoring it. Then a PETA worker knocks on the door with a delivery. Someone says “what is it?” The response “This is the dog you killed.” A body bag that’s dog sized is thrown on the kitchen counter.

The message they were trying to convey? They were trying to show that, every time a brand new dog from a breeder is bought, a lonely adoptable dog doesn’t get that exact home. So they get put to sleep because there aren’t enough people to rehome adoptables. The same is sadly true of rabbits; there’s too many unwanted rabbits (visit http://www.dailybunny.com/daily_bunny_d8 to see a round up of the adoptable rabbits, updated daily, with lots of links to adoption centres across the world), people buy them for Easter, for Christmas, for summer – any time a child is sad and wants a present.

I know someone who got rabbits when her parents divorced, one parent trying to buy affection. Of course, she didn’t want the rabbits, didn’t know the first thing about looking after them, and the poor things had to be rehomed. It makes me very sad to know the sheer number of unwanted rabbits in the world, and begs the question, why would you get a rabbit if you didn’t want one? But then, people think cats and dogs are more important than rabbits, and they’re unwanted all the time, and people think human babies are more important than any pet, and look how many unwanted children are in the foster care or adoption systems. This is why you need to make sure you have enough responsibility and are ready for this 20-year commitment.

Adoption Centres:

These are places where you can adopt pets. They often have a range of pets, and volunteers are often trained in looking after them, but can’t really advise you on what pet is most suitable to you; you need an idea of what you’re looking for. Do you want a giant rabbit? A tiny one? A super-fluffy one? A standard shorthair? Up ears? Down ears? Three legs? A tail? Rabbits will arrive at an adoption centre in a variety of different states, if aesthetics are important to you, don’t get a rabbit that you don’t like. In an ideal world, it really wouldn’t matter what a rabbit looked like, and every rabbit would have a loving home, but we don’t live there. Some people will only date blondes, other people will only keep pet rabbits with lop ears. If that’s you, make sure you’re happy with how your rabbit looks – you’ll be seeing a lot of each other once you move in together. It’s better to come across as picky to an adoption centre than to take a rabbit home, only to get rid of them in six months because you don’t like them. The adoption centre will ask you questions, such as “do you have any children?” “do you have any other pets?” “where will your rabbit live?” etc. Be ready to answer these so they know you’ve thought about it properly and that you have made your home ready to receive a rabbit – if all goes well, you might take a bunny home today, are you ready?

Questions that are not ok, and which should probably make you consider a different adoption centre, include anything about you being part of a Protected Group – race, gender, transgender status, sexual orientation, etc, and anything else that makes you feel uncomfortable. Do rabbits care if they’re rehomed by gay couples? I certainly don’t think so (two of my rabbits are living as a gay couple, their bond has been unbroken through nine years, I think they’d be happy to be taken out on PRIDE marches).

I think that a shared familial love between owners and pets, and an ability to meet the pets’ needs, is more important than what colour you are or what gender you are attracted to. Some people feel differently. Don’t bother adopting from these places – it’s sad for the animals that they have to be denied loving homes, but aside from litigating, I don’t think there’s a lot you can do, and even then I’m sure we all know they’ll just deny you a pet on a technicality.

When my family went to adopt a dog, back in 1996, we went to our local dog shelter. They disliked my mother on the grounds of her disability, talking to her loudly and slowly, and surprise surprise, they decided to call and say that we didn’t pass the home inspection (they didn’t even turn up). I hope that dog got the home it deserved, but the dog we adopted instead, from a woman who found him abandoned in a shed, was Dylan, who I’ll tell you about sometime. Basically he was the most awesome living being I’ve ever had the absolute privilege to spend time with, and I’m glad to have known him as my family dog for 16 years. So these things do turn out ok, even if you’re not white, middle class able and heteronormative.

Private Sellers
These come in two categories: People who have to get rid of an unwanted* rabbit and people who are actually breeding rabbits to sell.

DON’T BUY RABBITS FROM RABBIT FARM BREEDERS!! Buying them makes people believe this is an acceptable way to make a living. It is not.  It contributes to rabbit overpopulation, and breeders often keep rabbits in overcrowded, unclean conditions where every mealtime is a fight for food.  On top of that, they tend not to allow the weaker or less attractive bunnies to live long, because they won’t fetch a price worth the food they’re fed.  The ones who sell to pet stores are inspected by animal welfare and often also by the pet store, depending on the scale of the store.  Small time breeders with one pair of rabbits, and accidental litters are different, but use your judgement and ask questions.

*When I say unwanted, I don’t mean they don’t love their rabbits, because some people love their bunnies very much and circumstances have forced them to find new homes. When we got Sebastian, Neville and Cleo, the owners loved them dearly but had to move to Australia for work. You can’t take rabbits to Australia – they’re classed as a pest – so all three rabbits needed a new forever home. Other people, on the other hand, have decided their store-bought bunny doesn’t match the new wallpaper so have decided to get rid. And there’s all the permutations in between.

There are sites like Craigslist and Gumtree that often advertise unwanted rabbits, generally the genuine ones will be free or just a delivery fee. The breeders can charge stupid amounts of money. Sometimes, people with unwanted rabbits will charge for them. Meet a few bunnies, see who you like, and take them home. Sometimes they will come with all their equipment – Cleo, Sebastian and Neville all came with hutches and carry boxes for taking to the vet etc, as well as bottles and bowls, hutch blankets to keep them warm and other accoutrements. I think we paid petrol as they helped us move them.

Pet Stores

Pet stores have two ways of acquiring rabbits: The first is that people with litters of bunnies can sell them to the pet shop. The second is that people who farm rabbits can sell them to the pet shop. The difference is the scale of operation. Some pet stores only buy from particular breeders, which can mean long transportation times for the rabbits, other pet stores will buy from anyone, which can mean the rabbits are carriers of Rabbit Hemorraghic Disease which can kill rabbits. Make sure, if you’re buying from a pet shop, that they have checked the health of the rabbits, and done everything reasonable to ensure these rabbits are in good healthy happy condition from birth to now.

We bought our first rabbit from a pet store called Pets At Home, which is a huge chain in the UK. A lot of people like to denigrate them because they’re a large chain, but they’re actually a good place to get a rabbit and they vet their breeders. We wanted to adopt a rabbit, and had been searching for a bunny for two months, as we knew that buying a brand new rabbit meant denying a home to an unwanted rabbit, but there weren’t any rabbits up for adoption at all (this is common in the town we lived in at the time), and during that time we grew to love Banacek, who would greet us when he saw us by the second week. His litter had a sign saying “not available until Mothering Sunday (date)” and, although we’d been visiting weekly, we couldn’t make it back again until the Tuesday due to work commitments; I was worried that all the bunnies would be gone before we got there (every rehome we’d found and called people about had been gone before we could go to meet them). Banacek was still there, he came to greet us, and pawed at the side of the enclosure as if to say “get me out of this crazy place, anyone would think I was an animal the way they’re keeping me in an enclosure!” We took him home. While I know that buying a brand new rabbit isn’t optimum, at the same time we had taken all reasonable measures to try and adopt a rabbit, and living with Banacek over the past two years, I’ve never once regretted our decisions either to buy a store-bought rabbit or to let him live indoors as a house rabbit. Sometimes buying is the best option for your circumstances, and if you live somewhere where unwanted rabbits aren’t an issue, and can’t get an adoptable, then maybe a store bought rabbit is for you. I’m sure some people will say “wait for an adoptable to come along” but at some point you have to say “I’ve waited long enough” and get the rabbit of your dreams.

Where to put the new bunny?

So you are on the verge of getting a rabbit – where should you put them once they get home?  Have rabbit housing ready before you get the rabbit – I know this sounds obvious, but in the moment we can sometimes forget and this can be a bit embarrassing.  I would recommend getting a starter home for your rabbit if you are planning to build a big indoor enclosure, so they can acclimatise to the house and you can work out the best housing arrangements for their personality.  If you are only planning to buy them one home, don’t bother with a starter home, go for the best you can afford.  A rabbit hutch should be at least 6’x2’x2′ (6 foot width) for a small rabbit, so they can comfortably move around.  As long as they’ve got 12 feet of floor space, the length and width can be configured differently, such as two four foot floors, both two feet wide, both having a height of two feet.  The height must always allow bunny to stretch from back legs to nose in case he jumps or stretches in his hutch, so he doesn’t break his spine and die.  This is recommended at two feet for a normal size rabbit, obviously you can go a bit smaller for a Netherland Dwarf (they’re tiny) but go much bigger for a giant rabbit.  Remember there’s no rule that says an outdoor hutch can’t take pride of place in your lounge!

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, make sure you’re happy with the rabbit you’re bringing home.  If that’s an adoptible, store bought or a freebie from your friend’s litter, that’s fine. The most important thing is providing a loving, stable and nurturing home environment for your new companion (and getting them registered with a vet), and honouring the commitment to take care of them for their entire life, doing all you can to find them a new, loving home if you cannot keep them for some major life reason.