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We are thinking about adopting a pet rabbit. We would love to have one in our home for Easter and I do not think that they would be much work or require much time the rest of the year.

But I do not want to rush into this. So what should I know about the care of a pet rabbit before I make a decision?

  • Male rabbits spray to mark like cats.... not good inside pets. – Nakiki350 Nov 7 '13 at 15:27
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    @Nakiki350 - Male rabbits can make great indoor pets. – user9 Nov 7 '13 at 20:11
  • @Nakiki350, much like other pets spay and neuter have a significant impact on marking behavior – James Jenkins Mar 28 '14 at 16:46
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Rabbits can live for 10 or more years

A well-cared-for domestic rabbit should live for 7-10 years but more is possible.

In the wild, rabbits rarely live for more than 2 years. This has lead to a common belief that rabbits in general only live for a few years. In the wild, rabbits deal with predators, disease, starvation and extreme temperature changes. Domestic rabbits do not have these same pressures.

So when adopting a new rabbit you should be prepared for the commitment that comes with having an animal that lives for that long.

Baby rabbits grow up (and teenage rabbits are moody)

All baby bunnies are cute. It is very easy to get attached to a baby bunny in a store. That rabbit is probably going to double in size over then next few weeks. Most rabbits sold in pet stores are between 5 and 8 weeks old. These guys are just starting to grow, are very timid because they have recently been weaned, and still in that playful exploration phase. This combines to give them that "Oh look how adorable it is" look. The pet store owners know this and that is the reason that they sell baby rabbits but not adult rabbits.

Well, that baby bunny is going to grow up. In a few weeks the rabbit will lose that timidness, and enter adolescence. I think this is the reason that most rabbits are surrendered between the ages of 6 and 9 months. During this period I have observed rabbits exhibiting behavior that is very similar to that of humans in adolescence. They exhibit moody, fussy, aggressive, and otherwise obnoxious behaviors. This can be difficult to deal with. Around the time the rabbit hits a year old they usually calm down.

So if you are not ready to deal with the growing pains, consider adopting an adult rabbit. You can probably find one in a local shelter; if not, you can find a local breeder. Chances are they have an older bunny that is no longer being shown that could use a great pet home.

Rabbits are fragile

Firstly, they need a very consistent diet of hay and pellets. If you change the food regularly or feed them the wrong things it can be fatal. You will want to research and make sure you can supply your rabbit with enough of the right food and hay.

Rabbits have thin bones and their backs and necks are easy to snap. I have actually seen a rabbit break its own back when it was thumping with its foot. Some dogs have the hunting instinct, and will pick up a rabbit or other small animal and shake it. If you have this type of dog then you do not want it interacting with your rabbit.

It is not just the rabbits bones that are fragile; their digestive system is as well. If your rabbit eats the wrong thing or does not get enough of the things it needs then it can go into GI Stasis. When this happens, the rabbit seems calm and likely exhibits no outward signs other than it not leaving droppings. It is very easy to miss and after a few days it is unlikely that the rabbit will be able to recover.

There are other diseases and medical issues that can occur with little-to-no outward signs until it is too late. Many (if not a majority of) vets do not have much experience with rabbits. It is important that you find a vet that does have experience. If your vet says he thinks your rabbit has Pasteurella then unless your rabbit was recently bitten by a meat eating animal, you should find a new vet. Unless your rabbit was bitten your rabbit does not have Pasteurella. Even if it was, infections of Pasteurella (while usually fatal) are rare.

Rabbits chew all their life

A rabbit's teeth grow fast and continue to grow their whole life. They need to be able to chew or their teeth will get too long and they will not be able to use them to eat. Once a rabbit has teeth problems it has been my experience that they will need to be treated fairly regularly through out their life. So it is important that you provide it with proper things to chew. And if you plan to let your rabbit run around the house, realize they like to chew on stuff, and that cords and other hanging objects are tempting targets.

Rabbits need some attention

Your rabbit should not be left to fend for itself or left alone in its cage all the time. Make sure it has plenty of toys and things to chew on. They need to be cared for.

You need to regularly check on your rabbit to make sure that your rabbit does not have unusual pee or poo. These are usually the first signs of medical problems.

You should feed and water your rabbit the right amount of food. Feeding your rabbit just enough food for one day allows you to make sure your rabbit is eating and prevent obesity. The most common first sign of a problem with a rabbit is that it will stop eating and drinking. You should consult an expert immediately. If you catch it in the first day or so your chances of saving the rabbit are increased dramatically.

If you want your rabbit to be calm and sociable when you have friends over you should make sure it is socialized regularly. If a rabbit is not socialized for a while it will revert to behavior that seems anti social. This can include nipping, scratching, and peeing on you or your guests. You have to train your rabbit to be social and you must continually reinforce this training. This also is the process of the rabbit training you to be attuned to the rabbit's signs. You need to learn when your rabbit is unhappy or needs to go back to its cage or litter box.

Behavior that seems cute in the store can often become obnoxious at home

Baby rabbits are cute, and when it is nibbling on your finger with teeth that cant really break skin yet its no big deal. In a week those teeth will break skin and it will hurt.

It is funny to watch the bunny run around the pen like a crazy bun. It is obnoxious when the rabbit does that in its cage all night long while you try and sleep.

It is cute when that bunny lifts and sprays your friend or spouse at the pet store. When it does that on your carpet every time it gets out it stops being funny.

Many rabbits have habits already learned when they get to the pet store. Those habits may be difficult or impossible to break.

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    I would add that they can kick hard and hurt you when adult. I have had many kinds of pets & a rabbit was my biggest failure. Chad's answer is very thoughtful - perhaps a little understated on how difficult a pet they really are. – Jeni Nov 7 '13 at 0:33
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    Well done. A rabbit can be hard to care for, but so can a dog. It just means being aware of their needs, which is a good thing for a pet regardless. :) – John Cavan Nov 7 '13 at 8:14
  • Do you want to add something about bunny proofing? – James Jenkins Nov 7 '13 at 11:59
  • @JamesJenkins - I think that is better suited in an answer to "I have decided to adopt a rabbit. What do need to do now?" Another question I think is important to have on the site. I do think I might add a section "Rabbits chew alot their whole lives to this though" – user9 Nov 7 '13 at 12:37
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Thanks a lot to user9 for taking time on his/her answer.

I'd like to add some points as this theme worries me much. Please, have in mind I'm not a native speaker so I may seem rude, condescending, etc. I'm sorry.

Some basic and important things to have in mind when considering whether to adopt a pet rabbit

I would advise not to have a rabbit as a pet, as they can be very fragile (I've suffered it, in stress, sorrow and some hundreds of dollars, though we saved him and he's still with us). This is just my opinion, but moreover, they usually don't like to be cuddled, etc. as they are prey animals. They can be intelligent and know you, but are not as rich as a pet as a cat or a dog. Before having one, one should consider if will really be able to do all of this (money spending included) for the next 8 to 12 years the rabbit can live.

  • Pet rabbits can be extremely sensitive to any change in their environment. Just the fact of some workers making noise, or just painting in his area (be careful with intoxication too!), or leaving him in the care of a friend or family, can make them stop eating and die (that's what happened to me).

  • Rabbits usually chew every cable or similar thing they find, so one should either hide or protect them ALL.

  • Learn how to grab and hold a rabbit so he doesn't break his neck trying to flee. Drawings/photos on websites, YouTube, etc.

  • One must know that their digestive system is extremely fragile; it needs to be "constantly" working. If they stop eating for 24 hours or so for any reason and a vet doesn't treat them immediately (and correctly), they will die because their digestive system won't work again, and the hay inside the different cavities of his stomach will ferment and give way to gases that will inflate his stomach, which moreover is painful. So it's better not to wait too long if one notices something is wrong; better to call the vet and explain what happens.

  • It is very important to trim their nails (they can hurt, deform their paws' "fingers," and what is said in another post about dangerous and painful sores: https://pets.stackexchange.com/a/3107/3385) It's better to cut just a little bit than too much; not to approach too much the pink area (flesh inside the nail). If the rabbit is hurt by cutting the nerve, next time he will be terrified. Unless there's no choice, it's better to do it with the help of someone who holds him still and to transmit calmness to him.

  • It is also very important to control the length of their teeth. About 80-90% of their diet should be hay (they must always have access to fresh hay they like). Hay erodes their teeth, which is what happens in nature. If they don't eat that much hay (and many rabbits eat very little hay because they prefer to eat their pellets, etc.) their teeth can grow too much, hurt their mouth until they can't eat, and as said if they spend a day without eating their stomach stops moving and they'll die unless immediately treated by vets (and many times they can't be saved). In extreme cases, if they keep eating somehow but the owner doesn't take them to the vet, their teeth can even cut their tongue.
    This is why their teeth should be controlled by the vet once a year until they are around 3 year old, and from then on they should be controlled each 6 months to be sure this (and other problems) do not happen. If needed, the vet will reduce the length of their teeth by filing them down.

  • Even if their teeth length is OK, little growths in some tooth sides may hurt their cheeks, leading to a similar situation. The vet will file down them.

  • Do not have a rabbit (in fact, no mammal) on a cage with wire floor under their paws. It would soon be painful and cause sores, etc.

Some fast reads:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_rabbit#Rabbits_as_pets http://www.saveafluff.co.uk/rabbit-info/what-do-rabbits-eat

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    +1 You have a lot of good points here, but a couple points I disagree on Rabbits are smart, Vet bills can be a problem with any animal, rabbits are no more at risk than any other pet. While rabbits don't like to cuddle they do like to snuggle (Be held tightly = no; lay close and get pets = yes). Healthy rabbits with sufficient hay, don't have teeth issues. – James Jenkins Dec 29 '14 at 15:07
  • In my experience the "sensitiv to every change" is less important if one has two rabbits. They pay attention to each other and go together better through changes. (My experience:numerous rabbit-sitting-because-in-vacation and once 4 weeks of confusion caused by relocation to another country) – Allerleirauh Jan 24 at 19:06

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