"Rabbits are very social animals and bond well with their owners," said Candy Lash, Director of Community and Media Relations for the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society in western Massachusetts. I interviewed her to get some facts about rabbits for the many parents who are thinking of buying an Easter bunny this year. If you are planning to get a rabbit for any reason (Easter or otherwise), it is best to have the facts about rabbits.
1. Rabbits Have a Higher Quality of Life as Indoor Pets
"We recommend you keep your rabbits indoors. They will have a higher quality of life and will live longer," said Lash. Lash said that rabbits kept indoors will live for 10 to 15 years. Rabbits kept outside in a hutch are subject to predators and stresses from the weather. "When the rabbits are kept indoors they have a quality of life that is more enriching," said Lash.
One suggestion Lash had was to have an area in your home where you can have a penned-off (referred to as an "X-pen") area, so the rabbit can move around more freely and get more exercise. Installing tile in that area will prevent damage to hardwoord floors or carpets. Lash said that it is important to allow the rabbit out of its cage at least a couple of times a day. "That way they can hop and play and do all the things bunnies like to do," she said.
2. Rabbits Can Be Litter Trained
Lash said that rabbits are very smart animals and are not hard to train to a litter box. She said that they may take a little longer than training a cat to use a litter box. Lash said it is best to observe the rabbit in its pen or cage to see where the rabbit is inclined to potty. "For example, we had a litter box for one of our rabbits here (at the shelter) in the rear of the cage. However, the rabbit tended to do its business near the front of the cage, so we moved it and the rabbit took right to it," said Lash. She also recommended using hay as the litter box material, changed daily. "You can also put down newspapers," said Lash.
3. Rabbits Chew on Many Things
A basic fact about rabbits is that their teeth grow continuously. Which means, the instinctual way rabbits deal with tooth growth is to chew – a lot. Be aware of any wires in rooms you allow your rabbit and know they are likely to chew on furniture and other items lying about. Always keep wooden toys in your rabbits' pen so they have a safer and less damaging outlet for their need to chew.
4. Rabbits Love to Eat Hay and Raisins
Lash said that hay is a very important component in a rabbit's diet. Rabbits can also be fed formulated prepared pellets. "Rabbits also like to have plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. And they love raisins. Raisins are one of the best things you can use if you are working on training your rabbit," said Lash.
5. Rabbits Are More Aggressive When They're Not Spayed and Neutered
"Spaying and neutering helps rabbits behavior tremendously. It makes all the difference in the world." said Lash. She added that when rabbits are unaltered, they can be much more aggressive. "They will stomp, bite, and scratch more (if unaltered)." Spaying and neutering your rabbit will also help protect against some forms of cancer Lash said.
6. Rabbits Need Careful Handling
Lash said that rabbits can get along well with other pets if slowly introduced. Rabbits love to be handled and grow to like the experience more and more over time. However, Lash said, rabbits do not like to be picked up, and if they are picked up, they must be handled carefully or you can break their backs if they start to kick. "They like to have all four on the floor, but they are also happy sitting on your lap or even on the couch with you while you watch TV," said Lash. Rabbits need to have all four feet supported when picking them up, she said.
Lash recommends that if you have children, to wait until they are at least 8-years-old before having a rabbit as a pet as an older child can more easily understand proper handling of the rabbit. You can also take your rabbit outside using a harness, Lash said. Just be aware that rabbits are prey animals. Walk them in safe areas where no other animals might be tempted to attack.
Do you have experience with keeping rabbits as pets? Tell us! Everyone will benefit from your experience and advice.