SO YOU WANT A DOMESTIC BUNNY!
We hear it all the time “I had a rabbit as a kid,” which usually leads to a discussion of rabbits outdoors in a hutch behind a garage on wire floors exposed to the elements and usually leading short lonely solitary lives. These days we have become more educated on the joy of having a rabbit living indoors either as free roam or living some of its time in a main busy area of the home where bunny can interact with all family members and be a much loved addition to the family. Rabbits are intelligent, social animals who need affection, and they can become wonderful companion animals if given a chance to interact with their human families.
The most important part of deciding whether a rabbit is a good fit for your family is education! Before adopting you should educate yourself and your family on what it is like to have a rabbit, the commitment, its physical needs, medical concerns and how you and bunny will both thrive by adding these gentle creatures to your life.
SETTING UP A PLACE FOR BUNNY
Most house rabbit may have free run of the home. However, it's best to have an area set up that bunny can call their own. This area will be a safe zone for bunny where he can go to rest or when he needs to get away from the hubbub of the family. A lot of people feel they can rest easier if bunny is in his area while the family sleeps or at work. Some bunnies can get into trouble when left to their own, so confinement when no one is home then free run the rest of the time is a great compromise. No cage is big enough for any bunny. A cage can be used as a holding spot for the hay and litter pan but bunny should never be locked into a cage. The best thing is to get what is referred to as a puppy play pen. Figure 1 below. This gives bunny a space of his own. If you have wood or good carpet you may want to pick up an end run of roll linoleum to put the pen on. Inexpensive linoleum can be found at big box stores like Home Depot, Lowes or Menards.
He can start off his first few days there and then gradually given more and more space to explore and roam but will know how to get back to his litter pan and hay. This is a recipe for success in training a bunny. Bunnies are clean creatures and want to use their litter pan. Which brings us to what ‘equipment’ needed to help bunny successfully house trained.
The most important issue to address for litter training bunny is making sure to spay/neuter your bunny as soon as possible. Most rescues, shelters and humane societies will alter their bunnies before they are adopted. A great reason to adopt instead of shop is that many exotic veterinarians charge from $150 to $300 to spay or neuter. Males can be neutered as soon as their testicles drop and usually a female needs to weigh at least 2-3 pounds or be 4-6 months old. Altering bunny has many other benefits as well and we will address those later, but almost 90% of bunnies, once altered, will be urine trained in no time. We say ‘urine trained’ as bunnies will almost always leave little dry poops as they hop around. These are harmless, do not smell, are dry and can be picked or swept up. Just part of the joy of a house bunny.
When you shop for a litter pan, find the deepest biggest litter pan available. All bunnies, male and female, raise their tails when they urinate. If they have a shallow litter pan that means an accident right over the side. Even a Netherland Dwarf appreciates a large litter pan.
A final thought… a litter pan should be put at a back corner of the pen. Chances are no matter which corner you put it in at first bunny will choose to urinate in the other corner. Sigh. This is easily cured by you moving the pan to the other side where bunny wants it. You say that sounds like you are not litter training bunny but he is training you. And you would be 100% right.
LITTER? Now this is where it gets tricky. Different people use different things for litter. We highly suggest wood stove pellets which can be bought at big box hardware stores like Lowes, Home Depot or Menards. Some stores only sell it during the winter, others year round. Tractor Supply sells ‘Equine Pine’ which is basically the same thing and can be bought year round. These pellets usually range from $5-$10 for a 40lb. bag. Figure 2.
You can also use the paper type ‘bedding’ litter which can be expensive as compared to pellets. The only bonus to paper litter is that most pet supply stores carry one form so it is more convenient to find. (Figure 3)
No matter what kind of litter you use, changing bunny’s litter pan at least twice a week will encourage bunny to be consistent with using it. Also, many people say that a bunny’s litter pan stinks. This is false. While an unaltered bunny’s urine does have a strong odor, once that is done if you can smell the bunny’s litter pan that means you are not doing your job cleaning it!
NEVER USE CORN COB OR ANY KIND OF CLAY OR SCOOPABLE CAT. CORN COB CAN BE INGESTED AND CAUSE BLOCKAGES. CAT LITTERS MENTIONED CAN CAUSE SEVERE REPIRATORY ISSUES.
Just like you child proof your home with a new baby, you are going to want to bunny proof your home as well. Get down of the floor! Now you can see your home from bunny’s perspective. Check shelving. Are your best books or videos on the bottom shelves? Bunny will assume they are one more thing for him. Are there exposed electrical cords? Cords must be concealed so that the rabbit cannot reach them. If bunny chews on a plugged in electrical wire it will be deadly. Exposed cords can be encased in vinyl tubing called ‘split core’ and can be found at most hardware stores). It is very easy to cover your cords and well worth the investment. Figure 4.
Other interesting things for bunny would be rugs, draperies, children’s toys, and, for some odd reason, remote controls! Make sure you keep these items out of bunny’s reach. It is real distressing to try to change channels on your t.v. or stereo to then find out bunny has removed all the buttons but the ones to his favorite channel. By giving your bunny safe things to chew on, toys and distraction, bunny will be too busy to damage items that are not meant for him. As we like to say “A bored bunny is a destructive bunny.” Inexpensive items like cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls filled with hay, even telephone books (do they make those anymore?) will keep bunny occupied. A cardboard box stuffed with hay makes an inexpensive playbox. Young rabbits (under a year) are more inclined to mischief and require more confinement and/or bunny-proofing than mature rabbits.
Speaking of toys, what will peak a bunny’s interest? As stated above, take a toilet paper roll, stuff with hay and maybe place a treat inside and bunny will be busy ripping it apart until that treat is found! Bunnies love anything that makes noise like baby keys (hard plastic only – not the soft teething kinds), rattles, cookie cutters or measuring cups all make inexpensive and fun toys for bunnies. Search the internet for ways to make your bunny toys. Toys for bunnies can be found on several internet sites like bingalingstore.com, mybunny.org, etsy, and more.
OTHER PETS AND BUNNIES
You may already have pets in the home. How will bunny do with a dog, cat or even a second rabbit? Usually, unless the cat is feral and has a high predatory drive, house rabbits and indoor cats can get along fine. If you have a dog from a hunting breed like labradors, beagles, terriers, etc., they have natural hunting drives and probably should not be around rabbits. It is what they do and you may be asking for a problem by adding a bunny. Even dogs that seem calm and sedate, can become rough and in play injure a bunny. The jerky movements bunnies make can entice otherwise well meaning dogs to accidently hurt a bunny. Regardless, interaction between bunny and ANY other animal should be with supervision only! Adding a second rabbit to the household and expecting the two rabbits to bond to be a long drawn out mission that sometimes ends in failure. As you prepare to adopt a rabbit seriously consider adopting a bonded pair if you even think you may want a second in the near future. It is much easier than trying to introduce two ‘stranger’ rabbits and expecting them to get along. Contact your local Rabbit Rescue for more information.
A SUPPLIES LIST, A LIST OF SUGGESTED BUNNY SAFE FOODS, AND A LIST OF COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS ARE ATTACHED.
For more information, please see our website at www.wonderlandrabbitrescue.com or the House Rabbit Society’s web page at www.rabbit.org .
SUPPLY LIST: SETTING UP BUNNY’S SPACE:
- We highly suggest an offcut of linoleum to place under the pen you have chosen for bunny. You can lay it directly over carpet or existed flooring to protect it from accidents, digging or chewing.
- A pen (as seen in figure 1) or fully bunny proofed room
- Litterbox (large and deep) and litter (never a cat brand)
- Bowls for pellets, greens and water (or a water bottle)
- Toys (chew & toss)
- Fleece or receiving blankets make great beds for bunnies. Even an old tshirt of yours will help him realize you are the caregiver. Never use rag rugs or knit or crochet blankets that can be ripped apart with long strands that can get ingested and twist internal organs.
- Pet carrier
- For bunnies over 1 year old: a quality timothy hay based pellet (no corn, no nuts, no seeds); bunnies under 1 year or elderly bunnies with trouble keeping weight on can be given alfalfa based pellets.
- Fresh water
- Timothy hay (for digestive fiber and chewing recreation). The same rule applies for Alfalfa hay, only for babies or elderly bunnies
- Fresh salad veggies/fruit (gradually add one kind of green or fruit at a time in case bunny has any sensitivity to something) List attached
- Wood or cardboard (for chewing recreation)
A soft brush
A metal comb with closely spaced tines (for those heavy shedding times)
Nail clippers – the scissor action type are better than the guillotine type.
Dust pan broom
Spray bottle with even parts white vinegar and water
AND THE MOST IMPORTANT SUPPLIES OF ALL….
LOTS OF PATIENCE AND LOVE!
For more information see our website at www.wonderlandrabbitrescue.com or the House Rabbit Society webpage at www.rabbit.org
As Soon As You Consider Bringing A Bunny Into Your Home You Should Call Around And Find A Veterinarian Who Treats Rabbits And Is Very Experienced In All Aspects Of Their Medical Care. These Are Usually Listed As ‘Exotic Vets’. Also Ask Your Vet Or Research Where The Nearest 24/7 Emergency Vet Is And Know How To Get There. In An Emergency The Mind Goes Blank And If You Are Already Familiar With Where You Need To Go The Easier – And Faster – It Will Be.
By bunny being housed in a common area of the home with lots of interaction, you will get to know his ‘normals’ and be able to catch behaviors that may signal that bunny needs to see a veterinarian.
COMMON HEALTH ISSUES
Intestinal blockages: Because rabbits groom themselves constantly, they get furballs just as cats do. Unlike cats, however, rabbits cannot vomit, and excessive swallowed hair may cause a fatal blockage. Rabbits can develop a serious condition known as GI Stasis which has many of the same symptoms. If your rabbit misses two meals – breakfast and dinner or dinner and breakfast – get bunny to the veterinarian ASAP.
Infections: Bunnies can be prone to different infectious diseases. Ear,upper respiratory, and bladder infections are very common in rabbits and can be treated easily with antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian. NEVER GIVE HUMAN MEDICATIONS TO YOUR RABBIT
Injuries: Rabbits can be very fragile. If you notice that bunny is limping or is sitting oddly get bunny to the vet. Rabbits are used to being prey animals and will hide injuries.
If Bunny Shows Any of These Danger Symptoms, Call Your Veterinarian Immediately (actually, call the vet as you are on your way… seconds count).
MOUTH BREATHING…IF YOU SEE BUNNY PANTING LIKE A DOG,
GO TO A VET IMMEDIATELY!
Choking; food or water from nose or mouth
Loose stools with listlessness
Sudden loss of appetite with bloat and abdominal gurgling
Loss of appetite
Runny nose, sneezing, cough
Any signs of vertigo, dizziness, head tilt
Incontinence (urine-soaked rear legs)
Abscesses, lumps or swellings anywhere
Any sudden behavior change