It is Rabbit Awareness Week!
I feel that rabbits are horrifically underrepresented when it comes to pet care and pet ownership. Even if you have never owned a dog or a cat, I find most people know what it takes to care for each of them. Don’t get a dog unless you have the time to walk them, and don’t get a cat if you don’t want to empty a litter tray everyday. Now I will admit that as much as I love being a bunny mom to Lola (and to Sasha before she crossed the rainbow bridge) I was very much disillusioned as to just how much work goes into these little animals. We tried to do as much research as we could but found that there were few resources out there to fully prepare us, and many of the things we have learnt over the past 3 years of being bunny parents has been largely through a process of trial and error.
Therefore in the spirit of Rabbit Awareness Week, I thought it wise to share with you all some of the pros and cons I have found about owning rabbits, to helpfully provide you all with more information should you also be considering becoming a bunny parent.
1. Their curiosity
Rabbits are very curious creatures. They will want to explore every inch of their new home and find new and exciting ways to get into trouble. While some people may find this as a con, I love seeing Lola explore new areas. My partner and I try to be proactive and block off all the areas where she could damage either herself or property (skirting boards, wallpaper, wires, bags, shoes etc) yet somehow every day she will find a new way to surprise us – This last week she worked out that she can jump onto my desk chair and then work her way up to my desk, which has all sorts of new and interesting things to sniff and chew and play with including my laptop and my jewellery. So now every time we leave the house or go to bed we make sure that the chair is tucked in close to the table and fill it with pillows so she has no space to jump up.
This curiosity though also provides new ways to play with your bunny. If you find they love wires (as all bunnies love the forbidden Spicy Hay) then invest in a rope toy for them to chew on. If they love to nudge things out of their way, buy them some big straw balls that they can roll around and chew. One of Lola’s favourite toys is actually a cat toy: It’s a brightly coloured ball with a smaller ball and a bell in the middle. It has holes all around it which are the perfect size for her to pick up with her teeth and fling them around the room. They make a very satisfying thud and the bell is super loud and she loves to do this for at least 10-15 minutes a day.
2. They can be litter trained
Rabbits will go the bathroom every time they eat, and if you know one thing about rabbits it is the amount they can poop. However if you have their main source of food (hay) in one area they will learn that this is the area where they also go to the bathroom. Lola and Sasha both picked this up very quickly and aside from the occasional stray poop that is flung out of the litter tray when they jumped out, we rarely had any accidents. If anything, when Sasha was sick this was one of the first signs that something was wrong as she would not go to her litter tray.
We use a cat litter tray, but never use cat litter – it is toxic to rabbits. You can get a wide range of rabbit suitable litter from wood chips to recycled paper clumps. We use a recycled paper based litter so it is softer on Lola’s feet than the wood chips, and also means it is more absorbent, making it easier to clean.
In general though rabbits are very clean animals. They clean themselves the same way that a cat does most of the day and if you have a pair of bunnies you will find that they spend the vast majority of their time grooming each other too. Provided you keep up with cleaning their litter tray, there is practically no small – since their diet is 80% hay they tend to only smell like hay.
3. Their personalities
Lola and Sasha could not have been more wildly different: Sasha was the fun loving, free spirit who was not bothered by anything. Lola, however, will not eat her greens unless they are put into her specific bowl and placed at her chosen eating spot. Just as cats and dogs can have different personalities, so too can rabbits and I think this is where the majority of the misconceptions come from. People assume that because rabbits are small and cute, that they are automatically sweet and affectionate creatures. They are not. Rabbits can be very territorial and can get quite aggressive when they feel like someone is encroaching on their perceived territory: Lola for example has genuinely lunged at me before because I had the nerve to try and stop her chewing my bed frame. Rabbits are also naturally prey animals so can be very skittish and wary of new people or experiences: This can be anything from introducing a new person to them to picking them up.
But again this to me is a pro. Every single animal will have their own little quirks and personality and rabbits are no exception. I loved getting to know Lola and Sasha and even now Lola still finds new ways to make me laugh or melt my heart even further.
1. They require a lot of patience
Rabbits are prey animals so are naturally very skittish and very wary of everything around them, especially when you first bring them home. I think it took us about a week of bring Lola and Sasha home before they braved leaving their starter hutch. I cannot count the amount of time we spent just laying quietly on the floor while they hopped around us, sniffing us very slightly and fleeing for their hutch if we so much as blinked too loudly. While every rabbit is different, do not get a rabbit if you immediately want a super cuddly and affectionate pet. I have had Lola with us now for roughly 3 years, and there are still things I do that spook her: she hates it when we turn on our hob cooker (unavoidable as we need to eat) and if I wear a new pair of slippers she hasn’t fully inspected yet she will run from me.
But for me this makes the entire process so much more rewarding. To think that now when I lie down on the floor with her she has no hesitations to climb all over me, hopping on and off without a single worry. I love that when I come home and she hears the door open, she has a brief moment of panic but then goes straight back to sleep once she hears my voice and sees that it’s me. I put all of this down to how slowly we introduced her to everything. I would sometimes spend about an hour just sitting quietly on the floor with her and letting her chose how to interact with me. It also meant that during this time I got to just sit and watch her and sometimes even play with her toys with her: she would throw her ball at me, I would roll it back to her, she’d throw it back and then binky away. I think this is also why I think rabbits are not good pets to get for a child (if I really thought about it I don’t think any pet should really be left to the sole responsibility of a child) as it can take a while to truly earn their trust.
2. They are classed as exotic pets
This one is the biggest issue for me. Since rabbits are quite a common pet you would think more vets would know what to o with them when sick. But no, as with most areas of the pet industry vets tend to have a larger focus on cats and dogs. We are very lucky in that our local vet does have a specialist rabbit vet as part of their staff, but I think this is rare. When Sasha first became sick we took her to the vet multiple times and they couldn’t fully work out what was wrong. We had to take her to an emergency vet a few times too, at about half 11 at night when she would have an episode of G.I Stasis, and they wouldn’t know fully what to do apart from give her drugs. We ended up having to take her to a fully specialist vet – at the Royal Veterinary College in London. That was our nearest ‘specialist’ rabbit practice. Now the Royal Veterinary College were great, but at the same time even they couldn’t figure out was wrong with her. I think when it comes to pets, more research, time and education is put into how to properly care for cats and dogs instead of the many other pets that are out there, including rabbits. If you are looking to own a bunny then, I would implore you to do your research first and find out:
a) does your local vet have a rabbit expert?
b) where is your nearest emergency vet clinic?
c) how many rabbits does your vet have on their register?
d) what are your emergency vet fees like?
Without getting to how exploitative emergency vets are (I could go on for days) I would make sure to know exactly where the closest one is and what their fees are. Trust me when I say that some of these fees can be extortionate because it’s an ’emergency’. We went once and were charged nearly triple what our regular vet would have for the exact same medication that we would have gotten from our vet. But, as it was deemed an ’emergency’ and really we had no other choice because our pets life was literally on the line, we had no choice but to pay it. Now we are lucky because we always budget to have left over funds at the end of the month, and now we explicitly put money aside every month purely for ’emergency vet visits’. But some people may not be able to afford these fees and it is obviously a horrific situation to find yourself in.
3. They need a lot of room
Rabbits do not belong in hutches. I will die on this hill and if you think that rabbits do belong in a hutch long term then you need to seriously educate yourself. Again this is largely due to the lack of education that there is around rabbit and rabbit welfare and care that everyone assumes that a hutch is a perfectly good permanent living arrangement for a rabbit. It is not. It angers me beyond words that the general advice given is that a rabbit can have a hutch so long as it has space for 3 hops in any direction. For starters, that is barely any room at all and also restricts the amount of zoomies and binkies that a bunny can do (a bunny binky is the greatest thing to witness and everyone should experience this as often as possible) but can someone please explain to me why pet shops are EVEN ALLOWED to sell hutches that do not meet these space requirements?!
Sorry, it just really angers me.
While it takes a slightly bit more work, having your bunny live in a dedicated room – preferably one that you inhabit on a regular basis for a considerable amount of time – of your house will add infinite happiness to your bunny and to you. Lola currently occupies our entire living room/kitchen area, so we spend the majority of our time sitting around with her. She watches us play our video games, watches movies with us and binge watches TV series with us. She and I sit and have breakfast together every morning and in the evening we will sit together and have dinner. She gets to meet all of our friends and family, and I think this is what makes her such a confident little bunny. Having your bunny live in your house with you and enabling your bunny to live freely in your home will make bonding with them so much easier and will also mean you get to see your bunny more often, see them play and you will learn their little routines. The only time I think you should have any sort of hutch is when you first bring our bunny home, but this should be placed in the room they will soon inhabit and should be left mostly open for them. Then as they grow more confident and get used to their new surroundings – and you have fully bunny proofed the area so it is safe for them – you can remove the hutch all together.
Having a bunny adds a whole new level of joy to your life. I find something new about Lola every day that I spend with her and while looking after her can be hard work sometimes, it is a thousand percent worth it. I would not change being a bunny parent for anything in the world and I feel such joy, contentment and honour everyday at having this adorable little creature with me throughout my days.