You only need to take a quick look at my Instagram to see that I’m a big fan of animals in general. I love fish (and I have a small tank), I love both local and exotic wildlife, and I even have a soft spot bugs and insects. I’m not keen on arachnids, sloths or horseflies, but for the most part I have a huge emotional investment in animals. In fact, my day job largely involves writing pet care guides. In addition to my small tropical fish tank, I have a dog named Buffy, and I have bunnies. Seven of them.
I often get comments on my rabbit photos from people saying how much they want one, or questions from people thinking about buying their first rabbit. I love my rabbits and I wouldn’t give them up for the world, but I feel like it’s important for any aspiring bunny owner to know a few things before they head off in search of a new pet.
1) One is not enough
If you’re home a lot and you are planning to keep your rabbit as a house bunny, then you can just about get away with having just one rabbit. However, if your rabbit is going to live outside, or if it’ll be home alone all day they need a friend. Rabbits get lonely, just like people do, and just as you need human friends as well as animal ones, your rabbit needs buddies of the same species. Bunny bonding can be a tricky process, which usually works better with two neutered (i.e. castrated/spayed) rabbits of opposite genders.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule; I’ve successfully bonded a neutered male with an “entire” one, and they’re the best of mates. I’ve also got a group of five, comprised of three unspayed females and two neutered males, and they get on very well. However, you are making more work for yourself this way, and the bond could be harder.
2) Rabbits need rescuing
When you walk into a pet shop, often the first thing you’re greeted with is a pen full of baby rabbits of different breeds, colours and sizes, so it’s little wonder that lots of people see the pet store as their first stop to finding a bunny. However, buying animals from pet shops can actually be a bit of an ethical nightmare. First and foremost, I recommend against buying animals from pet shops when you can rescue instead.
I never aspired to rabbit ownership and I took on my first rabbit (Thomas) because I got into conversation with his previous owner, who was desperate to rehome him. Since then I’ve rescued or fostered nine more rabbits from people who were giving them up for various reasons, and this was just in my local area. Ok, so rescuing means you probably won’t get a baby rabbit (called a kit or kitten) but adult rabbits can be just as affectionate, funny and adorable as a baby can.
3) Check your sources
As much as I advocate rescuing over buying, I would strongly recommend that first-time or inexperienced owners rescue from a shelter, not from individuals. Shelters will generally vaccinate, neuter and assess the rabbits they care for, so you know what you’re getting in terms of temperament. They may even bond two appropriate bunnies together, so you can adopt a friendly pair right from day one.
If you do decide to rescue a “pre-loved” rabbit from another owner, then you have to be prepared for potential health and behavioural problems. I ended up having an accidental litter of babies after adopting a pair I was assured were both female, only to find for myself that “Alice” was in fact a boy. He’s still called Alice though. I also lost one of my rescue boys to a kidney problem brought on by a very poor diet and care routine with his previous owner. Bottom line, if you adopt from another person, prepare yourself for heartbreak and/or hefty vet bills. Speaking of which…
4) Bunnies aren’t cheap
Having seven rabbits means I’ve got pretty savvy when it comes to buying things in bulk and grabbing things when they’re on sale. I have to be a smart shopper, or else the costs become completely crazy. To be honest, if I wasn’t currently living at home I’m fairly certain I’d be almost unmanageably tight for cash, and rabbits (depending on their breed and overall health) can live 8-12 years. This means, all going well, I’m going to be a rabbit owner into my 30s. A rabbit should be eating its own bodyweight in hay every day, as well as a small regular mix of veggies and pellets. As well as the basics like food and bedding, I also put money aside every month in case of unexpected vet bills. Which leads me on to…
5) Find a good vet
Not every vet you’ll meet will be particularly rabbit-savvy. Your local surgery might be great with dogs and cats, but that’s no guarantee they have much experience or expertise dealing with bunnies. You need to make sure there’s both a regular and emergency vet that you can get to easily for routine check-ups and in case of a sudden injury or illness. If, like me, you are relatively friendly with your vet you might be able to negotiate a package deal on your regular vaccinations (if your rabbit lives outside then you want to vaccinate them against myxomatosis and RVHD, both of which are deadly and highly contagious.) Unless you’re planning to breed (and you probably shouldn’t breed anyway) you should get your rabbits neutered if they aren’t already. This prevents pregnancy, but there a host of other benefits, like eliminating the risk of reproductive cancers or other illnesses.
6) Breeding is generally a bad idea
I have very strong and mixed opinions about pet breeding. I understand preserving breeds through sparing and responsible breeding is important, but that isn’t always what happens. I have had two accidental litters of rabbit babies, once due to a confusion over genders and once because of an opportunistic mating by two who were let loose by a neighbour’s child. My experience both times was pretty heartbreaking, and though I did everything I could and took my vet’s advice with both litters, I only have one surviving baby out of 17. It cast a bit of a dark cloud over my summer and while baby rabbits are very cute once they start growing fur and hopping about, many don’t make it that far. If you really, really want to breed I can’t stop you, but please think really hard about whether it’s the right thing to do. If you decide you want to then please get the advice of an expert and prepare for a very rough ride.
7) Winter is hard work
One of my favourite things to do in the summer is laze in the sun, in the garden, and just hang out with my rabbits. I love watching them play, munch on fresh grass and just generally do the kind of stuff that bunnies do. I don’t even mind cleaning out hutches when it’s nice outside. But I live in England. In England we get nice weather for maybe a month and a half of the year. This means that, for the rest of the year, I’m scrubbing grubby hutches in the rain, hail, frost and even snow. It also means that throughout the winter, I’m getting up 45 minutes earlier to defrost water bottles in the dark, change out extra bedding and make sure everyone has extra food. It’s cold, it’s gloomy and I have to do it in a sort of zombified auto-pilot. It’s not fun. If you would rather have the extra sleep then I don’t blame you, but it probably means you’re not ready for a rabbit.
8) Prepare to be dirty – a lot
If the idea of dealing with pee, poop and mud on a daily basis is an unimaginable horror to you, then you really shouldn’t get a pet. Other things I have to deal with daily are: getting hay stuck in my clothes, fingers and hair; spiders; slugs; snails; grubby shoes; and checking all seven rabbits have clean butts so they don’t get fly strike (where flies lay eggs in your rabbit’s fur, and your rabbit gets eaten alive by maggots – it’s revolting, painful, deadly, and very real). If you can’t picture a life where you have to deal with any and all of these things, then you may not be a rabbit person.
9) Your rabbit might not like you
Rabbits may look like passive little furballs, but they have personalities and opinions. You need to make peace with the idea that their opinion of you might not be too great. Most rabbits can be won over in time, especially when they come to realise that you are the Food Person. However, at least at the beginning, you can’t expect them to want cuddles and attention, and the majority of rabbits don’t like to be picked up. If you want a furry creature that will tolerate poking, prodding and posing for photos then get a teddy bear. Just like any inter-human friendship, you have to put some work in.
10) You’ll become a crazy bunny person
There’s a joke that goes: “How do you know there’s a rabbit-owner in the room? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” This has absolutely been the case in my experience. I’m bad enough, but any rabbit-owning friends and acquaintances I have made are just the same. Personally, I don’t care. They’re a part of my life as much as my band, my job and my other hobbies, so of course I’m going to talk about them. But just try not to be one of those people who uses even the vaguest tangent to show of photos of their rabbits. Nobody likes that person. Except on twitter, then it’s totally allowed.
I promise I’m not trying to put you off having a pet. Rabbits are awesome little weirdos and I love mine to death. It’s just incredibly important to think long and hard before you take responsibility for another life.