Rabbit FAQs

Although they are not found as members of families as often as are cats and dogs, rabbits are increasing in popularity. Today they are the third most popular mammalian pet in the US. However, due to the fact that rabbits are prey animals, some aspects of rabbit personality and care are very different from that of cats and dogs.

For those of you who are new to that wonderful being called "rabbit," here are a few frequently asked questions:

1) Aren’t rabbits some kind of rodent?


No. Rabbits (along with hares and pikas) are lagomorphs, not rodents. Scientists are still in disagreement about exactly where lagomorphs fit in the taxonomic tree. Some believe they are actually more closely related to primates than to rodents! 


2) I’ve heard rabbits chew everything, is that true?


Yes. Rabbits have teeth that continue to grow throughout their lives and need fiber and minerals to wear down. If they are not getting enough hay and other fiber in their diet for proper wear to occur, rabbits may tend to chew wood and anything else within their reach.


One of the ways rabbits explore their surroundings is to take “test bites” of objects. In houses this may include electric wires, remote controls, books, furniture, baseboards, and almost anything else. If they like the taste and texture of whatever it is, they will chew it! For that reason, houses must be “bunny proofed” before allowing rabbits freedom in an area.


3) Do rabbits bite?


Rabbits, being “silent” animals without a voice such as a cat’s “meow” or dog’s bark, communicate in other ways. Nipping is one of those ways. Most communication nips are simply that, slight little bites that one barely feels and which usually don’t break the skin. However, a rabbit who is stressed, ill, threatened, or upset for any reason may bite – hard! Rabbits have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, and bites can be serious. A good-sized rabbit is capable of biting through a finger. Rabbits also have great strength in their back feet and may kick and inflict deep scratches if picked up against their will.


4) Do rabbits make good pets for children?


Rabbits can make good pets for older and/or quiet-natured children if the children are taught how to properly handle and care for the rabbit. Because of a rabbit’s light skeleton and powerful leg muscles, they can suffer spinal and leg fractures fairly easily if they are improperly handled. They may also nip and/or scratch if they are picked up or held against their will, held in a manner that is uncomfortable to them, or are tired of being handled/held and want to get away.


Being prey animals, rabbits are often startled or frightened by the sudden movements and loud noises that are natural to young children. Because of this, rabbits do not make good pets for children under 8 or 9 years.


5) How long do rabbits live?


Given good health, many rabbits live between 8-12 years. Smaller and larger breeds such as the dwarf and giant breeds tend to have a bit shorter lives, perhaps 6-10 years. There are always exceptions though; I know of one Netherland Dwarf who lived to 15, and rabbits of the larger breeds who have lived to twelve.


6) Are rabbits hard to take care of?


In my opinion, rabbits do take a bit more time to care for than cats or dogs until you become accustomed to it. Their environment must be “rabbit proofed” and kept clean, they must have proper food available at all times to help prevent digestive problems, and their health must constantly be monitored. However, this quickly becomes routine and takes little time.


In some ways rabbits can be easier to take care of than cats or dogs. If you have a nine-to-five job, rabbits can be left in a roomy cage while you are gone (as long as they have adequate time out for exercise in the morning and evening) since relative inactivity during the day is natural to the species. 


7) What should you feed rabbits?


Finding the ideal diet for a particular rabbit is something that will take time and some experimentation. It also depends upon the rabbit’s health and age. Assuming good health and a rabbit of nine months or older (excepting Flemish Giants, who mature more slowly and require extra nutrition for the first 14 months of life), I suggest starting with ¼ c. of a good rabbit pellet (with no added ingredients such as seeds) per 5 pounds of the rabbit’s weight daily, along with a large serving (I give a tissue box full - more for wool rabbits) of a grass hay such as timothy or meadow grass, and about a cup a day of a bunny-safe vegetable such as parsley or cilantro (after introducing the vegetable into the rabbit’s diet slowly, starting with just a sprig or so). I also give all my rabbits a good-sized slice of apple per day, or another fruit if I do not have apple available. Adjust this diet until your rabbit is producing good firm fecal pellets, cecotrophs are all being consumed, and the rabbit is maintaining a healthy weight. For a detailed discussion of rabbit nutrition and diet, see my book Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing. 


8) What breed of rabbit makes the best pet?


Rabbits are individuals, so a rabbit of almost any breed can make a good companion. It should be recognized that the larger rabbits will cost more to take care of and may be harder to handle. However, some people think larger rabbits are a better choice for children because they are harder for the child to pick up against the rabbit’s will: French Lops could be a good choice in this context since they are also mellow.


Some smaller rabbits, such as the Netherland Dwarf, may tend to be a bit higher-strung and nip more. Long-haired rabbits, while beautiful, take a huge investment of time for grooming each day. Personally, I find that rabbits such as the New Zealand or Dutch make good first rabbits; or the Mini Lop if you are partial to lop-eared rabbits.


9) Should rabbits be spayed and neutered?


Although there may be circumstances under which a person might not wish to spay/neuter a rabbit (ill health, lack of a rabbit-savvy vet to perform the procedure), it is usually recommended. Male rabbits who are neutered will be much less likely to spray urine (although it may take a month after the operation for the rabbit to cease spraying), and female rabbits who are spayed within their first three years of life are less likely to get uterine or mammary gland cancer, which frequently occur in unspayed females.


10) Can rabbits be litter trained?


I would answer this with a qualified “yes.”  Spayed/neutered rabbits can be taught to leave most or all of their urine and most or some of their fecal pellets in a litter box. However, in multi-rabbit households it will be more difficult to train them to do this since rabbits are very territorial and mark their territory with both urine and fecal pellets. The fecal pellets are easily cleaned up with a brush and dustpan or hand-sized vacuum, and do not present an insurmountable problem to most people who share their lives with house rabbits. In households with fewer rabbits this will probably not be much of a problem.

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