9 Things to Know Before Getting a Pet Rabbit

Rabbits are adorable critters, but they're a lot of responsibility and require plenty of care.

things to know before getting pet rabbit

Treehugger / Hilary Allison

Rabbits are pretty much the cutest thing. With their iconic ears, hoppy legs, and twitchy noses, it's understandable that plenty of people would want one as a pet.

But as with any pet, bringing a rabbit home requires preparation and knowledge about what you're getting into. This is especially true for rabbits. Most of us know what to expect when we get a cat or a dog, more or less, but caring for a rabbit isn't something we just know. This could explain why rabbits are the third most surrendered animal to shelters, according to PETA.

Rabbits are intelligent and can be taught to use a litter box and to follow basic commands, even perform little tricks like give high-fives and kisses. All of this requires proper training, which means you have to be a consistent, conscientious owner if your experience is going to be successful. Armed with some knowledge, however, you can be prepared to care for a rabbit—or, well, rabbits, but more on that in a moment.

Rabbits Can Live for 10 to 12 Years

This may be the most important thing to know when it comes to rabbits since they require a sizable degree of daily and weekly care over the course of their lives. Given how long they live, it's a good bit of work that's more than just feeding and picking up after their poop. It's an especially big commitment if a rabbit is given to a child as a pet and then that child goes off to college and now that rabbit is the parent or guardian's responsibility. And speaking of children ...

They Aren't Great Pets for Kids

Yes, every kid would love a hoppy little bunny to call their own, but the rabbit may be less thrilled with a small kid as their primary caretaker. Rabbits are prey animals, as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) notes, and as such, they're easily startled by loud noises and lurching movements. Picking up rabbits is also a no-go as it may make them think they've been grabbed by a predator. The HSUS strongly advises that parents or guardians wait until kids are older before the family adopts a rabbit.

3 rabbits sitting on a deck
Simon Potter / Getty Images

They Like Being With Other Rabbits

Rabbits are social animals that rely on one another to survive in the wild. A rabbit by itself must be alert at all times for potential predators, but if there's another rabbit about, that spreads the responsibility around. And since rabbits only speak rabbit, it helps them feel immensely more safe if there's another rabbit about. Related to this, spaying and neutering your rabbit is a good call if you're going to have two rabbits, but it's generally smart even if you're going to stick to one rabbit.

Rabbit running in an enclosure outside
Clemens Peters / EyeEm / Getty Images

Rabbits Need Exercise and Room to Roam

PetMD recommends a solid four hours of exercise a day for rabbits, which basically means that leaving them cooped up in a cage all day isn't the best idea. Exercise for rabbits, like for humans, helps with overall health, including digestion, and mental health, and why wouldn't you want a happy rabbit?

If you have the space, a whole room just for your rabbit is probably a great idea, as it gives them plenty of room to run to and fro. If you don't have the space, then the cage or container holding your rabbit needs to be five times the size of the rabbit at minimum, according to the HSUS, and this includes on a vertical level so the rabbit can stand up on its hind legs without bumping its head. Multi-tiered containers are also recommended. The rabbit's area will need to be spruced up every day and cleaned once a week.

You can harness-train your rabbit and take it for walks outside. Some owners take their rabbits on trails or to the beach for extra special experiences. It's a guaranteed conversation-starter with people you meet along the way.

You'll Need to Rabbit-Proof Your Home

If you don't have the space for a dedicated rabbit room or a large cage, giving your rabbit free rein of the living area may be your only option, and that means preparing the rest of the home. Rabbits' teeth never stop growing, so they love chewing on everything, including furniture and cables. Plastic tubing around cables will take care of that chew temptation, or taping the wires up and out of the rabbit's reach will also work. As for wood furniture or baseboards, Best Friends Animal Society recommends wood or plastic coverings to protect furniture, cardboard barriers around chair legs or chewing deterrent sprays, like Grannick's Bitter Apple. Also helpful? Making sure your rabbit has plenty of safe and chew-friendly toys as alternatives.

They Need More Than Carrots

The common conception is that rabbits will just nosh on vegetables all day long, and some might want to do that, but providing your rabbit with a varied but healthy diet is important. Hay or grass should make up the bulk of their diet, according to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF), with fresh vegetables providing a smaller portion of their intake. These vegetables can include kale, broccoli, romaine lettuce and parsley. Small bits of fresh carrot, apple and pineapple are treats that should be given only once or twice a week. (Yes, pineapple. It can help with their digestion.)

Bunny laying on the checkup table with a vet in the background
FatCamera / Getty Images

They Require Unique Medical Care

Like with any pets, you need to be aware of your rabbit's overall well-being, but rabbits have their own needs. As such, rabbits also have their own specialized vets, according to PETA, and they can be more expensive than your run-of-the-mill veterinarian. The RSPCA recommends annual vet visits to check their teeth, to test for parasites and get vaccinations.

They Like to Cuddle—on Their Own Terms

Rabbits are incredibly soft and silky, which is a big part of their appeal. They like to be stroked if it's done in the right way, generally low to the ground or on your lap. Don't pick them up too high, as that makes them feel insecure. You'll need to train them from a young age to become accustomed to cuddling; this doesn't come naturally. Start by getting down on the floor and petting them, eventually moving them closer, hugging them, and holding them on your lap.

Rabbits Keep Their Own Time

Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they typically sleep during the day and the night. So when are they awake? Dusk and dawn! While this is great for evening cuddles on the sofa, it may not be the best thing while you're trying to sleep, especially if they have free run of the house.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our bunnies, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.