Okay, so you’ve read the House Rabbit Handbook by Marinell Harriman (available from the HRS website). You’ve talked to your local House Rabbit Society educator and done all your homework to decide if a rabbit is the right pet for your family. And, happily, the answer is Yes! What’s the next step?
Before you go in search of your new friend, make sure these things are taken care of BEFORE bunny arrives in your house:
- Decide where bunny will start out in your home and where his cage will go, or if he will live in a pen instead.
- Purchase an appropriate cage (or make one yourself), and include a flat surface inside the cage to protect bunny’s precious feet.
- Purchase litterboxes (get two or three!), food bowls, water bottle, organic litter, and hay. Pellets can wait until you know who you are bringing home, since you want to feed the same pellets he’s used to.
- Bunny-proof his room or space. Make sure all electric and phone cords are out of his reach or well wrapped to protect bunny. Protect furnishing and upholstery.
- Prepare for the chewing needs of your new rabbit pal. Provide lots of safe chew toys and have some tricks available in case he chews your carpet.
- Decide if an exercise pen is a worthwhile investment for you. If so, buy one. The NH HRS rabbit caregivers believe that they are the best thing since sliced bread! Their portable nature makes it a breeze to move buns from room to room, and even be able to enjoy bunny’s company in an un-bunny-proofed room.
- When ready, go adopt a bunny from the NH HRS, or from your local shelter.
- Where will your rabbit live?
- Will your rabbit have a room of his own or share space with other animals or family members?
Will he require a large cage? If he has to spend a lot of time in his cage, this will be important. Or will a smaller cage do for shorter periods of time? even if you expect your rabbit to have full run of the house, a cage can be an important part of his training, and a safe haven where he can retreat and feel comfortable whenever he wishes to be left alone. So, be particular about the cage’s size.
If you are planning on using a pen enclosure instead, have a front door cage, a dogloo, or carrier in the pen so that there is a retreat available when desired. Take the door off the cage or carrier, your bun can then hop in and out at will.
Make sure that a cage is large enough for a litterbox and food bowls, and that bunny can sit, stretch out, and stand up comfortably when full grown! A young bunny still has growing to do and a cage that it well proportioned for a four month old may not be roomy enough for the adult. You will also want to put a hay tub, food and water dishes and litterbox in a pen enclosure.
A cage or carrier of his own will help your rabbit feel safe — if he has to move to a new location at some point, his cage will be a source of continuity. Add a blanket, rug, wooden board, or some Plexiglas so bunny can occasionally get his tender feet off the wire floor.
- Is the running area bunny-proofed?
- Think toddler! Get those plastic plug inserts for unused electrical outlets and use them. Buy some plastic tubing to encase/cover any electric or phone cords in the rabbit’s running space. Or relocate these things outside your rabbit’s space. A rabbit will sever a phone or electric cord in one bite — possibly causing sever damage or even death.
Protect wood furnishings by removing them from bunny’s space, or by covering them with metal or wood strips (the type of covering you can buy to cover baseboards), or by treating them with some nasty tasting bitter apple or other unappetizing flavor (non-toxic, of course). Note: Some rabbit people report the bitter flavored sprays only make their furniture more appetizing to their buns, so anything is possible!
- Other temptations
- Cloth, such as pillows, drapes, and upholstery, can also pose a temptation to rabbits, so make sure that sofas, chairs, or bedcovers are protected. Generally, this means making them inaccessible to your rabbit, at least until bunny has shown that these items are of no interest. If they cannot be removed from bunny’s space, be sure to protect them with coverings that can be thrown away or cleaned when soiled, or use barriers to prevent bunny from reaching them.
Exercise pens work wonders for containing your rabbit, allowing romping room, and protecting your belongings and your bunny from harm and mishaps. Pens can be purchased from local pet supply stores, and from catalogs. NH HRS highly recommends these pens. They are portable and give bunny four square feet or more of running space, depending on the size of the pen and how you orient it.
Otherwise, furniture can be blocked off with boxes or crates, or use your imagination to come up with some innovative ideas of your own.
- Chewing issues
- If your home is carpeted, be careful that bunny doesn’t chew or urinate on it. If chewing occurs, try distracting your bun with an appropriate chew toy. If chewing continues, try covering the area with inexpensive grass mats, plywood boards, or Plexiglas Just be sure that your bun doesn’t have access to the edges of the plywood; there are lots of chemicals in that wood, you wouldn’t want your rabbit chewing the edges of plywood.
Generally, be sure that your rabbit has plenty of appropriate toys — cardboard boxes, natural (untreated) woven baskets and chew rings, tunnels, and lots of hay — to satisfy his need to chew.
If your bunny has chosen an area of your carpet as a litterbox, clean the area thoroughly with a vinegar and water solution to remove any scent. If this isn’t enough to dissuade bun from returning to urinating only in his box, try placing a litterbox on the chosen spot and see if he’ll use it. If the problem continues, you may have to cover the spot with a piece of furniture or tack down some vinyl flooring or some old rugs to prevent damage and permanent stains.
Give your bunny lots of love and patience, and teach him with a gentle hand. Let him spend the first few days in his cage when he cannot be supervised. It takes buns a few days to acclimate to new surroundings. As the days progress, he’ll become more self assured and you can increase his space until he eventually has run of all the space you can provide. (This is one way exercise pens are very useful; you can increase the space as bun is ready.)