Rabbits 101: Getting A Rabbit
This is a post for people who want a rabbit, showing how to get a rabbit, where to get a rabbit, and how much rabbits cost, as well as where to put them and more. It’s not intended to be a definitive discussion of rabbit welfare or the rabbit sales industry, but is intended for people who love the idea of having a hoppy bundle of fluff in their life.
I want a rabbit!
Are you an adult? Are you a responsible adult? Do you tidy your room/home regularly, wash up, vacuum etc? Will the addition of a mess-making critter who can crawl into the tiniest of holes cause you any problems with meeting your other responsibilities in life? Do you have time to give the rabbit all the love and attention he needs to lead a fulfilling life? Think about this carefully, take the time to introspect. Do lots of research after you finish this article. Make sure a rabbit is the right companion for you.
Rabbits are NOT good pets for children, they end up sad, lonely and unwanted as the children “outgrow” them, and unlike the Betsy Wetsy dolls, these are living things which can live up to 20 years: My aunt was 24 when her bunny, which she’d acquired at age 4, finally passed away in the 1970s; my sister in law’s childhood rabbit lived to be 17 in the 1990’s. I can’t comment on the lives these rabbits led and I don’t condone giving rabbits to children.
Are you committing a lifetime of love and affection to your bunny, to love them no matter how your life changes over the coming two decades, for better or worse, to always put their needs first and to make sure that your home is their forever home? Children cannot make these sorts of decisions, to look after something for a period of time several times longer than they have been alive themselves, it’s unfair to blame them when you bought them a pet that you can’t be bothered to look after, as the adult, YOU are the responsible party. They say “I want” you say “when you’re older.” Disappointment is part of growing up. Animal abuse charges don’t have to be. If you get a rabbit and you have children, make Nibbles a whole family pet that everyone is involved with.
How do I buy a rabbit?
Generally, you walk into a pet sanctuary or pet store and say, “one rabbit please.” Unless you are trying to buy more than one rabbit (two are ideal), in which case you would change “one” for “many” to say “many rabbits please.” Specifying a number of rabbits helps the volunteer or shop assistant to match you up with the right new friend. Make sure you have met and handled your rabbit before agreeing to take them home. Remember, just because two baby bunnies get along now, it doesn’t mean they still will when they’ve been neutered. You will still have to work at building their relationship while hormones disperse.
Adoption centres will ask you lots of questions – more below. Some pet stores won’t let you handle the pets before purchase – it’s important to know whether that rabbit is just going to hate you every waking minute of its life, turning your happy idea of snuggly bunny fun into a rage-filled plethora of biting and scratching, stomping and ignoring. Don’t get a bunny who doesn’t like you. Yes, some bunnies take time to adjust, but if it tries to kill you straight away it’s not meant to be. Take Fifer, for example:
Fifer was an adoptable bunny. When I got Fifer, I asked if I could handle him, and the store manager gave me a Look, I wasn’t sure why, then he unlocked Fifer’s enclosure. He reached in to pull him out, Fifer stomped and ran away, the store manager didn’t back off, and dragged him out (his poor little claws were futilely raking across the sawdust and he was clearly distressed), they clearly had a grudge going on. Fifer started fighting, scratching, biting, wriggling, never stopping until he’d shown this man that he was a Free Bunny. I was dubious that Fifer would be a good addition to our herd. I asked if I could handle him. The second he passed to me, Fifer stopped struggling, snuffled my nose in greeting, and snuggled up for a very long cuddle – throughout the adoption process, Fifer was in my hands, pressed against my neck, just content to be still and to snuggle. The moral of the story? Sometimes a rabbit just loves you. Other times, they just hate you.
If a rabbit is attacking you, he doesn’t like something about either the situation or you. Try a different rabbit. Also, it might sound obvious, but if you’ve just been around your friend’s house, petting their dog, don’t go straight to get a rabbit. Rabbits are pre-disposed to fear the smell of dogs (this can be overcome if you want them to live together), and it won’t make a good first impression on a vulnerable prey animal to turn up smelling like one of their predators. It makes sense, really.
Where should I get a rabbit from?
PETA have a very hard-hitting advert from a few years ago. A “model family” brings home a brand new pedigree dog, they’re all petting and adoring it. Then a PETA worker knocks on the door with a delivery. Someone says “what is it?” The response “This is the dog you killed.” A body bag that’s dog sized is thrown on the kitchen counter.
The message they were trying to convey? They were trying to show that, every time a brand new dog from a breeder is bought, a lonely adoptable dog doesn’t get that exact home. So they get put to sleep because there aren’t enough people to rehome adoptables. The same is sadly true of rabbits; there’s too many unwanted rabbits (visit http://www.dailybunny.com/daily_bunny_d8 to see a round up of the adoptable rabbits, updated daily, with lots of links to adoption centres across the world), people buy them for Easter, for Christmas, for summer – any time a child is sad and wants a present.
I know someone who got rabbits when her parents divorced, one parent trying to buy affection. Of course, she didn’t want the rabbits, didn’t know the first thing about looking after them, and the poor things had to be rehomed. It makes me very sad to know the sheer number of unwanted rabbits in the world, and begs the question, why would you get a rabbit if you didn’t want one? But then, people think cats and dogs are more important than rabbits, and they’re unwanted all the time, and people think human babies are more important than any pet, and look how many unwanted children are in the foster care or adoption systems. This is why you need to make sure you have enough responsibility and are ready for this 20-year commitment.
These are places where you can adopt pets. They often have a range of pets, and volunteers are often trained in looking after them, but can’t really advise you on what pet is most suitable to you; you need an idea of what you’re looking for. Do you want a giant rabbit? A tiny one? A super-fluffy one? A standard shorthair? Up ears? Down ears? Three legs? A tail? Rabbits will arrive at an adoption centre in a variety of different states, if aesthetics are important to you, don’t get a rabbit that you don’t like. In an ideal world, it really wouldn’t matter what a rabbit looked like, and every rabbit would have a loving home, but we don’t live there. Some people will only date blondes, other people will only keep pet rabbits with lop ears. If that’s you, make sure you’re happy with how your rabbit looks – you’ll be seeing a lot of each other once you move in together. It’s better to come across as picky to an adoption centre than to take a rabbit home, only to get rid of them in six months because you don’t like them. The adoption centre will ask you questions, such as “do you have any children?” “do you have any other pets?” “where will your rabbit live?” etc. Be ready to answer these so they know you’ve thought about it properly and that you have made your home ready to receive a rabbit – if all goes well, you might take a bunny home today, are you ready?
Questions that are not ok, and which should probably make you consider a different adoption centre, include anything about you being part of a Protected Group – race, gender, transgender status, sexual orientation, etc, and anything else that makes you feel uncomfortable. Do rabbits care if they’re rehomed by gay couples? I certainly don’t think so (two of my rabbits are living as a gay couple, their bond has been unbroken through nine years, I think they’d be happy to be taken out on PRIDE marches).
I think that a shared familial love between owners and pets, and an ability to meet the pets’ needs, is more important than what colour you are or what gender you are attracted to. Some people feel differently. Don’t bother adopting from these places – it’s sad for the animals that they have to be denied loving homes, but aside from litigating, I don’t think there’s a lot you can do, and even then I’m sure we all know they’ll just deny you a pet on a technicality.
When my family went to adopt a dog, back in 1996, we went to our local dog shelter. They disliked my mother on the grounds of her disability, talking to her loudly and slowly, and surprise surprise, they decided to call and say that we didn’t pass the home inspection (they didn’t even turn up). I hope that dog got the home it deserved, but the dog we adopted instead, from a woman who found him abandoned in a shed, was Dylan, who I’ll tell you about sometime. Basically he was the most awesome living being I’ve ever had the absolute privilege to spend time with, and I’m glad to have known him as my family dog for 16 years. So these things do turn out ok, even if you’re not white, middle class able and heteronormative.
These come in two categories: People who have to get rid of an unwanted* rabbit and people who are actually breeding rabbits to sell.
DON’T BUY RABBITS FROM RABBIT FARM BREEDERS!! Buying them makes people believe this is an acceptable way to make a living. It is not. It contributes to rabbit overpopulation, and breeders often keep rabbits in overcrowded, unclean conditions where every mealtime is a fight for food. On top of that, they tend not to allow the weaker or less attractive bunnies to live long, because they won’t fetch a price worth the food they’re fed. The ones who sell to pet stores are inspected by animal welfare and often also by the pet store, depending on the scale of the store. Small time breeders with one pair of rabbits, and accidental litters are different, but use your judgement and ask questions.
*When I say unwanted, I don’t mean they don’t love their rabbits, because some people love their bunnies very much and circumstances have forced them to find new homes. When we got Sebastian, Neville and Cleo, the owners loved them dearly but had to move to Australia for work. You can’t take rabbits to Australia – they’re classed as a pest – so all three rabbits needed a new forever home. Other people, on the other hand, have decided their store-bought bunny doesn’t match the new wallpaper so have decided to get rid. And there’s all the permutations in between.
There are sites like Craigslist and Gumtree that often advertise unwanted rabbits, generally the genuine ones will be free or just a delivery fee. The breeders can charge stupid amounts of money. Sometimes, people with unwanted rabbits will charge for them. Meet a few bunnies, see who you like, and take them home. Sometimes they will come with all their equipment – Cleo, Sebastian and Neville all came with hutches and carry boxes for taking to the vet etc, as well as bottles and bowls, hutch blankets to keep them warm and other accoutrements. I think we paid petrol as they helped us move them.
Pet stores have two ways of acquiring rabbits: The first is that people with litters of bunnies can sell them to the pet shop. The second is that people who farm rabbits can sell them to the pet shop. The difference is the scale of operation. Some pet stores only buy from particular breeders, which can mean long transportation times for the rabbits, other pet stores will buy from anyone, which can mean the rabbits are carriers of Rabbit Hemorraghic Disease which can kill rabbits. Make sure, if you’re buying from a pet shop, that they have checked the health of the rabbits, and done everything reasonable to ensure these rabbits are in good healthy happy condition from birth to now.
We bought our first rabbit from a pet store called Pets At Home, which is a huge chain in the UK. A lot of people like to denigrate them because they’re a large chain, but they’re actually a good place to get a rabbit and they vet their breeders. We wanted to adopt a rabbit, and had been searching for a bunny for two months, as we knew that buying a brand new rabbit meant denying a home to an unwanted rabbit, but there weren’t any rabbits up for adoption at all (this is common in the town we lived in at the time), and during that time we grew to love Banacek, who would greet us when he saw us by the second week. His litter had a sign saying “not available until Mothering Sunday (date)” and, although we’d been visiting weekly, we couldn’t make it back again until the Tuesday due to work commitments; I was worried that all the bunnies would be gone before we got there (every rehome we’d found and called people about had been gone before we could go to meet them). Banacek was still there, he came to greet us, and pawed at the side of the enclosure as if to say “get me out of this crazy place, anyone would think I was an animal the way they’re keeping me in an enclosure!” We took him home. While I know that buying a brand new rabbit isn’t optimum, at the same time we had taken all reasonable measures to try and adopt a rabbit, and living with Banacek over the past two years, I’ve never once regretted our decisions either to buy a store-bought rabbit or to let him live indoors as a house rabbit. Sometimes buying is the best option for your circumstances, and if you live somewhere where unwanted rabbits aren’t an issue, and can’t get an adoptable, then maybe a store bought rabbit is for you. I’m sure some people will say “wait for an adoptable to come along” but at some point you have to say “I’ve waited long enough” and get the rabbit of your dreams.
Where to put the new bunny?
So you are on the verge of getting a rabbit – where should you put them once they get home? Have rabbit housing ready before you get the rabbit – I know this sounds obvious, but in the moment we can sometimes forget and this can be a bit embarrassing. I would recommend getting a starter home for your rabbit if you are planning to build a big indoor enclosure, so they can acclimatise to the house and you can work out the best housing arrangements for their personality. If you are only planning to buy them one home, don’t bother with a starter home, go for the best you can afford. A rabbit hutch should be at least 6’x2’x2′ (6 foot width) for a small rabbit, so they can comfortably move around. As long as they’ve got 12 feet of floor space, the length and width can be configured differently, such as two four foot floors, both two feet wide, both having a height of two feet. The height must always allow bunny to stretch from back legs to nose in case he jumps or stretches in his hutch, so he doesn’t break his spine and die. This is recommended at two feet for a normal size rabbit, obviously you can go a bit smaller for a Netherland Dwarf (they’re tiny) but go much bigger for a giant rabbit. Remember there’s no rule that says an outdoor hutch can’t take pride of place in your lounge!
At the end of the day, make sure you’re happy with the rabbit you’re bringing home. If that’s an adoptible, store bought or a freebie from your friend’s litter, that’s fine. The most important thing is providing a loving, stable and nurturing home environment for your new companion (and getting them registered with a vet), and honouring the commitment to take care of them for their entire life, doing all you can to find them a new, loving home if you cannot keep them for some major life reason.