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Preparing For Your Companion bringing bunny home

Consider Before Adopting  //   Are You Right For A Rabbit?  //   What Are Rabbits Really Like?  //   Raising A Rabbit-Friendly Child  //   A Rabbit in the House, Now What?  //   Bunny Proofing Your Home/Yard

Consider This Before You Adopt

1. Which adults in the family will be the primary caretakers?

2. Are you prepared to commit to this rabbit for his/her entire life (10+ years)?

3. Does everyone in your family want a rabbit?

4. Rabbits are considered exotic animals and their veterinary care is expensive; bills can easily reach many hundreds of dollars. Are you prepared to provide this level of care, should it be necessary for your rabbit companion?

5. Is anyone in your home allergic to rabbits or hay?

6. Do you have HRS-recommended housing and supplies?

7. Is your home and yard "bunny-proofed"?

8. Do you have animals that could endanger your rabbit? (Rabbits can die even when only frightened by a predator.)

9. Have you had a rabbit before? If so, where is it now?

10. Will you be able to supervise any children around this rabbit?

11. Are you allowed to have rabbits in your home/apartment?

12. If you move, get married, have a baby, or if the kids lose interest, are you prepared to keep your rabbit for his/her entire life?

Please make a list of questions you have regarding the care and handling of rabbits. Make sure all your questions are answered by knowledgeable rabbit care volunteers (shelter or rabbit rescue) prior to adopting your rabbit.

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Are You Right For a Rabbit?

Rabbits make wonderful companions for the right people. Please take all considerations into account.

Are you patient?

Have a sense of humor?

Do you enjoy watching the movements and learning the language of another species?

Does your schedule include plenty of time at home?

Are you comfortable spending a lot of time on the floor?

Are you not overly fussy with your furniture?

Basic Facts

Rabbits can easily be litter box trained.

They can live to be 8-12 years old, sometimes longer.

Rabbits are inquisitive, sociable animals.

They make wonderful indoor companions.

Rabbits can "tooth purr" when contented.

Like cats and dogs, rabbits need to be spayed or neutered to improve health and behavior.

Most rabbits do not like to be held. They prefer to sit beside you for petting and to interact on the floor.

Rabbits like to play with toys, such as cardboard boxes, wire cat balls, hard plastic baby keys, untreated willow baskets.

Rabbits need to have things of their own to chew on (or they might nibble your stuff).

Rabbits need to be protected from predators, poisons, temperature extremes, electrical cords, and rough handling.

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What Are Rabbits Really Like?

Are rabbits soft and fuzzy? Most definitely. Are rabbits as cuddly as they look? Not necessarily.

Is a rabbit more like a cat or a dog? Neither. A rabbit is like a rabbit. Are you expecting your rabbit to come running when called? They seldom do. However, having a carrot in hand may help. I have learned to call my rabbits out from under the bed about 10 minutes before I need them. They seem to show up "on time" this way.

Are you expecting your rabbit to curl up on your lap and sit with you? He probably won't. He may nudge your leg while you sit on the couch, expecting you to move over or pet him. Perhaps he will jump up and sit with you, allow you to pet him, and then scamper off just moments later.

Do you want to hold your bunny for hours? Well, most don't want to be held for hours. Most prefer you to be on the floor and meet them on their level. The floor is where your rabbit will allow you to snuggle with him and show your affections. This is where he is most comfortable.

The first rule in communicating with a rabbit is to get down on the floor. The second rule is also to get down on the floor. Rabbits need to be approached at their level–the floor. Spend time getting to know him where he is comfortable. If he seems to avoid you at first, spend time just sitting quietly on the floor, not approaching him, not trying to pick him up. Rabbits are naturally wary, but also naturally curious. Eventually curiosity will win out and your rabbit will come over to investigate you.

Try snuggling close, face to face. When he feels comfortable with you, he may allow you to pick him up. Do not rush this introduction. Remember, a rabbit is an animal of prey, and it may take time for him to gain trust in you. The first time he nudges you or grooms you, the process of trust has begun and a special honor has been bestowed upon you: He is communicating with you as he would communicate with a fellow rabbit.

As with any animal, or humans for that matter, each has his or her own personality. Some are active and crave attention. Some are shy or aloof. If a rabbit is shy, you need to make the effort to interact with him. Although shy rabbits may become more sociable with time, do not expect a different personality. This seemingly reserved behavior is actually more common and "rabbit-like" than the interactive rabbit of folklore who plays with the children.

Most importantly, love your rabbit. Whoever he or she is, whatever the color, markings, direction of ears, habits or personality, all are of value and deserve our love and companionship. Each will enrich your life in his or her own special way.

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Raising a Rabbit-Friendly Child

Whether you have brought a baby home to your rabbit's house or have brought a rabbit home to your child's house, it is well to remember to:

Choose a time of day when your child is on "low ebb" for teaching your child about the rabbit and for play with the rabbit. Set your child and the rabbit up for success. Try to anticipate and prevent inappropriate interaction by often showing your child how to interact. Try not to get into a pattern of always saying "Don't..." and "Stop..." to your child about the rabbit. If your child does something inappropriate, show and talk about what the child can do with the rabbit. Offer choices for behavior and ask "What could you do...?". Otherwise, your child may see the rabbit as something he is always getting in trouble for. Keep the child away from the rabbit for a short time if the child refuses to stop a behavior that may hurt the rabbit. Set up the cage so rabbit can get away from the children-"a safe zone". Use child gates in doorways and or turn the cage so the door faces the wall with enough room for rabbit but not the child. Put the rabbit in a closed-off room when there are lots of playmates or parties. It is often better if the guests "don't know the rabbit exists". Refrain from having children's friends in to "see the new rabbit" for the first week or so. Show children's friends where rabbit lives and how to pet at times when only 1 or 2 friends visit, then make sure the rabbit is safe during the visit.

What You Can Do with Different Ages

Sitting/Crawling Infants (6-12 months): Start teaching the idea that the rabbit is to be respected and treated carefully by applying the following rules.

BUNNY RULE #1: Gentle petting. Sit on the floor with child in your lap while you pet and talk to the rabbit. Guide her hand over the rabbit's head, ears, and upper back. To prevent fur-grabbing, hold her hand flat or use the back of her hand. Do this frequently but no longer than 5 mins. at a time.

BUNNY RULE #2: Leave the rabbit alone when he hops away or goes in his cage. Interpret rabbit's body language for the child ("Oops, he didn't want anymore petting. He wants to eat or take a nap.) Prevent the tendencies to chase a rabbit who has had enough and to bang/poke on the cage by explaining: "Chasing him will make him scared of you." or "Banging on his house scares him." Watch your child carefully and make such explanations at the moment before it looks like the child may engage in such behaviors. Explaining, then redirecting the child's attention works best for this age when inappropriate behavior seems imminent or occurs.

BUNNY RULE #3: Don't touch droppings and litter. Teach the child that the litter box and droppings that may be found on floor are "dirt". You may have no problem with picking up the dry droppings with your hand, but you don't stick your fingers in your mouth! You may have to change your habits for awhile to teach this concept. A box with a cage floor wire grate works well.

Toddlers (1-2 yrs): Continue reinforcing or teach BUNNY RULES 1-3 and add #4. Although unintentional, toddlers are capable of doing real harm to a rabbit. They will need constant supervision and frequent gentle reminders of appropriate behavior. See below for additional notes on rules.Due to still-developing muscle coordination, toddlers have a hard time keeping fingers out of rabbits' eyes so you may have to insist on two-finger petting or back-of-hand petting.Closely supervise children's interactions with the rabbit. This is the stage of the child's development when some are prone to bash things with sticks. Children this age also have a hard time not chasing a rabbit who hops away. If she chases the rabbit, the rabbit will learn to be scared of her. Teach respect for the rabbit ending the petting or playing session ('Well, that's all he wanted to do.") and interest the child in another activity.Children who are interested in toilet-training can understand "that is where the bunny poops and pees".

BUNNY RULE #4: We pet, but don't pick up the rabbit. Explain that it scares the rabbit to be picked up and both of you could get hurt. Explain that Mom or Dad may pick up the rabbit if she needs care.Explain rabbit language & actions: "Hear her teeth clicking? She likes the petting. See her toss the ball? She's playing." If child gets scratched, explain what the child did to scare or hurt the rabbit and show a better way to act. Redirect loud play to another area ("Look at bunny. She doesn't like the noise.")Toddlers love to share their snacks with the rabbit so make sure rabbit gets only small amounts proper foods and is not overloaded with cereals and crackers. They also love to help with feeding - scooping & pouring food, taking vegetables and hay to rabbit.

One to Seven Year-Olds: If a 2-yr old has grown up with a rabbit, she can have quite a bit of empathy for and knowledge about a rabbit. Continue or teach BUNNY RULES #1 through 4. Teach by example instead of by a lot of "No's"; Your child will learn most by watching you. If interested, the child may help with feeding and play with the rabbit with your supervision.

Older children: Continue or teach BUNNY RULES #1 through 4. Teach by example and setting up situations for success. Your child may build a friendship with the rabbit by sitting on the floor with the rabbit while doing homework, art work, reading, or watching TV. The rabbit will eventually come to investigate and to be petted. Older children have lots of other interests and interest in rabbit may come and go. The rabbit's care should continue to be your responsibility, but your child may help with feeding and grooming.

Choosing a Rabbit

Rabbits have different personalities so it is difficult to make generalizations about breeds. In general though, a medium to large breed adult rabbit is usually better for a child. They will command the most respect from a child and are easier to pet because they have larger heads. Dwarf breeds tend to be more excitable, energetic, and aggressive. Baby rabbits are very active, often nippy, and chew everything in sight. Adult rabbits are more easily litter-and house-trained, especially after spaying or neutering. You will also have a better idea of a rabbits personality if you choose an adult who is spayed or neutered. Adopt a rabbit from a rescue group or local shelter. There are many advantages and you will be helping to combat rabbit overpopulation by adopting a rabbit that is already spayed or neutered. Animal shelters euthanize hundreds of unwanted rabbits each year, many less than a year old. Many more die agonizing deaths from neglect and abandonment without ever reaching a shelter. You will be giving one of the many unwanted rabbits a second chance for a loving home while discouraging those who breed rabbits for profit.

Teaching Responsibility: Something to Think About

Many parents say they want to get a rabbit for their child to teach the child some responsibility. What usually happens is that the child loses interest (not to mention being incapable of sticking to a routine and providing proper care), and the rabbit suffers. The child, at best, learns to feel bad that she has failed and caused suffering. At worst, she learns to resent the animal for the nagging that she is hearing from the adult. Often, the rabbit is given away because "you didn't take care of it". The child learns that life is disposable and that if she waits long enough, someone else will relieve her of her "responsibility'.So, let your child help with the rabbit, but don't insist. If the child appears interested, encourage her; if she becomes bored, let her move on to the next thing, and you carry on with the rabbit. She learns most of all from watching you-your actions, your tone of voice when you speak to the rabbit, and your attitude. From this she learns the nurturing (responsible) point of view- the patient waiting, the faithful caring, the joyful appreciation and acceptance of a living creature for who it is, not who you wish it to be. "It is not easy to manage young humans and animals, but when parents find solutions, rather than dispose of an animal for convenience sake, an important concept is communicated to the child. This is alive. This is valuable. You don't throw it away." - Marinell Harriman, Importance of Permanence

Note: This information is based on material from the House Rabbit Society and on the experiences of the author. In addition to working with over 1200 elementary school-aged children during a 12-yr. teaching career, the author has lived with house rabbits since 1988 and in 1992 brought baby Emily home to then-2 yr. old Gracie Rabbit. Three-year-old Emily now lives with Gracie & Jessie Rabbit (& Benny Cat). She has become a responsible child who has empathy for and knowledge about her animals far beyond her years.

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A Rabbit in the House...Now What?

Set your rabbit up for success - structure his environment so he will succeed! Yes, you will need an enclosure for your rabbit. An exercise pen (commonly called x-pen) or large, roomy cage is the best. House Rabbit Society recommends that your rabbit be housed indoors in a blocked off room or in a roomy x-pen setup. If your cage is a multi-level Bunny Villa ( or Bunny Abode ( or a "cube cage" you built yourself (click here for an example), these can work for all but the largest of rabbits.

The pen or cage will be your rabbit's nest; rabbits usually prefer to have a safe area they can call their own. Setup the "nest" on the floor, in an area where you spend most of your time, such as the living room or family room. Do not place near a heater or a loud TV or stereo. Always provide shade from a sunny window. When secluded in one room, such as a bedroom, your rabbit may be cut off from the family and unsure of the area outside. The more contact you have with your rabbit, the more you will enjoy each other.

Rabbits are crepuscular, which means that they generally sleep during the day and during the night, but are ready to play at dawn and twilight. So, if you're at work during the day, they won't mind so much being contained. But they MUST be let out for at least several hours each day, both to exercise and to have social interaction with you.

The nest should include a litter box with hay, and food and water bowls. Follow our litter box training tips. Supply him with safe toys and a soft flooring (waterproof to avoid damage to floors). Do not use wood shavings in the litter box or other housing areas. Use a organic litter such as Carefresh, Yesterday's News or Cat Country, in the litter box.

Put Thumper in his nest and close the door for a few hours. Let him get used to the sounds and smells of your home while feeling safe and secure. If he nibbles his food or stretches out, he is relaxing.

Allow a small run area for the first few days. Close off bedrooms or areas where he can get lost. Block access behind refrigerators, washer/dryers and entertainment centers. He should be able to have run time whenever you can supervise him. Put one or more litter boxes in the run area and increase his freedom as he proves himself with his box. Put some hay in the litter box to encourage him to get in.

Bunny proof! Rabbits like to chew and dig! Tuck electrical and phone cords out of the way or encase them in clear plastic tubing from the hardware store. Remove books and other desirable items from low shelves. Put houseplants up out of the way. Provide him with a cardboard box of hay to play in. Redirect him to his toys if he is "acting up." Young bunnies are especially exuberant and need to be properly directed.

Bored rabbits become naughty rabbits. If you're not around to talk to or pet your rabbit as you prepare dinner, watch TV or just read, your rabbit will become very bored. That's when rabbits generally get into trouble by digging in the carpet, chewing on forbidden objects or eating your couch. A very large hole can appear in the carpet in just a few minutes. Young rabbits are generally the ones who get into this type of mischief. So, even if your rabbit starts out this way, you might check every few months to see if she can earn more freedom as she ages. Often, the bathroom, laundry room, kitchen or a bedroom are good, safe places to confine your rabbit while you're away. These rooms are easy to rabbit-proof. If none of these rooms is practical, then you'll probably have to consider an indoor cage or pen.

Free run of the house is what we strive for and what many of us are able to achieve. This definitely requires more work on your part. You must inspect every room of your house like a four-star general, looking for wires and other dangerous objects (like plants) that could cause harm to your rabbit. If you have a computer room, you might allow your rabbit access to every room except that one. The more room your rabbit has, the more delightful you will find her as a pet and companion.

Toys: To keep your rabbit occupied and amused, offer toys such as:

Toilet paper and paper towel rolls

Paper cups (not plastic coated)

Newspaper and white scrap paper (ink isn't harmful, just gives dirty feet)

Straw baskets

Jar rings

Rolled oats box; cut off the bottom to make a tunnel for tiny rabbit. Be sure he won't get stuck!

Soft drink can with pebble inside for noise

Rubber balls (unless your rabbit chews on them)

Wire ball with bell inside (sold in stores as a cat or bird toy)

Cardboard boxes (tape shut then cut small doors)

Old towels to push around and dig on

Untreated willow balls or baskets

Have your rabbit spayed or neutered at about 4-6 months of age by a veterinarian specially trained to treat rabbits. This will help with litter box training and general behavior.

Do not leave your rabbit unattended outside as rabbits scare easily and can dig out of a fenced yard. Also, keep them from poisonous plants and pesticides. You can try a "jacket type" harness and a leash, but begin in a safe and familiar area. Taking your rabbit out in a pet stroller is a very safe way to introduce them to the outdoors and take them to events.

Discipline: Never hit a rabbit. They can become very aggressive and angry if provoked. When you find your rabbit doing something that is not allowed, try any or all of the following:

Clap your hands together to make a loud noise

Thump your foot like a fellow rabbit

Whistle loudly

Shout loudly

Biting: Biting must be stopped as soon as possible. Rabbits do not usually bite because they hate you. There are many reasons within a rabbit's social structure that bring about a bite. For instance, a finger or hand in front of their face may be misinterpreted as a challenge to fight. A rabbit may also accidentally bite when he tries to tug your pant leg and accidentally gets your ankle. Whatever the reason, if you get nipped, let out a shrill cry. Rabbits do this when they are hurt. Since they usually do not intend to hurt you, they will be surprised to find that you have cried out and will usually stop the behavior within a few times.

Get down on the floor! Spend a lot of time on your rabbit's level where you are less intimidating. Rabbits are naturally curious and will come up to you eventually. Most rabbits enjoy being petted on the broad part of their head. Snuggling on the floor is usually welcome. If you are holding the rabbit and he struggles, hold him tightly or drop down to your knees and let him go. Do not drop your rabbit as they are very fragile.

Your rabbit may be shy at first. Usually within two weeks rabbits begin to feel more secure in their new surroundings. Soon, you will have a rabbit dancing around your home, testing you, seeing what he can get away with!

If you have questions about your rabbit's behavior, visit our SDHRS Bunny Store on Wednesdays through Fridays from noon to 5:30 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. at 4807 Mercury Street, Suite A, SD 92111 or email us at We are happy to answer your questions and help you learn more about your rabbit companion. Our phone is 858-565-2869.

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Bunny Proofing Your Home/Yard

Rabbits like to chew and dig! It's natural behavior and once they get started, it's hard to stop without providing them alternate safe and fun activities. Bored rabbits become naughty rabbits. If you're not around to talk to them as you prepare dinner, watch TV, or just read, your rabbit will become bored and resort to behavior that gets your attention - especially if it gets you really excited! First of all, ensure your rabbit is spayed/neutered, as that will help those impulses to dig, tear, and chew up items to make a nest or mark territory. Then perform some simple bunny proofing of your home to make it safe for bunny, and to prevent damage of your furnishings and other belongings.

Below are some ideas for preventing or working around the various types of "naughty but natural" bunny behavior:

Set Guidelines

The first, and probably most important key to preventing damage to your home is: DO NOT GIVE YOUR NEW RABBIT UNSUPERVISED FREE RUN OF YOUR HOME. Give your rabbit a cage or an x-pen, and provide a routine that allows them plenty of run time, but in a bunny-proofed and supervised area. There is nothing sadder than to have someone return their beloved rabbits to us, after having them for a year or more, because their house has been destroyed and they refuse to limit the rabbits' free run. This simple first rule is often the key to a happy bunny home.

Prevent Electrical Damage

To prevent the injury or death of your rabbit, be sure to protect all your light, power, telephone, and other cords. Not only will you lose the use of that appliance, your rabbit can get a nasty shock and if the voltage is high enough, could die from making contact with a live wire. Home improvement, auto supply, and computer accessory stores carry many different items to help you tie-up, cover, hang, and generally get cords out of the way. This photo shows an example of cords that have been bunny proofed.

These are a variety of materials used to get electrical cords out of Bunny's reach, or protect them from chewing.

Plastic corner guards work well for those bunnies who feel the need to "round off" all the corners in your home.

Block Off Hazardous Areas

Prevent bunny from even getting near a multitude of electrical cords and other items, in your entertainment center, computer room, or garage. Keep doors closed, use baby gates, and block off entertainment centers. Don't give bunny the chance to get into or behind these hazardous areas.

This photo shows an example of an entertainment center that has been completely blocked-off by furniture grade plywood cut to size and attached to the back. Make sure you make it high enough as many bunnies can jump over a 24" high structure.

Move Plants, Books, and Heavy Objects

Take all your plants and move them up to a higher location where bunny cannot reach them. Many common houseplants are extremely toxic to rabbits and can cause death from poisoning. If the plant tends to drop leaves or blooms, move it to a room that the bunnies do not use.

Remove books from the bottom of bookshelves to prevent chewed corners and torn covers. Also, be sure to look around for heavy decorative objects such as vases, statuettes, etc., that may easily be knocked over.

Cover Carpets and Linoleum

Use carpet squares, tile squares, washable throw rugs, and other items to cover carpet corners, linoleum, or places where bunny has shown a desire to dig, chew, or eliminate. Also add an extra litter box or two while bunny is first venturing into new territory. This reinforces your litter training and helps to prevent accidents and a preference for the corner under your end table as a bathroom. If your rabbit exhibits a preference for a particular location, place a litter box in that spot.

Unique Solutions

This particular bunny home has a couple of voracious chewers, prompting these bunny parents to come up with some innovative ideas for preventing damage to furniture.

Notice in this photo that the underside of these chairs can be accessed by bunnies, who may chew the wood frame and stuffing in the chair. To the left, and in the photo below, you can see how the homeowner created a special "box" to protect the chairs and close off access to the rabbits. Once tables, lamps, and other accessories are in place, hardly anyone even notices the chair protection.

Bitter Preparations

There are many bitter preparations on the market that can safely be used to prevent chewing or digging in a particular area. They are probably not wise to use if you have small children, as they could also suffer from the affects of the bitter taste.

These preparations do not always work, as some bunnies just consider them "frosting on the cake," so you need to experiment to see which is successful for you. Just be sure they are not harmful to pets, humans, or your fabrics and wood finishes.

Spray them on furniture, baseboards, carpet corners, etc., to prevent bunny from returning to that area to dig or chew.

** A great alternative to a store-bought bitter spray is soap. Be sure you get a bar of plain Ivory Soap as that will not harm bunny. Put it in the microwave and allow it to soften slightly. Then, rub on baseboards, table legs, etc. to prevent bunny's continued chewing of those areas. Rabbits do not like the taste of that soap.

Provide Safe and Fun Alternatives

Finally, now that you've said "No!" to just about everything your mischievous bunny might want, be sure to provide him with some safe and fun alternatives for chewing or digging.

For digging, give bunny an enclosed cardboard box with a hole cut in each end. Fill the box with hay or shredded paper and let him get inside and chew, dig, and shred to his heart's content!

Give bunny an old phone book that he can rip, tear, and shred, to his delight!

Take toilet paper or paper towel tubes and fill them with hay or paper for chewing fun. You can also give bunny a variety of wicker baskets, chew rings, and hay-filled balls, to keep their busy teeth occupied.

Bottom line: keep your bunny active, happy, and spend plenty of time interacting with them so they don't get bored. And be sure your bunny is spayed or neutered, to prevent destructive behaviors in the first place. Remember, an active bunny is a happy bunny!

The Cottontail Cottage is great for bunny to climb on,hide in, and chew! It can be purchased at the HRS Bunny Supply Store in Kearny Mesa.

Here's a toilet paper tube filled with scrumptious hay and a couple dried fruit pieces hiding inside!

Here are a few more ideas for safe, fun toys.

Yummy chew toys that bunny will love.

Give bunny lots to choose from!

Be sure to give your bunny plenty of toys, or she'll find her own play things!


Many of the toys and chew deterrent products shown on this page can be found at:

HRS Bunny Supply Store: 4807 Mercury Street, Suite A, San Diego 92111 (Kearny Mesa area)

Busy Bunny

Bunny Bytes


Cost Plus or Pier 1


Don't forget that you can visit our Bunny Supply Store on Wednesdays through Fridays from noon to 5:30 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. to purchase everything you need for your new bunny. We have cages, folding pens, carriers, hay, Carefresh, pellets, toys, water crocks, and more! We are located at 4807 Mercury Street, Suite A, SD 92111.

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