Written by: Meagan Fernandez, Radiology Technician at Bulger Veterinary Hospital
Rabbits are adorable little creatures. Their soft fur, their little nose, and let us not forget about their ears that can be teeny tiny or huge but cute no matter what. But they are a lot of work too! Here’s my experiences with rabbits to help you decide if they’re the right pet for you:
Growing up, I had two rabbits. The first one’s name was Buster (named after the rabbit in the cartoon/book Arthur), and shortly after Buster passed came Snowball (she was white, so clearly an original name). They lived in an outside hutch that my Papa built, with a cute little hideaway area and plenty of space to hop around. They ate only pellets, and carrots for treats; that is what we were told to do. They seemed to be very happy, but I do not think they lived more than 5-6 years each.
Years Later: Learning the Truth About Rabbit Care
A few years ago, Dr. Jessie Fix started her career at Bulger. She is great with exotic pets, and loves to educate not only clients, but employees as well about these small friends.
In 2017, Dr. Fix gave an amazing lecture about rabbits which was titled: “Rabbits 101”. She talked about proper husbandry, nutrition, enrichment and so many other informative topics. You know what I said to myself after that lecture? I will never in my whole entire life own a rabbit. Hearing about how much work they are, and how in fact they should NOT be eating pellets and carrots all the time was mind blowing to me. I just could not imagine myself ever having such a high maintenance animal again. I have two cats who need food and water twice a day, some pats when they feel like it, laser pointers, feathery objects, done.
You know what I did in August 2019? I rescued a rabbit.
Shelby the Rescue Rabbit: From Neglected to Spoiled!
I broke two of my own rules: do not get a high maintenance pet, and do not bring home animals from work.
Shelby, a Rex Rabbit, was here in the hospital for thirteen days before I even touched her. She was brought in as a neglect case. This poor bunny was covered in maggots, not using her hind legs, and looked lifeless. Our Exotics Specialist would not let this rabbit be put to sleep without a fighting chance.
Long story short, the amazing doctors and technicians nursed that velvety ball of love back to health. I remember watching Karen, the exotic technician, luring this rabbit to hop for provide physical therapy using veggies. I happened to walk by her cage on day number thirteen of her stay, and that little heart stealer poked her fuzzy nose out of her cage. I thought it was cute, so I figured I would hold her. I picked her up and she nestled herself right into my neck.
Before you know it, I was texting my husband a picture of me holding her saying “be my daddy”. He was supposed to say no, but he replied, “yes you can take the bunny home…” I excitedly scooted over to the exotics team and told them I was taking her, and they were so excited! They approved the food list I found and told me things I should get before taking her home. I anxiously ran to the pet store after my work shift to get all we needed for now. My husband and I set up her cage together, lining it with towels and hay to make it as comfortable as we thought it should be. As he was finishing up the setup, off I went to get her to bring her to her furever home.
Rabbit Meets Cats: Introduction
My cats Loofa and Lily were in our home first, so it was very important to me that they knew how much I still loved them, and that Shelby was not here to replace them.
Introduction was done over the course of a week. I kept the cage covered at night, just in case the kitties wanted to stick their paws in there. I would sit near the cats on the couch while holding Shelby but made sure to pet only them. Slowly but surely, they started to sniff her, and then they just decided they did not mind too much that she was inhabiting their home. Present day, Shelby will hop right up to them if they are lounging on the couch!
Litterbox Training a Rabbit
Rabbits urinate and poop a lot, like hundreds of tiny poops daily, a lot. We were not completely sure what her life was like prior, but we knew for a fact she was not litterbox trained.
Can you train a rabbit to use a litterbox? Why yes you can! We really wanted her to be able to have some free-range time, but not if she was urinating all over the place. It took us only two weeks to get her to urinate in the box; she still poops everywhere, but I do not think they are completely in control of their poops. To train her, we got a plastic cat litterbox and filled it with some soft bedding. Every time she urinated somewhere other than in that box, I would wipe up the mess with a paper towel and put it in the litterbox. I had to do this every single time I noticed and accident; a lot of our at home time was spent staring at Shelby seeing where and when she would pee. If she went in her box on her own, she got one raisin. Patience is a virtue for sure!
Shelby’s diet is sometimes better than my own. I always joke about how healthy I look in the supermarket when I am buying her veggies.
Her all-time favorite greens are kale, cilantro and parsley. She of course loves any type of fruit I offer, but those can only be given occasionally throughout the week. In the morning she gets a little less than a ¼ cup of pellets. She likes to spill them out of her bowl and gobble them up that way. At dinner time, she gets a cup and a half of raw vegetables and typically eats at the same time as my cats, husband and myself; we are just one big happy family! It is good to give rabbits 2-3 different varieties of veggies a day. I like to hide the veggies in various spots, whether in her playpen or in the living room area so that she needs to “hunt” for them. All day long, she has endless amounts of hay available to her. Our very “quaint” apartment smells like hay if the windows are closed, but never any bad odors since we litterbox trained her.
Walking & Exercising a Rabbit
After dinner a few nights a week, Shelby gets to go outside for a walk! It has done wonders with strengthening her back legs and helping her to gain muscle mass. It was difficult at first to get her used to a harness and leash, but now she runs so fast; it is good exercise for us as well.
Some Things to Keep in Mind Before You Get a Rabbit
Although it turned out both my husband and I were ready for a pet rabbit, make sure you do your research prior to adopting one. I have heard so many stories of people getting them from fairs or pet stores without having a good grasp of how to care for them properly. It’s certainly not the same as when we were kids!
We needed to spay Shelby to prevent her from getting certain types of cancer, but a lot of people don’t know that is an expense you need to prepare for. There is also lots of cleaning involved, and every day you must interact and provide positive enrichment.
She has brought so much happiness into our home, but I know it would have been a lot more difficult than it was if I did not have basic knowledge and amazing resources.