Pet Bunny 101 – All You Should Know About Having Rabbits as House Pets

Updated on
Things to know before adopting a pet rabbit

Rabbits are charming animals. Since they are cute, small, and relatively inexpensive to keep, they appeal to both children and adults. 

But just because a rabbit is small and quiet doesn’t mean that it’s less of an investment to keep than other pets. Before you commit to adopting a rabbit, you should learn some basics about rabbit care and what to expect with a bunny in your home.

Personally, I’ve lived with rabbits for over two decades, and have helped place many happy bunnies in forever homes. This article will cover the most important things I share with people who want to get a rabbit.

Things You Should Know Before Getting a Bunny

  • Rabbits live 8-10 years.
  • Rabbits require 30-60 minutes of care each day, plus time for exercise.
  • Rabbits need fresh, high-quality vegetarian diets.
  • Rabbits are best kept as indoor house pets.
  • Female rabbits should be spayed to prevent cancer.
  • Many rabbits don’t like to be held.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pet Rabbits

Let’s answer several questions that people frequently ask when they’re considering adopting a pet bunny.

How long do rabbits live for?

In the wild, rabbits only live a couple of years on average. But pet rabbits can live much longer with quality care. 

The average lifespan of an indoor pet rabbit is 7-10 years. My current bunny, Carlos, just celebrated his 10th birthday, and his mother lived to almost 13!

According to the Guiness Book of Records, the oldest rabbit ever, Flopsy, kept hopping all the way to her 18th birthday.

All this is to say that caring for a rabbit is a long-term commitment. If you buy a rabbit young, you can look forward to building your bond together over the next decade.

Are rabbits good pets for children?

Despite the popular and idyllic images of children cuddling bunnies, rabbits and very young kids don’t usually get along. 

Rabbits-good-for-children

Rabbits are delicate animals. They need a quiet environment, predictable routine, and clean home to thrive. Try as you might, it’s hard to provide that with young children in the house. 

Most rabbits prefer not to be handled, and would find it traumatic to have their eyes poked, ears pulled, or name shouted – even if the child means no harm. 

Case in point: my nephews are great kids, and would never be intentionally rough or unkind. But my bunny, Carlos, will freeze and hide if he hears their energetic voices, even over the phone.

For older children, a rabbit can be a good pet. By the age of 12, a child can usually understand the weight of responsibility in caring for a living creature, if they are taught how.  They can follow instructions like “clean the litter box daily” or “never give a rabbit chocolate.”  Older kids can also learn how to relate to a rabbit, even if the bunny doesn’t want to be cuddled.  

Just remember: if your kid loses interest in the bunny at any time, the rabbit will become your responsibility.  Rabbits are not easy to rehome, and shelters are already full of unwanted bunnies. Your rabbit will need daily care and attention for the rest of its life.

Where should you get a rabbit from?

You can get a rabbit from a breeder, a pet store, or an animal shelter. 

Buying a Rabbit From a Breeder 

If you’re considering buying a rabbit from a breeder, use caution and ask lots of questions about the rabbit’s personality, care, and genetic history.

buying-rabbit-from-pet-breeder

Some breeds, especially dwarf breeds like the Netherland Dwarf and Holland Lop, are prone to malocclusion (teeth growing out of alignment) or other genetic health issues.

Buying a Rabbit from a Pet Store

Pet stores are also problematic. Rabbits in pet stores are often bred for no other purpose but to be taken from their mothers at only 4 or 6 weeks old and dropped into a pet shop. There they are handled and watched by crowds of inconsiderate humans. 

buying-rabbit-pet-store

This experience is traumatic for bunnies, especially at weaning age, when their digestive system is changing dramatically. This stress, plus the exposure to other rabbits, puts them at risk for enterotoxemia, pasteurellosis, or other diseases.

The bunnies in pet stores are often dwarf rabbits, which, as mentioned earlier, may have genetic tooth problems. But in a pet store, you won’t have the opportunity to ask the breeder any questions.

Finally, rabbits in pet stores have learned to see humans as frightening creatures and may be reluctant to socialize. 

Knowing all this may make you want to rescue a bunny from a pet store! But unfortunately, buying one only perpetuates the unhappy system.

Adopting a Rabbit from a Shelter

The best place to get a rabbit is a local shelter. Rabbit rescues are full of abandoned Easter bunnies looking for a new home. Shelters usually have a vet examine the bunnies, certify their wellness, and give them necessary vaccinations.

Adopting-rabbit-from-shelter

Volunteers at the shelter can usually offer information about the personality of each rabbit. Is it shy? Friendly? Does it like petting?

Bunnies are the third most common animal at shelters. You’re certain to find the perfect one for your family.

Should you get a baby rabbit or an adult?

What is the best age to adopt a rabbit? In most cases, I recommend getting an adult. 

Adult rabbits can be easier to handle than babies. If they have lived with humans before, they may enjoy being held and petted. (However, if they’ve had a negative experience in their previous home, they may be harder to handle than baby bunnies.)

There are other advantages to getting an adult rabbit. These include:

  • You know what size the rabbit will grow to become.
  • You can already see the rabbit’s adult personality.
  • If not already spayed or neutered, it will be mature enough for surgery.
  • Adult rabbits are less fragile, sensitive to change, and less destructive.

If you choose to get a baby rabbit, never purchase one less than 8 or 10 weeks of age. Ask to see its parents so you know how large it will become. 

If you’re adopting two bunnies, a baby rabbit’s companion should be around the same age. If you keep an adult and a baby rabbit together, the adult may injure the delicate skin of the baby while playing or establishing dominance. 

Should you get a male or female rabbit?

I’ve had both male rabbits and female rabbits with sweet and outgoing personalities. 

male-or-female-rabbit

In general, I have found males to be more quirky, carefree, and high-spirited. I’ve found females to be affectionate and very funny because of how seriously they take themselves. But each rabbit has its own amazingly unique personality.

Both male and female rabbits can make excellent pets. On the flip side, both genders can be aggressive and mark their territory with urine if they are not neutered or spayed. (Yes, girl bunnies mark with urine, too!)

If you are planning to get two rabbits, the pairing that is most often successful is a neutered male and spayed female. Two males or two females are more likely to fight to establish dominance.

Should you spay/neuter your rabbit?

Spaying or neutering your pet bunny will have the following advantages:

  • Regulate your rabbit’s personality.
  • Increase the chances of your rabbit bonding with a companion. 
  • Reduce or eliminate sexually-fueled behaviors such as spraying, circling, biting or mounting. 
  • Make your rabbit easier to litter train.
  • Increase lifespan of both males and females.
  • Reduce or eliminate risks of urinary tract infections or uterine cancer.

Neutering a male rabbit can be done at any age. But spaying a female is more invasive and carries a small risk of death due to complications with anesthesia. 

Only let a vet that is experienced in spaying rabbits perform surgery on your pet – even though those vets can be hard to find.

Spaying is a reasonably safe surgery, but it’s best done before a rabbit is two years old. If you ask a vet to spay an older rabbit, they may want to do some blood work to see if the rabbit has any risk factors for complications with surgery.  

Uterine cancer is so common in female rabbits that if you can possibly do the surgery, you should.  It may save your rabbit’s life. Some sources report uterine cancer in up to 80% of female rabbits over 4 years of age.

Can your rabbit live inside the house?

Yes, rabbits make excellent house pets. They are quiet, comforting creatures to keep in your living space. 

Your rabbit will need access to a safe area (a room or gated-off part of the house) that is their designated territory. This space should include a cage or enclosure where they can sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom. 

can-rabbit-live-inside-house

You will need to bunny-proof the rabbit’s play area by covering or removing electrical cords, removing dangerous items (such as cleaning supplies), and making sure that the rabbit does not have access to anything it can chew.

Rabbits love chewing and digging, and this is one of the biggest challenges to keeping them indoors.

The other challenge is that rabbits can make a mess. Their primary food source, hay, will stick to clothing and spread across the room quickly. 

Rabbits will occasionally leave dry droppings on the ground when they go exploring, even if they are litter trained.  You may want to keep a battery-powered vacuum handy in the rabbit room.

Do rabbits smell?

Yes, they do! Keeping a pet rabbit will introduce some new smells to your home.

Timothy hay, a rabbit’s main food source, has a distinct smell. Aspen litter has a smell. And the bunny itself has an earthy smell, but none of these are unpleasant.

Rabbit urine can have a nasty odor if it’s allowed to sit and ferment. Rabbits with unhealthy diets are more likely to have icky-smelling urine. 

But if you feed your rabbit the right stuff and clean its litter box daily, you shouldn’t have to worry about the rabbit causing your home to smell poorly.

Read more: All You Need To Know About Rabbit Smell

Can you litter train a rabbit?

Yes, most rabbits can be trained to go to the bathroom in a litter tray.  See our post on How to Litter Train a Rabbit for details on a simple training method.

Can rabbits live outside?

Pet rabbits can live outside in certain conditions, but they need specialized equipment to protect them from weather and predators. They also need access to a safe space to exercise. Outdoor rabbits typically experience greater stress than indoor rabbits, and aren’t likely to live as long.

Should I get one rabbit or two?

Most people recommend getting two rabbits, so they can become friends. Bonded rabbits will groom each other, play with each other, and warn each other of danger.

Sometimes they will spend all day in each other’s company, and sometimes they will keep to themselves. But they like to have a choice.

Each rabbit has its own personality, and it can be tricky to find two that get along well.  

You may be able to adopt two rabbits from a shelter that are already bonded. If this isn’t an option, you can try to slowly introduce two fixed rabbits to each other, watching carefully for signs of aggression.

Can rabbits live with other pets?

You can get a rabbit if you have other pets in the home if you use appropriate caution.

Rabbits should never interact with a dog or cat unsupervised. You must introduce them slowly, and only after your rabbit has had time to adjust to the other changes that come with settling into a new home.

rabbits-with-other-pets

Your rabbit will probably see the dog or cat as a predator, and may react with terror. Over time, your rabbit will learn that the other animal is not a threat. But whether or not they will play together depends on their specific personalities.

Many people keep rabbits and guinea pigs in the same cage, but this is not a great match. Rabbits and guinea pigs have different environmental, social, and nutritional needs.

How much does a rabbit cost?

Costs for owning a rabbit will vary widely, depending on what type of food, housing, and veterinary care it requires.

Owning a rabbit is definitely not cheap, though it’s not as expensive as owning a large animal. Here are some ballpark costs for adopting a rabbit:

Initial Cost (Estimate)

  • Adoption Fee: $50-100
  • Spay/Neuter Surgery: $150 – $300
  • Housing or Cage: $150 – $300
  • Litter box, dishes, toys, grooming tools: $100
  • Bunny-proofing supplies: $50


Total upfront costs: $500 – $850

Monthly Cost (Estimate)

  • Hay: $15
  • Pellets: $15 
  • Fresh Veggies: $30
  • Litter: $20

Total monthly costs: $80

Note: One rabbit won’t eat a full $15 bag of pellets every month. But since rabbits need fresh food to stay healthy, you should replace your bag monthly. Save costs by splitting it with friends who also have rabbits so you can use it up before it goes bad.

Annual or Unexpected Costs

  • Vet visits: $70 per visit, plus vaccinations, treatment, or medication costs.
  • Collateral damage: Rabbits will chew everything in sight. You may need to replace clothing or repair furniture legs.

How much time does rabbit care take?

Rabbits need fresh food and water twice per day. Their litter pan should be emptied and the litter replaced once or twice a day as well. And then your bunny might snag you for a ten-minute petting session. 

These chores will take about half an hour to finish, twice per day. 


Save another 30 minutes per day to interact with your rabbit. Observe your rabbit’s behavior, and check it for signs of illness. Should your rabbit become sick, catching it early may be key to saving its life.

Rabbit-care-time

Rabbits also need daily exercise. Plan on letting your rabbit out of the cage in a bunny-proof space for at least two hours a day. You don’t need to watch your rabbit the whole time, but you should keep a general eye on its activities, especially if you have other pets or children in the house that could be a threat to your rabbit.

Your rabbit’s enclosure should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected every week. You should also give your rabbit a bi-weekly grooming session, trimming nails if necessary, and brushing out loose fur.

Our complete guide to rabbit care can help you decide whether you have enough time to spend on bunny care.

Do rabbits like to be held?

Generally, no. Rabbits do not like to be held. Rabbits feel safest when they have all four feet on a solid surface, ready to run. 

Rabbits are prey animals. If you pick up a rabbit, you may trigger instincts that cause it to jump from your arms. You’ll probably get scratched, and your rabbit may have more serious injuries – maybe even a broken leg.

can-you-held-rabbits

That said, many pet rabbits learn to enjoy being handled. I’ve had rabbits that would jump into my arms for safety if they felt threatened. It takes time to build this bond with a bunny, but it’s so rewarding.

Handling a rabbit is most successful when you get down on the floor.  Approach rabbits at their level; don’t swoop down from above. Let your bunny limber over and sniff you. He’ll climb on to your lap if and when he chooses.

What should you feed a rabbit?

A high-fiber diet is crucial for your bunny’s health. The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be high-quality timothy hay.  Fresh greens and rabbit-safe vegetables can be 10-15% of the diet.

Commercial rabbit pellets are often made of low-quality ingredients like wheat or corn. Rabbit pellets should be fed only as a supplement to help your rabbit get a balanced ration of trace minerals.

what-rabbits-eat

Good treats for a rabbit include a teaspoon of fruit or sunflower seeds. Cookies – even those marketed for rabbits – are not healthy and can lead to obesity and digestive distress.

You can give your rabbit fresh wild greens or untreated grass from your yard, as long as you make sure it’s not poisonous and introduce it slowly to the diet. There are also a handful of common foods for humans that are deadly for rabbits.

Bunnies need access to fresh water at all times.

How do you brush or bathe a rabbit?

Rabbits groom themselves by licking their fur and combing it with their paws. They are so careful about cleaning themselves that they don’t need much additional grooming. You should run a silicone brush through your rabbit’s fur once every few days to remove loose hairs.

If your rabbit is molting, or if you have a breed with long wool, you will need to brush your rabbit once or twice per day to prevent fur block in the gut.

Rabbits’ nails grow continuously. They need their nails trimmed every few weeks.

As for bathing a bunny, rabbits should never be submerged in water. A full bath – especially with soap – can shock your rabbit. It will also damage the protective qualities of a rabbit’s unique coat. You can spot-clean your bunny if necessary, using as little water as possible.

Do rabbits need vet visits or vaccinations?

When you first get your bunny, one of the first things you should do is find a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. 

Vets typically specialize in one of three groups of animals: farm animals, exotics, or dogs and cats. Rabbits don’t fit neatly into any of these categories, and a vet experienced with rabbits can be difficult to find. Ask a local animal shelter which vet they recommend.

rabbit-vet-vaccination

You should take your rabbit for a checkup, vaccinations, and possibly a spay/neuter surgery when you first take him or her home. After that, most rabbits only need to see a veterinarian once a year for a checkup.  

Vaccinations for Pet Rabbits in UK, Europe, and Australia

Rabbits are not required by law to get any vaccinations anywhere in the world. However, in Europe and the UK, there are three vaccines that are strongly recommended: RHVD1, RHVD2, and Myxomatosis.  

In Australia, unfortunately, there is only emergency approval for an RHVD2 vaccine. There is no approved myxomatosis vaccine, despite this disease commonly appearing in pet rabbits.

Rabbit Vaccines in the United States

In the United States, there are only two vaccines available for pet rabbits at this time, and neither of them are standard care. 

RHDV2 (sometimes written RVHD-2) is a deadly viral disease that is very contagious and very difficult to control. The first major outbreaks in the United States appeared in February/March 2020 and subsequent outbreaks are being carefully monitored. 

There are currently no US manufacturers of an approved vaccine for RHDV2. In light of the current spike in US cases, the USDA granted emergency permission for veterinarians to import the vaccine from Europe and administer it in areas where there have been recent outbreaks.

Talk to your vet about whether or not RHDV2 is a concern in your area, and what action you can take.

The other USDA-approved vaccine is for Pasteurellosis, commonly known as “snuffles.” This vaccine has not been very well received by the veterinary and rabbit owner community, many of whom doubt its overall benefit.

However, there are recent studies that point to more promising vaccines for this very common rabbit disease. 

What are the signs of a sick rabbit?

Before you bring a new rabbit home, you should examine it for signs of illness. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a family bring home a diseased rabbit, because they trusted the pet store or breeder.

sick-rabbit-signs

Do your research and your own examination before committing to the adoption.

Signs of a sick rabbit include:

  • Matted fur around the nose, eyes, or front paws
  • Discharge from nose or eyes
  • Dark crusty material in the ears
  • Bare spots anywhere on the rabbit, including the foot pads
  • Scabs or pustules on the genitals
  • Droppings stuck to the fur or tail
  • Rough coat lacking gloss and bounce
  • Bony feeling over the hips or vertebrae
  • Lack of appetite

To make sure you bring home a healthy bunny, read our article on how to tell if your rabbit is sick.

Can rabbits get cancer?

Rabbits can get a variety of different cancers, but reproductive cancers are the most common.

Veterinarians estimate that up to 80% of unspayed female rabbits will develop uterine adenocarcinoma by age 5. You can prevent reproductive cancer by taking your pet for spay or neuter surgery.

When is a rabbit awake?

Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at twilight. They like to be busy at dawn and dusk and will happily join in your morning and evening routines. Rabbits like to snooze during the day and will sleep in the middle of the night.

Do rabbits make noise?

Rabbits can vocalize, but the most common noise you’ll hear if you have a bunny in the house is the happy sound of chewing.

Rabbits can squeal, scream, or grunt, but they usually only do it when they’re in distress.

In Conclusion

In my opinion, rabbits make the perfect pets. They provide more entertainment and companionship than a rodent or reptile, but don’t require as much space as a dog or large animal. 

But rabbits aren’t necessarily easy-keepers. Their care needs are unique and it takes a significant investment of time and money to give them a full and meaningful life.

Did this article answer your questions about getting a pet rabbit? Is there anything else you’d like to know before you decide to adopt a bunny? Ask us in the comments!

Ellyn Eddy

AUTHOR

Ellyn has been rescuing, raising, and writing about rabbits for two decades and loves to help others discover the joy of rabbit care. Her favorite rabbit color is black. She thinks the cutest part of a bunny is the fluffy space right between its ears.

Leave a Comment