Next to hamsters, rabbits are probably the most-requested small animal in a pet store. They’re cute and furry, and that makes them popular. All of that is true, but there are some other things anyone thinking of a rabbit as a pet should know first.
Rabbits grow. When we buy rabbits in the pet store, we want them to be one-hand bunnies, a handful of fluff with cute button eyes. They don’t stay that small for long. That’s why we like to have dwarf rabbits for sale, because dwarf bunnies stay smaller, and keep more of that cute baby-bunny look. A dwarf rabbit grows to about four pounds – think of your average roasting chicken. A standard-sized rabbit, on the other hand, grows anywhere from six to eight pounds, and some rabbits, like Flemish Giants, can weigh up to 18 pounds.
Rabbits are prey animals. Our most popular pets, dogs and cats, are predators. Predators and prey respond differently to being held. In its most basic terms, when something picks up a rabbit in the wild, the next thing that usually happens is that the rabbit gets killed and eaten. It’s very important to teach a rabbit that being picked up isn’t a threat. This takes a while – rabbits have a brain about the size of a walnut. Gentle handling is very important.
Rabbits are not defenseless. I have scars on one forearm from the hind claws of a rabbit I was holding who was suddenly startled. Those hind claws are like harrows. Even if you keep them trimmed, a rabbit can scratch you painfully. They have powerful hind legs, and know how to use them. Those big front teeth will leave a mark, too, if the rabbit decides to bite you. This is another reason why gentle handling is important.
There are advantages to rabbits as pets. Dwarf bunnies stay small, and, unlike cats, they’re pretty quiet. They can also be litter-trained. They live six to eight years with good care. (One customer of ours had a bunny she said was pushing eighteen years, but that’s an exception. As a rule, you won’t be left taking care of your small child’s bunny when that child goes off to university.) Most rabbits in the pet trade are short-haired as adults, and the grooming isn’t demanding. Neutering is a good idea – male rabbits spray, and females become snippy if they don’t get to breed.
As always, my big advice is to read up on rabbits before you get one, and ask knowledgeable people for advice.