Bringing a new bunny home is fun and exciting, but it’s important to realize that this time can be quite intimidating for a rabbit. In order to keep stress to a minimum, prepare by gathering necessary items, arranging a living space and rabbit-proofing the house. Here are a few key steps to help you prepare for your new friend:
1. Gather the necessities
Before bringing a rabbit home, purchase all necessary items and have everything set up in time for your rabbit’s arrival. The first shopping trip is not inexpensive, but once you have the basics, only items such as litter, hay and food need to be purchased regularly.
The New-Bunny Shopping List:
- Puppy exercise pen or dog crate (If you do purchase a rabbit cage, make sure it is roomy and has a flat bottom.)
- A cat litter box or large plastic bin
- Sturdy ceramic bowls for food and water
- Toys, which can be as simple as a cardboard roll or phone book or as complex as a bird toy or cat tunnel
- Rabbit-safe litter (Go for a recycled-paper product such as Yesterday’s News or Carefresh.)
- Rabbit pellets (Look for a Timothy hay-based pellet for adult rabbits.)
- Cat nail clippers
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Timothy or other quality grass hays
Of the above items, Timothy hay is the most important. A rabbit’s diet should be composed of approximately 70% grass hays to ensure sufficient fiber intake. Hay is important not just for proper digestion, but for dental health too, as chewing on the stalks wears down their continuously growing teeth and even has social and psychological benefits. Because hay is so essential for rabbit health, make extra efforts to ensure the hay you purchase is fresh, dust-free and high quality.
2. Rabbit-proof your home
Rabbit-proofing is an essential part of introducing a rabbit to his or her new home. Rabbits love to chew, so your first job is to hide anything that could cause harm if chewed or ingested. This includes electrical wires, telephone cords, and poisonous plants. Expensive furniture or other delicate items should be moved so they are inaccessible. Rabbits love messing with paper and cardboard, so keep papers or books off the ground. Some rabbits like digging or biting carpet, so keep a watchful eye out for any destructive behaviors and use verbal corrections if needed. A successfully rabbit-proofed room allows for greater freedom for the bun and a more relaxing experience for everyone!
3. Find a good rabbit vet
Set up an appointment for an initial check-up with a veterinarian and schedule a spay/neuter if necessary. Spaying or neutering a rabbit prevents destructive and aggressive behaviors, loss of litter box habits and unwanted pregnancies. Rabbits need to be seen by exotic-animal veterinarians as opposed to small animal clinicians. Some dog and cat vets will see rabbits, but check that they have enough exotic-animal experience to deal with complex rabbit issues.
4. Get to know your rabbit
After letting your rabbit settle in, it’s time to start interacting. Open the pen or cage door and sit on the ground. Wait for your bunny to emerge from the cage and come to you. When she does, don’t immediately reach out to her; let her jump around you and smell you as you sit still. When your bunny seems more comfortable, try petting her head and ears. Remember to pet her from above, and not by placing a hand in front of her nose as you would a dog — rabbits actually have a blind spot here and movement in the area can frighten them.
For shy rabbits, it’s important to get low to the ground and avoid sudden movements. Rabbits open up at varying rates, and it can take even a month for a rabbit to fully trust and befriend her human companions. Keep in mind, treats such as raisins, dried cranberries and apple pieces are great friendship bribes and training tools!
Mary Lempert is the founder of The Rabbit Advocate, where this post originally appeared. She has served as a rabbit behavior and rehabilitation consultant for the House Rabbit Society, House Rabbit Network and the MSPCA in Massachusetts and, most recently, for the Almost Home Humane Society in Lafayette, IN. She lives in West Lafayette, IN, with her rabbits Graysie and Willoughby and any number of foster bunnies.
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