The following is an excerpt from Petfinder’s FurKeeps Kickoff Ask the Experts Forum.
Q: I have had dogs all my life, but recently a special little rabbit at our local shelter has really caught my attention. He seems like a wonderfully sweet, special guy. Unfortunately, due to prior neglect he is almost completely blind.
I’ve been wondering what special considerations need to be taken into account when adopting a bunny like this?
Is there anything that can help ease his transition into a new home? I know that familiar scents are very important for blind dogs, but don’t know if this is the same for rabbits?
Currently, he is housed by himself in the shelter. Is it better to get him a companion?
A: How great that you are considering adopting this special guy! First, blind rabbits can live quite wonderful lives. The key to keeping him at ease will be to remember that he is a prey animal, rather than a predator (as dogs are). Prey animals don’t investigate unusual noises — they avoid them. All rabbits are averse to change to one degree or another — and a blind rabbit will be more so.
One key to a rabbit’s comfort is to let him be familiar with his environment — don’t rearrange the furniture regularly, etc. You’ll be surprised how quickly a rabbit will master the layout and start romping around in confidence.
Because being able to safely retreat is a part of making a rabbit feel secure, a blind rabbit is more likely to be distressed when his regular traffic routes are disrupted.
Rabbits have good hearing, so you can train him to specific voice commands. A rabbit will also rely on his sense of smell. You may find he is more likely to chew (investigate with his mouth), so bunny-proofing will be important, too.
I would definitely consider keeping familiar scents around for him. Most bunnies object to having their cages cleaned (going into a frenzy of rearranging after you’ve completed) so make sure not to do a total overhaul on his cage — always leave something that smells familiar to him. That could be a section of fleece fabric, a stuffed toy, a scrap of carpet, etc.
I’ve lived with a blind rabbit and he did very well. Because his blindness was due to age, he also eventually lost his hearing as well. Yet he was a very happy little guy for quite some time after both of those occurred.
There are a number of resources on the internet for owners of disabled rabbits (although most common are mobility issues). A good place to start is Hopper Home’s article, “Caring for a Disabled Rabbit.”
Getting your rabbit a friend is an excellent idea — but getting two single rabbits and bonding them is a daunting task, even for experienced bunny bonders. I’d recommend bringing this boy home and getting him settled in before considering a companion for him. A companion will provide him comfort/safety, companionship, and be a sort of “guide bunny” for him. But I’d recommend one at a time — especially since this would be your first bun.
If you want to start researching what it takes to bond two bunnies into a pair, the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society’s article, “Bunny Bonding Basics,” is a good place to start.
I’d suggest trying to find your nearest rabbit group to see if they can provide you additional support in adopting your first rabbit. They would also be able to help you find him a companion when you are ready. The easiest way to find a rabbit group is to go to the “Find Animal Welfare Groups” search on the left-hand side of every page on Petfinder. Input your location and the word “rabbit” or “bunny” under Group Name. If you can’t find a group near you, check out the House Rabbit Society, an international rabbit rescue and education organization.
Good luck — sounds like he’s a lucky bunny!
President, Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society