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How to adopt a rabbit

By Stephanie St. Martin
Care.Com Contributor / April 6, 2012
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Thinking of adding an "Easter Bunny" to your family? From an early age, we see those ridiculously cute faces-nose twitching, whiskers and in some cases, irresistible floppy ears. They are just too cute. But many don't realize how much it takes to properly care for a rabbit. And, as a sad result, these adorable animals are surrendered animals to shelters. Rabbits truly are great pets, but before you add a bunny to your family, here are some things to consider:

• Rabbits are not starter pets. As cute as a bunny can be, they need a lot more care than a goldfish does. Daily food, weekly cage cleaning, and lots of love. And kids should never have the sole responsibility to care for rabbits.

• Consider the time commitment. Most domestic rabbits can live between 7 and 10 years. In that time they'll need daily exercise and time out of the cage, fresh hay and clean water daily plus weekly cage cleaning.

• Spay or neuter. Un-neutered male rabbits are prone to prostate cancer and un-spayed females have a 60 to 80 percent chance of developing ovarian, uterine or other reproductive cancers. And since we all know the phrase "multiply like rabbits," you'd be wise to neuter and spay your rabbit -or else you could be very quickly out-numbered!

• Find an "exotic" veterinarian. Rabbits are considered an "exotic" pet (as are birds, reptiles, chinchillas and ferrets) and not all veterinarians treat them. Do your research to see if there are local vets who treat rabbits near you. Local animal shelters and rabbit rescue organizations can help you find one who does. Make yearly check-ups for your rabbit until the age of five, and twice a year after that.

• Adopt. A sad fact: Rabbits are the third-most surrendered animal to shelters. There are rabbit rescue groups across the United States as well as several rabbits waiting for homes in local shelters, like the MSPCA. You can also look on PetFinder.com to find an adoptable rabbit.

Bunny Basics

• There are lots of rabbit breeds. There are about 40 to 50 breeds of rabbits recognized in the U.S. From the smaller Netherland Dwarfs, which weigh two or three pounds, to Flemish Giants, which can top 20 pounds, rabbits come in all different shapes, sizes, fur-length and colors. Get a feel for what your family wants and call shelters and rescue units to learn about the available bunnies who need good homes.

• Cage-free time is a must. Rabbits should be kept in large enclosures, and if they don't have free run of the house, they should be offered a chance to exercise for several hours every day.

• Rabbits are "social butterflies." While you might not have a Bugs or a Roger, each rabbit has his own personality. They will bond with other rabbits, and cats (dogs, not so much!). Shelters, like the House Rabbit Network, will note if a bunny is an "individual" a "couple" or a "trio" with other rabbits, so if your family falls in love with a bonded rabbit, you may want to try to you keep the rabbits friends together.

• Not all rabbits get along. Just like humans, not all rabbits get along. Before you get your bunny a "friend", set up a meeting between the two on neutral ground to see if they will get along. Most shelters will offer a room to see if the two bunnies can coexist together.

Rabbit Housing

• Keep rabbits indoors. Every-bunny deserves a nice warm place to live and domestic rabbits should always be kept indoors. They cannot tolerate very hot or cold temperatures, and they become very frightened and can suffer a deadly heart attack at the sight of another animal.

• Make a rabbit's home his castle. Aim to provide your rabbit with an exciting home. A multi-level cage with many levels for the rabbit to explore is a great option. You can also purchase toys, water bottles, and a "cuddle cup" or a small cat bed for rabbits to sleep in.

• Don't buy cages with wire floors. Wire floors can harm rabbits' feet -- rabbits don't have pads on their feet like dogs and cats.

• Rabbits can be house trained. Rabbits can be litter boxed trained! It takes about 2 months and a corner litter box or level devoted to a "bathroom" is a good way to give a rabbit a comfortable home. Certain types of cat litter can damage their digestive systems. Never use clumping litter, and avoid cedar or pine chips. The CareFRESH brand is a good option.

Rabbit Diet

• Rabbits love hay. There are 2 types of hay: Alfalfa and Timothy. From 0-6 months rabbits can have Alfalfa Hay; after 6 months, they should have fresh Timothy Hay daily.

• Rabbits love fiber. Good quality rabbit pellets, 18% fiber, are a must for a rabbit. When rabbits are young (0-6 months), they can have unlimited pellets, but after 6 months, limit their intake. Ask a vet about the appropriate amount of pellets per day for your rabbit.

• Leafy greens are good. Rabbits love leafy green veggies! Kale, arugula, spinach, watercress, Swiss chard, parsley, and cilantro are rabbit favorites. Be careful though-watery greens such iceberg lettuce is dangerous to rabbits (it causes diarrhea).

• Fruits and other veggies can be treats. Dried apple slices, carrots, broccoli, celery, papaya, mango, banana slices, etc. can be given to a rabbit as a treat, but in small amounts. To see a full list of acceptable food, go here.

More Rabbit Resources

Looking for more information on rabbits? Read more information and watch a cute video from the The Humane Society.

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