If you are considering purchasing or adopting a pet rabbit, you should first give careful consideration to the demands and rewards of these very special pets. Countless homes have been brightened by the presence of a long-eared lodger, and conscientious rabbit keepers have many years of fulfilling interaction and bonding to look forward to. At the same time, every year thousands of rabbits are given up to animal shelters- or worse, simply dumped in a field- by owners who did not take the time to properly educate themselves on the responsibilities of rabbit ownership. Here you can find the basic information needed to answer the question: Is a rabbit right for me?
Rabbits require daily and weekly care and maintenance, as well as a significant monetary investment. When well-cared for, rabbits typically live 9-12 years, so this is a long-term commitment. Just think- if you buy a pet rabbit for your 12 year-old, the rabbit will likely still be alive when that child moves out of the home. If you simply want a pet that will amuse a young child for a little while, consider a rat or other shorter-lived creature.
Beginning with financial costs, here is a brief summary of the requirements of rabbit ownership.
- The rabbit itself. Your best bet is to adopt from an animal shelter. In addition to saving the animal's life, you'll be bypassing the morally dubious world of rabbit breeders and pet stores, which often show little to no competence or regard for the animals' well being. And if that isn't enough of a reason to adopt, it is the cheaper option by far- apart from negating the price of the rabbit itself, the animal shelter should always spay or neuter the rabbit for you. This procedure usually costs $200 or more to have done by a private veterinarian, whereas the typical cost to adopt a rabbit (already spayed/neutered) is around $30.
- A rabbit cage. These come in a wide range of prices depending on size and many other factors, but you should not skimp on this purchase, as it will likely need to last a long time. Even if you can comfortably house an immature rabbit in a smaller cage, remember that it will continue to grow up to the age of 6-8 months. A typical cage costs between $50 - $100.
- A litter pan. Rabbits are some of the easiest pets to litter-train, and the alternative to a litter pan is constant cleaning of their cage. Average price is around $10.
- A water bottle or dish. As much as you might like to save some money, don't bother putting a plastic cereal bowl or similar substitute into the rabbit cage. The rabbit is almost guaranteed to flip the bowl over, not only depriving the rabbit of water, but also soaking the bedding, which will become unsanitary. Use either a small pet water bottle, or a heavy crock. Typical cost is around $5.
- Rabbit feeder. Again, you need either a heavy crock, or (preferably) a bin feeder that will attach to the side of the cage. Price is around $10.
- Rabbit brush. Regular brushing of your rabbits fur is important to prevent potentially lethal hairballs from forming in its gut. Price is $8 - $10.
- Rabbit nail trimmers. Unless your rabbit is going to have lots of time to dig and run over hard, rough surfaces, which is unlikely, you'll need to periodically trim its nails. Prices range from $5 to over $15.
- Toys. Rabbits are lively, intelligent animals that need stimulation and exercise. There are a wide variety of household items that can be converted into rabbit toys with little effort, but there are also many commercial toys available. These usually run a couple bucks each.
- Total initial outlay: $350 dollars or more, or $180 if adopted.
In addition to these start-up costs, there are various supplies and consumables that you will need to purchase on an ongoing basis.
- Pellets. Mature rabbits should eat between 1/4 cup to 1 cup of dry pellets per day, depending on size. A 2.5 pound bag of food should last about a month, give or take. Prices vary, with the upper end around $5 per pound, so you shouldn't have to spend more than $15 a month on pellets.
- Hay. Hay is the single most important element of your rabbit's nutrition, and should be freely available at all times. The amount your rabbit will eat will depend to a large degree on the size, breed, individual temperament, and other factors. Hay is fairly cheap, so even if you have a rabbit with a large appetite, you shouldn't need to spend more than $15 a month or so.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables. A small amount of fresh plant matter should be part of each rabbit's daily diet. For mature rabbits, plan on feeding at least two cups daily of vegetables, such as beet tops, dandelion greens, collard greens, carrot tops, and similar leafy greens. No more than 2 ounces of fruit can also be included, avoiding especially sugary fruits such as grapes. Another $15 per month, or so.
- Bedding/litter. Your rabbit should have some kind of soft material to bed down in, as well as something absorbent for its litter box. There are free alternatives available, such as shredded newspaper, but for a variety of reasons commercial bedding and litter is preferable. About $5 per month.
- Annual check-up. Your rabbit should be taken to a vet who specializes in exotic pets every year to safeguard against health problems that might not be immediately apparent. The price will vary greatly depending on the vet, but about $45 is a good ballpark figure.
- Total cost per year: Approximately $480.
Starting to rethink rabbit ownership yet? It is important that you be prepared for these non-optional costs. Everything listed above is an absolute necessity for a healthy pet rabbit, and unless you are able to harvest your own hay or construct your own cage, you won't be able to cut any of these costs. If you don't feel that you can comfortably afford to shell out four or five hundred dollars a year on care and maintenance, a rabbit may not be the pet for you.
In addition to the financial outlay, rabbit care will require an investment of time. Here is a breakdown of the tasks regularly associated with rabbit ownership.
- Change food and water and clean bowls. Any food pellets that remain uneaten from the previous day should be disposed of and replaced, and the same applies to water. Water or food that is allowed to sit and spoil or stagnate will become a vector for disease. Food bowl and water bowl/bottle should also be cleaned daily. Clean with white vinegar or mild soap, and rinse thoroughly with hot water. 10 minutes or less.
- Check the litter box. Depending on how much litter you place in the litterbox at a time, you will need to change it more or less frequently. Once a week is typical, but you'll want to check it daily to make sure it isn't heavily soiled, is not drawing flies, and that there are no telltale signs of health problems evident in the rabbit's waste, such as misformed cecotrophes. 1 minute.
- Remove any bedding or hay that has become wet or soiled. If wet materials are allowed to degrade in the cage, they will quickly become sources of disease and discomfort for your rabbit. 1-2 minutes.
- Most importantly: Spend time with your rabbit! Just as much as any dog, and more so than most cats, rabbits are social, communicative animals that require daily interaction for their mental and physical health.
While your rabbit should have at least a few hours per day to roam freely, you'll want to spend an hour or so of that time interacting with it. Try rolling a ball or cardboard tube with it, or tossing a sisal rope toy to it- some rabbits are devoted "catch" players! Apart from the entertainment and satisfaction you and your rabbits will derive from playtime, this is a good opportunity to observe your rabbit for any signs of health problems. 1 hour or more.
Total time per day: About 1 ¼ hours.
- Change litter box. Remove used litter and replace. 1 minute.
- Thorough cage cleaning. This should be done during the rabbit’s normal "playtime", when it is out of the cage. Remove all bedding, hay, litter box, etc. You can use either white vinegar or diluted bleach to thoroughly wipe down all surfaces, especially areas where the rabbit has urinated. Rinse thoroughly with hot water and allow to dry before replacing. 1 hour or less.
- Groom rabbit. Rabbits require two kinds of regular grooming: brushing and nail trimming. The importance of regularly brushing your rabbit cannot be overstated, as it will prevent the rabbit from forming hairballs in its gut that may cause a fatal blockage. Use a rabbit petting brush or gentle slicker brush- rabbits have extremely sensitive skin. This is a good way to promote bonding between you and your rabbit, as mutual grooming is an important social activity for rabbits in the wild.
- Nail trimming should be done every week or two, but will be easier if done more frequently. Use nail clippers made for small pets. Remember never to restrain a struggling rabbit, as their fragile spines and legs may break. For more detailed instructions, look for one of the many articles available on trimming your rabbit's nails. 1 hour total.
Total time per week: 1-2 hours.
These guidelines should give you a good idea of how much time you'll need to devote to caring for your rabbit. Although you might be able to get away with cutting a few corners, this is highly inadvisable. Your rabbit's health and happiness will suffer, not to mention that doing so will defeat the point of owning a rabbit. If any of these requirements strike you as overly burdensome, you may want to reconsider purchasing a rabbit. Otherwise, you can look forward to years of wonder and joy as you watch your furry companion grow, learn, and develop a bond with you that few other pets can match. We wish you the best in your adventures in rabbitry!