Meet the Bunnies: A Rabbit Profile
The Revolutionary House Rabbit
Think that bunnies are boring hutch pets? Then you've never truly lived with a fabulous House Rabbit! Rabbits are intelligent, complex, expressive animals that blossom when allowed to live in close quarters with their human families. Many bunnies enjoy living in large pens in their family's home, and some lucky well-trained bunnies are even very open to living as free range bunnies in the house. Bunnies can be litter trained, learn to do tricks, and come in a huge variety of sizes, personalities, coat types and colors.
Bunny personalities vary greatly, some bunnies are very people oriented and get along great with children, cats, and dogs. Some bunnies are more aloof and prefer the company of one person or another bunny. Many bunnies do not enjoy being carried around and prefer to interact with their owners on the floor, where they can walk out to visit with their humans, where other bunnies are more open to being picked up and carried. Bunny personalities vary within the breeds as well, so if you are thinking of adding a bunny to your life, be sure you get to know the bunny and make your decision based on the individual rather then their ears, coat type or size!
Bouncing Into Our Hearts: A Brief History of Bunnies
The domestic rabbit is a descendant of wild European Rabbits, who were introduced by travellers to islands to be allowed to roam free, breed, and be used as a food resource for later settlers. Selective breeding of rabbits began to occur in the Middle Ages with several new breeds and colors being recorded in the 1500's. At that time, Rabbits were used primarily as livestock and were raised for their meat or fur.
In the 1800's, breeders began to breed rabbits as show animals and the first domestic rabbits began to emerge that were not specifically bred as livestock. In the mid 1800's during the Victorian Era, domestic rabbits began to gain popularity as pets outside of the show ring.
Rabbits have long been used as research animals for laboratories where they have been used in studies in genetics, nutrition, toxicology, physiology, immunology and reproduction research. Rabbits have widely been used in the production of antibodies and antiserums. The pharmaceutical industry used rabbits (and in some cases, still does use rabbits) to test the toxic effects of cosmetics and pharmaceutical in their evaluation of new drugs.
Just the Facts: Bunnies in a Nutshell
Rabbits kept as indoor pets live on average for 8-10 years, rabbits kept as outdoor pets live on average for 2-3 years (which is why outdoor only housing is not recommended). Some breeds of rabbits are as small as three pounds (dwarf varieties) with others ranging up to around 20 pounds (Flemish giants). Most rabbits display crepuscular (awake around dawn and twilight, sleeping during the day and night) behavior and are moderately adaptive to the schedule of their human family. Rabbits are herbivores, and while their teeth grow throughout their entire lives like rodents, they are actually lagomorphs and not rodents.
Female rabbits do not have an estrus cycle and are induced ovulators, which means they will ovulate whenever paired with a male rabbit. Rabbits have a 31 day gestation period and will have on average 4-12 babies, which can be fertile as early as three months of age.
Hutches are Out: Why Your Bunny Should Live Indoors
Bunnies that are kept as primarily indoor pets with supervised play time outside enjoy longer life spans and better health then bunnies who are kept outdoors in hutches or other enclosures full time. The average life expectancy for an indoor rabbit is 8-10 years, with life spans of 13+ not being uncommon for well kept, healthy bunnies. However, the lifespan of an outdoor rabbit averages only 2-3 years, less then half of their life expectancy. The equivalent for humans with an average lifespan of 66 years would be cutting down the expected lifespan to only 20 years!
There are multiple factors that contribute to the shortened lifespan of outdoor bunnies. Exposure to the elements, parasites, bacterias spread by wild life and attacks by predators all contribute to a shortened lifespan. Even a bunny that is securely kept in a hutch away from predators can die from a heart attack induced by a predator, such as a raccoon or a fox, trying to get into their enclosure. Rabbits that are housed indoors are also more likely to be closely monitored by their owners, which means that minor health problems can be caught earlier and treated before they become a major problem.
Besides the health benefits of keeping your bunny indoors, there are benefits to the mental health and well being of your bunny. A bunny kept indoors who is allowed to live where there is more human activity becomes more strongly bonded to their humans. They are easier to acclimate to loud noises or sudden movements then a bunny who is kept isolated outside or in a part of the house away from their human family. Human owners will see a wide range of bunny behavior, including dancing, thumping, grooming and other behaviors that would be missed in a bunny living outdoors.
Bunny Buddies - The Social Bun
What can be more fun then having a bunny around the house? How about having two bunnies around the house? Bunnies are social creatures that thrive with the companionship of another bunny. While one bunny can be kept successfully by an owner who has plenty of time to spend with them, those owners with busy schedules might consider getting a pair of bunnies to keep each other company while the owner is busy.
Bunnies form strong, life time bonds and can become very attached to their partners. They spend time cuddling, grooming, and playing with each other on a daily basis. If you have a sick bunny, a companion bunny can help cuddle and keep their spirits up as well as helping with tasks that become difficult for the sick bunny, such as grooming.
A pair of bunnies can live in the same size pen as a single bunny, and do not generally require more care then a single bunny. In fact, having a pair of buddy bunnies to play with each other means that your bunnies will exercise themselves more then keeping a single bunny alone!
Bunnies can be introduced to each other at any age, and care should be taken to picking out a pair of bunnies with compatible personalities. It is very important to have both bunnies spayed or neutered, even if they are of the same gender, as this will help them accept a new bunny into their space.
Rabbit Reproduction and Other Reasons to Spay/Neuter
Have you ever heard someone mention "reproducing like rabbits"? Rabbits are prolific breeders and spaying and neutering your rabbits is the best way to prevent more bunnies from being born when thousands of rabbits will already be euthanized each year for lack of a home. Rabbits can be difficult to gender separate at a young age, and once they become fertile at three months your pair of "boy" bunnies may turn out to be a boy and a pregnant female, who will give birth in just a month to up to twelve babies!
There are more reasons then just reproduction to have your rabbit spayed or neutered, even if you plan on keeping only a single bunny. Rabbits who have been spayed or neutered live longer, healthier lives then their unaltered counterparts. Spaying female bunnies virtually eliminates the risk of ovarian, uterine or mammary cancers, and neutering male bunnies eliminates the risk of testicular cancer. Rabbits who are kept in social pairs are less likely to fight with each other and cause injuries as the hormonal behaviors and sexual aggression are eliminated.
Rabbits who have been spayed or neutered also make better companions. They are less prone to show destructive behavior such as chewing on inappropriate items, digging, or destroying items to turn into a nest. They are also less likely to show aggressive behavior such as growling, lunging, biting, circling and other items that are often caused by a hormonal bunny. Territorial marking and urine spraying is reduced or eliminated by spaying or neutering your bunny, which also makes them easier to litter box train and in turn, makes your bunny into a cleaner, happier pet. Bunnies have a high drive to reproduce, so spaying or neutering will eliminate sexual frustration and keep your bunny happier and calmer.
It is important to find an experienced, bunny savvy veterinarian to perform this proceedure on your bunny. A bunny spay or neuter ranges anywhere in cost from $30 (at participating low cost spay/neuter clinics) to $400, depending on the area and the veterinarian who sees your bunny.
A Bunny for the Family
Many bunnies are purchased as pets for children or as gifts for Easter. The care of a bunny is a large responsibility and they do not make suitable "starter pets" for children who are learning how to care for a pet of their own. A bunny should be a pet for the whole family, in the same way as a cat or a dog, and their care and socialization should be a responsibility shared by the entire family.
We do not recommend housing your bunny in a children's bedroom. Not only will your bunny miss out on family time by being in a common area where they can see members of the whole family, but parents should be supervising the care and day to day upkeep of the bunny.
Many bunnies make fantastic companions for children, but ultimately the responsibility of a bunny's care must always fall to a responsible parent.