Rabbits have been kept as pets since the Victorian era and have been loved by many owners as a playful and quirky companion. In this chapter we’ll explore some of the history of pet rabbits, look at what you can expect if you decide to get a pet rabbit and answer the question, “Is a rabbit a good pet for me?”
Rabbits as Pets
A Quick History
Almost all of the pet rabbits that you see today are descendants of wild European rabbits. Keeping and raising rabbits goes all the way back in history to the Romans (the same people who brought you indoor plumbing, concrete, and namesake for the Caesar salad). During Roman times, rabbits were raised for their meat and fur in large, walled in bunny cages called colonies, but it wasn’t until much later in history that people would start to breed rabbits for pets and for show.
Cue the 19th century. In-between the invention of the steam locomotive and American settlers heading out in wagon trains across the USA, groups of people, mostly in Western Europe and the United States, start breeding rabbits for show and exhibition. By the time the Victorian era came around, rabbits had become a common household pet.
In 1910 the American Rabbit Breeders Association is founded and rabbits are solidified in their status as more than just a farm animal. Now people all over the world are breeding, raising, and showing rabbits just for fun and enjoyment.
Fast forward to today and rabbits are the fourth most popular pet in North America – right behind dogs, cats and fish. Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the United Kingdom.
Bunnies have become so popular that they now have their own specialty websites, toys and even trainers (have you ever met a professional rabbit trainer?). Millions of families all over the world enjoy companionship and love from their pet rabbits.
Interesting Bunny Facts
- A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing and they manage to fit twenty eight teeth inside that tiny mouth.
- Most domestic rabbits will live to be about five to eight years old, but the oldest living rabbit in recorded history was sixteen years old (crazy-old in rabbit years).
- A bunny is a very athletic animal and can jump up to 36 inches high and run as fast as thirty to forty miles per hour! Try and keep up with that speed Mr. Coyote!
- Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, from the smallest breed (called a Netherland Dwarf) weighing in at barely two pounds to GIANT breeds of rabbits that can match the girth of most medium-sized dogs. The biggest recorded rabbit is named Darius who weighs in at a monster-sized fifty pounds!
Rabbits are lovely companion animals and are very social in nature. In the wild they usually live in small to medium-sized groups called colonies. Pet rabbits still need that same companionship and connection that their wild cousins have, but that is where you (the rabbit owner) get to build a relationship with your bunny.
What Can I Expect from My Pet Rabbit?
A pet rabbit, just like a person, will have a personality and attitude uniquely their own. Many people who haven’t had a pet rabbit before think that a rabbit will not be as interactive as, say, a dog or a cat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rabbits, being the naturally social critter that they are, can enjoy playing and cuddling with you as much as you’ll enjoy it with them.
What is a rabbit’s personality like?
Rabbits are a “crepuscular” animal, which means that they tend to be the most active at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, perfect for most households since our days tend to be scheduled that way too. It also means you will have lots of quality time to interact with your bunny when they are in their most playful state.
Each and every rabbit will have their own unique personality. Different breeds tend to have certain personality traits so it’s important to “get to know” a rabbit before you decide that you’ll be a good fit together.
Are you an active person who loves to be outside? Then a bunny that is spunky and inquisitive could be a great personality match for you.
Do you prefer to sit on the couch and watch a movie or read? Then a mellow easy-going rabbit that likes to cuddle could be a perfect fit.
It’s important to observe any rabbit that you are thinking of owning as a pet and assess for yourself whether their individual personality will mesh well with you and your lifestyle.
What is a rabbit’s normal lifespan?
Most domestic rabbits will live five to eight years but can live well beyond that when they are kept in good health and have quality care. Depending on the age of the rabbit you bring home, that means that you’re looking at having a companion for many years to come – so be sure that you are ready for that kind of commitment.
Won’t a rabbit want to eat everything? Can I really have one in my house?
It’s an interesting fact that a rabbit’s teeth never stop growing and they constantly need to chew on things to keep their teeth the proper length, but that doesn’t mean that your pet rabbit will munch his way through your coffee table.
Rabbits make great house pets and, with the right prep work, you can easily rabbit-proof your house before you bring home your new pet (we’ll talk about that in Chapter 6: What Should I Do When I Bring My Bunny Home).
There are also a variety of rabbit treats and toys to keep your furry friend busy and active so that they stay away from Grandma’s antique dining room set.
Is a Rabbit the Right Pet for Me?
Choosing to get a pet, any pet, is a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. All pets require time, energy, money and an emotional investment from their owner. Ask yourself these questions, and be honest, to help you decide if a rabbit would be a good pet for you.
Do I have any allergies?
If you’re allergic to rabbits, dander, dust, or to hay (and there is a lot of hay involved with bunnies), then keeping a pet rabbit might not be a good choice for you.
If you’re not sure whether you are allergic to any of the items listed above, then you can have a test done at an Allergist’s or Immunologist’s office (they’re special allergy doctors). Another option is to spend some time with rabbits before you commit to having one as a pet. You can do this by visiting a local rabbit breeder or going to a rabbit show in your area.
Do I have the time to take care of a rabbit?
Rabbits are very loving creatures and will need interactive social time with you and exercise time to keep them happy and healthy. You’ll also need time for cage cleaning, grooming, feeding, and all the other responsibilities that come with owning a pet.
Be truthful with yourself and look at the free time you have right now. Could you spend an hour or two a day with your new bunny or do you barely have five minutes to spare as it is?
A pet shouldn’t be a burden to an already over-stretched, over-stressed life. If you think that you do have the time to devote to a bunny, then keep reading to see if you can also answer positive to the rest of these questions.
Do I have the space?
Lucky for us rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, from teeny tiny to massive, but even a small rabbit will need a space to call their own.
Be sure that you have enough space in your house to devote entirely to a rabbit cage (the bigger the better). A rabbit cage can range in size from only a few square feet to massive, multi-level bunny condos. If you live in a studio apartment and space is already at a premium, you may not be able to give up any to a big ol’ rabbit cage.
Rabbits also like to live away from loud noises and things that might disturb them so keep that in mind when looking for a place for a rabbit in your house.
Am I willing to commit for five to eight years?
A rabbit, with proper care and feeding, will live for five to eight years and beyond. Are you ready to devote that much of your life to having a pet?
Pet ownership can be a very rewarding experience but shouldn’t be jumped into without thought for the future.
If you’re a stable person who is ready for a bunny-lifetime commitment, then a pet rabbit could bring you joy and companionship for years and years.
Are my kids ready and responsible enough to have a pet?
A household with kids can be a great environment for a rabbit or it could be less than ideal if the kids are not ready and able to work with a pet bunny.
Children need to be shown how to handle and play with a rabbit safely. They will also need adult supervision with a rabbit’s needs and care, even if the bunny is “their responsibility”.
Rabbits also do have sharp teeth and nails so kids will need to be taught how to work with a rabbit properly for the safety of both the bunny and the child.
If you’re not sure if your kids are ready for a pet, then don’t test it out on a pet rabbit. There are already shelters overrun with unwanted bunnies.
If you and you’re kids are ready though, then be prepared to be converted rabbit lovers for life!
So… do you think that a pet rabbit might be a great pet for you? Have you read through this chapter and are still excited to learn more? Then keep reading as we explore all the equipment you’ll need before you bring home your new bunny. We’ll also talk about how to choose a rabbit that can become your ideal pet.