Do you lack the time to properly care for a dog or cat, or are not fond of the cost of keeping them up to date with vaccinations and veterinarian visits? If the answer is a resounding yes, then perhaps you should consider a rabbit. The rabbit is an often-underestimated pet that can be a delightful addition to your family. They can be litter trained to live in the house like a cat, are relatively inexpensive, easy to care for, and are very affectionate creatures.
Rabbits are a prey species, so by nature, they may be wary when you first bring them home. This is a new environment for them and they need time to adjust. For the first day or so even though you will want to cuddle your rabbit, try to just observe, and let it become accustomed to its new surroundings. The key is to gradually introduce yourself to your new pet, in short periods of time. When the rabbit appears comfortable in its new surroundings, talk to it and slowly move to pet it. Try to avoid fast movements, as these will frighten a rabbit. Only after the rabbit is comfortable with you petting it should you attempt picking it up.
Being knowledgeable about how to pick up a rabbit will make this event much less stressful for both you and your rabbit. Not only will there be less of a chance of dropping and injuring your pet, but the rabbit will feel more secure and comfortable if handled correctly. Before picking up a rabbit, pet it and speak to it so that it is aware of your presence, then position one hand on the chest and the other supporting the rear. In your arms, bring the rabbit close to your body so that it feels secure. Let the rabbit’s feet and bottom rest on one of your arms, and put your other arm over the back of the rabbit to hold it firmly against your body. If at any time the rabbit is distressed put it on the ground or in its cage. It might be difficult to resist, but if the rabbit is not comfortable with being held, it may be that it just has too much energy and needs to run around beforehand, or perhaps a little love, patience, and time until the rabbit realizes that being held is not so bad after all!
The common conception is that the rabbit is cute and furry, but lacks the personality of a dog or a cat. However, a person who spends a large amount of time socializing with their rabbit will soon realize how rewarding owning a rabbit can be! Typically, the more time that is spent with your rabbit, the more it will bond with you and show you its unique personality. Depending on your lifestyle, you may decide that the rabbit will be a house or caged rabbit. The house rabbit is becoming more popular, as it gives the rabbit and owner more opportunities for interaction. Rabbits that are free to run loose in the house are usually litter trained, and all wires and other items the rabbit can chew should be blocked off or moved. It is important to ensure that the rabbit cannot squeeze into any locations that may cause it harm, and for the safety of the rabbit (and items in your house you do not want chewed!) it is probably best to put the rabbit in its cage when you are not in the house.
Litter training your rabbit is one of the most beneficial behaviors that you can teach it. Once a rabbit is litter trained, you are left with the simple task of scooping the litter box. Rabbits are naturally clean creatures and will usually pee, and sometimes defecate, in one location. For those lucky owners, it may be as easy as putting a litter box in the place where the rabbit most often goes to the bathroom. Placing the food dish near the litter box, some timothy hay in a section of the litter box, and some rabbit poops in the litter box may also help teach the rabbit to use the litter box. Additionally, another method is to let the rabbit run around in a small room that contains a litter box. Every time the rabbit poops, pick it up and place it in the litter box. Rabbits do not learn this as quickly as cats or dogs, so a little persistence and patience are paramount to your success. Even after a rabbit is litter trained, some may still leave the odd poop here and there or males may spray urine as a way of letting everyone know that “this is my house!” Spaying or neutering may help, but be sure to have the procedure performed by a veterinarian that specializes in exotic animals and performs rabbit neuter and spays frequently. There are often many rabbits looking for homes in animal shelters that are already spayed or neutered.
Once you have a strong bond with your rabbit, and it is comfortable in its environment, you can teach it tricks that will impress everyone! It is easiest to train a rabbit with a treat that it really enjoys, such as a small piece of apple or romaine lettuce. Moreover, only train in very short sessions, because a rabbit has a short attention span. Five minutes is probably sufficient for a training session. Here are some basic tricks that you can teach your rabbit:
Come: When you walk into the room with your treats, say the rabbit’s name, and come. After doing this every time you bring treats into the room, the rabbit may eventually learn to come when you call it!
Stand: Let the rabbit smell the treat. Slowly move the treat upwards until the rabbit has to stand on its hind feet to get the treat. Rabbits may not know what you are asking them to do but when they see and smell the treat they can usually figure it out.
Walk: This is a continuation of the stand trick. After the rabbit knows stand to get the treat, slowly move the treat forward. Immediately when the rabbit takes a step forward, give it the treat. Gradually increase the number of steps before it receives the prize, and eventually you will have a rabbit that can walk like a person for short periods of time. Use your imagination to think of other tricks you can teach your rabbit, your family and friends will be stunned when you show them!
When kept in a loving home, a rabbit can flourish to become a spectacular pet and beloved member of your family. The cost of owning a rabbit is relatively inexpensive, and they have a longer life span than other small pets such as the guinea pig. Furthermore, they are extremely quiet (excellent for apartment dwellers) and are exceedingly easy to care for. Rabbits can be taught amusing tricks, be litter trained, and will even become your best friend if you let them.
By Laura Platt – Pets.ca writer