Preparation for your rabbit's arrival into your life should begin as soon as you make the decision to add one of these playful creatures to your household. You should take some time to do detailed research and question other rabbit owners to become familiar with the responsibilities and requirements of owning a pet rabbit. You may even want to visit the pet shop or adoption agency ahead of time.
There are several questions you should ask yourself before making a final decision. Do you live alone? Are you part of an active household? Are you gone most of the day or are you housebound? Are there other pets? Are there children or extended family members? Your personal circumstances will affect the well being of your rabbit from the moment she arrives.
To prepare for your pet's arrival, decide where your new bunny will live. Choose an area of your home that will best suit both of you. During the first days in her new surroundings, your rabbit will need quiet and an environment free of the stress of curious animals or humans. Give her a chance to get acquainted with her new home before she has to deal with living, breathing creatures.
Set up a secure, safe cage in advance, so the day you bring your new pet home will be as worry-free as possible.
To make sure you've properly prepared the cage, check to make sure all latches catch properly. Make sure the cage or hutch is complete with food and water dishes or bottle, hayrack, litter pan with litter and wood or carpet pieces. You'll want to have other supplies on hand, such as grooming and first aid supplies as well as plenty of fresh food, water and hay available in the cage. If your rabbit is housed outside, provide an enclosed run for exercise time and if housed inside, take the necessary steps to rabbit-proof your home.
Now it's time to choose your rabbit and bring her home. Your new bunny will travel more comfortably in a large carrier, like the ones designed for cats. To keep your rabbit from sliding around in the carrier during your trip home, line the bottom of the carrier with newspaper. If your trip lasts longer than an hour, place food and water in the carrier with her. Dark, leafy vegetables have a high water content, but she should have a water bottle as well. Rabbits can easily suffer heatstroke, so never leave them alone in the car, especially when it is warm outside.
The first and most important introduction must be your rabbit to her cage. As adorable as she is, resist the urge to handle or pick her up for the first few days. This is the time when she must get to know her new surroundings. Remember she is a prey animal, and will naturally be alert to any perceived threat from predators, including you. The kindest way to acclimate your new rabbit is to leave her alone in her fully equipped cage or hutch for awhile. Give her some privacy while she begins to understand she is not in danger.
After your bunny has gotten the feel of her new digs, you can observe her behavior. If your rabbit seems anxious or stressed, speak to her softly once in awhile to reassure her that everything is fine. Your rabbit will also become accustomed to your voice, and associate you with gentleness.
Hello In There?
Once your new rabbit is used to your presence and understands you are not a predator, you can handle her. Any member of the family who intends to handle your rabbit needs to learn the right methods. Rabbits are not natural climbers and are much happier with all four paws planted firmly on the ground. The first time you pick her up, she will struggle and kick frantically and there is a very real danger she will fall. Your rabbit can be seriously injured by falls like this, easily breaking her back. Learn the proper methods for holding her so you will both feel more secure. It's definitely not a good idea for children to attempt to hold her in these first days. Instead, keep her on the floor, and show the kids how to gently pet her.
To raise a healthy rabbit, it's imperative to remember how they behave. These creatures are domesticated but they are still full of their natural instincts. Should you doubt it, watch yours as she hops about the house. Those instincts include standing on her hind legs, freezing or flattening her body against the ground to avoid predators and marking her territory.
Rabbits can be affectionate pets and will grow accustomed to handling. In fact, handling keeps them tame. This handling is what you've been waiting for, but that doesn't mean you can let down your guard. Your rabbit loves to roam and explore, but she's startled and will flee if frightened by sudden gestures or loud noises. Remember, her ears are super-sensitive.
The Rest of the Family
Rabbits and Dogs - Since rabbits are accustomed to families, preferring to live in large groups, your rabbit will get along well with other pets. However, the introduction process takes time, patience and a commitment from you, to train your dog or cat to get along with her. To introduce a skittish rabbit to your rambunctious dog, you will need to keep the dog on a leash and your rabbit in her cage. Give them both some time to sniff each other while the rabbit stays in her familiar and comfortable territory. The dog should understand obedience commands like "no," "stop," "stay" and "down." If the dog gets too excited and close to her, say "NO!" and jerk the leash quickly. When the dog is settles down, praise him saying, "Good dog! Good gentle dog." The dog will begin to associate the word "gentle" with calm handling of the rabbit. Don't rush. If you have to chastise the dog too often, you're trying to move the process too fast.
Eventually, you'll want to be able to let your rabbit roam free in the house without having to worry about her being trampled by your enthusiastic dog. Until your dog is properly trained, however, it just isn't safe. In the wild, your dog would hunt your bunny, but his natural hunting instinct is buried under years of domestication. Some dogs, however, will enjoy the challenge of chasing your rabbit around the house. The most successful dog-rabbit combinations occur when the dog is naturally easy-going and calm, or older. Just remember that they require your constant supervision and should never be left alone together.
Rabbits and Cats - Even though cats are just as predatory as the next dog, they are usually better rabbit companions because they are usually closer in size and basically aren't capable of doing the same damage a large dog could do. Cats, on the other hand, are solitary animals who are more likely to run from your rabbit than hurt her. In nature, they have learned to run from a threat, since they are usually alone, with no back up cats to step in and help.
The first meeting between the two should take place while your rabbit is still safe in her cage. Before the meeting, make sure your cat's nails are clipped, so she can't hurt your rabbit. Let your kitty approach the rabbit and if she isn't aggressive, reward her. Ignore her if she hisses and takes off. Eventually, her natural curiosity will get the better of her and she'll be back. When she is aggressive, you can correct her with a short blast of a squirt gun filled with water.
Once they seem to tolerate each other in their own territory, widen the playing field, and let your rabbit out of her cage. First make sure your cat is wearing a harness and leash and hold on tight. Don't allow your cat to approach the rabbit when she hops, but instead hold her still and let her get used to this funny creature hopping around the room. Eventually the cat will get used to your rabbit, and will ignore her. If your rabbit attacks your cat, correct her with the squirt gun. This process can take quite a bit of time, so don't give up. As long as you are consistent, they should learn to live quietly together.
Rabbits and Other Rabbits - In the wild, rabbits are a lot like dogs, wanting to gain dominance over each other and claim their own turf. For that reason, you must introduce two rabbits to each other in a neutral place. If there is a room in your house neither one has been, you've found the right location for them to meet.
The first step is to place their individual cages next to each other, and leave them together like this as often as you can. Once they grow accustomed to each other's presence, place them together in the same neutral area while both are on harnesses. Keep them from getting too close, but let them spend as much time together as possible.
Once the tension between them has cleared, allow them to move closer together while still on their leashes, so you break up a fight before it happens. Eventually you'll be able to free them both in the neutral space, but keep a squirt gun handy in case they start to fight. Over time, the two rabbits will learn to tolerate and even like each other. They may even become best friends.