Enjoying Your Rabbits as Pets

Raising rabbits as pets can be a whole lot of fun. Here are some activities you can enjoy together.

House Rabbit

House rabbits can provide hours of entertainment for you and your family. Before letting them loose, however, care must be taken to make your house rabbit proof.

Photo by iStockPhoto/xavierarnau

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Owning rabbits, taking them to shows, feeding and caring for them – these are all rewarding pursuits that can bring a lot of enjoyment. The fun, however, doesn’t have to stop at routine rabbit care. There are many more activities you and your bunnies can enjoy together, many of which are lesser known to most new rabbit enthusiasts.

For those folks who look at rabbits more as members of the family than as “livestock,” here are some reasons you may want to give your furry friends a few toys, enter them in hopping or agility competitions, or even invite them into your home as house rabbits. Give them a try and learn how much fun your bunnies could be for you and your family.

Fun ’n’ games

You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you I have a rabbit that demands toys, but it’s absolutely true. She used to pull her water cup off the cage wall, dump the water, and then carry the cup around her cage in her mouth. I would remove the cup, refill it and put it back. An hour or two later, she would be carrying the cup around the cage again. Well, let’s just say that it didn’t take me long to replace her water cup with a “locked” version that affixed tightly to the cage wall and give her a toy to play with. Now, she loves her toys and plays with them regularly.

If you have a rabbit with a penchant for toys, you may be wondering which types to choose. Small-pet catalogs offer a wide variety of choices, and you can rest easy knowing that they are specially designed for small-animal use. You can find balls, “hay wheels” and grass mats. The grass mats are particularly interesting, as they can take the place of a resting board in your rabbit’s cage, but since they are made of dried grass (hay), it’s perfectly all right if your rabbit decides to eat it.

If you’d rather use items that you already have around the house, such as empty paper towel tubes or recycled soda cans, make sure that you choose items that don’t pose any danger to your rabbits. Baby or toddler toys can make suitable toys for rabbits, as can some cat toys.

Hop to it

Rabbit shows are undeniably fun, but if you’re looking for an event with a bit more bounce, then you might want to look into rabbit agility and rabbit hopping competitions. If you’re at all familiar with dog agility competitions, then you know that they offer a wide variety of obstacles for the dog to maneuver over, around or through. Rabbit agility is essentially the same, although the obstacles are proportionally smaller. Rabbit agility is still gaining momentum, but many rabbit enthusiasts are discovering it as a great way to interact with their rabbits, maintain their health, and have a lot of fun at the same time.

Similar to rabbit agility, but with a slightly different twist, is rabbit hopping. Instead of an agility course, imagine a show jumping competition for horses scaled down to rabbit size. In rabbit hopping competitions, the rabbit, wearing a body harness and leash, makes its way around a course of jumps, leaping over each one. Rabbit hopping competitions are popular in Europe, particularly Scandinavia (the sport originated in Sweden), and they are just becoming known in North America.

Some rabbit breeds are not particularly well-suited to agility or hopping, either due to their large size or excessive wool. However, most midsize rabbits with short coats would be suitable candidates for training. The exercise presents a nice diversion for your rabbit and allows the two of you to enjoy a pleasant occupation.

House rabbits

Your rabbits are your pets, and you enjoy their company. So it’s likely that you have considered the idea of having house rabbits. A house rabbit is a rabbit that is allowed to roam freely throughout your home (or at least throughout a room or two) and is kept in a hutch or cage only on occasion.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your rabbits in your home. You have the opportunity to truly enjoy your pets and their personalities, and they have the benefit of ample exercise and exploration. On the other hand, there are a fair number of disadvantages as well. Rabbits are notoriously destructive in the home, and you may find yourself dealing with chewed furniture or belongings, droppings on the floor if a bunny isn’t 100 percent litter trained, and difficulties with your other house pets. Your family dog or cat can prove to be a danger to your house rabbit, so never leave them together unsupervised. Other household dangers that can pose potential hazards to your house rabbit include houseplants (these can be poisonous) and electrical cords (potentially fatal if chewed).

For these reasons, you will have to extensively rabbit-proof your home if you decide to go the house rabbit route. It’s recommended that you allow your rabbit access to only one or two rooms so that you can focus on fully rabbit-proofing them. Remove any plants or electrical cords, and look around for any objects that you wouldn’t want chewed. Then look around for any potential hazards: Is there anything your bunny could fall off of? Are there any heavy objects that might fall on your bunny? By taking the time to fully evaluate your rabbit’s future home, you’ll be helping to ensure your rabbit’s safety and your own peace of mind.

The final step in preparing for a house rabbit is to train him to use the litter box. This isn’t actually as difficult as it might sound, since bunnies are naturally tidy creatures. You may have noticed that your rabbit has chosen a corner of his hutch that is his preferred area for relieving himself. Capitalize on this preference when you begin training him to use the litter box. Begin by placing a new litter box in that favored hutch corner. Ideally he will continue to use that corner, but he will now be relieving himself in the litter box. Once he is used to the box, you can bring it out and place it in an obvious place in your home. Rabbits are very sensitive to smell, and he will recognize his own odor on the litter box. Don’t expect him to understand immediately that the box is for his personal use, but if he makes a mistake on the floor, pick up and place the droppings in the litter box. Repeat regularly. Many bunnies will follow the scent and begin using the litter box on their own. Remember, he may continue to make a mistake from time to time, but patience is the key.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Rabbit Book: A Guide to Raising and Showing Rabbits by Samantha and Daniel Johnson, published by Voyageur Press, 2011.