Do I want a bunny?
March 12, 2010 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Neighbor bought rabbit for kid, now neighbor does not want rabbit. Do I want rabbit?

Our neighbor bought a rabbit for his daughter last year. I live in Hawaii where rabbits are not native and are not wild (at least not in theory). The neighbor decided that the rabbit was too much work and let it go "free range." The rabbit was put outside and let loose. She did not run away, but hung out at the house (and my house and other neighbor's houses). Now he has decided he needs to get rid of the rabbit, since a neighbor is complaining about the rabbit eating his garden. (which is dumb anyway, since the bugs will eat whatever the rabbit doesn't, I know from experience.)

I am willing to take the rabbit, since I feel sorry for her. I have cats who like the rabbit and play with her. Do I want a rabbit? Are they hard to take care of? My husband took care of meat rabbits when he was a child (on a farm). He thinks of them as cute pooping machines you get to eat. I have taken care of monkeys, cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, ratties, but not rabbits. BTW we do not plan on eating her. I live in a tropical climate, can I build a pen for her outside? Does that work with rabbits? I see outdoor hutches for sale, but they seem too confining.
posted by fifilaru to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My family had a few pet rabbits when I was a teen. They're not all that much work, and can supposedly be house trained, although we never managed it all that well. I would say it's on a par with having a small dog.
An outdoor hutch or pen should be okay, as long as there is a sheltered area when the rabbit can get out of the rain/heat. We had a hutch my dad made that the rabbits stayed in at night, but they usually ran around in a big folding pen in the yard during the day. Are there predators that eat rabbits in Hawaii? If so, you may want to beef up the enclosure.
My only problems with them as pets were a) you may have to trim their teeth once in a while,. and b) they were never very affectionate.
Now, maybe this particular rabbit is quite tame and used to people, but ours were never that interested in us. Which was probably our fault for not hand-taming them properly.
Also, if you are trimming their teeth, be careful. I once accidentally yanked out most of the tooth of my step-mother's favorite rabbit (he flinched as I was snipping...). It grew back, but the episode was quite bloody, and somewhat traumatic for all three of us.
posted by Adridne at 9:54 PM on March 12, 2010

My family had two indoor/outdoor rabbits growing up and they both died in their pen. The first had a sand tunnel collapse on her and the second was taken by a dog who ripped through the chicken wire. So those are definitely two things I would watch out for if I had another indoor/outdoor rabbit.

Right now my wife and I have two indoor rabbits. They're "house trained" in the sense that they like to pee in the same spots. We've got three litter boxes around the house for them and we don't have issues of them peeing elsewhere too often (though it does happen occasionally). We have to make sure that there are no wires around or they will be chewed on.

They make pretty easy pets overall. Ours aren't too needy, but enjoy being cuddled during a movie and petted and will reciprocate petting (the female licks back).

We haven't had to trim teeth, but their nails do need trimming every couple months.
posted by ODiV at 10:03 PM on March 12, 2010

You need The House Rabbit Society and their excellent resources on rabbit ownership.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:12 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want some background on the potential damage that a pet rabbit can do, look up my previous post on "Do bunnies make good tenants"? I don't know how to link to it but if you seach on "rabbits" and "tenant" you will find it.
posted by metahawk at 10:16 PM on March 12, 2010

I have two rabbits and love them.

I don't want to be one of "those" lecturey people, but they're called "house" rabbits because they are meant to live in a house. Pet rabbits kept outdoors have a significantly shorter lifespan. They don't do well with heat, or with dogs- even if the dog can't physically get them, they can have a heart attack just from being scared by a dog.

Mine are pretty well-behaved- they seem to know to go to the bathroom in the cage without any kind of training. They will chew cords and stuff in the house- when I let mine out I put them in the kitchen, where there's no wires or other stuff to get into.

You will probably want to get it spayed or neutered- females have a high risk of cancer if not spayed. For males, it just makes them happier and better behaved. If you decide you don't want it, there is probably a local "rabbit rescue" who would take it. You can check out for more info.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:17 PM on March 12, 2010

Good on you fifilaru. The rabbit left to its own devices will eventually come to a nasty end by dogs, cats, birds of prey or just nasty depraved human minds. Or under the wheels of a car. Even if she thrives there is the risk of her teaming up with a buck and doing what rabbits do best and then the neighbours will really be mad. She needs to be rescued or captured and put down for her own sake.

I had some rabbits as a kid and they make quite good pets and I hope someone rescues this one.

I also need to say your neighbour who let her go "free range" committed an act of cruelty, neglect and total irresponsibility. I hope his kid has alternative role-models.
posted by evil_esto at 11:14 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a rabbit. Nthing HRS for the best info you can find on whether a rabbit is right for you, but here's my two cents.

I personally don't see the point in a pet rabbit that lives in an outdoor hutch. The cool thing about rabbits (IMO) is that they're social and have a lot of personality, but tend not to be as demanding of constant attention as cats and dogs. They're usually easy to litter train. You kind of have to interact with them on their terms, since they usually don't like being picked up/cuddled/restrained.

I spend most of my rabbit interaction time sitting on the floor with rabbit running in circles around me, being petted, playing tug-o-war with a toy, etc. I think these qualities make them pretty endearing housemates for busy-ish adults, but if they're out in a hutch, it's not going to be like a dog where they see you and get super-psyched and you'll be able to run around the yard with them for an hour and then go back into the house.

Possible annoyances, big and small:
chewing (this is how rabbits explore the world--neutering helps somewhat, but not entirely)
rabbit-proofing rooms: they'll chew electrical cords, poisonous plants, other deadly things
consuming lots of fresh produce
can be hard to find knowledgeable vets
you'll probably want to get a second rabbit if rabbit 1 is alone a lot, and bonding two rabbits can be nontrivial
if you think cat people are weird, rabbit people are weirder

If you don't want the rabbit, leaving it outside is a death sentence, and I'd encourage you to contact your local Humane Society or HRS chapter to see if they can advise you on someplace to take it.
posted by substars at 11:19 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bunnies are great pets! With the right one, you get a cuddly, quiet, loyal, and yes, cute, little poop machine that doesn't require walks.

Like others above, I really recommend a hutch/cage for the rabbit, and indoors. Ours had "homes" in the basement but usually had the run of the house with supervision. They are litter-box trainable. The litter boxes are so so much better than cat boxes, the little nuggets are easier to clean. In fact, don't use cat litter because it can mess with their digestive system. Depending on the bunny, wires can be a danger, and may need to be hidden or coated with some non-toxic but nasty tasting thing.

bunny bunny bunny!
posted by whatzit at 11:22 PM on March 12, 2010

I loved my bunny as a kid! We kept him in a hutch indoors, and he was litter trained (though the little pellets aren't too much to pick up if they have an accident) and he was actually quite cuddly.

If you've been able to care for a monkey, then you can definetly care for a rabbit. They're a lot like hamsters, but much more personable.
posted by jnaps at 12:31 AM on March 13, 2010

Go for it, they're cute and cuddl-able. Watch those cats, though, they're thinking Dinner.
posted by Namlit at 1:46 AM on March 13, 2010

Rabbits are terrible pets. They shit everywhere. They shit all the time. There really is no situatin in which your rabbit is not interested in shitting. Your rabbit will bite you. Your rabbit will scratch you. Your rabbit has sharp teeth and claws that are designed to repel creatures that are far more motivated then you are. Rabbits are cute, but that's only because they're furry. Without their fur, they're just shitting, scratching, biting, angry little monsters. Don't get a rabbit. They're from hell.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:05 AM on March 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Nthing that the info fairytale of los angeles recommends at from the House Rabbit Society.

If you don't invest any time or understanding into raising a rabbit, then yes, rabbits can be a terrible experience. But if you have patience and insight enough to sort out how to handle them, they are remarkable pets -- quirky, endearing little creatures that function somewhere in the frequency between a puppy and a porcupine. And the happier you make them, the less damage they will do, but finding that balance takes some trial and error and patience. The right food, the right toys to occupy them, and a comfortable living space really do make a difference in the ease of caring for them. The personalities of rabbits who eat fresh salads every day veer wildly from pellet-fed rabbits, so plan on supporting the food required for the daily bunny buffet.

I suspect that because you've worked with a lot of different animal types, you would understand the whole rabbit temperament angle. My pet rabbit passed away after 10.5 feisty years about a year ago. With my little rabbit, after a year or so of supervised play outside the hutch, I realized he was calm enough and mature enough to become a true houserabbit. Since he was litter trained (trained himself) and had an intuition to always use the box in his hutch, I didn't have to worry about accidents any more than the average cat or dog owner. For many years, he slept/played under the bed at night and would nap on the tiles in the sun during the day like a cat. I'd come home from work and hand-feed him sprigs of cilantro, an act which instantly dissolved any stress gathered at work that day. Of course, I soon developed the habit of never leaving books or electrical wires near floor level. Book-loving friends were mortified by how quickly he could rip a cover off a beloved novel.

As for cats, we moved in with a cat owner for a few short years and Bunny immediately established alpha. ;)
posted by mochapickle at 2:53 AM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bunnies are awesome pets. We have 3 indoor rabbits and they all have their own little personalities (see many of Robocop Is Bleeding's posts about our bunnies). They are way more than poop machines, they are curious, fun, can be cuddly, can be grumpy. Ours don't bite at all, with the exception of Beef Wellington who bit a friend twice when he was younger, but has never done it again.

Everyone hit on the major points of bunny care, though I really don't know about the necessity of trimming rabbit teeth- we give them plenty of things to gnaw on, which naturally trims. We've never trimmed their teeth and I wouldn't do it unless a vet recommended it (and then I'd bring 'em to the vet to make the vet do it). We do trim their nails, which needs to be done periodically. We use Carefresh litter, and cleaning their litter boxes is way easier and less gross than cleaning kitty litter (in my opinion), and way, way better than picking up dog poo.

I hope for the best for this bunny, thanks for caring about the poor little one !
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:49 AM on March 13, 2010

Isn't it a crime to release non-native, invasive species into the wild in Hawaii?
posted by elsietheeel at 3:52 AM on March 13, 2010

Rabbits are terrible pets. They shit everywhere. They shit all the time. There really is no situatin in which your rabbit is not interested in shitting. Your rabbit will bite you. Your rabbit will scratch you. Your rabbit has sharp teeth and claws that are designed to repel creatures that are far more motivated then you are.

Mr Llama had rabbits as a kid, which he loved, but this is what he says. He also says they're designed to make you sad, because they're basically hopping food. I don't know about Hawaii, but here in New England there are lots of animals besides people who think rabbits are delicious.

Mr Llama has a lot of really sad rabbit stories.

All that said, if it were me and Mr llama it probably wouldn't be a choice. What are you going to do? We'd be out there building a hutch in our backyard right now.

So my advice would be: yep, you're a bunny owner. Important to make sure bunny won't produce little bunny, bunny needs space to hop around and be a bunny, and bunny needs lots of protection from being eaten, because bunnies are delicious.

Also, careful of heat -- one of Mr. Llama's operatically sad rabbit stories involves a bunny dying from being overheated. Another involves bunny eating bunny babies.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:22 AM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Rabbits are terrible pets. They shit everywhere. They shit all the time. There really is no situation in which your rabbit is not interested in shitting. Your rabbit will bite you. Your rabbit will scratch you.

Some dogs crap all over the place and bite all the time too, usually when they're abused or kept in a small, cramped, and boring environment. Same with bunnies. Our buns are wonderful little goofs who've never bitten or scratched, and use their litterboxes...and we've specifically taken some of the hard adoptions (the really sweet cuddly buns get adopted much faster). They will chew on stuff given the chance, but we just keep them in a room where anything valuable if off the floor. My last bunny followed me around like a puppy, begged for treats, and put up with an infant manhandling him without the slightest grunt of irritation.

Whatever you do, please don't leave the bunny out to roam around and die a horrible death. It's not wild, and can't survive out there.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:13 AM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Our current bunny was one of two rabbits that a neighbor had for their kids and let run wild when the kids grew tired of them. They were both mostly white and likely targets for predators. We had hoped to capture them both but the other one was a little more high-strung and we couldn't catch it. It disappeared a few weeks after.

She's a great little bun, wonderful with the litter box and remarkably sociable although a little shy yet. Rabbits can have interesting personalities if they can live in an environment full of interaction. That's hard to do with an outdoor pen.
posted by tommasz at 6:48 AM on March 13, 2010

Don't get a rabbit. They're from hell.

Whatever, afroblanco. I had a much different experience with the pet rabbit I loved as a teenager. They do shit a lot (yeah, and even though their tiny vegan turds are not gross like that of cats and dogs, it's still shit), but he was gentle, smart (relatively speaking), knew his name, clownishly fun to watch, and cuddled up to my mom and I all the time. My mom was heartbroken when we eventually had to have him put to sleep due to some kind of geriatric cancer. (BTW OP, rabbits, even under the best of circumstances, don't live as long as cats and dogs. Perhaps, for the reluctant foster trying to do the right thing, that's a feature not a bug.)

Nthing please don't leave the rabbit out on her own. Your neighbor is a Grade-A asshole. Lemme guess.. She bought the helpless animal to teach her kid "responsibility?" Infuriating. Pets don't "teach" kids anything. Sorry I'm venting, but I found the guinea pig in my profile picture in our Chicago alley dumpster last September. One of my asshole neighbors apparently dumped him there--like trash--where I later found him and--trust me-- I didn't want a guinea pig either. We took him in (what else do you possibly do?--can't leave him there), intending to find him a home...and, well, that was 6 months ago and my husband is as I type this feeding piggy fresh apple slices and singing him a song.
posted by applemeat at 7:02 AM on March 13, 2010 [11 favorites]

p.s. We did find a willing home for that guinea pig within 48 hours, but by then I'd already fallen for him and was not giving him up.
posted by applemeat at 7:11 AM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You mention that you've had guinea pigs before. I've had both, and I'd consider them pretty similar critters- they fill essentially the same ecological niche, they eat very similar food, they even get penned together at some less-reputable pet stores. Rabbits are a bit bigger, need more space and are a little more expensive to maintain (e.g., mandatory shots) but if you got along with your guinea pig you would probably do well with a rabbit.

If you're concerned with them soiling all of your home, you could build them a modestly sized indoor enclosure - sort of like a hutch but indoors - and then take them out when you're home and can at least monitor where they are micturating for rapid cleanup.

Crap, now I want to get another rabbit.
posted by modernserf at 7:13 AM on March 13, 2010

(Disclaimer: I have never kept a rabbit myself, but have friends who have.)

Rabbits have individual personalities and can be warm and loving pets. The two biggest problems with keeping a rabbit (again, from second-hand experience):

- They like to chew things, such as cables;
- They need to have their toenails clipped.

If you have more than one rabbit, they might get along or they might not. I know of one pair of rabbits that had to live on separate floors of the house because they couldn't stand one another (and they were of opposite gender, even).

House rabbits have to live indoors - they're pretty much the universal prey. Outdoors, they would spend a lot of their time reacting fearfully to unexpected movements and sounds.

And yes, spaying or neutering is a very good idea - there's a reason why the expression is "they breed like rabbits".
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:34 AM on March 13, 2010

I had a rabbit as a child (age 10-11) and took care of her entirely by myself. They are not difficult to care for, but they love to chew, so if you let them explore your house, keep a watchful eye and make sure there are no wires around for them to chomp on.

One caveat is that even though I am not allergic to any other animals, I discovered I am HORRIBLY allergic to rabbits. It was quite a downer -- every time I touched her, my skin would break out into a rash and my eyes would itch in the worst way ever. So, I suggest visiting/petting the rabbit before adopting it just to make sure you don't have any surprise allergies. I can't even LOOK at a bunny without sneezing anymore. The mere mention of Easter makes me pop a Benadryl.
posted by tastybrains at 9:47 AM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a rabbit owner, I adopted a bonded pair about 5 months ago. From my experiences, I agree with almost everything said so far. They are not hard to take care of, but will probably require a little more time than your cats (but less than a dog). Let me summarize what I think are the most important and add my thoughts on some of them:
  1. If you do not take in the animal, someone must find a home for it. Leaving a house bunny outside is animal abuse, pure and simple. In many states, it is accompanied with a fine and prison time. (I find myself as angry as many of the mefites above at your neighbor's behavior.)
  2. If this is meant to be a house rabbit, it must stay inside. Bunnies are prey animals, it will not survive outside because of predators, and because they have weak hearts, that bunny is going to come up against something it won't know how to deal with and either get eaten or literally get scared to death (via heart attack).
  3. Because of generations of breeding as house animals, they no longer have very strong immune systems, this is really sad (I am infinitely sad I can't take my bunnies outside into the grass), but that's how it is. They are too susceptible to bacteria, viruses, worms, and a plethora of other diseases. Some owners do take their bunnies outside, but my adoption contract says no, I imagine for good reason.
  4. Bunnies can be house trained, with a little extra effort. My bunnies started using their litterbox hours after they moved in, the only times they made a mistake were when they were marking (which happened once), and when they didn't take the effort to go back to the other room (which happened twice). You won't be able to train the bunny to go to the litterbox in the basement. Bunnies, like most other animals (not including Fry for Futurama), go to the restroom in the same place, they like clean living spaces just as much as we do, and bunnies are no different. However, bunnies like to chose their own space, while you might be able to choose the corner for them (a corner that makes sense to you will probably make sense to them), if they're adament about going somewhere else, you're probably going to have to move a litterbox to match their habits.
  5. Bunnies are inquisitive and they love to chew, a lot. This is a very dangerous combination. They're smart enough to get themselves into trouble but not smart enough to get themselves out. Their teeth don't stop growing (like sharks! very cute, very cuddly sharks), they think wire are vines, and if you've got someplace blocked off, they want to get into it (I learned this the hard way and lost about $300 in computer equipment). This means that you're going to have to block off the space behind your desk, or better yet, keep them out of the office, and out from behind the media center. Keep it away from your nice furniture. Luckily, my bunnies don't like varnish, so they've stay away from my 1920's chippendale mahogany furniture, you may not be as lucky. I suggest getting (or building) a cage at least 5 times the size of the bunny, and providing lots of chew toys. The more out-of-cage time the bunny gets, the smaller the cage can be (mine roam the apartment all day).
  6. Bunnies are social, but they always look out for number 1. While bunnies are social creatures, everything a bunnies does is in service of herself. They have a somewhat stratified social structure, which means while a bunny will be subservient to another (and you've gotta make yourself top bun), if it isn't in her interest, the bunny is going to tell you to fuck off, and they have memories like elephants: bunnies never forget.
  7. It is hard to find a bunny-savvy vet, but you need to. Check out HRS, or Seriously, a non-savvy vet might kill the bunny even if you're just going in to get it fixed/spayed. You will need to monitor their health more closely than your cats. Because they're prey animals, they hide their illness, a sick bunny is dinner to way too many other animals. If the bunny hasn't eaten or pooped in 12-18 hours, you've got to find a vet fast. (Speaking of bunny poop, sometimes they eat their own, it's the price of eating mostly hay and not being big enough to have 4 stomachs like a cow.)
  8. Bunnies need varied food. Fresh greens, fresh hay, nutritious pellets. At any given time, 20% of a bunny's body weight is food, this means you've gotta provide a good source of veggies and hay. They graze like cows, which means they've gotta keep eating over the course of the day (I give veggies and pellets once a day, but always have hay for them).
  9. Bunnies need love. They are social animals, I'm guessing if they the bunny has actually taken to your cats, it's because it's looking for some companionship. Just because they're smaller than a cat or dog and you can't feed them table scraps doesn't mean they're less of a pet. Bunnies fall in love and they don't let go easily. In this way, they're like a good dog. Bunnies need to bond with something, when two bunnies bond, it's like they get married (seriously), they eat together, they play together, one will stand guard while the other sleeps. While you don't necessarily need a pair, someone or something needs to provide that care.
  10. Bunnies are long-lived. A healthy bunny will live 10-15 years, you have to be willing to put up with that time commitment. Since you have cats, I assume you are.
I'm not trying to scare you away from taking in the bunny (I really hope you do). They are wonderful companions, albeit sometimes temperamental (and what pet isn't?). I've found their personalities to be somewhere between a cat and a dog in that they are very loving and will come and beg for food and love to play, but are also independent and want their own privacy as well.

In the last few months, my life has been infinitely enriched by the presence of mine. We had a few bumps while getting used to each other and sometimes I only have maybe 10 minutes a day to play with them, but it has been worth every minute and every penny (even the loss of my speakers).

If you do take in the rabbit, I strongly urge you to build your own cage; it's a lot cheaper and is much more comfortable than one from the store. Do not leave the bunny outside, or keep it in an outside hutch, given enough time, she will dig her way out.

Finally, if you don't take in the rabbit, please try to find someone that will, I somehow doubt your neighbor is going to.
posted by thebestsophist at 11:05 AM on March 13, 2010

Oh, a couple tips for catching the bunny:
  1. Raisins. Lots of them. Like many humans, bunnies have a huge sweet tooth (much to their detriment). While the bunny is probably going to be pretty pissed about being picked up (they feel it's disrespectful to control their bodies like that), raisins, banana, apples (sans core) are going to help you catch the bunny pretty quickly. Bunny love can be bought by going straight to the stomach.
  2. Speak in a high sing-song voice, like talking to a baby. They actually can't hear some of the lower ranges of the human voice, but higher sweet tones mean about the same to them as it does to us.
  3. Stay calm, no sudden movements. Bunnies are not quick to trust.
  4. Wear loose clothing. Seriously, they have sharp nails.
  5. Remember: they jump. This seems obvious, but when you pick the bunny up, you've gotta make sure it doesn't try to jump over you, bunnies can jump upwards of 3-4 feet, add that to the 4-5 feet the bunny is going to be at when you're hold it, and you've got a 7 foot fall for an animal that is at most 8 inches tall.
Bunnies are very empathetic. When you're holding the bunny, keep projecting calmness, if it thinks you know what you're doing, and knows you're not going to harm it, it's going to be more willing to trust you.
posted by thebestsophist at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2010

Another bunny-catching tip, to add to the great information above: towel. This works much the same way as the cat burrito: don't spread it out (it'll freak bunny out), but rather let it cover your hands and when you get a hold of the bunny you can wrap them gently. My family was the adopter in a situation much like yours long, long ago in a much colder place.
posted by whatzit at 1:14 PM on March 13, 2010

Rabbits are terrible pets. They shit everywhere.

My house trained rabbit never shit anywhere but his litterbox.

Vacuum cleaners are a wonderful invention of the modern age.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:31 PM on March 13, 2010

As for the wire-chewing, you can either coat wires in stuff bunnies don't like, or use those plastic wire organizers you can get at any computer store. They can electrocute themselves, so this is really important.

Other than that, they are darling, darling pets, very social, and learn to love you quickly if you treat them well (and feed them nom nom noms). Most bunnies are happy with bunny litter boxes, but even if the bun occasionally poops outside the box, it's not like a dog or cat pooping outside the box.The pellets are tiny, don't smell, and are very easy to clean up by simply holding a paper towel and picking them up like raisins.

Do not confuse pellets with raisins.

Bunnies are, by and large, joyful creatures--animal experts have done significant research into how bunnies express happiness: they jump high into the air and spin before they land. Some of them even do back-flips. It's called "binking" (yes, I know). It is the cutest thing EVER. They also snuggle, and they're insanely easy to train, if you are willing to take the time (SLYP).

Now I want a bun again.
posted by tzikeh at 4:40 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rabbits are food.

And they're terribly destructive outside of their native habitat (where they get eaten in vast numbers). Don't let it go wild.
posted by klanawa at 7:20 PM on March 13, 2010

Today's busy modern rabbits do it all. They can be dynamic pets.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:19 PM on March 15, 2010

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