Rabbits, unfortunately, look just like cuddly toys,
and so it has been their fate to be desperately wanted
by children, only to be discarded once the novelty wears
off. So why does this happen? Why do rabbits often get
handed on from one ‘home’ to the next? This
happens of course if they are lucky. Usually the unlucky
ones get neglected, so much so that, if they escape,
no one bats an eyelid. It happens because rabbits usually
live in hutches (or cages) - in isolation, and are therefore
not included in normal family life. No bond is created
so bunny remains nothing more than a novelty item.
The way we care for cats and dogs has improved dramatically
over recent times, but the ‘care’ given
to rabbits has not changed for generations. Most of
us keep rabbits now just as we did in the 1950s.
Why, as a community, are we shocked to look over our
neighbour’s fence and see a cat or dog confined
in a tiny cage, yet we accept this terrible type of
housing for rabbits and guinea pigs as perfectly fine?
Perhaps it’s the same thought processes that define
cats, dogs and dolphins as worthy of protection, but
not farm animals. Rabbits sit somewhere in the middle
– we think they’re adorable, however they
just don’t rate up there with cats and dogs. They
are after all, only cuddly toys – to be hugged
when you feel like it, then tossed aside when you don’t.
When a rabbit hopped into my life about 20 years ago,
I came to understand these much misunderstood and endearing
little animals. I knew I had to do something to try
and improve their lives. Bunny Business was the result.
Through Bunny Business, I try to help people understand
the prey animal mentality of a rabbit, a concept which
is at the core of many problems encountered by bunny
owners. The prey animal concept is the most important
aspect of bunny’s well being. In essence, Bunny
Business encourages owners to throw away the hutch and
turn Thumper into a house-rabbit, so that he can be
included in family life, come to be loved by everyone,
and generally make his presence felt like any member
of the family.
Like cats and dogs, rabbits need to be understood, but
don’t make the mistake of applying everything
you know about cats and dogs to rabbits. Cats and dogs
are predators, rabbits are prey - the gulf between their
behavioural needs and actions is enormous.
Emotional Security – A Must
The underlying, primary need for a rabbit is to feel
safe. You can do this so easily, but you can destroy
it so easily too. Bunny Business outlines how to interact
with bunny and how to provide him with his own special
places that he deems to be safe. What you think is safe
is probably not what makes Thumper feel safe. A cardboard
box is a bunny’s best friend and costs virtually
nothing. It will provide bunny with somewhere safe to
retreat, as long as it is designed for a rabbit and
not a cat.
Golden Rule: Never growl at your rabbit, for anything.
He will not understand and will only become frightened
and withdraw from you.
Once Thumper is safe, he needs a territory. Just like
cats and dogs, he must have ownership of his domain.
A rabbit confined in a hutch often becomes a biting
rabbit because the hutch becomes his entire territory,
and he must defend it against intruders, e.g. when you
have the audacity to put your hands into his space and
dare to pat him. He rarely sees you so cannot develop
a bond, and you don’t live in his hutch, so he
cannot accept your intrusion unlike a house-rabbit where
everyone lives together and Thumper accepts family members
as being other rabbits in his warren - not literally
of course, but he will allow you to live with him.
Possum (left) leaving her tunnel.
She is possessive of her tunnel and chases the wild
birds away if they get too nosey
Rabbits and Children
Contrary to public perception, rabbits are not good
with children. Sanctuaries overseas which are especially
designated for rabbits, will not allow their rabbits
to be adopted by children unless someone else in the
family wants a rabbit too. They know the cycle of child
adopting rabbit, child abandoning rabbit, and rabbit
having to be rescued again. Thus they refuse to allow
their already rescued rabbits to become part of the
Imprisoning a rabbit in isolation in a hutch, when
his only crime has been to appear so cute and adorable
that a child had to have him, is no way to educate any
child on how to care for an animal. A house bunny on
the other hand, will open up a whole new world and teach
a child what caring is all about.
Until the novelty wears off, children love to hold
and hug their bunnies, but rabbits hate being held and
hugged. Squirming and scratching are usually part of
hug-time so Thumper ends up back in his hutch, usually
in disgrace, and of course no one understands why, including
poor Thumper. There are however, lots of ways to shower
your rabbit with affection like stroking, patting or
Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t
House-Train A Rabbit (top)
Rabbits love affection because it makes them feel safe
(if done correctly) and they will reciprocate that affection
if you give them a chance. There’s nothing quite
like a welcoming lick from your bunny when you come
home after a long day at the office. Once you truly
let a rabbit into your life, you will wonder how you
ever lived without him.
Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t
House-Train A Rabbit!
Litter training a rabbit is easy, but a word of caution
– don’t confuse territorial marking with
‘needing to go’. This is the most common
mistake rabbit owners make. For example, a young bunny
may be perfectly litter trained, then one day all hell
breaks loose and he starts weeing everywhere, and not
much of it in his litter tray! Don’t despair:
this only means Thumper has reached sexual maturity
(4 months) and he is letting other rabbits in the area
know that he has come of age and is staking his territory.
De-sexing is the answer and the sooner the better.
Don’t feed lucerne-based pellets unless you want
to fatten Thumper for the dinner table. Unfortunately
pellets are widely used, but because of their high calcium
and fat content, they can cause serious bladder problems
and a fat-overloaded liver. Rabbits love pellets so
use them as a treat only, say one level-teaspoon a day,
and even less for dwarf rabbits.
Indigestible fibre is crucial for a healthy digestive
system, so give unlimited hay every day. For adult rabbits,
fresh green vegetables should be given to supplement
the bunny’s diet.
Most animals have a drawback or two - dogs bark and
carry a few germs, cats urinate in the air vent of your
neighbour’s car, and sometimes your own. Rabbits
chew. They need to chew. It’s imperative that
they do because their teeth continue to grow throughout
their life. Never growl at your rabbit for chewing (or
for anything else.)
Boo Boo and Possum (top) cuddle
together every winter’s night
Boo Boo and Possum (top) spend
every winter’s night sleeping in front of the
There is nothing quite like being with your own kind,
so all bunnies deserve a companion, but be careful going
down this road! Two males will almost certainly fight,
as will two females. Litter mates can sometimes bond
but this is unusual. A male and female, both de-sexed,
are the ideal companions.
Don’t trust anyone but your vet to determine your
rabbit’s sex. Don’t trust a pet shop. Don’t
trust a breeder. Don’t trust a friend. I hear
heart-breaking stories all the time of wrong sexing,
resulting in unwanted litters and fighting rabbits.
Stopping the Cycle of Death
There are thousands of rabbits sitting on death row
all around the world because they were bought by adults
for children, then kept in a hutch and handled badly
(or not handled at all.) There are many more who are
not lucky enough to have made it to death row and a
humane end. The fate of all these rabbits was sealed
before they even left the pet shop.
~ An Article extracted from Bunny Business. http://www.bunnybusiness.org