Choosing Your New Rabbit
Rabbits come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and personalities!
It can be tempting to think of rabbits as being fairly generic, but actually they are anything but. Just like cats and dogs, rabbits come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and personalities – in fact, there are 62 different rabbit breeds registered with the British Rabbit Council, and countless more mixes and crosses!
Once you’ve considered the type of rabbit that might fit best into your lifestyle, this handy guide can help you made decisions on if you want a baby rabbit or an adult, take a look at where you might get your new rabbit from, and provide help on asking the right questions.
More about choosing your new rabbit
Rabbits are incredibly social animals, but can also be very hormonal. The most recent welfare advice is to always house rabbits in at least pairs, but adding a new rabbit in to the home later can be tricky, although there is lots of advice and support available to help you.
When you are considering purchasing a pet rabbit, always think about getting two. That way you can get a bonded pair, or two from the same litter, who will have a much better chance of getting along. Don't forget those hormones though! Even the most loved-up bunnies will get fighting if they are left un-neutered, so all rabbits should undergo neutering unless you want to breed from them; even if you have two males or two females! Neutering has other benefits too; your rabbits will be calmer with you and your family, and neutering reduces the risk of some health problems such as specific cancers.
Other pets, such as guinea pigs, are sadly not suitable companions for bunnies; not only do they speak a different language, rabbits have powerful back legs and can accidentally injure a guinea pig friend.
Baby rabbits are called kittens, or kits, and are definitely adorable, but who can really say that mum isn’t cute too? One of the early decisions when you choose to bring rabbits into your home is if you want baby rabbits or to rehome or buy an adult rabbit.
Kittens can be a handful! Just like most baby animals they are curious, sometimes cautious and generally a huge bundle of fun. As rabbits are naturally prey species, unlike cats and dogs, their natural wariness of new people and situations is high – no surprise as they are programmed to be alert for threats! This means that socialising a baby bunny to handling and interaction can take time and patience, and can be frustrating, especially for young children who may struggle to understand why they can’t cuddle their new rabbit immediately.
Adult rabbits are often already socialised, although like any pets in a new environment, they will take a little time to settle in. This can speed up integrating into a new family, and for house rabbits may also mean you don’t have to worry about things like toilet training.
It is also important to think about the commitment you can give your new family member. Rabbits can live on average 7-10 years, and The Guinness Book of World Records has the oldest rabbit ever as living to over 18 years old! The approximate lifetime cost of owning a rabbit is £9000, before any extra veterinary costs if they become unwell or injured, and part of committing to ownership of a pet is feeling able to provide everything they will need, throughout their life.
While choosing between baby rabbits and adults will very much depend on you and your family’s preference and circumstances, it is always worth considering adopting older rabbits. They are generally calmer, may be already used to handling, and you get the joy of knowing you have given older bunnies a second chance at a loving home.
If you are considering adult rabbits there are some points to remember:
- There will be unknowns. Any adult rabbit, especially one with no prior history, can be a mystery. This means there may be situations or triggers that they struggle with that you
- Honesty is the best policy. Knowing what you can offer rabbits, and being honest about that with the rescue
- Current members of the household. If you already have a rabbit, you may find they will take better to a rabbit of the opposite gender, who is already neutered. Having more than one rabbit is wonderful for everyone, but
- Happiness. Nothing beats the happiness of rescue rabbits in their new, safe and loving home don't underestimate the value of being able to give a rescue rabbit a second chance.
Rabbits are sadly often neglected in the UK and it is estimated that 67000 rabbits are handed into rehoming centres every year. This means that there are many rabbits available in rescue centres. Considering their rapid reproductive skills, and regular lack of neutering in the rabbit population, many rescue rabbits are babies or are young after being part of surprise litters!
So, if you do decide you definitely want baby rabbits, rather than adults, consider rehoming or rescue centres. Even if they don’t currently have any baby rabbits in, they may have a waiting list you can be put on, or be able to make a note to contact you if any baby rabbits arrive. They may also have younger rabbits that match your needs – a visit can’t hurt!
There are also private adoption agencies or rescue groups, some of which work out of centres and some which use foster homes. Some pet shops also run bunny adoptions, including Pets At Home who run Support Adoption For Pets, so if you are popping into a pet shop, ask if this is something that they support. Although baby bunnies cannot be neutered until they are four months old, many rehoming centres or adoption agencies will have started their vaccinations, given the rabbits a thorough health check and may also provide protection against flystrike if it is the season. All rabbits rehomed through Support Adoption For Pets come with a free vaccination and neutering voucher that you can redeem at your local Vets4Pets a great way to get you started on the right foot!
While rescue is a great way to help rabbits in need, it isn't for everyone. Getting the right rabbits for your family is the most important consideration, and good pet shops such as Pets At Home can be a great place to look for your new additions! The main consideration when looking at purchasing baby rabbits from a pet shop is to make sure that the rabbits are in the very best health, and the people working in the store know the rabbits. This should include knowledge about where they come from, how much handling they have had, the breed-types, and how best to care for the bunnies that they have in. Did you know that Pets At Home are licenced to sell pets? That means that they have to be inspected by the council every year to make sure that they are meeting all the required standards.
Good rabbit breeders may breed their bunnies at home, especially if they are a rare breed or do well in shows. The advantage of this is that these rabbits are generally born as part of a planned litter, and grow up in a home environment. It is often possible to see both parents, or at least the mother, and private, dedicated owners often know a lot about the breed that they work with.
A concern with online selling of rabbits is that it can be difficult to find out if a seller is a legitimate breeder or not. Pedigree rabbits bred from show stock can cost much more than more common rabbits, and sadly some people can see this as a quick way to make cash. This is especially difficult as rabbit pedigrees can be falsified, and uncovering fakes can be time-consuming.
Some rabbits for sale online may also be the result of accidental matings and ‘one-offs’ but again it can be difficult to tell these apart from unscrupulous people breeding purely for profit. If you ever aren’t sure, it’s best to walk away.
Some red flags would be:
Rabbits that have been recently bathed, or have soiling or staining on their coat. Rabbits are generally very clean pets, and dirty animals for sale shows they are likely housed in generally poor conditions.
Rabbits being handed over in a neutral location, such as a car park or petrol station.
The breeder offers you more than one breed of rabbit. Having multiple breeds of rabbit can indicate that a home breeder is less focused on the rabbits themselves – most good breeders concentrate on one or two favoured breeds.
The breeder refuses to show you the mother of the rabbits, or makes excuses, especially with very young rabbits. All breeders should be able to let you meet the mother. If she isn’t around, the rabbits may not have been bred in the location they are being sold.
The breeder can’t answer your questions. Good breeders live and breathe their rabbits and will be able to answer everything you want to know about the specific rabbits, and about the breed itself. If the breeder can’t do that, this should raise concerns.
The breeder isn’t interested in you. Good breeders want their baby rabbits to go to the right home, so will generally ask a whole raft of questions. If a breeder seems more concerned about selling you rabbits, rather than making sure the rabbits are right for you, walk away.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you are dealing with someone you feel is an unscrupulous breeder it can be difficult to walk away. Many people say they felt compelled to ‘rescue’ baby rabbits or that they didn’t feel comfortable leaving.
Although it can be difficult, especially to leave baby rabbits behind, it is the best action in the long run if you do not think the breeder is legitimate. Baby rabbits born in poor conditions are often chronically ill throughout their lives or have problems adapting to handling.
Good breeders can be found by asking your vet for referrals, via breed clubs which usually have an online presence, or by attending rabbit shows if you are interested in getting rabbits of very high pedigree.
A part of your considerations as a potential rabbit owner will be the choice of breed/breed mix of your rabbits. Pedigrees of rabbits are slightly different to those of dogs – for a rabbit to be classed as a pedigree, the previous 3 generations must all have been the same breed, and the rabbit must also meet breed standards. Many of the rabbits available will have breed characteristics from a certain breed, but might not have the genetic history that would be required for them to be a true pedigree.
Either way, unless you are planning on breeding/showing, the true pedigree is not a high priority – the main consideration is that the rabbits you are getting are healthy. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider carefully the ‘type’ of rabbits you want to get. Different breeds tend to have different dominant personality traits – although all rabbits are individual! By looking at the traits of all the available breeds, and matching them with your own home environment, you will increase the chance of getting bunnies that are a perfect match for you and your family.
Looking online for your local area is generally the fastest way to find local rescue centres that work with rabbits. While most are great, it is important to make sure you are happy that the rabbits there are being well looked after – rabbits should have clean pens, shelter, a sizeable exercise area, and access to water and hay.
A good rescue centre will know about the rabbits in their care, and will also ask you lots of questions too. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little quizzed! You may also be required to have a home visit from staff at the rehoming facility. Be patient. All rehoming centres will have experience of failed rehoming, and this is hugely disappointing to all parties, and can be very stressful for the rabbits involved. Everyone wants what is best for the rabbits, and this involves finding them the most suitable home environment. Getting the right rabbits for your home will also benefit you too!
Good rescue centres will also usually microchip, vaccinate and neuter rabbits in their care. This can save you money, as although recue centres usually charge a rehoming fee, it is often less than the sum total of getting these procedures done. If you aren’t sure about rescue centres, your vet may be able to advise you of any they have worked with, and rabbit forums and breeders will also likely be able to help point you in the right direction.
While we would always suggest trying adopting before buying, if you can’t find the right rabbits for you, you may want to look at pet shops. Importantly, pet shops are not all the same, and getting your rabbits from a reputable pet shop such as Pets At Home is critical – a happy, healthy start in life will set your rabbits up for success.
So, how do you identify a ‘good’ pet shop?
The rabbits receive regular health checks. Rabbits should be checked every day, and isolated and taken to the vet if they are showing any signs of being unwell. Check for any runny noses or dirty bottoms.
There is plenty of information available. A good pet shop will want make sure you know everything you need to about caring for your pets. This means that there should be plenty of information available both from the people working with the rabbits, and available as leaflets or information sheets to take away.
They ask questions. Just like with breeders, the long-term health and welfare should be the number one consideration for a pet shop. This means if you don't fit the bill as a rabbit owner, you should expect to be refused a pet. If selling you the rabbits seems more important than checking the rabbits are right for you, this should be a red flag.
- Enrichment. Enrichment means providing interesting furniture and challenges in the enclosure to keep pets stimulated. For rabbits this can be fun furniture, such as tunnels and blocks, toys, and companions remember, rabbits should never live alone.
Space. Rabbits need space to hop and jump what you might think of as an average hutch is not enough for full time housing, and should only function as a bedroom. Rabbits should have space to explore this gives you the ability to watch them expressing more natural behaviours too!
Regular handling. Especially for prey species such as rabbits, who are naturally very wary, regular handling from being babies is important for socialisation. Rabbits in pet shops need this too, and should be handled every day. Rabbits who are calm when handled properly are a good indication that this has been happening.
Clean. Rabbits are not dirty animals, but they have to eat a lot of fibre to stay healthy this means a lot of poops! Good pet shops should clean their rabbit enclosures every day.
Training. If you have to wait for a specific member of staff to help you with picking your pet, this is a good sign. Species-specific training for employees is a great way to identify that the pet shop prioritises the needs of the pets, and while you might have to wait longer to speak to the right person, you'll know they have the knowledge and expertise you need to help you make the right decisions.
Food and water. All rabbits need access to clean hay and water at all times, and provided pelleted food and greens should be good quality. Old or soiled food should be removed.
Although all baby rabbits should have a vet check-up before you bring them home, you can also have a check over of your potential baby rabbits to make sure you can’t spot any warning signs of being unhealthy or poorly handled:
- Handle the rabbit yourself. Rabbits who have been regularly handled since birth should be already quite tame, although they may be more nervous with a new person. Don't forget, rabbits need to feel secure always listen to advice on the safest way to handle your rabbit. A jump from your arms can cause serious injury to a rabbit, and a rabbit's claws can also damage skin.
- Coat. Rabbits should have a glossy coat, with no dirty patches or matted areas, and have no sores or scabs. Make sure to check they are clean around their bottom and on their front legs bottom trouble can indicate diarrhoea, and matted fur on the front legs can mean they have been wiping a runny nose!
- Ears. Ears should be clean all the way down, with no redness, dirt or scratches.
- Eyes. Eyes should be bright, with no overflowing tears or build-up of discharge in the corners.
- Nose. Nose should be clean and dry a runny nose can indicate the snuffles which is a bacterial infection and can be difficult to manage.
- Teeth. The front teeth should meet in a scissor-like movement, with the top teeth just over the bottom. Poor
Spending time in the enclosure if you can, or with the rabbits in an environment where you don’t have to hold on to them, can help you look at their personality as well as their health. Healthy and socialised rabbits will be curious about their surroundings, and you!
As exciting and magical a time as getting new rabbits is, it is important to remember that getting a new pet is a transaction, and you need to make sure everything is above board. This means exchanging paperwork which, while not very glamorous, is the best way to protect you and the breeder or rescue centre if there are any problems.
Here are some of the paperwork items you might want for your new rabbits:
- Vet check certification. Your baby rabbit may have had a vet check before you bring them home. If they have, the breeder or pet shop should have a printout of the notes, or the vet may have written any results of their examination in a vaccination card.
- Vaccination certificate. If your rabbit has had a first vaccination,or a full course, the vet will have issued a vaccination certificate which they will have signed. This is proof of vaccination, and is important to prove your rabbit has had their injections.
- Microchip information. Rabbits can be microchipped to provide identification for them. Some rescue centres and good shops such as Pets At Home microchip their rabbits, or you may rehome rabbits that have already been microchipped. In these cases, it is important to change the paperwork associated with the chip numbers to your own details. If your rabbits haven't been microchipped, we recommend discussing this simple procedure with your vet.
- Insurance. Rabbits may come with a short term insurance policy, usually for about four weeks . if your rabbits do, make sure to get the details, and don't forget to set up a long term policy before this one runs out!
- A receipt. Just like any monetary exchange, it is best to have documentation of the money you have paid, signed by both you and the breeder. If you get rabbits from a rescue centre or pet shop, you should receive a receipt for any fees paid just as you normally would.
- An agreement. Anything you agree verbally with the breeder, rescue centre, previous owner or pet shop should be documented and signed. This includes if they have agreed to take the rabbit back if there are any problems, and any other commitments either of you have made.
Wherever you get your new rabbits from, it should be an enjoyable experience. Bringing a new family member home is a fantastic moment and something to treasure, be that baby bundles of fluff, or fully grown rabbits just raring to go!
For more information on setting up for your new rabbits, check out our bringing your rabbit home page here.
And don’t forget to get your newest family member registered at your local Vets4Pets!