Bringing home your new bunny is an exciting time. For your rabbit, however, this is likely to be a scary time. His familiar surroundings are changing, and that can be very stressful for them. However, there are some simple things that you can do to help make things easier for your bunny.
When you get home, take your bunny to a quiet place in your home. Keep her in her cage or small area in your home until she becomes familiar with her surroundings. Make sure her space includes plenty of water, hay, food pellets, and litterbox. She'll typically need a space at least 4x her body size. A 2'x2' cage at minimum. Include a place to hide, like a box or covered area to help her feel safe.
For the first few days, minimize any noise and sudden movements. As difficult as it may be, try not to touch or handle your new bunny for the first day or two while they get used to their new environment. Only then should you introduce them to other pets, and always under close supervision.
Your bunny's true personality may take awhile to emerge as he adjusts to his new life. Be patient and don't force it. Hang out with him by sitting on the floor and letting him approach you. Show him he can approach you, sniff, and explore, then hop away again. This hands-off approach will build trust. His fear will decrease while curiosity and playfulness will increase. Treats and toys will make the interaction even more rewarding.
The adjustment period should be as long or as short as your rabbit wants it to be. This typically takes anywhere from two days to two weeks. Trying to force it along faster will actually result in delaying it further.
Let your new bunny come to you and become comfortable with you. When handling your bunny, always use two hands! Bunnies can squirm and very easily be startled. By holding your bunny close to your body, it makes them feel safe.
Bunnies are social creatures and most enjoy the company of other bunnies and humans. They are very intelligent and as prey animals, must build trust with you to feel safe. Rough-handling (especially if you have small children), pulling, trapping, and chasing, will trigger their prey response and make it harder to build trust. Be gentle. Let them control the interaction. You will be greatly rewarded!
YES! Bunnies CAN be potty-trained. If you plan to "free roam" your rabbit in your house, we suggest starting in a small area and teaching to potty-train first.
As a warning for those of you bringing a rabbit home for the first time, you should expect your rabbit to scatter poops around the places they explore during their first few weeks. It is likely to occur even if your rabbit is already litter box trained. This is a way that the rabbit is marking their territory and it typically subsides after they feel familiar with the new place. Drippings in a pile indicate more potty-training is needed.
A Rabbit's diet consists of two key items:
HAY - Rabbits require unlimited hay 24/7. Rabbits teeth never stop growing. They need full access to hay in order to keep their teeth an appropriate length. Timothy is the best type of hay to feed to your rabbit.
Pellets - Hay is more important than pellets but rabbits should still be given pellets. Pellets are best when fed in the evening. This gives bunnies all day to eat more hay instead of relying on pellets.
How much to feed - Bunnies between 8 weeks and 4 months should be given about 1 full cup of pellets daily (in the evening). Bunnies 4 months and older should be getting about 1/2 a cup of pellets daily.
Veggies - Veggies should NOT be given to rabbits under the age of 3 months. It can cause diarrhea and GI. When a bunny becomes 3 months, you can slowly start to introducing veggies into your bunny's diet. When introducing new veggies/fruit, always give in small amounts. PLEASE do your research prior to feeding your bunny veggies/fruit.
Lettuce is not recommended for rabbits. Stick with fresh foods such as peas (English and snow), kale, bok choy, Brussels and other sprouts, celery, wheatgrass, watercress, collard greens, squash, bell peppers, and broccoli. Sweet things like carrots, apples, and bananas can also be fed in small amounts as treats.
Depending on your particular breed, most bunnies need at least an hour of exercise or playtime per day (especially if the cage is smaller than 4'x4').
If you take them to play outside, make sure they have access to plenty of shade and water to avoid heat-stroke. Do not leave unsupervised. Rabbits are prey animals and depending on where you live, can be vulnerable to hawks, eagles, owls, and other large predatory birds.
Generally speaking, you should never need to "wet" bathe your bunny. Bunnies are very clean and do a pretty good job cleaning themselves (and each other). Their fur does not dry easily so try to avoid getting it wet. For stubborn stains (like urine stains), use equal parts water and white vinegar and wipe the stain with a clean cloth. Then rub in cornstarch, allow to dry, then comb it out.
Hopping or Dancing - Hopping or dancing is a sign of pure joy and happiness. The bunny’s “dancing” can include leaping, doing a binky (jumping straight up and spinning in the air) and racing around.
Flopping - Rabbits flop onto their sides like this when they are extremely happy and content. They also display it when they feel very safe and relaxed in their environment
Playing - How do rabbits play? Well, they like to push or toss objects around. They may also race madly around the house, jump on and off the furniture, and act like children who have had too much sugar. Rabbits love toys and some will play for hours with a favorite toy.
Circling your feet - When a bunny circles a person’s feet or legs, this behavior usually indicates sexual or mating behavior (even when your rabbit is neutered). It basically means “I love you.”
Thumping - Thumping the back foot is a natural reaction to danger they've smelled, heard or seen. Rabbits aren't very vocal so thumping is an important way of communicating. They may remain in the thumping posture until convinced that the danger is gone.
Nipping or Biting - A bunny nip is gentler than a bite. Bunnies will nip to get your attention, or to politely ask you to move out of their way. Rabbits usually do not bite, but if one does, generally it doesn’t mean that he hates you. There are many reasons that might cause a rabbit to bite; for example, he might bite if you grab at him or surprise him. A rabbit may also accidentally bite while tugging at your pant leg. Another reason rabbits bite is that they have poor up-close vision, so they may think that your ﬁnger coming toward them is food — or a predator. To put a stop to rabbit bites, immediately let out a shrill cry when you are bitten. Rabbits do this when they are hurt. Since they usually do not intend to hurt you, they will be surprised that you have cried out and will usually stop the behavior after a few times.
Grunting - If your rabbit grunts, it usually means she is angry – and possibly feels threatened. Sometimes, grunting is followed by a nip or bite. Some rabbits do not like it when you rearrange their cages as you clean; they may grunt, charge or even nip you when you try. They are creatures of habit and once they get things just right, they like them to remain that way.
Teeth Grinding - Rabbits may softly grind their teeth when they are content (such as when you’re petting them). Loud teeth grinding, however, can indicate that the rabbit is in pain or is ill. Take your bunny to a rabbit veterinarian if you hear loud teeth grinding.
Spraying - Why do male and female bunnies spray? They are marking their territory. Un-neutered males will mark female rabbits and their territory by spraying them with urine. Un-spayed females can also indulge in this behavior. It’s another good reason to spay or neuter your rabbits.
Shrill Scream (distress) - Your rabbit is in pain or dying. Seek medical help immediately.
Bunnies, like other pets, are occasionally naughty. When that happens, remember that you should never hit a rabbit. It’s cruel and they don’t understand why they are in trouble. They can also become very angry and aggressive if provoked. Instead of punishing bad behavior, it’s usually far more effective to use positive reinforcement to encourage your rabbit to behave in the way you would like.
Always be consistent when disciplining rabbits and don’t expect too much from them. Here are two humane things to try if your rabbit is being a bit ornery:
You can help reduce undesirable behavior in your rabbit by spaying or neutering, bunny prooﬁng your house, and providing plenty of toys.