WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE GETTING A BUNNY
There are bunnies out there that need you more than you need them. They live in rescues and in open fields, rather than in pet shops or on Gumtree. Bunnies breed quickly and easily. Pet shops and intentional bunny breeders love this fact because it means they can make ‘easy’ money. But population is a huge problem for bun-kind. This is because there are more bunnies out there than people willing to give them good, loving homes. Bunny rescuers take bunnies from bad people and bad situations and rehome them to homes where they will live their best lives. Rather adopt a bunny from a Rescue than buy one from a shop or off the internet. This way you do some good by NOT encouraging people to keep breeding bunnies. Adopt a bunny, here.
Bunnies do not make ideal pets for kids, unless supervised by an educated adult at all times. Bunnies have very fragile backs and when picking them up, you need to support their back as well as their hind legs – one big kick, while dangling in the air could leave your bunny paralysed for life. Children’s hands are too tiny to hold a bunny properly, and it is advised to always let kids sit on the floor to interact with them. Bunnies also don’t always come when they are called and this could provoke the wrong type of behaviour – a child trying to hold a bunny down – or cause a child to lose interest in their pet, leaving it lonely, and stuck in a cage for the rest of its life. Bunnies have very sharp nails and teeth and will bite and scratch if they feel they should. Even people who are experienced with bunnies will tell you that they have probably been scratched on the chest more than once, by a bunny that did not feel like being held at the time. Please only adopt a bunny for a small child if you are going to be the main caregiver, will ensure the proper diet is followed and can ensure that your children only interacts with the bunny under supervision. Bunnies have amazing personalities, but will only reward you with affection on their terms (much like a cat). What we can confirm though, is that it’s totally worth the patience and effort.
Bunnies can live inside as part of the family by becoming litterbox trained (more perfectly so when they are sterilized). To start with litterbox training, place the litterbox in the corner that your bunny has chosen to do his business. Bunnies are creatures of habit and will most likely wee and poop in the same corner. We suggest using eco scentless wood pellets with a layer of hay on top. You can add a piece of toilet paper to the litterbox that has been used to wipe your bun’s urine – this will show him that you want him to go there. Be persistent about throwing all droppings in the litterbox. If you are struggling, it is best to start small (in a cage or playpen) and then let your bunny “earn” more space as his manners improve. Once they’ve learned the habit they will hardly ever urinate outside the litter box. Just remember that unsterilized bunnies will probably mark territory, leaving droppings and spraying urine all over the place – best to get them spayed/neutered, it helps with manners. Read our guide on spaying and neutering, here.
Bunnies are not low maintenance pets and they live up to 10 years. Many people think that bunnies make great starting pets – this is not true. When you adopt a bunny you need to be in it for the long run. Bunnies need a responsible caretaker who can ensure that: they follow the correct diet, they always have fresh water and hay available, they get enough run time, they are handled carefully, they aren’t hiding illness or pain, their litterboxes are clean, they are sterilized to prevent aggressive/ hormonal behaviour, they are entertained and interacted with so that they do not go into depression. You also need to bunny-proof your home (or supervise out-time) as they have a natural instinct to chew and dig.
They are not cheap pets. In contradiction to what most people think, there are a lot of costs associated with owning a bunny. Many bunnies have been rehomed due to people realizing that they cannot afford their pets. Costs to consider: Hay (R85 per bale), greens/veg (if R10 per day = R300 p/m), pellets (R35 – R300 per pack), large enough playpen (R1000+), vet bills: vet consult (R170 – R300), Sterilization at a bunny savvy vet (R650 – R1200), Dental or general surgery (R650 +).
Domesticated bunnies cannot survive in the wild. While many people feel that they are doing their pets a favour by “setting them free”. Stats show that a domesticated bunny (not born wild) will only survive an average of about 3 – 4 days in the wild. These domesticated pets mostly end up killed by vehicles, or caught by predators. No animal deserves to be left in a box in the wild. If you can no longer take care of your pet, put him up for adoption on our rehome page and give him a new chance at life.
Hay! Hay! Hay! – Bunnies should not go without fresh hay for even one day. All bunnies should have access to unlimited fresh grass-based hay: Oat hay (most common), teff aka eragrostis, mountain hay, meadow hay, orchard grass & timothy hay (hard to find in SA). Lucerne aka alfalfa is not a grass hay but rather a legume and should only be fed as a treat due to high calcium content. Eating enough hay will ensure a healthy digestive system (prevents intestinal issues and blockage). Bunnies that fill up on pellets, do not eat enough hay – check that your bunny is consuming at least its body size in hay per day before introducing pellets. Sometimes it is necessary to take pellets away completely to encourage hay eating – your bunnies WILL beg for it, don’t give in! They will learn to love their hay and will be happier & healthier for it. Do not mistake straw for hay (hay is not just golden in colour but also has green and brown bits, as well as seeds). Although bunnies may eat straw, it has no nutritional value. An average bunny’s diet should consist of unlimited hay and grass, 1-2 cups safe veggies/greens, 1-2 tbsp. quality, non-muesli pellets, 1 tsp. occasional fruit/treats. Read more about a healthy bunny diet, here.
Bunnies must never stop eating. A bunny’s gut needs to constantly move or else he could get Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis where the digestive system completely shuts down. Bunnies are not like other animals that you only feed once or twice a day, they need to eat constantly. GI stasis is very serious and can be fatal. This is one of the reasons why hay should be available at all times.
Do not feed your bunny ICEBERG LETTUCE. This is one of the most common mistakes that new bun owners make. Iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value and it can cause diarrhoea. There are varieties of better (more nutritious) alternatives. For a comprehensive list of safe plants, click here.
Limit pellets and do not feed muesli mixes. Bunnies cannot properly digest corn, peas and seeds. Feeding these foods will jeopardize their digestive and dental health. In the long term it can shorten their life span. Muesli mixes also encourages selective feeding (picking out the good bits), which can lead to nutrient deficiency. Stick to the good stuff for a healthy happy bun. We highly recommend the following: Burgess Excel Nuggets (+- R300 p.pack), Selective (+- R150 p.pack) & Verse Laga Crispy Snack (+- R85 p.pack). If you are on a tight budget try Agri Pellets (buy in bulk), Bunny Chow, Perky Pets’ or Marltons’ plain brown pellets (+- R35 p.pack). Limit pellets to 2 tbsp. per day per bun. You can even follow a pellet-free diet, especially if your bunny is overweight. Many bunnies are so naughty for pellets that they don’t eat their hay. If this is your bunny, I would consider cutting out pellets completely, or just feed them as a treat or to reward good behaviour. You can substitute by feeding more greens.
Grazing on fresh grass is essential for dental health. Bunnies’ teeth are constantly growing and need to be worn down by their diet. Most people are under the impression that chewing on wood or mineral blocks wear the teeth down, but in actual fact letting your bun graze on fresh grass is the most effective way to ensure dental health. Grass contains silica which wears the teeth down. When buns eat grass they also grind opposed to chew. If you don’t have a garden, plant some grass in a tray for your bun to nibble on.
Introduce new foods one at a time. Always introduce new food gradually to see if your bunny’s system tolerates it. Stop feeding the specific food immediately if your bunny’s poop softens too much (diarrhoea). Only try something new once his stool is back to normal
Keep house plants away. Many house plants are poisonous to bunnies, keep them out of your bun’s reach. Better safe than sorry. For a list of plants that definitely aren’t safe for your bun, click here.
TIME FOR THE V-E-T?
Know your bunny’s poop! Yes! Nothing gets a bun-mom as excited as her bun’s first poop after illness or surgery. Your bun’s poop is the best way to monitor his health. Click here for more info.
If your bunny stops eating and/or pooping it is vet time! Bunnies are prey animals and it is natural for them to hide any illness or pain. The most common symptom of illness would be if your bunny seems lethargic (out-of-it), not himself and/or when a bunny stops eating/pooping or refusing treats. At this point it normally means the issue has already progressed and it is time to see a vet immediately – DO NOT WASTE TIME. Bunnies commonly suffer from tummy gas/bloat/gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, which can be fatal if not treated. GI stasis can also be a secondary symptom of a more serious underlying cause, like infection. Always keep an emergency kit at home and know who your closest bunny savvy vet is (as well as after hours because bunnies tend to get sick on weekends or late evenings when all the vets are closed).
Use a bun-savvy vet. Bunnies are exotic animals (with digestive systems more like a horse than any other creature) and not all vets have the experience or knowledge to treat them. In the worst cases, inexperienced vets can actually worsening the condition of your bunny rather than making him better. Refer to our list of bun-savvy vets or contact us for more info.
Sterilizing your bunny is HIGHLY recommended. Not only does it help prevent unwanted litters, it also reduces chances of cancer (which is very common in older females), and reduces aggressive and or territorial behaviour such as spraying and bad litter box manners. You’ll find our neuter/spay guide here.
NEVER starve your bunny (even before an operation). Bunnies cannot vomit and therefore do not need to be starved before an operation. Also, increasing the time your bunny goes without food can cause GI Stasis, so let your bunny eat right up until he is sedated, and also encourage him to eat as soon as possible after he awakes. If a vet tells you to starve your bunny – run for the hills, because then he definitely isn’t bun-savvy.
NEAT AND TIDY
White vinegar magic. Clean litterboxes and urine stains on plastic with white vinegar. Not only does it work like a charm, it dries odourless and is completely bunny safe. Directions: Spray area with vinegar, let it soak for a while, scrub with a little water and dish washing liquid and rinse.
Angora (long haired) bunnies need daily grooming. If you have an Angora, please groom daily to avoid matts. When you don’t groom enough, uncomfortable matts form that pull on their skin and restrict movement. They can sometimes be very difficult to remove without injuring (in severe cases you might need to take your bunny for a shave under sedation at a vet). Angoras also need to be shaved in the summer to avoid heat exhaustion (not under sedation, but at a bunny-savvy parlour). You can also learn to groom your bunny yourself. You’ll find our list of bunny-savvy groomers and DIY videos here.
Short haired bunnies also need grooming during moulting season. All bunnies will shed hair during the change of seasons. Bunnies digest a lot of this hair when grooming themselves, which causes blockages in the digestive system (bunnies cannot vomit hairballs like cats do). Wet your hands – shake off most of the water and then run your fingers through your bunny’s fur, gently pulling out all excess hair. Do this a few times every day while your bunny is moulting. You can use a pet brush too, but be careful, their skin is delicate, so avoid brushing too much (you don’t want to brush out all of your bunny’s hair!)
Trim nails regularly. A bunny’s nails need to be trimmed regularly, or else they could get hooked and rip out – this is a very painful and bloody experience. Learn to look for the nerve/“quick” and trim them yourself with a dog nail cutter, or take your bun to a professional.
NEVER submerge a bunny in water. Bunnies self-groom like cats and should never be bathed. Its unnatural and stressful – they can go into shock or die from a heart attack. Even if you do find a bunny that tolerates bathing, it’s still stressful and not necessary. If your bunny does get wet for any reason, be sure to dry him properly. Their fur is thick and doesn’t dry well – this can cause skin conditions and illness. If very dirty, use a damp cloth, or do a bunny butt wash. Many shops sell bunny shampoo and related products – the only way we can vote against them is not to buy them and to educate others not to buy them. If your bun is heavily soiled with poop that has already dried around the genital area, you might need to have him shaved by a vet (under sedation).
LIVING BUN’S BEST LIFE
Bunnies are social animals and need company. Bunnies are much happier in bonded groups or pairs. Sterilized male/female pairs, female/female pairs or groups with 1 male and numerous females are normally the easiest match. Always remember that unbonded bunnies will fight viciously (till death), so read up on the introduction process before attempting a bonding session. This article discusses bonding in detail (neutral territory is key). Hormones also play a massive role in aggressive/territorial behaviour which means sterilizing your bun is highly recommended before adopting a mate (also to prevent unwanted litters). It is also highly recommended to take your bunny on numerous dates and let him choose his own friend – this way you will have the best chance at a successful bond.
Do not house bunnies with guinea pigs. Even though they seem to tolerate each other, they cannot communicate. A bunny can easily injure or kill a piggy if a fight occurred. They also have different dietary needs and can pass diseases onto each other.
Bored bunnies get naughty. Keep your bunny entertained with toys (the wooden parrot kind is normally fine as they are coloured with food colouring). Only use plastic toys made of hard plastic. Spice up the mix with different colours and textures. Use old rugs for your bunnies to dig on. Bunnies also love tunnels, places to jump on and holes to hide in (cardboard boxes work well if your bunny doesn’t chew and swallow the cardboard like mine do). Toilet rolls or paper towel rolls work very well, especially when stuffed with hay. Keeping your bunny entertained is the best way to keep him from chewing your electrical cords.
Bunnies need run space – a hutch is not enough! Bunnies need at least a few hours of run time daily. They are not cage animals. Permanently living in a cage could cause depression and aggressive behaviour. Bunnies, like most animals, need exercise, so ensure that your bunny has access to a space large enough for them to reach full speed running and with enough room to do a couple of binkies. Think playpens or enclosed runs, or bunny proof an area of your house. Here is a list of people who can assist you in making a happy space for your bun.
Bunnies do not handle heat well and do better in colder temperatures. You need to keep your bunny cool and hydrated in summer as they can die from heat exhaustion – anything from 26 Celsius and higher is a danger zone. There are many ways to keep your bunny cool, from ice bottles, to fans, cool tiles, etc. Ask members for tips if you haven’t done this before. If you have a long-haired bunny (like an Angora or Jersey Wooly) – have him/her shaved for the summer at a bunny-savvy parlour.