This is a loaded question, and the answer really depends on a multitude of factors. I will say, however, that one of the biggest mistakes parents can do regarding first pets is to make a hasty decision to buy a bunny for their young children (toddler/preschool/young elementary age), especially when they assure me, "My child is ready to learn responsibility." Well, what happens a few weeks into the "responsibility lesson" when your child loses interest or discovers that bunnies don't like held or carried like a kitten might tolerate? Someone else ends up taking over the responsibility, and the bunny may end up neglected, seen as a nuisance, or even worse, surrendered to a shelter.
I am certainly not here to point fingers, as I have been in this situation myself when purchasing my first Holland lop as a 4-H project for my 9-year-old son and a second bunny for my 6-year-old son. Of course, they loved their bunnies and did an excellent job providing daily care - for a while. Soon, however, school began again, and getting up ten minutes early for morning feeding/cleaning and finding time for daily interaction became an issue for them. Eventually, we ended up selling both bunnies to new homes (at a monetary loss of course) and learning an important lesson: bunnies require a lot of time and effort and need to be a family decision - and that children sometimes aren't ready for additional responsibility. Household chores are a much better way to teach such a quality.
Before getting your child a pet, it's a wise idea to ask your child to do a simple chore daily for a couple weeks with only minimal reminders (such as feeding a fish, filling a bird feeder, or watering a plant - where another living thing depends on their responsible actions). You'll know pretty quickly whether they're ready for their own pet, and if not, then start with something smaller and simpler like a hamster, guinea pig, or even a cat - unless your entire household is on board with getting a bunny FOR THE FAMILY.
What Should I Know Before Getting My Child a Bunny?
Ultimately, the answer is YES, bunnies CAN be good pets for children - in the correct situations. I generally don't recommend that children under 10 have a rabbit as a pet. It takes maturity to understand how to interact with and care for a bunny. Unless you are content with ending up as the sole caregiver for the bunny and can provide daily attention and exercise, then please carefully reconsider your pet choice. :)
"Should I get a friend for my bunny?" "Will my bunny be lonely without another bunny to keep him/her company? Can two bunnies get along?
These are questions I am often asked, and while the answer isn't a clear-cut "yes" or "no," I usually suggest starting with one bunny and then adding a second later if desired. There are certainly pros and cons of owning a single bunny compared to two more more.
Examples of Good Bunny Buddies:
The first pair of bunnies (far left) consists of my orange buck Sunny Jim and his girlfriend (one of them) Envy. Neither is spayed/neutered, but after an hour of chasing each other and breeding, they were best friends. Obviously, they would never share a cage and this scenario wouldn't work for those keeping pet bunnies, but I am fully confident that these two could be permanent playmates if spayed/neutered. Both have pleasant personalities, and Sunny is never aggressive.
The middle photo is from a customer (Eleanor M.) who purchased a chocolate tort buck, got him neutered, and then sought a female companion who would be spayed when old enough. The female, Mimi, immediately took to Mochi (after first having to show him that she wouldn't tolerate mounting), and two are good friends the last I knew. She will most likely begin to show displeasure at sharing a cage with Mochi upon maturity and will need to be spayed, but they have a great chance at long-term bonding.
Examples of Bad Bunny Buddies:
At left is Cocoa and her baby Henrietta. Henrietta was the runt and needed to stay with Cocoa past the normal eight weeks, and the pair became thoroughly bonded. I sold them to a wonderful family who wanted to keep both bunnies together. Well, long story short, Henrietta was really Henry (bucks can have a split penis when little, which makes them look like does initially - totally my fault, but tough to differentiate) and needed to be neutered. After surgery and a few weeks for the hormones to subside, re-introduction didn't go smoothly, and the pair had to be separated from playing together. Cocoa would likely stop mounting her son if she was spayed, but that is a risk possibly not worth taking on a doe who is already several years old. This seemed like a good match but ultimately was not.
The last two pictures are my breeding does Luna and Mable. On nice days, there are several does who I am able to let play together with no altercations at all, but one day, things went terribly wrong. In hindsight, Luna was pregnant, so I should not have let them out together, but it was a cold winter day, and I was inside the bunny barn with them as they played. Luna began to chase Mable and instigate all sorts of trouble. Before I could grab either, there was a scuffle, fur went flying, and then I saw Luna's bloody ear. Mable not only nipped Luna's ear, she bit half-way to the center. Luna had a ragged flap of ear dangling pitifully. I couldn't believe what had transpired in less than a minute together!
After my initial panic, I decided to clean the wound with iodine and Vetericyn spray and they try to use Gorilla Glue to suture the wound like they do in the hospital. For a week, it seemed to do the trick, and the ear appeared to heal. Until one day, the glue began to crack (likely due to Luna's grooming), and the ear became red and the flap dangled once again. This time, I knew a trip to the veterinarian was warranted.
I loaded Luna into the travel carrier and took her to West Park Animal Hospital in Cleveland, OH to see Dr. Kari Swedenborg, who specializes in "pocket pets" such as bunnies. Dr. Kari is a wonderfully knowledgeable and kind veterinarian with a warm bedside manner. I felt ashamed of my failed efforts to help Luna, but she never criticized. She agreed that the part of the ear that was loose and flapping needed to be removed to prevent being caught and tearing more. The wound was then cauterized and the bleeding quite minimal. As a side note, the doctor performed an ultrasound to confirm whether Luna was pregnant (which determined the anesthetic that could be used) and saw two wiggly babies! Amazingly, the bill was only $70, and Luna appears to be healing, though she will always have a permanent chunk of ear missing to serve as a reminder to me to be extremely cautious about letting two bunnies play together. If it ever happens again, I will seek veterinary care immediately. FYI - Gorilla Glue is not the same as skin adhesive that surgeons use, which may be why it didn't hold well on her ear.
In summary, it is possible to have two bunnies become companions to one another, but there are a lot of variables and expenses that make it a risk. If this is a risk you accept, be prepared to spay/neuter both bunnies as soon as possible as well as have separate cages. They may be able to play together during the day but will likely always want their own spaces for sleeping (which isn't always at night). Ultimately, a lot depends on the individual personalities of the bunnies after they reach maturity and post-surgery.
The first step is to get a cage, exercise pen, or other way to contain your bunny when you're not home. Make sure the cage is low enough to the floor that your bunny can either hop in and out or use a ramp. For the Prevue Hendryx cage pictured above, I had to engineer a ramp that attached to the door when open so my Holland Lop, Ruby, could come and go when the door was open. Don't worry, the ramp was not made of wide wire as you see above, it was wooden with grips.
Next, get a litter box for the cage. My favorite is the Ware JUMBO Lock-n-Litter pan that attaches to the cage side and has the handy grate to keep your bunny's tush Charmin-clean. Use a thin layer of absorbent material in the bottom. Yesterday's News is excellent and can be ordered on Amazon, but Carefresh Natural is also effective and compostable. Place the litter pan in the corner where your bunny likes to do his/her business. Some people place the bunny's hay in the box or on the cage wall over the litter box as bunnies often eat and relieve themselves at the same time. Your bunny should soon use the litter pan for most potty breaks, especially #1. You'll likely find quite a few #2 poo balls rolling around the cage bottom like billiard balls.
As you allow your bunny to begin to exit the cage and roam around, keep the space small and make sure to have a litter pan (with some of his/her poo balls in it) close by. Do not allow your bunny to have any more space to explore until it consistently uses the litter pan in that room or by returning to the cage to use the bathroom. A baby gate can help to keep your bunny's space small at first. Keep in mind that even the most experienced litter-box-trained bunnies drop poo balls here and there - especially when they get excited or someone scares the poo out of them!
The above photos are from my customer, Beth, who has an adorable black Holland Lop buck named Batman. After having Batman for about three months, she is confident to let him roam freely in the rooms where the family is present. Batman returns to his cage to go to the bathroom (except for a few rogue escapee poo balls) and even gets along with the dogs, though these interactions are supervised. Batman has a special hiding place in a grass tunnel on a shelf, where he hops to feel secure.
Another customer, Doug B., has owned bunnies for years and is pretty much a pro at potty training bunnies and treating them like royalty! His new blue bunny named Samson is already using the litter box most of the time and is slowly being introduced to his Dutch bunny friend, Tronic (who is fixed). These lucky bunnies have their own room in the house and are allowed to explore the house when their owners are home!
Doug offered some terrific tips for litter training rabbits:
So, if you are faced with the task of litter training a bunny, don't despair! IT IS POSSIBLE, but it takes time, patience, and perseverance. If things don't go well at first, be creative in finding a solution, but DoN't GiVe Up! Thank you to my wonderful customers for their pictures and feedback about potty training rabbits!
*March, 2017 Update:
Since I published this blog article, I have switched my entire herd to solid floor cages and have litter trained all of the bunnies. Most of them use their litter boxes to urinate nearly 100% of the time, but the poop is a different story. Part of the issue is that I have a dozen un-neutered and un-spayed rabbits housed in close proximity, so I believe some of the poop trails are for territory-marking. Based on what my customers say, the poop doesn't get more sparse until spaying/neutering, so I just keep a wet/dry vacuum handy and suck up the dry poo balls twice a day. I then dump the vacuum canister into a bucket every few days and use the manure as garden fertilizer (it's great stuff!). The smell is very minimal compared to traditional cages with collection trays, and I only have to clean litter boxes a few times per week. Hint: a cheap plastic putty knife/spatula works wonders for scraping litter boxes so they can be cleaned in the sink and not clog your drain!
Overall, litter training was easier than I imagined for most of my rabbits (adults and babies alike), but there are a few who challenge me, so I have added one or two extra litter boxes to some of the rabbits' cages. I also didn't allow my bunnies to have access to the second floor of their bunny condo until they were litter trained on the first floor. The Ware Jumbo Scatterless Lock 'n Litter pans from Amazon/Drs. Foster & Smith are still my favorites when compared with the metal litter boxes from KW Cages or options without grates on top. Bunnies love to dig, so a litter box without a grate is a recipe for disaster. You can use a plastic foot rest mat with a cheap plastic kitten litter box if you prefer, but the Ware boxes have nice high sides and attach to the cage - worth the $13 price tag if you ask me. Good luck!
The rabbit cages pictured above are Bunny Villas from KW Cages. They come with one, two, three, or even four floors, but I wouldn't recommend more than three unless you're at least six feet tall. :)
Hook's Hollands is a small hobby rabbitry on our Ohio farm and is operated by me (Diane) with the help of my family. We have a small herd of Holland Lop rabbits and focus on raising colorful bunnies with the best type and temperament possible.
This blog serves to spotlight various bunny care topics and share a bit about my experiences raising bunnies.