Set your rabbit up for success! Structure his environment, and watch him succeed! Here are valuable tips from the well-respected House Rabbit Society (http://rabbit.org):
You probably will need a cage or a pen! Rabbits usually prefer to have a safe area they can call their own. The crate or pen will be your rabbit’s nest. Set the cage (nest) on the floor of an area where you spend time, such as the living room or family room. Do not put the cage near a heater or a loud TV or stereo. Always provide shade from a sunny window. When secluded in one room, such as a bedroom, they may be cut off from the family and unsure of the area outside. The more contact you have with your rabbit, the more you will enjoy each other.
Rabbits are crepuscular, which means that they generally sleep during the day and during the night, but are ready to play at dawn and twilight. So, if you’re at work during the day, they won’t mind so much being in a cage. But they MUST be let out for at least several hours each day, both to exercise and to have social interaction with you.
The cage should include a litterbox, hay, food and water bowls. To help litterbox train, watch where the rabbit eliminates in the cage and put the litterbox there. Avoid wood shavings of pine or cedar, which can cause serious health issues. Use an organic litter such as CareFRESH, Yesterday’s News, etc., but not cat litter, which can cause a blockage in the digestive system. Supply him with safe toys and a bed made out of a towel or blanket.
Put Thumper in his nest and close the door for a few hours. Let him get used to the sounds and smells of your home while feeling safe and secure. If he nibbles his food or stretches out, he is relaxing.
Allow a small run area for the first few days. Close off bedrooms or areas where he can get lost. Block access behind refrigerators, washer/dryers, and entertainment centers. He should be able to have run time whenever you can supervise him. Put one or more litterboxes in the run area and increase his freedom as he proves himself with his box. Put some hay in the litterbox to encourage him to get in.
Bunny proof! Rabbits like to chew and dig! Tuck electrical and phone cords out of the way or encase them in clear plastic tubing or loom tubing. Remove books and other desirable items from low shelves. Put houseplants up out of the way. Provide him with a cardboard box of hay to play in. Redirect him to his toys if he is “acting up.” Young bunnies are especially exuberant and need to be properly directed.
Bored rabbits become naughty rabbits. If you’re not around to talk to or pet your rabbit as you prepare dinner, watch TV, or just read, your rabbit will become very bored. That’s when rabbits generally get into trouble by digging in the carpet, chewing on forbidden objects, or eating your couch. A very large hole can appear in the carpet in just a few minutes. Young rabbits are generally the ones who get into this type of mischief. So, even if your rabbit starts out this way, you might check every few months to see if she can earn more freedom as she ages. Often, the bathroom, laundry room, kitchen or a bedroom are good, safe places to confine your rabbit while you’re away. These rooms are easy to rabbit-proof. If none of these rooms is practical, then you’ll probably have to consider an indoor cage or pen.
Free run of the house is what we strive for and what many of us are able to achieve. This definitely requires more work on your part. You must inspect every room of your house like a four-star general, looking for wires and other dangerous objects (like plants) that could cause harm to your rabbit. If you have a computer room, you might allow your rabbit access to every room except that one. The more room your rabbit has, the more delightful you will find her as a pet and companion.
Toys: To keep your rabbit occupied and amused, offer toys such as:
-Toilet paper and paper towel rolls
-Paper cups (not plastic coated)
-Newspaper and white scrap paper (ink isn’t harmful, just gives dirty feet)
-Canning jar rings
-Rolled oats box; cut off the bottom to make a tunnel for tiny rabbits. Be sure they won’t get stuck!
-Ball with bell inside (sold in stores as a cat or bird toy)
-Cardboard boxes (tape shut then cut small doors)
-Old towels to push around and dig at
Do not leave your rabbit unattended outside as rabbits scare easily and can dig out of a fenced yard. Also, predators can get in or fly in and seriously injure the rabbit. Keep them from poisonous plants and pesticides. You can try a harness and a leash, but begin in a safe and familiar area.
Discipline: Never hit a rabbit. They can become very aggressive and angry if provoked. When you find your rabbit doing something that is not allowed, try any or all of the following:
Clap your hands together to make a loud noise
Thump your foot like a fellow rabbit
Biting: Rabbits do not usually bite because they hate you. There are many reasons within a rabbit’s social structure that bring about a bite. For instance, a finger or hand in front of your rabbit’s face may be misinterpreted as a challenge to fight. A rabbit may also accidentally bite when he tries to tug your pant leg and accidentally gets your ankle. Rabbits also pinch with their teeth to say “please stop” or “no.” Whatever the reason, if you get nipped, let out a shrill cry. Rabbits do this when they are hurt. Since they usually do not intend to hurt you, they will be surprised to find that you have cried out and will usually not bite or pinch as hard, after just a few times.
Get down on the floor! Spend a lot of time on your rabbit’s level where you are less intimidating. Rabbits are naturally curious and will come up to you eventually. Most rabbits enjoy being pet on the broad part of their heads. Snuggling on the floor is usually welcome. If you are holding the rabbit and he struggles, hold him tightly or drop down to your knees and let him go. Do not drop your rabbit as they are very fragile.
Your rabbit may be a bit shy at first. Usually within two weeks rabbits begin to feel more secure in their new surroundings. Soon, you will have a rabbit dancing around your home, testing you, seeing what he can get away with!
For more information on rabbits as pets, the SPCA Serving Erie County highly recommends The House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit, 5th edition by Marinell Harriman. It’s available at the SPCA’s Petique, 300 Harlem Rd., West Seneca, and is also available online.