Are you looking to adopt an animal? Something you can relate to as more of a friend than a pet? You’re probably thinking about a dog or a cat. Something with personality. Rabbits are a severely underrated house pet. They offer the same bold character and loving companionship in a smaller (and quieter) package. It’s easy to be turned off at the idea of owning a rabbit. It’s true that they are standoffish, skittish, and hate to be touched. That’s because you haven’t yet bonded with him. You’ll find that strong, loving bond with your bunny, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The real secret to rabbit companionship is time.
Rabbits are a severely underrated house pet. They offer the same bold personality and loving companionship as dogs or cats.
Here’s why they need time: rabbits are Mother Nature’s ultimate prey animal. They have no natural defences except speed. They’re hard-wired to run away at the slightest disturbance. They loathe being picked up because that’s how predatory birds get them in the wild. Except for their hind legs, their muscles, bones, and organs are weak. And if they get too stressed, they can literally die of fright. This is all to explain that rabbits have a powerful, instinctual distrust of the unfamiliar. And what could be more unfamiliar than being taken from their home by a giant stranger? So, when you first adopt a rabbit, he will perceive you as a threat.
When you take him home, he’ll spend a large amount of the first few weeks hiding. When you’re not around, he’ll venture around his area, sniffing cautiously, but he’ll skitter back out of sight when he hears footsteps. This is all normal, and it’s not personal. It usually takes between six months and a year for a bunny to bond with a new human. The best way to convince them that you’re safe is to spend time on their level – literally. You should start the bonding process by sitting near the rabbit’s favourite spot and totally ignoring him. Whatever you normally do when you relax – reading a book, watching TV, etc. – should be done on the floor, near the bunny. Doing this repeatedly is the only way to convince him that you are not a threat. Some rabbits will become comfortable more quickly than others, especially if they were adopted from another home.
When he allows you, you should stroke his back and the top of his head gently. Go slow and make sure you don’t sneak up on him – he should be able to see your hand coming to touch him. When he’s okay with petting, you can start to feed him treats out of your hand. You can buy treats from the pet store, but rabbits also love almost all fruits and vegetables. Some bunny-safe favourites are lettuce greens, parsley, cilantro, bananas, and strawberries. Rinse and repeat. Once your bunny feels safe with you, you’ll know. And once he reaches this point, his personality will shine. Just like with dogs and cats, bunnies’ temperaments run the gamut. Some are couch potatoes who prefer to loaf around and snooze. Some are energetic and excitable and always ready to run around and play. Give your rabbit space and time to let him show you who he is. It’s also true that despite a chubby-cheeked exterior, rabbits can be real grumps. Just like people, some seem to have a permanent attitude. That doesn’t mean they’re unhappy – it’s just how they are.
An annoyed bunny might loudly thump his back foot in your direction or turn away, so his butt is facing you. He might pick up his toys or food bowl in his mouth and throw them. The best thing you can do is accept him for who he is and roll with it. Of course, some bunnies are the opposite and have a perpetually sunny temperament. One behaviour of a happy rabbit is to quickly run back and forth or around in circles. You may also see him perform a series of hops and jumps where he twists in mid-air, which is called a “binky.” It’s one of the highest expressions of rabbit joy, and it’s darn cute. They may also try to groom you by licking your hands, arms, or face.
New rabbit parents are often surprised at how forcefully these critters express their opinions and how stubborn they can be when they want something. If they want to be pet, they’ll nudge you with their heads over and over until you give in. If you’re having a snack, you might find yourself being gently nipped so that they can investigate whether you have something they like. There’s so much more to rabbit behaviour than this, but you should have the pleasure of experiencing it for yourself.
The fact that you must wait and work for their affection makes your growing and changing bond even more meaningful. The bottom line is rabbits make for true companionship because their love is earned. You’re not walking a source of food. You can trust that every bit of affection is truly genuine.