Do rabbits make good pets for kids? That depends on the rabbit, and that depends on the child. Generally speaking, rabbits can make perfect pets for an older child. But when it comes to children under 10, a rabbit might not be the best match for a number of reasons.
What Makes a Good Kids’ Pet?
Parents give their children pets for a variety of reasons.
Pets can teach a child how to care for someone else. They can teach a child about responsibility, as well. And sometimes, watching the pet go through its life cycle can teach a child important lessons about life and death.
And let’s face it, most of us love to cuddle something cute and fluffy.
Dogs and cats are popular choices for family pets. Small mammals are often the choice for a first pet for a child. Pet rabbits can make ideal pets, too. But there are a few important differences between pet rabbits and other types of pets, and the key to having a good experience is to know and respect those differences.
How is a Pet Rabbit Different?
One of the most important differences comes down to evolution. Dogs and cats evolved from predators, but rabbits evolved as prey animals. This affects how a pet rabbit will interact with human company.
Rabbits tend to be nervous and timid creatures, at least at first. Instinct tells them that anything larger than themselves will try to eat them. Loud noises frighten them, and grabbing a bunny for a spontaneous cuddle can result in scratches and bites for a child, and possibly broken bones for the rabbit.
Bunnies may look like cute toys, but most bunnies do not like to be picked up or cuddled.
Also rabbit communication is quite different from dog and cat communication. Rabbits have a different body language, and they make different noises. Bunnies are very social and affectionate, but you might not understand how they show affection if you don’t know what to look for. Rabbits love to play, too, but differently.
Finally, pet rabbits are considerably more delicate, physically, than other pets. They can easily break a leg, or even their own back, struggling to get away if they feel frightened. And for a prey species, “frightened” is often the default.
What Does a Rabbit Need From Its Owner?
A lot of people think that because rabbits are small, they’re low maintenance pets. This is a myth. Rabbits need a lot of attention and specialized care. This can cost more than you might expect. And, considering rabbits live an average of eight to 12 years, this care can continue even after your child loses interest or leaves home.
Before you take the plunge and bring home a new pet, it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
Rabbits have specialized needs for housing, proper diet, and veterinary care. If your child forgets to take care of their pet rabbits, or if the child loses interest in their rabbit, then an adult needs to be ready to take over.
First things first. If you bring home any new pet, it will need a place to live. You might want to keep your rabbit indoors as a house rabbit, or you might want it to have an outdoor enclosure. Either way, your rabbits — you should keep more than one rabbit, and we’ll talk about this in a bit — will need a safe, spacious enclosure.
This means that when inside the enclosure, your rabbit needs to be able to:
- Stand up on hind legs without its ears touching the ceiling
- Hop three times from end to end
- Stretch out on the floor without touching the walls
For an average sized rabbit, this means a living space with a minimum area of three metres (10 feet) long by two metres (around six feet) wide by one metre (3.3 feet) high, per rabbit.
This doesn’t include space for exercise. In addition to a spacious hutch, your rabbit needs daily access to a protected exercise space like a run. (As an aside, many of our hutches and runs are made to work together to provide a safe, spacious combined living and exercise space).
A proper diet is also very important. Diet is often at the root of a number of serious and painful rabbit health issues. For a rabbit, a healthy diet consists of at least 70 to 80 percent high quality feeding hay, and no more than 10 per cent pellets. Rabbits also love vegetables and leafy greens, so study up on which ones are safe for them.
Finally, before you bring your pet rabbit home, find a rabbit savvy vet. Not every vet treats rabbits. In fact, many general vets do not. The House Rabbit Society has a rabbit vet listing that can help you get started. Rabbit health conditions often move fast, so it’s important to have a vet lined up before you need one.
Also, strongly consider spaying and neutering your pet rabbits. This will not only make both males and females better behaved, but will protect them from reproductive cancers, and will protect you from suddenly having more pets than you intended.
Love and Attention
Rabbits are very social, and they’re very clever. They suffer terribly when they’re lonely or bored. Loneliness and boredom can lead to both health and behavioural issues. This is why animal welfare organisations recommend keeping rabbits in pairs.
But that’s not enough. Your rabbits don’t want an occasional visit from you or your child. They want to be part of the family.
Visit with your rabbit every day. Learn how rabbits like to play, and make yours a full family member. One way to do this is to let your rabbits run about in a puppy pen in the room where your family is watching TV.
Alternatively, your child might sit quietly in their exercise area while they hop about and play on their own. If your child lets the bunny approach on its own terms, they might surprise you with their curiosity and affection.
Rabbits and Kids: How to Make it Work
If you do bring pet rabbits into a house with children, there are a few things you can do to make it work for everyone.
First, Decide if a Pet Rabbit is Right for Your Family
Every family is different, and every family pet should fit in well with its family’s lifestyle. Before making the big commitment of bringing home a bunny, ask yourself a few questions.
- Are my children old enough to see things from a rabbit’s point of view? (Many children under five are not)
- Can my children be quiet and gentle?
- Is my household loud and bustling (in which case an outdoor rabbit may be happier than a house rabbit)?
- Do my family members have enough time to interact with a rabbit every day?
- Are my family members able to take responsibility for a rabbit?
- Does my family have the resources to properly care for a pet rabbit?
- Are you willing to have your rabbit neutered?
- Are parents willing to take over responsibility for a rabbit if a child loses interest?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions, then a bunny may be a good fit for your family.
Keep Everyone Safe
Learn how to properly pick up a rabbit, and supervise if your child wants to hold the bunny.
Teach your children how to be gentle and quiet around a bunny. And never leave small children unsupervised with rabbits. This will protect both the rabbits and the children.
Share the Care
If you have small children, then you will be doing most of the rabbit care. As young children grow older, they can take on more of the caretaking themselves. Here are a few general suggestions.
Rabbit care tasks that a child under five might do:
- Fill food dishes
- Clean food dishes
- Clean water dishes
- Feed treats to a rabbit
Rabbit care tasks for a child aged five to ten:
- Clean and fill water bottles
- Clean toys with soap and water
- Clean the litter box
- Change litter or bedding
- Brush a bunny with a soft brush
Rabbit care tasks for a child over ten:
- Teach a bunny a new trick
- Litter train a rabbit
- Clean and disinfect the hutch
- More advanced grooming tasks
There may come a time, though, when your kids lose interest in their pet rabbit, or no longer have the time to care for it. In this case, the care may fall to you alone, so be prepared.
The Best Rabbit Breeds for Kids
Some breeds are definitely better for families than others.
Larger breed rabbits tend to be both mellower in personality and physically hardier. “Dwarf” breeds should be avoided, as they can be very physically delicate, and some, like the Netherland Dwarf, which has a reputation for being quick to bite, are temperamentally unsuitable for children.
Here are a few breeds that make good pets for families.
- Dutch Rabbit
- Harlequin Rabbit
- Chinchilla Rabbit
- Himalayan Rabbit
- French Lop
- Flemish Giant
Of course, a rabbit doesn’t have to be a specific breed to be a good pet. You can adopt the perfect pet from a shelter or rescue without ever knowing its breed. You might also check with your vet to see if any of their patients are looking for a new home.
For more information, check out our guide to adopting rabbits.
Are You Ready to Bring Home Bunny?
A pet rabbit can be a big commitment. But if your family is prepared to give a bunny the love and care that it needs, then a bunny can be a wonderful addition.
Does your household have both rabbits and children? What are your top tips for making it work?