It's time for a few of the most frequently asked questions I've gotten since I've become a keeper of house rabbits.
"Who ever heard of keeping rabbits inside?"
I've heard some variation on this question more than any other; it's the first one asked every time someone meets our bunnies for the first time. And it's an understandable one. Wild rabbits and hares tend to be viewed as pests that chew up gardens and dig holes in the yard, and domestic rabbits have been bred for food and fur for hundreds of years. As a result most people have only experienced rabbits in places like petting zoos, outdoor hutches, or wood-and-wire runs (like a small chicken coop). This is very common, but it's also very bad for the rabbits.
Outdoors, fleas, ticks, ear mites and other disease-bearing bugs are almost unavoidable. Even in an enclosed pen they suffer the stresses of hot and cold weather, and they still have to deal with predators. No cage will keep out the scent and sound of dogs, hawks, or owls, and anyone who has owned chickens can tell you that if the openings in the cage are big enough for raccoon hands, your animals will soon go missing in very messy fashion.
Other concerns include the lack of exercise, social interaction and play. Just like humans, the less rabbits get out and around the worse their health can become. They are highly social creatures, and the lack of such interaction can lead to apathy, lethargy, and loss of appetite - a fatal condition in a bunny.
"If rabbits are so fragile, how long can we expect one to live?"
Out of doors, rabbits are lucky to live to age 5, and even getting to age 2 or 3 is hard. I've even been told that unfixed females have about a 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer by age 3 if left intact that long. But indoor bunnies that are fixed and properly fed and cared for regularly live 8-12 years, and it's not uncommon to see them stick around happily for even longer than that.
Indoor rabbits have an environment that is better in every sense. Temperature is constant, weather and predator threats are essentially zero, and insects and other parasites are much easier to control. Daily socialization is much easier to accomplish with bunnies in the house, and this interaction leads to the experiences and bonds that make having a house bunny so special.
"So do I have to keep the living room covered with newspaper, or what?"
Cleanliness is the biggest initial concern most people have when presented with the idea of indoor rabbits, but bunnies are a lot like cats in this regard. Accidents involving urine can be similarly hard to clean (what bunnies lack in sheer scent they make up for in carpet color-staining power), but their fecal pellets are odorless, dry, non-staining, and free of the bacteria that can make cat waste so toxic. When the need arises, a whisk broom and dustpan will get those stray pellets off the carpet. If need be, you can just pick them up by hand. I won't tell.
Did you hear how I snuck the word "accident" into the last paragraph? Fixed bunnies take to litter box training almost as naturally as cats! Instead of cat litter or wood chips which can be highly toxic, though, use an unscented non-clumping material like Yesterday's News (our fave), or even some of the plain old timothy hay that is their staple food. Use at least one box per bunny, clean it out once or twice a week, and once trained, you'll be able to let your hippy-hops run free without fear of messes.
For more detailed information on living with indoor buns, I heartily recommend checking out these resources:
www.rabbit.org - The National House Rabbit Society. Their website taught me most of what I haven't learned through personal experience, and pointed me in the direction of most of the rest.
www.houserabbitga.com - The Georgia House Rabbit Society, an affiliated chapter located right here in North Georgia. Also invaluable, local, and the place from which we adopted two of our rescue bunnies. Good people.
The House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live With an Urban Rabbit, published by Drollery Press (http://www.drollerypress.com/XHTML/Catalog.html), and available everywhere you buy books. Call it "The Bunny Bible" if you want. We did.
Next time, I try to figure out what to FEED this ridiculous crew....
Got any other questions or comments about indoor rabbits? Maybe something you'd like Pat to cover in a future post? He's all ears, so feel free to leave your response in the comments section!