Once you are convinced that a rabbit will be a suitable pet for you, you must find out where to obtain an appropriate animal. You also need to consider whether you want a baby or an adult, male or female, one or two.
Baby or adult
Rabbit kits are friendly, cuddly and easy to handle. However, they quickly become hormonal and destructive, and the innocent and cosy rabbit may turn into a proper troublemaker from one day to the next. If one has not had rabbits before or is not prepared to deal with a small, energy-filled terrorist, I always recommend getting a rabbit that is at least a few months and preferably over 1 year old. Then you will have a rabbit that might have calmed down a bit, that might not have as great a need to chew and explore all your furniture and which might cause less frustration. Already neutered grown-ups are also easier to litter-train. Last but not least, you can see their personality and temperament better than in an 8 week old.
Male or female
Many people wonder whether they should have a male or female. Rabbits are individuals, and gender cannot really be used to predict personality. However, one can see the differences between the sexes when hormones affect the animals. Un-neutered does might suffer from pseudopregnancy while in heat, and consequently become more volatile in mood during such periods. This hormonal-related behaviour will cease after neutering, and aggressive tendencies and the need to assert oneself will be reduced for both genders.
Neutering of both genders is recommended, as females are especially vulnerable to diseases if not fixed. Up to 80% of un-neutered does develop uterine cancer from 3 to 4 years of age, a risk that is removed by neutering.5 The procedure is more costly for females than for males. Rabbits adopted from an animal shelter or rescue may already be neutered and these costs may be avoided.
If you intend on having only one rabbit, it does not matter whether it is a male or a female. However, if acquiring two babies, one must be absolutely sure of their gender, as they quickly become re-productively capable and mature. Please note that employees in pet shops and breeders are not necessarily able to accurately determine the sex of very young rabbits, even if they claim to be able to do so. It is not uncommon to hear about someone who bought what they thought were two females and ended up with five extra kits some months later. One should therefore arrange a veterinary examination of your rabbits in time to protect against unexpected pregnancy and neuter both as soon as possible.
How many rabbits?
Rabbits are naturally sociable and it is strongly recommended to keep them in pairs. However, if for some reason you have a single one, it should be able to live indoors with the rest of the family. Your rabbit’s welfare is dependent on interaction, and they may develop abnormal behaviour and suffer from boredom and loneliness if left without appropriate company. Having rabbits in pairs will relieve the owner of the need to provide company to a certain extent.
The easiest way to do this is to adopt two already neutered and bonded friends. However, if you already have a rabbit in your household and want to obtain a friend, make sure that both are neutered prior to their first meeting and take the other necessary precautions.
There are many different rabbit breeds, and they were originally selected and bred either because of their physical attributes, fur or for meat. The American Rabbit Breeders Association currently recognizes 47 unique rabbit breeds, the UK has about 50, whilst Scandinavia has 62 approved standards. There may be several varieties within the breeds, such as coat and eyecolour variations, but any of them can make a good companion rabbit.
It does not matter if a rabbit is purebred or not, as long as one is not looking for a show rabbit. Most rabbits in circulation are not standardized anyway, as they are mixed breed. However, all rabbits are equally beautiful, have similar needs and require the same care.
Broadly speaking, the larger breeds tend to have a shorter lifespan than the smaller. Smaller breeds tend to be more nervous and have a greater tendency to ‘jumpiness’. Small breeds, such as Polish and Netherland dwarf, may be unsuitable for a household with small children who may wish to pick them up, as jumping out of a person’s arms is a major cause of injury. Conversely, the larger breeds and giants may be too big for a young person to pick up. Therefore, if you have small children in the house, do not choose one of the smallest breeds as your companion rabbit. A child will often be more tempted to grab a little rabbit and consequently make it more nervous. Adopt a larger rabbit instead as they often seem to be calmer and not as tempting to carry around.
Rabbit breeds can be divided into five categories, and the mixtures will naturally have recognizable ancestry and look fairly similar. There are various dwarf breeds, small breeds, medium breeds, large breeds, giant breeds, as well as breeds with deviant/ diverging fur texture. Both the rabbit’s adult size and future care should be taken into account when choosing a breed.
Larger breeds require more provision of space and may struggle with certain configurations of runs, tunnels and climbing apparatus. It is therefore helpful to know the estimated adult size of the rabbit(s) to plan the housing for them.
It can be more difficult to predict the future adult size of mixed breed rabbits, but they may be less likely to exhibit certain breed-specific health problems. They may benefit from hybrid vigour or at least the dilution of certain extreme features such as mandibular prognathism, meaning serious malocclusion leading to an undershot jaw.
Long-haired rabbits or wool breeds (e.g. cashmere, angora) require considerable grooming to avoid fur tangling and matting. Lack of care causes great suffering, and these rabbits should be avoided as companion animals unless one is dedicated to providing the necessary daily grooming. Rabbits with unnaturally long fur have no chance of maintaining a clean and tangle-free coat on their own. Rabbits with normal and short fur require less grooming but still need to be brushed, especially during moult.