Don’t Panic… You’re Going To Be A Great Bunny Parent!
Step 1: Give Them Space
We must resist the urge to squeeze and cuddle them right away! You should start your relationship with your new bunny by understanding they are prey animals and respecting their space. Going to a new home is a stressful process and these delicate little creatures are vulnerable to stress-born illnesses. Your bunny’s new enclosure should have some sort of hidey- hole. A hidey-hole is any sort of enclosure that has walls and one or two openings, it is a place they can go to if they ever feel scared or anxious. This greatly reduces their stress levels in those early days. If you do not provide a hidey-hole they’ll find their own, like under your bed or couch (and they’ll probably find a spot to potty down there too!).
The European rabbit lives in a warren, which is a long system of underground tunnels they call their home. It is natural for a bunny to thoroughly explore their new environment first and finding a safe place. Let them explore uninterrupted first as this will boost their feeling of security in their new home.
Step 2: Respect
Wait for your your bunny to come to you, avoid reaching into their cage and just pulling them out as this can create territorial behaviors down the road. Respect their space, especially early on as you’re building a relationship with them. Some bunnies will explore their new home as soon as they get there, others may take more time. It’s normal for a shy bunny to take days to explore your whole living room while an outgoing bunny might complete their invesigation in a matter of hours.
If you try to pick up your bunny and they hop or squirm away, do not chase or try to capture them as this can scare them and make them less trusting. Instead, let them run off and wait for them to return, lure them back with a treat. The last thing you want is for your bunny to fear being picked up.
Always lift your bunny with two hands, with one supporting their rump. Learning the proper way to carry your bunny will prevent them from learning to become a kicker.
Step 3: Bonding
Now that you’ve got the first two steps down, let’s talk about how to create a bond with your new baby bunny. The fastest way to a bunny’s heart is through snacks! Bunnies are true foodies! Rather than just tossing pellets and veggies into a bowl, hand feed them to your baby bunny, this is a very fast way to build trust.
Another good way to bond with you bunny is to spend time on the floor with them. When you get eye-to-eye with them, you look much less threatening. One day you may find them suddenly giving you nose or cheek kisses. I don’t know why but many bunnies only kiss faces.
You’ll find your baby bunny is easier to pet after being active for a few hours. Nothing feels better than a good pet after some exercise. Think of it like a good massage after a workout. Who doesn’t like that? Pretty soon your bunny will learn to come to you for cuddle sessions.
Step 4: Nutrition
This section on nutrition could go on for pages, but I’ll have to cover it section by section in a blog later on. Just remember a rabbit is a grazing animal they eat all day and nature has designed them to crave all sorts of flavors and textures. When you fill their bellies with an assortment of veggies and hays you shouldn’t have to worry about your bunny eating carpets and upholstery or a bunny redesigning your furniture.
Your bunny is coming home with a good appetite for hay. Hay is the #1 food in your bunny’s diet making up the bulk of what they should eat and they should have an endless supply of it. 1 cup of loosely assorted leafy greens per 2 lbs of bunny a day will keep them very healthy for life. Don’t skip out on the herbs as they have natural anti-viral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. In some ways, having bunnies in your home will help their humans with having a healthier diet with all of these fresh vegetables and herbs around the house!
I avoid feeding pellets because they are processed foods. Processed foods make dogs, cats and people overweight and they make our bunnies chubby too. Numerous health conditions can arise from relying on pelleted food so I recommend people avoid them if they can. Not to mention your bunny will grow 20-30% larger on pellet feed.
Step 5 Potty Training
*Give your bunny a treat each time you see them enter their litter box and say ‘potty’. Bunnies are great at learning verbal commands. This lil guy learned to poop on command!
Each bunny learns to potty train at their own pace. I always recommend that you start your bunny in an open but limited space (e.g. an outdoor dog cage) until they are potty trained. Rabbits are clean animals and prefer not to soil themselves, often picking the same spots to do their business. Starting with a small enclosure helps reinforce that line of thinking, sometimes too much space and freedom right away makes litter training much harder.
Place stray poops and pee (with a paper towel) into their litter box, as their scent triggers them to go to the bathroom in that same space. Clean accidental pee spots thoroughly with a non-toxic, pet urine cleaning product like Nature’s Miracle. Once you see them starting to use their litter box routinely, it’s safe to start expanding their territory room by room, then you can consider free roaming as an option.