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How to win your new rabbit’s affection

By LeslieAnne Hasty
for Carter County Times
(Photo by Guillermo Casales, courtesy of Unsplash)

So, you set up the X-pen, your litterbox, the hay rack, the food and water bowls. You got everything ready for your house rabbit, and you just brought her home. Congratulations! You’ve set out on a path full of challenges and rewards in taking on the responsibility of caring for another living, breathing being who will depend on you for EVERYTHING. It can be a little daunting when you put it like that, yes? Not to worry, you’ll both be fine and will surely have years of companionship with your new furry friend.

There are some things however that a first-time house rabbit owner might not realize that rabbits in general don’t like to happen to them, and a couple might be a big surprise. As you and your house bunny get to know each other, you’ll come to know the “expressions” on their faces and ears and be able to read their body language easily. You’ll also learn what your particular rabbit really likes as far as treats and petting, as long as you pay attention.

First of all we’ll talk about things that most bunnies love, then later we’ll get into some things that nearly all rabbits dislike. So, on to the lists! Bunnies (in general) LOVE:

  • Leafy greens, celery, carrot chips, peas in the pod, broccoli, cauliflower.
  • Small pieces of fruit, fresh is best. Fruit is not something your rabbits’ digestive system can handle in large quantities, so it’s best to use it as an occasional treat.
  • Clover! My yard doesn’t ever get sprayed with fertilizer or insecticide, and you may have a hard time finding clover, but if you can, it’s worth it! Maggie and Chunky especially like to gobble up the flower heads of our purple clover, and then they’ll eat the leaves and the stalks.
  • Chew Toys – Bunny toys mostly seem to come in 2 types – those meant to be chewed up and destroyed, and the rest. My rabbits are especially lucky that we can go out in the woods behind our house and cut wild grapevines, thicker than your thumb! These are nommed up at an amazing rate, so we try to get lots of big lengths and then cut smaller (8 inches or so) pieces off them as needed.
  • Tossing toys are very popular in my bunny house, and I generally find that hard toys for small children can be suitable for rabbits. They can be hard to find, I actually get most of mine at the thrift stores’ baby toy bin!
  • Soft blankets to lie on! I cut fleece remnants into bunny-sized blankies, and launder them frequently. Your bunny may soil them often, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love having them for naps. My rabbits frequently pick theirs up in their teeth and toss them around to get them placed just right.
  • Cardboard boxes! Cut out doors and windows for your buns to look through, chew on, and jump out of. 
  • Kid sized chairs or stools. Your rabbit will enjoy being able to jump up and keep a lookout for “danger”, and it’s great exercise.
  • Dirt. Fill an extra litterbox with plain potting soil, or even sand. Digging is a job they love to have and it will help keep their claws in great shape as well.
  • Bath tissue rolls! Fill one up with hay, treats, or fresh herbs like mint, and crimp the ends closed. They’ll stay occupied for quite a while with these.
  • Salt blocks. I found a Himalayan salt chunk with a hole drilled in it and a hanger, and my rabbits are constantly working at getting a lick in as it hangs from the top of the cage. You could hang one on the side of your X-pen, if that works better for you.
  • Tunnels! Cat-sized tunnel toys are VERY popular here, and they’re always zipping in and out to play hide and seek.
  • Willow balls. If you can find these, they make great chewable, tossable toys for your buns.
  • Fall leaves! It’s nearly time to start raking leaves, and if you don’t have any in your own yard, ask someone you know to save you a bag full. You can dump them on the floor and play leaf toss. Your rabbit may try to bat them out of the air, or might even throw them around himself. My bunnies love to tunnel under a cover of leaves as though they’re hiding.
  • A bunny friend. The best toy for your rabbit is a friend who can help them with grooming, lie next to them for a nap, and just hang out. Rabbits are naturally gregarious animals who live in colonies, so two bunnies is definitely better than one. Please remember that your rabbits should either be neutered, or at least the same sex. Also keep in mind that male bunnies won’t generally like to share space with another male (unless they are fixed), even if they’re brothers who have grown up together. It’s Nature telling their little rabbitty brains that there isn’t room for two boys in that small a space, so best not to fight it.
  • Time with YOU! My bunnies have gotten pretty well used to the times when I regularly check for full food dishes, water bottles, and a quick pet to reassure them that I care about them. When I turn on the light in our rabbit room each morning, I’m suddenly looking at 4 pairs of eyes, and let me tell you, cage doors will be opened on time and petting will happen. Anything else can change, but the routine must continue.

So, shoot for a regular time each day that you devote just to your buns, and you’ll be rewarded with happy, healthy companions for many years.

In the meantime, make time to play games with YOUR super special rabbit(s) and enjoy the gentle, quiet nature of your house bunny. 

Rabbit On!!

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