Children & rabbits are natural companions-right? The answer could be yes, no,
or "maybe so" depending on many factors.
Are you thinking of getting a rabbit for your child? Are you trying to figure
out how to live with both a rabbit and a child since having a baby? Does your
family already have a rabbit? Are you finding that the children and rabbit do
not interact as you had expected? Did your family agree that the rabbit would
be the "children's responsibility" and now that is not happening?
Many people are surprised and disappointed to find that rabbits rarely conform
to the cute-n-cuddly stereotype in children's stories Baby bunnies (and many
young adult rabbits) are too busy dashing madly about, squeezing behind
furniture, and chewing baseboards and rugs to be held. Also, rabbits are
physically delicate animals which means they can be hurt by children picking
them up. Because rabbits feel frightened when people pick them up, they kick
and struggle which means children can also get hurt Rabbits are also built to
react to sudden changes which means they may either run away or try to bite
when approached too quickly and too loudly. Stress-related illnesses are
common. For these reasons, many children, especially young children, will
find it difficult to interact with a rabbit and soon lose interest.
So why do they make good house pets? Rabbits:
are quiet can learn near-perfect litterbox habits
are fun to watch
have different personalities just as individual dogs and cats do
don't need a yard if given plenty of indoor, sun-lit exercise space.
In addition, rabbits are social animals meaning they need the companionship of
humans or other animals, although the need may vary among individual rabbits.
They play, some more than others. Many can get along with most
cats and some
dogs when properly introduced. Many
enjoy being with people but your family
must have patience, understanding, and an acceptance of individual differences
to earn their trust.
In order for a family and a rabbit to get to know each other (and for the
rabbit's best health), the rabbit needs to be an indoor pet with as much
out-of-cage time with the family as possible. If you relegate your rabbit
to an outdoor hutch (or even to an indoor cage
for most of the day), your family will miss getting to know the special
personality of the rabbit.
As the adult, you need to get used to this idea:
The rabbit will be your pet.
If your family already has a rabbit whom "n were supposed to care for" and
there are problems with this, then try to reconcile yourself to the fact that
a rabbit is an adult's responsibility. Rabbits are very sensitive to changes
to their feeding, cleaning, and exercise routines.
Changes are stressful and may lead to illness.
Symptoms of illness are often
subtle changes in appetite, behavior, and/or droppings that even mature
children will miss. It is unreasonable to expect a child of any age to take
responsibility for care of a rabbit (or any pet). The rabbit and your children,
as well as the family peace, will benefit greatly from you accepting this
If your family is considering adopting a rabbit, decide how you and the other
adults in the household feel about taking on the responsibility of a rabbit.
Do the adults want a rabbit as a member of the family? If the rabbit is an
all-around family member (lives indoors, gets regular out-of-cage time) and
play with the rabbit is supervised, then a child and rabbit can get to know
each other and live together happily. Do the adults have an understanding of
the basic nature of rabbits and what to expect in terms of time, training, and
cost? Or, are you open to finding out? Are the adults willing to make a 5 to
10 yr. commitment?
Unless the adults of the household are enthusiastic, informed, and committed
about the work involved, a stuffed animal rabbit is a better choice.
You don't have to be "Super-Adult" to have peaceful coexistence between
rabbit and children. But, do you want another "toddler"? Rabbits are a
lot like 2 yr. old children-they can be a joy to live with, but:
You will need to spend time in toilet-training i.e.:
litterbox training and have tolerance
for accidents. Most rabbit people take occasional scattered droppings
in stride. There may be an occasional puddle, usually done to mark new
You will need to bunny-proof the
parts of your house where the rabbit is allowed to run somewhat similar
You will need to check on your rabbit often and supervise child/rabbit
interactions when the rabbit is out for exercise. Three to four hours
per day of out-of-cage time is the minimum.
Some of your things may be partially ruined. The amount of
chewing and digging that your rabbit does
will depend on age, personality, whether
spayed/neutered, as well as on what
toys you provide him.
Your rabbit will need toys but these can be
Just like human toddlers, rabbits respond to routines for feeding,
playing, and cleaning up. The main thing is to find a routine that is
easy for you. If the routine is too difficult, you will begin to look
at the rabbit as one more mess-maker.
A rabbit, like a child, responds best to situations that are set up
so he will do the right things and receive praise for doing right
instead of punishment for doing wrong.
If your child is generally easy-going, calm, gentle, and cooperative, you may
enjoy having a rabbit as a member of the family. If your child is generally
on the loud side, very active, tends to interact physically/aggressively, or
frequently seems to need reminders about or challenges rules, s/he may find
it difficult to build a relationship with a rabbit and you may find that a
rabbit is an additional stress.
Contrary to Easter-time hype, rabbits are rarely a good choice for a small
child (younger than 7 yrs.). The natural exuberance, rambunctiousness, and
decibel-level of the average toddler is stressful for most rabbits. Children
want a companion they can hold and cuddle; Rabbits need someone who understands
that they are ground-loving creatures.
The guidelines below are based on what children of varying ages are genuinely
like while keeping in mind the type of household most rabbits do well in. Of
course, rabbits and children do vary and there may be exceptions to these
guidelines. The most important factor is most likely the adults' attitude
and knowledge level (see previous section "The Rabbit
Will Be Your Pet").
One Child Younger than 7 Years-Probably shouldn't get a rabbit unless
your child fits the calm" description and you are an informed adult who
wants to deal with another toddler. It can be done though, if you have the
time and patience.
One or More Younger than 7 Years-Probably shouldn't get a rabbit. You
are likely very busy with active children who need a lot of your
attention which will probably leave you little time for managing a
One Younger than & One Older than 7 Years-Perhaps. Your time, the
children's personalities, and the general noise/activity level of your
household should be considered. If your younger child is "on the move and
into everything, it may be difficult for you & rabbit to live happily
even if the older child is of the "calm" type.
1 or More Older than 7 Years-Perhaps. Again, your time, the
children's personalities, and the general noise/activity level of your
household should be considered. Lots of friends coming & going will
probably stress out a rabbit. Your children may also be involved in
quite a few activities (music lessons, sports, etc.) which may leave
little time for the rabbit & family to get to know each other.
One Younger and 1 or More Older than 7 Years-Probably shouldn't get
a rabbit. Consider the information in 3. & 4. above, but your household
is most likely too busy and noisy to build a friendship with a rabbit.
Caring for and training a rabbit may be "just one more thing" that the
adults have to do.
Two or More Younger than & One or More Older than 7 Years-Probably
shouldn't get a rabbit. Consider the information in 2.-5. above.
One Child Older 'than 7 Years-If you are enthusiastic about
accepting responsibility for a rabbit and if your child is the calm
type or at least generally accepting of rules for behavior, you and a
rabbit would probably find it a joy to live together. If your child if
of the loud/active/ challenging rules variety, a rabbit may just
increase your stress level.
As with any pet, rabbits require a commitment in terms of
and medical care for their natural lives. The biggest initial expenses will
be a cage ($100 and up) and a spay ($80-200) or
neuter ($75-150) operation if
this was not done prior to adoption or purchase. Rabbits do not need annual
shots (in the USA at least) but you will usually need to make several visits to a veterinarian
when she is sick. You
will need to keep supplies of litter, food pellets,
fresh vegetables, and hay on hand.
Rabbits should be kept indoors for health, safety,
and socialization. You
will need space for at least a at least a 2'x4' or 8 sq ft cage. The cage should
be away from TV's, stereos and high noise areas, but not completely isolated
from people. Consider which area is most easily bunny-proofed for your rabbit's
If a baby is coming, or has come, to your rabbit's house, your rabbit will
probably be getting less of your attention for awhile, but neither of you
needs to suffer. You may not have time for lots of petting and playing, but
focus on maintaining the rabbit's daily care routine. It can be relaxing to
have some petting time with your rabbit when baby sleeps. Rabbit will adjust!
Your rabbit will be infinitely happier with you than if he is given away to
adjust to a new home. Shelters and rescue groups overflowing with dogs, cats,
and yes, rabbits, are constant reminders of how difficult it is to find
people willing to give an animal a good home for life. Many are initially
enthusiastic about getting a new pet, but when the newness wears off and
the reality of care sets in, many animals find themselves disposed of for
the owners convenience.
Remember!-When baby gets older, rabbit will have added attention from your
child (and you) which can be a good thing if you are committed to teaching
your child about the rabbit.
Whether you have brought a baby home to your rabbit's house or have brought a
rabbit home to your child's house, it is well to remember to:
Learn about rabbit behavior/language so you can point out the rabbits
feelings about your child's actions.
Choose a time of day when your child is on "low ebb" for teaching your
child about the rabbit and for play with the rabbit.
Set your child and the rabbit up for success. Try to anticipate and
prevent inappropriate interaction by often showing your child how to
Try not to get into a pattern of always saying "Don't..." and "Stop..."
to your child about the rabbit. If your child does something
inappropriate, show and talk about what the child can do with the
rabbit. Offer choices for behavior and ask "What could you do...?".
Otherwise, your child may see the rabbit as something he is always
getting in trouble for.
Keep the child away from the rabbit for a short time if the child
refuses to stop a behavior that may hurt the rabbit.
Set up the cage so rabbit can get away from the children-"a safe
zone". Use child gates in doorways and or turn the cage so the door
faces the wall with enough room for rabbit but not the child.
Put the rabbit in a closed-off room when there are lots of playmates
or parties. It is often better if the guests "don't know the rabbit
exists". --Refrain from having children's friends in to "see the new
rabbit" for the first week or so.
Show children's friends where rabbit lives and how to pet at
times when only 1 or 2 friends visit, then make sure the rabbit is
safe during the visit.
Start teaching the idea that the rabbit is to be respected and treated
BUNNYRULE # l: Gentle petting. Sit on the floor with child in
your lap while you pet and talk to the rabbit. Guide her hand over the
rabbit's head, ears, and upper back. To prevent fur-grabbing, hold her
hand flat or use the back of her hand. Do this frequently but no longer
than 5 mins. at a time.
BUNNYRULE #2: Leave the rabbit alone when he hops away or goes in
his cage. Interpret rabbit's body language for the child
("Oops, he didn't want anymore petting. He wants to eat or take a nap.)
Prevent the tendencies to chase a rabbit who has had enough and to
bang/poke on the cage by explaining: "Chasing him will make him scared
of you." or "Banging on his house scares him." Watch your child
carefully and make such explanations at the moment before it looks
like the child may engage in such behaviors. Explaining, then
redirecting the child's attention works best for this age when
inappropriate behavior seems imminent or occurs.
BUNNYRULE #3: Don't touch droppings and litter. Teach the child
that the litterbox and droppings that may be found on floor are
"dirt". You may have no problem with picking up the dry droppings with
your hand, but you don't stick your fingers in your mouth! You may
have to change your habits for awhile to teach this concept. A box
with a cage floor wire grate works well.
Toddlers (1-2 yrs.)
Continue reinforcing or teach BUNNYRULES 1-3 and add #4.
Although unintentional, toddlers are capable of doing real harm to a
rabbit. They will need constant supervision and frequent gentle
reminders of appropriate behavior. See below for additional notes
Due to still-developing muscle coordination, toddlers
have a hard time keeping fingers out of rabbits' eyes so you may have
to insist on two-finger petting or back-of-hand petting.
Closely supervise children's interactions with the rabbit. This is
the stage of the child's development when some are prone to bash things with sticks.
Children this age also have a hard time not chasing a rabbit who hops
away. If she chases the rabbit, the rabbit will learn to be scared of
her. Teach respect for the rabbit ending the petting or playing
session ('Well, that's all he wanted to do.") and interest the child
in another activity.
Children who are interested in toilet-training can understand "that
is where the bunny poops and pees".
BUNNYRULE #4:We pet, but don't pick up the rabbit. Explain that
it scares the rabbit to be picked up and both of you could get hurt.
Explain that Mom or Dad may pick up the rabbit if she needs care.
Explain rabbit language & actions: "Hear her teeth clicking? She likes
the petting. See her toss the ball? She's playing." If child gets
scratched, explain what the child did to scare or hurt the rabbit
and show a better way to act. Redirect loud play to another area
("Look at bunny. She doesn't like the noise.")
Toddlers love to share their snacks with the rabbit so make sure
rabbit gets only small amounts proper foods and is not overloaded
with cereals and crackers. They also love to help with feeding -
scooping & pouring food, taking vegetables and hay to rabbit.
One to Seven-Year Olds
If a 2-yr old has grown up with a rabbit, she can have quite a
bit of empathy for and knowledge about a rabbit. Continue or teach
BUNNYRULES #1 through 4. Teach by example instead of by a lot of
"No's"; Your child will learn most by watching you. If interested,
the child may help with feeding and play with the rabbit with your
Continue or teach BUNNYRULES #1 through 4. Teach by example and
setting up situations for success. Your child may build a
friendship with the rabbit by sitting on the floor with the
rabbit while doing homework, art work, reading, or watching t.v.
The rabbit will eventually come to investigate and to be petted.
Older children have lots of other interests and interest in rabbit
may come and go. The rabbit's care should continue to be your
responsibility, but your child may help with feeding and grooming.
Rabbits have different personalities so it is difficult to make generalizations
about breeds. In general though, a medium to large breed adult rabbit is
usually better for a child. They will command the most respect from a child
and are easier to pet because they have larger heads. Dwarf breeds tend to be
more excitable, energetic, and aggressive. Baby rabbits are very active, often
nippy, and chew everything in sight. Adult rabbits are more easily
litter-and house-trained, especially after
spaying or neutering. You will also have a better idea of a rabbits
personality if you choose an adult who is spayed or neutered.
Adopt a rabbit from a rescue group
or local shelters. There
are many advantages and you will be helping to combat rabbit
Animal shelters euthanize hundreds of unwanted rabbits each year, many less
than a year old. Many more die agonizing deaths from neglect and abandonment
without ever reaching a shelter. You will be giving one of the many unwanted
rabbits a second chance for a loving home while
discouraging those who breed
rabbits for profit.
Many parents say they want to get a rabbit for their child to teach the
child some responsibility. What usually happens is that the child loses
interest (not to mention being incapable of sticking to a routine and
providing proper care), and the rabbit suffers. The child, at best, learns
to feel bad that she has failed and caused suffering. At worst, she learns
to resent the animal for the nagging that she is hearing from the adult.
Often, the rabbit is given away because "you didn't take care of it". The
child learns that life is disposable and that if she waits long enough,
someone else will relieve her of her "responsibility'.
So, let your child help with the rabbit, but don't insist. If the child
appears interested, encourage her; if she becomes bored, let her move on to
the next thing, and you carry on with the rabbit. She learns most of all
from watching you-your actions, your tone of voice when you speak to the
rabbit, and your attitude. From this she learns the nurturing (responsible)
point of view- the patient waiting, the faithful caring, the joyful
appreciation and acceptance of a living creature for who it is, not who you
wish it to be.
"It is not easy to manage young humans and animals, but when parents find
solutions, rather than dispose of an animal for convenience sake, an
important concept is communicated to the child. This is alive. This is
valuable. You don't throw it away."
- Marinell Harriman,
Importance of Permanence
This information is based on material from the House Rabbit Society and on the
experiences of the author. In addition to working with over
1200 elementary school-aged children during a 12-yr. teaching career, the
author has lived with house rabbits since 1988 and in 1992 brought baby Emily
home to then-2 yr. old Gracie Rabbit. Three-year-old Emily now lives with
Gracie & Jessie Rabbit (& Benny Cat). She has become a responsible child who
has empathy for and knowledge about her animals far beyond her years.
Update: As of 2011, Emily, 2 years old at the time of this writing, is now 19! Carolyn reports that she has become a young person who has learned great empathy for animals from growing up with rabbits, cats, and dogs and has become a responsible horse owner today.
Section 19: Rabbits and Children
Author: Carolyn Mixon