What Are Rabbits Really Like?
People who haven’t lived with rabbits often ask those who do if rabbits make “good pets,” and if so, are they more like dogs or cats. The truth is, there are some traits in rabbits that you might think are dog-like, such as greeting you at the front door when you get home. Like cats, rabbits will ask you for a petting by “nose-bumping” your ankles; similar to cats brushing against your legs. Overall, however, rabbits are not “just like” any other animal – they are like rabbits; unique in personality and behavior. Learning what rabbits are like is part of the joy of living with them. Lastly, we prefer to refer to our rabbits as “companions.” They become part of the family and keep us company, while delighting us with their silly behaviors like “zoomies” and mid-air “binkies.”
“So, what are rabbits like?”
Are rabbits soft and snuggly? Though rabbits look like they would be fun to cuddle, not all rabbits enjoy that level of closeness with humans. Most prefer to stay on the floor and have their forehead and ears stroked. Many will happily “chatter” their teeth when having their cheeks rubbed but after a few strokes, they are apt to get up and move on to something else.
Will your rabbit come when called? Maybe. It depends on whether or not you’ve built a rapport with your rabbit to the point that she will learn her name and come to you – usually expecting a treat. You need to take the time and patience required to build a trusting relationship with your rabbit. They are social animals and love attention from their humans, their bunny partner, and sometimes other animals in the home. Do you expect your rabbit to sit on your lap for hours? Most won’t do that, but you may get lucky and have a rabbit that jumps up on the sofa to cuddle while you watch TV.
Do we expect too much?
Humans often expect too much of rabbits because they have never lived with one. Dogs only want to please their humans so some people believe they can “give orders” to a rabbit and they will react like a dog. In this way, rabbits are more like cats in that they don’t take orders and prefer to do things on their own time and in their own way. The dedicated human, however, might try clicker-training their rabbit as a way to grow closer and teach the rabbit to respond to certain commands. This can prove helpful in getting your rabbit to go into a carrier or allow you to trim her nails. Any extra time and effort you spend in learning about rabbit behavior and adapting to their needs will be rewarding for both you and your rabbit companion.
The term ’pet’
No small part of the problem lies in our use of the term “pet.” After all, a pet is “one who is petted,” implying passivity and ownership. We seldom call other human beings “pets,” and most people would consider it an insult if we did. By using the term to describe animals we are diminishing their importance in our lives. We are denying their right to individuality and a lifestyle that may or may not include allowing us to fawn over them. On the other hand, a rabbit who is a companion is one who – like our human friends – is encouraged to develop the personality nature gave her and is appreciated for who she is.
So, what should we say when people ask if rabbits are “good pets”? Explain that rabbits make wonderful, exciting, intelligent companions for those that take the time to appreciate their unique personalities. All you need to do is view a few videos online of rabbits playing games, showing off tricks, or simply allowing you to stroke them for hours while lying on the floor.
If you’re looking to learn more, please consider purchasing the House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit.