First Few Weeks in a New Home

Rabbits make wonderful pets. They are intelligent, social, lively. They also respond well to stimulation, human interaction, and training. And educating yourself about how to build a good home and relationship with your rabbit is key to helping your new bunny thrive in its new home.

When you first bring a pet rabbit into a new home, one of the most useful tools for helping your new roommate to feel at ease is your imagination. How do you and your household look to them? Add a little common sense, a dash of patience, and a few basics of rabbit care and behavior, and you’ve got a recipe for a lifelong friendship.

Who is this new roommate?

While you are observing and learning about this new companion, bear in mind that during these early days they may not “be itself.” Your rabbit may be too scared to show you how affectionate they’re going to be once they recover from the shock of relocation. The bunny may have too much on their mind to be anything but perfectly box-trained; in a few weeks, when feeling more at home, they may need a course in Litterbox101. They may be feeling so insecure that territorial marking is almost an obsession (if they/re not neutered/ spayed, do it now!). They may be too scared to let you hold or touch; or they may be too scared to tell you they prefer not to be held. They may seem extraordinarily loving and affectionate, leaving you stunned and confused when this hormone-driven behavior decreases in the weeks following spay/neuter. Or they may be one of those rare mellow, confident individuals whose new family needs none of the following suggestions.

During this volatile period, the two most important contributions you can make are: set up a friendly, safe environment; and let your new friend set the pace for getting acquainted.

Home Base

Set up a small area or roomy cage (or both). Use a laundry room, bathroom, hallway blocked off with baby gates, or part of a larger room sectioned off using furniture, boxes, or other objects they can’t scale or knock over. Choose a spot that gets some regular, not-too-noisy traffic, where they can see and hear but not be trampled by your daily routines. Start housetraining by providing at least one or two litterboxes. A fresh layer of grass hay on top will both encourage and reward them for hopping in. Fresh water in a bowl or bottle, or both, should be available at all times. Give them at least one cardboard box with two bunny-size doors cut, and a towel draped across one area of his cage, as hiding places. Start them on the road to good chewing habits by removing forbidden and dangerous temptations such as house plants, electric cords, and books. Provide permitted alternatives such as untreated straw, wicker, or sea-grass baskets and mats (all available at pet supply stores), cardboard tubes and boxes, hard plastic baby toys for tossing, and plenty of fresh hay.

Great Expectations, and What to Do about Them

As with good housetraining habits, building a friendship may take time and patience. If they’re not ready to be petted yet, caress them with your voice. Talk to them, or to anyone while in their presence. Many rabbits seem to enjoy listening to their humans talk on the phone. Hang out with them in rabbit fashion, by sitting quietly on the floor. Show that they can hop over to you, take a few get-acquainted sniffs and gentle nibbles, and then hop away again. This hands-off approach paves the way to a hands-on friendship, especially with shy or traumatized rabbits. As their fear diminishes, their curiosity increases. Place a small treat or two (a sprig of parsley or carrot top, a sliver of apple) and a few toys on the floor next to you, to make their visit even more rewarding.

If no other humans are around, you might want to say your first few words in Rabbit. Tell your new friend how happy, content, calm, and delighted you are in their company. You may not be able, as they are, to “comb” your long silky ears between your hands–but you can pretend to wash your face the way they do, using hands and tongue. When they respond by grooming themselves, it means you’re way cool, practically an Honorary Rabbit.

Who is this human creature?

When adding a rabbit to our family, we may be ready right away to give and receive generous amounts of love and affection. Maybe that’s because we’re not the ones who have just arrived in a strange place, populated by foreigners who don’t speak our language. Imagine how you would feel if the size difference between you were reversed: a giant hand reaches down and plucks you from your home. It sets you down on a planet of 2-ton, 30-feet-tall beings–a sort of giraffe/elephant hybrid. How long before you’d feel relaxed? What would be your instinctive reaction when one of these giants came lumbering over? Is that a smile on the enormous creature’s face, or a grimace? Only time (plus the occasional raisin or banana slice) will tell your new companion that they are among friends.

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