When you decide on rabbit adoption, taking on an adult or nearly adult bunny rather than a baby, you will have to recognise that your new bunny has already developed a character which you will have to compromise with – a baby rabbit can be moulded to suit the circumstances of your life rather more than a rabbit who’s already used to certain routines or privileges in life! One of my previous rabbits was accustomed to total freedom and when caged wouldn’t eat (Coineanach, my wild rabbit rescue) and as a general rule, a rabbit who’s grown used to being allowed to run about more or less at will won’t take kindly to having their freedom restricted. They may have particular treats they like or habits such as my current bunny friend Bigwig’s love of having her head rubbed by a human foot. When you adopt a mature rabbit, you will need to ask about these sorts of things and adapt to them.
If you already have a rabbit and are looking to find him or her a companion, rabbit adoption will allow you to choose a bunny of similar age to your current pet rather than try to match up a sedate older rabbit with a bouncing baby, or to choose a shy new rabbit to complement a strong resident character who’s used to ruling the roost – rabbits who aren’t compatible can annoy each other too much to make friends, and once rabbits have decided another rabbit isn’t their friend, they have long memories!
Some of the work of training a young house rabbit may already have been done for you if you adopt an older bunny – house-training may already be solidly established, your bunny should know his or her name, and they may even have been taught tricks or have a grooming routine established.
One big advantage of rabbit adoption with a bunny who’s a year old or more is that they will have grown out of their teenage hormonal months and you won’t have to face the sulks, temper-tantrums, random biting or breakdown in litter training that can accompany a teenage emo rabbit as much as a stroppy teenage human!
On the other hand, bad habits may also have become established, such as a love of chewing electric wiring, or bad experiences in your bunny’s past may have set up phobias, issues and problems which you’ll have to deal with on adopting a rabbit! If this is something you’re worried about or having trouble with, see my page on behaviour for tips on understanding and dealing with your adopted rabbit’s personal quirks.
Sometimes rabbits need new homes – when owners have to move or change jobs, for example – or because the rabbit doesn’t get on with the family’s children or other pets. This can be a perfect chance for rabbit adoption to help both you and a bunny in need. You may find an advert in your local paper or you can approach your local animal welfare society or local animal rescue home. These organisations can help you check that your circumstances are right to adopt a rabbit, recommend a local vet and will be able to offer advice if you need help settling your bunny in.
Before you adopt an older rabbit, ask as many questions about his or her past as you can think of, so you’ll have some idea of what he’s used to in terms of food, housing, sitting-on-furniture privileges or favourite cuddles and so on. Try and find out if he’s scared of children or chases cats – yes, some rabbits can be aggressive or just overly playful with other household pets! – and think carefully about whether this is the right rabbit for you. If your prospective pet is a live wire who’s being re-homed because the family dog can’t take being trampolined on by a bunny but you don’t have any other pets, then this won’t be a problem for you – but if you have other pets, you will need to think about their needs too. A rabbit who shorts out the house by chewing cables needs to have a very carefully protected home to move into, so check my page on rabbit-proofing for ideas!
Anyone who’s offering a rabbit for adoption should be willing to let you visit several times and happy to answer any questions you have – they may also ask to see where you’ll be keeping their beloved friend whom they’re having to reluctantly rehome. Anyone who’s desperately eager to offload their pet without checking where they’re going is probably trying to hide either huge problems in the rabbit or has other troubles, so be wary!
The worst thing you can do with any rabbit is to adopt them, then change your mind and re-home them again – like foster children, such rabbits become insecure, starved of love and develop psychological problems which someone will have to deal with one day – or the bunny will end up being put down through no fault of his own. As with any animal, think long and hard before you offer a home to a bunny and try to make sure that when that little furry person hops out of the carrier, they’re coming to a forever home which will provide them with the full, busy and happy life both you and they deserve.