Sooty, the Buffington family bunny, will be 11 years old this spring. He has been with the Buffingtons his entire life since he was adopted as a kitten (baby bunny). Photo credit: Lani Vandehey.

While some pets can seem rather low-maintenance, every single animal has a completely unique personality and an individual set of needs, just as humans do. Bunnies (formally known as rabbits) are no exception to this rule. Successfully bringing a bunny into a family is a display of responsibility, patience, dedication, compassion, and flexibility. Bunny owners who are prepared to adapt their average routine and put in time and effort are able to create deep and lasting connections with their pets. In the right home, a bunny becomes a member of the family to the same degree as any human in the house. The Buffington family in Highland, Utah has had their bunny Sooty for over ten years. They all know his personality and appreciate his quirks, such as his resentment towards hard floors. The moment his paws make contact with the wood floors of the Buffington house, the bunny scrambles as far away from the smooth surface as he can. “You never really realize how expressive they can be until you live with one,” says mother Carrie Buffington.

Facial expressions are as dramatic on bunnies as they are on humans. As pet owners get to know their bunny, they will understand more of what their body language means. Since animals cannot directly talk with humans, even the most minimal non-verbal communication between a pet and its owner is essential. For example, bunnies are naturally quiet animals. Rather than using a vocal call to warn of danger, rabbits alert each other of threats by thumping the ground with their hind legs. If a domesticated bunny does this, it likely means that they are feeling anxious, scared, or irritated. A watchful pet owner will learn to interpret behaviors and body language to understand what their bunny is saying to them. The Buffingtons’ dog, Penny, and Sooty are best friends. They love to play together, but Sooty gets overwhelmed by all the action sometimes. When Penny is bothering him, Sooty thumps his feet to get his humans’ attention. If Sooty thumps, the family calls Penny away from him so he can relax.

Taking care of a bunny is in many ways quite similar to the role of a teacher or a counselor. The caretaker is not only responsible for the bunny’s physical health, but is also a companion, and someone who gives the bunny the tools to explore and learn in a safely controlled environment. Every student learns differently, and every bunny learns differently as well. Pet owners innovate ways to tune in to their bunny’s individual needs and incorporate systems that foster communication and growth between all members of a household. Habits as simple as sharing an occasional piece of salad at dinner with or saying good morning to a bunny every day help to strengthen the bond between a bunny and its family. In the Buffington house, Sooty and Penny are often allowed to wander between the feet of their people during dinner. Sooty tends to rotate his tickly kisses between the toes of whoever has been the nicest to him that day. Contrary to common belief, human foods including (but not limited to) fruits and vegetables are not a necessary part of a rabbit’s diet. A small chunk of carrot every once in a while is usually harmless, and can easily gain a bunny’s favor. However, if consumed regularly or in large quantities, these foods can be harmful to their digestive systems.

Fine-tuned instincts to find food and shelter and a wariness of new situations is in a bunny’s genes. Their shy nature gives them the perfect intuition to thoroughly assess any unknown variables and decide if it is safe to relax and trust a new person or environment. This hesitation makes it all the more rewarding when a bunny nuzzles its soft little nose into a human’s world. When relaxed and comfortable, bunnies are typically sweet and gentle. They are very insightful and affectionate, so developing a strong foundation of trust and rapport with a bunny is worth every second and every ounce of energy spent. This is done by being consistent with your bunny and treating them well. “Show the bunny respect, like how we don’t pick up Sooty,” Carrie advises. “Imagine being a prey animal and being picked up…what would do that in the wild besides a predator like a hawk?” Bunnies respond well to gentle attitudes, and generally are only aggressive when scared. If you respect your bunny, they will trust you, love you, and give you endless bunny kisses.

Although many do tend to show affection physically, some bunnies prefer to observe people from nearby rather than constantly being touched or held. It is important to be aware of every bunny’s personal boundaries and to avoid crossing them whenever possible. Things like forcing a bunny to sit in your lap or continuing to pet them after they’ve run away not only degrade their trust in you, but can negatively affect their mental health by causing them to feel constricted. A huge part of respecting a bunny and ensuring that they are happy is keeping up with their physical health. Basic care includes trimming their nails every six to eight weeks and grooming them regularly to rid them of unnecessary loose fur.

According to Rabbit Advocates, a non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon, spaying or neutering a pet bunny is one of the most effective methods of improving their health. In addition to preventing unexpected pregnancies and the hassle of finding homes for all of the babies, they say that, “After [they are] neutered, your rabbit will be a calmer and happier companion and will be easier to litter box train.” There are many benefits to spaying or neutering a bunny, but choosing a vet must be a thoughtful process. Research prospective clinics ahead of time and make sure the chosen veterinarian is educated and qualified to work with bunnies. Often veterinarians that specialize in rabbits will advertise that they work with “exotic pets” rather than common pets like cats or dogs. For those who are taken with the idea of coming home to gentle kisses from a furry and curious bunny friend, do some research and talk to people who have bunnies or organizations such as Rabbit Advocates, to see if you’re ready to begin your search for the wonderful commitment and companionship of a bunny roommate!

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