Traveling with rabbits is sometimes a necessity. There are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare for your trip.
If you are leaving town for the weekend or on a short vacation, I would minimize stress and consider either having someone who is knowledgeable about rabbits pet sit them or have them boarded at a rabbit-friendly facility. However, there are times in which people are faced with moving to another city or overseas. This kind of travel is stressful for both rabbits and owners, but it can be done.
Traveling with rabbits is not a good time to be spontaneous. Calculate where you are going to stop at every leg of your trip. Look for hotels or motels that accept pets. Most importantly, find out where the nearest exotics vet (and emergency vet) is located at your stop. When you are looking up emergency vets, find out beforehand if they see rabbits (as many don’t). This sort of research is something you don’t want to do in the middle of a crisis.
Try to establish a routine during your trip - driving, rest stops, exercise and lunch/dinner/snack at consistent times. Be aware that rabbits may be too stressed to eat or drink during the trip. Keep an eye on them and check for poop, as the lack of poop may indicate the need to see a vet. When you stop for the night, you may need to syringe-feed some Critical Care. Serving fresh, wet veggies will help keep them hydrated, but you may need to supplement with fluids (Pedialyte or Lacated Ringer Solution). Pedialyte is found in grocery and drug stores nationwide. While you syringe-feed Pedialyte, Lacated Ringer Solution is bagged fluids that need to be administered sub-q. This is available prescription only from your vet.
If your trip will take you several hours (or days), I would get a carrier big enough to fit a small litter box and affix a water bottle (and small dish for pellets and/or treats). A bigger carrier will allow the bunny an opportunity to stretch out or move around.
Keep the following supplies with you in the car.
Air travel is stressful for people, so it’s not surprising if pets are not fond of it, either. Some airlines will allow rabbits to fly in-cabin with you, in cargo or as checked baggage, but not all. Please check with airlines directly regarding their current pet policy.
There may be restrictions (such as no live animals in cargo during the summer). Common restrictions include how many animals are allowed in cabin in any one flight, the size of the kennel and the type of pet (more applicable to birds and short-faced dogs than rabbits). You typically need to contact the airline directly to book and pay the pet fee. Make sure you check the information on the ticket and print out the confirmation. Mix ups at the airport are common, so be prepared for the worst. If you have more than one stop, check with each carrier as not every airline has the same policy. If you are flying overseas, check with your destination country for any requirements needed, such as health certificates or if there is a mandatory quarantine. It’s important to note some destinations, such as Queensland, Australia, have declared it illegal to own pet rabbits. For more information on traveling with pets, see the USDA.
If your bunny is flying with you in-cabin, I would purchase a soft-sided carrier that matches the maximum requirements allowed by the airline you are flying with. These measurements are important because the carrier must be able to slide under the seat in front of you. A hard-sided carrier is very unforgiving, so if you happen to be a half-inch too long or wide, you will not be able to make it fit and your bunny will be forced to fly cargo.
Feeding and giving water will be difficult, if not impossible, so prepare the carrier the best you can. When I flew Porter across the United States, I placed a towel on the bottom and then covered it with hay. On the morning of our flight, I gave Porter some sub-q fluids and placed some wet veggies in his carrier. We had one stop over in which I could slip him some treats and a small bowl of water. As expected, Porter knocked over the bowl, so be prepared for a possible mess.
Most people dread transporting their bunnies in cargo. Unfortunately, this is the only method allowed if you are flying overseas (unless you have a celebrity bun and are flying First Class).
If you need to fly your bunny as checked baggage or cargo, again contact the carrier for exact details and requirements. Here, your animals will need to be housed in a large enough carrier to be able to move about. The carrier needs to be hard-sided, chew-proof, with a metal door (you may even be required to purchase a specific crate). It should either be collapsible or assembled with metal hardware (not plastic). You will not be able to use a soft-sided carrier, at all. You should be able to put in a towel, plenty of hay, a water bottle, (make sure the bottle does not leak) and a small litter box. Double check that you have any required paperwork and have the carrier or crate labeled appropriately. Here again, I would give my rabbits wet veggies and sub-q fluids prior to the flight so they remain properly hydrated, even if they don't drink any water.
Keep in mind extremes in temperature. There may be heat or cold restrictions, so it is important to check with the airline before booking your trip. Some airlines will prohibit transporting animals as checked baggage or cargo if there is a possibility a plane could sit on a hot or freezing tarmac for an extended length of time. Even if there are no restrictions, it is best to plan your trip for earlier in the morning or later in the evening in the summer and midday during the winter.
Unpack and set-up a routine as quickly as possible. Be aware that in a new environment, rabbits will explore their new territory and mark everything. That means there will be more poop - and possibly urine (they may also spray) - outside the litter box. The territorial marking can last 2-4 weeks before the bunny is confident the Universe is aware of him and his territory.
If your bunny is free-range, limit the roaming until you have moved in all the furniture and have adequately bunny-proofed everything. This is more to keep the bunny from being underfoot (which we all know is a favorite past-time). If poop and urine outside the litter box is a problem, you can “retrain” your rabbit by limiting the space and putting down multiple boxes. Once he picks a box, you can take the other ones away.
It may take some time for your bunny to feel comfortable again. It may be just a few days or it may take several weeks. If your bunny is extremely stressed, I would also consider covering his pen with a sheet. This mimics a burrow and gives the bunny a feeling of security. I would leave it completely covered for a few days. As your bunny relaxes, you can lift a section of the sheet from a corner, to half a pen, to completely off.
If you need to assemble your furniture, I would try to limit any hammering or drilling (or in my case, swearing) away from your bunnies.