Yes, spring is in the air and Easter can’t be far behind. Easter evokes idyllic images of cute little baby bunnies in Easter baskets and children. And so it is that parents are compelled to buy that cute little bunny for their children at Easter. But, did you know that 80% of Easter bunnies are abandoned or die within the first year of being purchased? This is because bunnies are usually an impulse purchase and bunny parents have not done their homework on the care of this extraordinary animal. This is not meant to discourage the purchase of a pet rabbit, but instead to encourage owners to do their homework before undertaking the purchase of a bunny.
A few things to consider when thinking of purchasing a pet rabbit, rabbits are not low maintenance pets. They have special housing requirements’ which includes a cage, feeding bowls, enrichment (toys), litter box, etc. They also live for 10+ years which means they are a long term commitment. They have special nutritional needs and yes they will need to see a veterinarian to ensure they maintain optimal health.
Rabbits are intelligent and energetic animals. They require social interaction and mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis to keep them healthy and tame. Rabbits are considered a prey animal, which simply means they can be timid and skittish if not well socialized. Not all bunnies enjoy being held and can cause serious injury to the owner or themselves if they are frightened. This can be disappointing to children and adults that are not familiar with rabbit behavior or don’t spend adequate time socializing their rabbit.
Rabbits have special nutritional needs to keep them healthy. A common misconception is that rabbits need only commercial rabbit pellets and an occasional carrot to keep them healthy. Actually, a rabbits digestive tract requires high quality hay, and lots of it, to maintain healthy gut motility and a balance of good gut bacteria. Although pelleted diets have adequate fiber, high quality hay prevents intestinal issues such as hairballs, obesity, and promotes good dental health. Alfalfa hay is often recommended for rabbits and may be fine as a treat, but feeding alfalfa as the bulk of the diet may lead to urinary problems because of the high calcium content in the hay. Because rabbit teeth are open rooted (meaning they grow throughout the rabbit’s life) it is important to provide items to chew to prevent overgrowth of teeth. Small amounts of fresh greens and vegetables should also be provided.
A little more on the teeth…It will be important to monitor your bunny if allowed to exercise in the house. Because rabbits have a proclivity for chewing on items, be prepared to have wood items in your house chewed upon. Actually, any items the bunny has access to are fair game. To keep chewing to a minimum while outside the cage it might be fun to engage your bunny in play with a large ball. You will both be entertained in a game of fetch.
From a medical standpoint rabbits are relatively healthy animals. The most common problems seen in rabbits are related to improper diets, injuries due to trauma of the spine (usually related to jumping from high places), and malocclusion of the teeth.
On a positive note, rabbits are generally clean animals and can be trained to use a litter pan. They are also quiet. They make wonderful pets if you willing to accommodate their specialized needs.
There are many different breeds available ranging from the very small to the extremely large, long hair or short hair and some with wiry hair. There are those with erect ears and those with drooping ears. They come in a variety of colors too. If this is your first bunny, I would suggest seeking out the myriad of rabbit rescue organizations and providing a home to “pre-owned” bunny. This option often provides a smaller adoption fee, a health assessment by a veterinarian, and most bunnies will have been spayed or neutered and accustomed to living indoors. These rescue organizations are good resource for information too.
The most important message is that you do the research on rabbits to make sure this pet fits your lifestyle and that you are able to provide for the needs of a rabbit. Owning a rabbit can be a rewarding experience for children if they are involved in its care and understand what the limitations and expectations of rabbits involve. I have included two excellent resources on the internet that I think will help with your “homework.” Additionally, visit reputable breeders or adoption organizations and speak with a veterinarian. https://rabbit.org or http://myhouserabbit.com
Sylvia MacFarlane, RVT is a Credentialed Veterinary Technician and the 2018 President of the Newberry County Humane Society, and can be reached at 803-924-2378