Are you thinking about bringing home a live bunny as an Easter gift this year?
Did you know that pet rabbits can live from 7 to 10 or more years and require the same long-term care as cats and dogs?
Additionally, contrary to belief, rabbits are not low-maintenance pets. They have specific dietary and veterinary needs and must be handled with care. Unfortunately, people don't realize these facts and thousands of ex-Easter bunnies are abandoned to shelters or into the wild each year.
This is a subject that I can speak personally about. Our family has three rabbits. I have talked about Humperdink and Penelope in the past. Benjamin joined us last spring. All three of our rabbits came from the Huron County Humane Society. Humperdink and Penelope were pets that were tossed outside to fend for themselves after someone got tired of them. Contrary to popular belief, domestic rabbits do not have the ability to survive in the "wild."
Left to fend for themselves they will suffer from starvation, sickness and serve as prey for other animals. Benjamin was dropped off at the shelter because his owners claimed that their dog was allergic to him. Scared to death by the shelter atmosphere he came to our home for a little rest and recuperation. Needless to say, he is still here and I don't anticipate that he will be leaving.
Rabbits are not low-maintenance pets. They require daily care and ideally should live indoors. Rabbits kept in hutches outdoors have an average lifespan of about one year; house rabbits can live 8 to 10 years. By all accounts, our Humperdink is very near the 10-year mark. Outdoor rabbits become bored and depressed from isolation. Rabbits are very social animals.
Our rabbits live in cages and are always supervised when they are out to play. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means that generally they sleep during the day and during the night but are ready to play at dawn and at twilight. Visit our home on any given afternoon and you will see from about 1 to 4 p.m., it is bunny nap-time. All of them are fast asleep. Benjamin often provides a "wake-up call" for our family in the morning by tossing his metal dish around his cage.
Like cats, rabbits can be trained to use a litter-box. Older rabbits are sometimes a bit easier to train than younger rabbits. A rabbit's attention span and ability to learn increases as they grow-up. If you have a baby, stick with it. Spaying and neutering does make a difference. When rabbits reach the age of 4-6 months, their hormones become active and they usually begin marking their territory. By spaying and neutering he will be more likely to use the litterbox.
Spaying and neutering your pet rabbit can benefit them in many ways. First of all, altered rabbits live longer and healthier lives. The risk of reproductive cancers for a female is virtually eliminated. For males, a neutered rabbit will live longer and his disposition will be better. Altered rabbits won't contribute to the problem of overpopulation. Just like dogs and cats, rabbits are euthanized in shelters across the country.
Rabbits also require regular vet care. Ours visit the vet at least annually for a good check-up. We have also made visits to the vet when one of our bunnies doesn't feel well. Most often our visit is for a hairball. Unlike cats, rabbits do not have the ability to expel a hairball by vomiting. Their digestive system is different they don't vomit.
A hairball can be very serious for a rabbit. I know this all too well. I spent last weekend syringe feeding Penelope baby food, yogurt and pineapple juice. The acid in the pineapple juice helps to break-down the hairball. The yogurt aids in getting good bacteria into the stomach and the baby food (anything green or orange) gives them some nutrition. I had to do this at least four times a day. Once again this dispels the belief that rabbits are low-maintenance.
Although it looks cute, rabbits are not good pets for young children. They must be handled with extreme care; they can break their backs very easily. Rabbits are ground-loving creatures who feel frightened and insecure when held and restrained.
So, if you are considering getting a rabbit for Easter, consider a chocolate or stuffed one. If you still think that you would like a live rabbit, do your homework first.
Kathy Olak is a member of the Huron County Humane Society who writes a monthly column. The Humane Society investigates cases of animal abuse and neglect. The animal abuse hotline is (419) 663-7158.