As we get closer to Easter, I rev up for a busy time of year. I work with homeless rabbits, and in a few months we’ll start seeing the results of people buying rabbits as pets without taking the time to learn about their care.
Often in the week before Easter, I’ll write a column trying to dissuade people from buying rabbits. I still am firmly against buying a rabbit as a pet for anyone without their knowledge, so that you can be very sure that person is old enough and has the time to provide a good home. But sometimes it seems like I’m focusing on the negative aspects of rabbits as pets. This year, I’m going to focus on the positive.
You might be a good rabbit owner if …
... you want an attractive, soft and easy-to-groom pet. Rabbits don’t always have the meek and mild personalities to go along with their adorable looks, but there’s no doubt that a rabbit stays cute for life. They groom themselves, much like a cat, so you don’t need to worry about bathing. A quick brushing a couple times a week, especially during shedding season, is about all you have to do.
... you are eager to have a pet that will live a decade or so. Many smaller pets, especially rodents, have life spans of 2 or 3 years. Dogs and cats, on the other hand, can in some cases reach 20 years. A rabbit offers a middle ground. But be sure your life circumstances are likely to be the same for the next 10 years. A college student or a young adult still moving around a lot may not be good candidates for rabbit ownership unless another family member can be depended upon to provide care when you accept that great job in London. And a 9-year-old child may not be so keen to socialize with the rabbit a few years later, when she’s busy planning her prom.
... you want a pet that you can confine to a smaller area than the whole house. Dogs and cats usually require several rooms or the run of the house, but a rabbit can be very happy in a single room or large pen. Most cages sold in pet supply stores are not large enough for full-time housing, so try an X-pen or puppy pen instead. Outdoor rabbits are not recommended – they aren’t as safe, they don’t live as long, and why have a pet if you are going to keep it where you hardly ever see or interact with it?
... you don’t have allergies to hay. Rabbits need a high-quality grass hay in unlimited amounts. It keeps their guts moving and their teeth worn down correctly. Purchased by the bale this can be quite cheap; other sources are smaller, pet bales or a flake of hay from a friend who owns horses. And, if you are worried about allergies, make sure that rabbit dander doesn’t knock you for a loop. It seems like if someone is going to be allergic to rabbits, they are really allergic – no mild reaction.
... you have children who are school age or older. Very young children can be hurt by rabbits. They look so soft and cuddly, but they have teeth and claws and will use them if threatened or uncomfortable. Older children can understand how to interact with a rabbit and why they should play on the floor.
... you are excited about having a litter-trained pet. Most rabbits are easy to litterbox train, if they are spayed or neutered. Rabbits like being clean and will pick a corner to do their business in – you can place a box there and much of your work is done. With lots of animals around, rabbits can mark their territory, but otherwise they tend to do much of their elimination in the right place. Try wood stove pellets or stall bedding for litter.
... you like peace and quiet. Barking, howling, squawking … forget all these if you have a rabbit as a pet. Some low grunts when you break out the favorite treats and a thump with their hind foot are about all you’ll hear from these critters. For this reason, they can be good apartment dwellers.
... you like subtle personalities. Rabbits are prey animals and can be nervous, but they do have loads of personality. You just have to be willing to let them get used to you, and treat them right to see the best of that personality shine through. A lot of the communication rabbits have is through placement of their ears or body language, so it helps to be patient and learn these methods of communication.
... you can dig down deep into your wallet and find money for emergency vet bills as needed. Most of the time rabbits are very healthy. But they do have somewhat delicate gastrointestinal systems. If a rabbit does not eat for more than 12 hours, it is a medical emergency and requires a trip to the vet. So be sure you can manage this expense should it crop up.
... you are a vegetarian or vegan. No need to work hard eliminating meat from your diet but still feed it to your pet. Rabbits eat hay, pellets and vegetables, with a tiny bit of fresh fruit for treats.
... you don’t have any hang-ups about spaying or neutering. For health reasons, it’s best that rabbits are altered. For behavior reasons, it’s best that rabbits are altered. Unaltered rabbits showing signs of being territorial or mean, or those that spray urine, are often dumped at shelters. Adopt an already altered rabbit from a humane society or rescue, or pledge to get your young bunny altered at around 6 months of age.
... you wouldn’t go bonkers if you found a hole chewed in your carpet or sofa. This is a worst case scenario of course, and many rabbits do not chew or can be trained to chew on approved things like phone books, apple branches and cardboard boxes. But an unsupervised rabbit can be a chewing machine, so make sure tempting items are out of reach and you keep a close eye on your pet until you know it is unlikely to chew cords, flooring and furniture.
Do you meet the criteria to be a good rabbit owner? Think you would like to give a home to a needy bunny? Let me know – I can match your family with a good rabbit pet. But if you don’t know whether you would enjoy a rabbit for 10 years, let me ask you: Make your bunny chocolate this Easter.