Rabbits are adorable and make wonderful pets. But, like any pet, they require dedication on the part of their keepers. Here’s a few things to consider.
Rabbits are readily available through pet stores, breeders, and even “free to good homes” in the newspaper. However, many people bring a rabbit home without knowing what to expect, and, as a result, thousands of rabbits end up being euthanized in shelters every year. Worse, many rabbits live their lives in tiny cages in basements or backyard hutches without companionship or exercise, and without proper diet or vet care. Here are several things you should know before deciding to take home a bunny.
- Rabbits can live for upwards of ten years: Like any animal, they deserve lifelong care. They are social, curious creatures who need mental stimulation and companionship in order to thrive. They require the same amount of time and energy that one would give to a cat or dog.
- Rabbits do best when living inside: A rabbit in a hutch in the yard is less likely to be part of the family than a house-rabbit. Illnesses or injuries often go unnoticed for longer in a rabbit housed outside. Outdoor rabbits often fall victim to predators, and can even suffer a heart attack from fear if a predator comes near. Hutch rabbits are prone to problems like flystrike, heatstroke, and frostbite.
- Rabbits need spacious housing and plenty of “out” time: Most of the cages sold in pet stores as “starter homes” are simply too small. A large dog crate is the minimum space, but a better choice is a large x-pen. Rabbits can be litterbox trained, so consider letting the rabbit enjoy free-range of a rabbit-proofed room, or even your entire home. However you decide to do it, rabbits need several hours out-of-cage time daily, so you will need to “rabbit-proof” part or all of your home. Rabbits chew everything, including power cords, books, and furniture.
- Rabbits need specialized vet care: Rabbits are considered “exotics,” and not all veterinarians are up-to-date in rabbit medicine. Rabbits must be spayed and neutered, and same sex pairs will fight if unaltered. Unspayed females are prone to uterine cancer and false pregnancies, while unneutered males may spray, bite, and hump. Though rabbits do not generally require vaccinations, rabbits have fragile bones and delicate digestive systems and will almost certainly require expensive vet care at some point in their lives. Rabbits must be watched carefully for signs of G.I. Stasis, a common problem that kills if not dealt with quickly.
- Rabbits are not good pets for children: Though rabbits can be affectionate, they generally do not enjoy being picked up or cuddled. A frightened rabbit may kick with its powerful back legs or bite if mishandled. They can be seriously injured if they are dropped or stepped on. They are easily stressed out by loud noise and rough activity. An adult should always be the primary caregiver of a rabbit, and interactions with children should be monitored.
- Rabbits don’t always get along with other pets, even other rabbits: Though rabbits may learn to get along with dogs and cats, introductions should be done carefully. A rabbit should never be left alone with a predator unsupervised. Rabbits can form deep bonds with other bunnies, but not all rabbits get along, and rabbit fights are surprisingly violent. You may have to maintain separate quarters for a bunny you bring home as a “friend” for your rabbit.
- Thousands of rabbits are languishing in shelters and rescues: Before you buy a bunny from a pet store or a breeder, consider adopting a rabbit from a shelter or rescue. Before you breed your bunny please consider how many rabbits are in shelters.
In short, be certain you can commit to meeting a rabbit’s needs before bringing one home. The House Rabbit Society is a great place to learn more about what to expect if you decide share your life with rabbits.
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