It's time for my annual post on the joys (and realities) of owning a rabbit. Easter sees a huge bump in rabbit-buying by well-meaning but ignorant parents. The weeks just after Easter see a huge bump in the number of rabbits abandoned at shelters. You do the math.
Rabbits are wonderful animals to have around the house: they are highly intelligent, relatively neat (yes, they can easily be litter-trained), and very quiet. They don't bark at strangers, yowl for food, or need to be walked. They can be sweet daily companions: they love pats from their human, lick the ones they adore, and anyone who's ever seen a rabbit do a binky knows what rabbit joy looks lie.
But, rabbits are advanced pet-ownership.
Some quick facts:
-Rabbits' teeth are always growing. Always. They must chew on things to keep them filed down, and they will not just chew toys you provide for them. Rabbits will chew anything with an interesting texture, including: wires, books, plastic bags, shoes, the legs of tables and chairs, cardboard boxes, mail left lying about, even clothing. If you leave it near the ground where a rabbit can get it, expect it to be chewed. Every wire in my house is taped to the wall, out of harm's way. A house with a rabbit must be bunny-proofed.
-Rabbits need fresh greens and timothy hay to keep their bodies happy and healthy. A steady diet of pellets is fattening and not good for them. Fresh greens can get expensive, but they are the best, healthiest way to feed them.
-Rabbits have complex and often delicate digestion systems, and when they begin to go wrong they go wrong very fast. If a rabbit stops pooping, even for a few hours, and seems listless or lies hunched up in a corner, get them to the vet immediately. A rabbit with GI stasis, a common rabbit ailment where the intestinal tract stops, can die within hours. Exotic vets are not cheap, and a rabbit owner can look forward to spending thousands of dollars on their rabbit during its lifetime.
-Rabbits do not live happily in hutches or cages. They are quick-thinking and inquisitive and need a lot of stimulation, and unhappy, bored bunnies are destructive and moody. The happiest rabbits have the run of the house, like a cat or dog.
-A rabbit will live eight to ten years. Some live even longer. That means that buying a rabbit for yourself or your children is making a commitment for a decade of care, feeding, and love. This is not something that will be amusing for a year or two, and then disposable.
Please, please, please: if you are looking at that cute little bunny in the pet-store window, on sale in time for Easter Sunday, and your child is begging you to buy it, think twice. A real living, breathing rabbit is a creature with complex needs and feelings. Not a toy. Not something to be discarded when the novelty wears off. More rabbits die in shelters every year around this time, and many are simply abandoned outdoors on the erroneous belief that they will be fine in the park or on the streets. You would never buy a dog on a whim, so don't think a rabbit is an impulse-buy. Unless you're ready for the committment, pass that pet-store window and take your child to get a stuffed rabbit, or a chocolate one instead.
If you are ready to be become a rabbit-parent, consider getting your new companion at a shelter:
House Rabbit Society has links to shelters all over the country, and a lot of very good information on raising a happy rabbit. For those in the Chicago-area, think about adopting your bunny from Red Door Shelter.
I will never regret my decision to become a rabbit-mom twelve years ago. Alfalfa, Sebastian, and Viola have so enriched my life, and I hope many of you can find that kind of joy. But, only if you know what you're getting into.