The theme of this particular Sunday bunday post is whether or not a rabbit is the right pet for you and your family. Easter is a time when rabbits are sold to unwitting buyers; they often end up dumped, dead or neglected. Education is a really important part of preventing this from happening. If people know what they’re getting into when they buy that cute puff, rabbits are less likely to be victims. I’m about to share what I’ve learned about bunnies with you, even if it’s too late.
1. Rabbits are considered exotic. Unless you live in a country where rabbits are popular pets like Germany or Japan, good veterinary care for a rabbit is extraordinarily expensive. Veterinarians who specialize in rabbit care are hard to find and a vet who is great with cats or dogs may have no idea what to do with a rabbit. Just to give you an idea, I haven’t paid less than $400 for a vet visit. Pet insurance is available for rabbits in some states starting at around $12 per month. If you get a rabbit, I would recommend it.
2. Rabbits are a long term commitment. They live 8-12 years. Think about where and with whom you’ll be living. Aggressive cats or dogs and small children can be a death sentence for a rabbit. Many apartment buildings also don’t allow pets.
3. Rabbits are high maintenance. Rabbits don’t show illness by whining or sulking like cats or dogs; as prey animals they don’t show obvious signs of distress. Since they can go from happy and healthy to dead in a matter of hours, watching them closely for subtle deviations from normal behavior is a must. This also means that you have to be able to drop everything and get your rabbit to a vet ASAP on the faintest hint something might be wrong. If you don’t have that kind of flexible schedule, consider adopting a cat. Regular nail trimming (every 6-8 weeks) and hair trimming for long haired breeds, teeth checks (twice a year by a vet) and close monitoring of food intake and litter boxes are vital to a rabbit’s health as well as diligent household cleanliness since crumbs of common human foods can be oily enough to cause a bunny serious gastric upset and possibly death.
4. Rabbits should be kept indoors. Rabbits need space to roam and exercise every day in order to stay healthy. If kept outdoors they need to be protected from wild predators, domesticated cats and dogs, humans, poisonous plants and heat. Rabbits are expert diggers and chewers so most enclosed yards aren’t enough to keep them contained so most owners resort to wood and wire hutches. Unfortunately there are no hutches that are perfectly dog proof, so be ready for the eventuality of your rabbit [fat vulnerable morsel] being torn apart by a loose dog if you’re not ready to keep your rabbit indoors. Hutches also offer little in terms of climate control; bunnies can die of shock in temperatures over 75F or 23C. Another issue with hutches is that they’re usually too small, prevent adequate socialization with their caretakers, sufficient supervision and common wire mesh floors can seriously damage bunnies’ feet, causing excruciating pain and health problems. Optimally they can be kept indoors without a cage since adults who have been spayed or neutered are easily trained to use a litter box.
5. Rabbits must be spayed or neutered. You might think that companion bunnies should be fixed to control their incredible fertility, but this is only one small part of why they should be desexed. Rabbits are sexually mature between 3 and 5 months of age. The most common reasons people realize it is when (in no particular order) a. the rabbits forget how to use a litter box, b. male bunnies and particularly females become aggressive and territorial, c. male rabbits begin spraying and humping. These behaviors are reduced or eliminated by a spay or neuter operation as well as a significant reduction in musky odors bunnies use to communicate how attractive they are to their paramours. Intact female rabbits are also highly likely to develop cancers of the reproductive tract and can die a painful death before they’re more than a few years old. The operation usually costs between $75 and $300 dollars averaging out at around $200. Shelter adoption fees might seem pricey, but they usually include a medical exam and a spay or neuter operation which is a huge value – plus you don’t have to worry about whether or not the bunny will survive anesthesia.
6. Rabbits are destructive. Unless you’re ready to replace furniture, rugs and electronics every few months, consider the kind of work your house will need to be bunny proofed. Rabbits are notorious chewers for a reason; they’re really good at it and actually need to chew in order to grind down their teeth which are constantly growing. Rabbits also like to dig and can destroy carpets and finished floors. A few things can be done to assuage these behaviors like supervision/interaction, toys that are more appealing than your prized belongings and persistent bunny proofing. This is one of the reasons rabbits are often kept in pairs – rabbits tend to be less destructive when they’ve got a friend to socialize with and groom instead of being left alone to plot the demise of your prized antique sofa.
7. Rabbits are clean but allergies are still a concern. Bunnies are very clean (cleaner than cats); they groom themselves, can’t vomit hairballs, make dry very low odor poops and their mouths and digestive tracts harbor few bacteria that are harmful to healthy humans relative to dogs or cats. Even if a bunny digs around in its litter box, their nails are much cleaner than the average litter box trained cat. Rabbits also have no particular odor (as long as they’re fixed), unlike dogs or rodents (rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents), though their urine can be uniquely pungent if left in litter boxes for more than a handful of days. They shed most of their fur at once. Fortunately this only happens 3-4 times a year but be prepared for an explosion of loose hair when it happens. Bunnies do require copious amounts of hay which excites the allergy response in most people just because it can be dusty or because they’re allergic to the specific content of the hay. This can be overcome by using orchard grass, timothy hay, oat hay, or any other kind of available hay that doesn’t cause a reaction.
8. Rabbits do not like to be handled. Rabbits are prey animals and usually the last thing that a wild rabbit experiences before dying is being picked up by a predator. Their skeletons are lightweight and their bodies are very muscular, allowing rabbits to run at high rates of speed. Subsequently, a rabbit can kick hard enough to break it’s own leg or back if it feels threatened. I know bunny owners who were well versed and experienced with handling their animal and have had to euthanize it after it kicked at the wrong time. Their skin is also delicate, in the environment in which rabbits evolved, this allowed them to escape a predator by leaving skin, an ear or a tail behind. This means that a well meaning child (or adult) can seriously injure a rabbit by handling it the way they might otherwise safely play with a cat or dog. Domesticated rabbits aren’t robust enough to withstand this kind of accident without immediate veterinary attention.
9. Rabbits don’t like loud noises. Rabbits warn each other of danger by dropping their well muscled badonk-a-donk behinds on the ground resulting in a loud ‘thump’ (we can hear it on the other side of our house). Loud noises distress rabbits because it prevents them from using this mode of communication, make them think there is danger when there isn’t any and/or can offend their sensitive ears. Brent is in the habit of drumming with his hands on his thighs which happens to bring our bunny to attention, anticipating danger. Homes with barking dogs, loud music, shrieking children, clattering pots and pans or other loud noises might not be appropriate for bunnies.
10. Rabbits have very particular nutritional requirements. Adult bunnies should eat a diet of unrestricted access to hay and water, 2-4 cups of fresh greens (like spring mix, cilanto, mint, dill, parsley, etc.) per 5 lbs of bunny weight and 1/4 cup per 5 lbs of bunny of timothy hay based pellets that are free of artificial colorings/dairy products/seeds/nuts/dried fruits or anything that looks like something other than boring old pellets. Fresh or dried fruit can be given as a treat but never more than 1 tablespoon per 5 pounds of bunny per day. The need for fresh greens can be expensive (we usually collect cast off carrot tops from local farmer’s markets, green grocers and juice shops) and can prevent you from leaving them alone with an automated feeder over the weekend while you travel.
TL;DR Bunnies aren’t for everyone and definitely not for your typical home with cats, dogs and/or children or for grown-ups with tight schedules or who are frequent travelers. They’re great pets for anyone who is observant, empathetic, patient (or who wants a great incentive to work on their patience and empathy), can resist the urge to scoop them up and snuggle them and has money to spare. I’m admittedly painting the dimmest view of rabbits in order to dissuade casual purchases. I obviously adopted a rabbit as an animal companion and love the fudge out of him for good reason. They are amazing animals. That may be a post for another day.
Our giant bunny is currently dating and apparently has that craggy Tommy Lee Jones thing going on that the ladies go nuts over and the gents seem to admire. We’ll find him a friend soon enough. He’s not the destructive-when-lonely type but nobody will understand him like another bunny will and we want him to be happy, particularly when he brings us so much joy (plus, he’s our super Zen master).
This is Christie, signing off!